Tag Archives: Yeast

Yeast Slants

Slant City

This bank holiday evening I finally got around to slanting some yeast that had I sat aside in the fridge. My normal practice when I get a new yeast vial is to pitch all but a few ml, that’s all I need to create a few slants. Tonight I slanted yeast for Wit, Saison, Belgian Abbey, California Ale,  ‘Denny’s Favourite 50’ and Czech Budojevice Lager.  Let’s hope they all take!


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Yeast Ranching: storing yeast on slants

“Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, keep those yeasties rollin’… don’t try to understand em…”  etc.

Yeast slants

Storing yeast on slants is a handy way to keep a ‘bank’ of liquid yeast strains in your fridge that will keep for months and months. The basic idea is this- you make a jelly from malt extract and something to make it set, either agar or gelatine, you put some in a vial, sterilise the whole thing with steam, let it set almost horizontally so you get a larger area, and finally swab it with a source of yeast, like a vial of liquid yeast or a previous slant. Within a few days the yeast will grow on top of the jelly, and you can stick the whole thing in the fridge. To revive it, simply mix some weak wort like you would for a normal starter, put some in the vial, shake it to dislodge the yeast (or scrape it with a sanitised implement if necessary), and add it to the half pint of wort you’ve made, and build from there.

Malt extract from the health food store, and agar agar from the Asia Market

There are other more technical posts on yeast ranching, but here’s how I do it. I add 10g of agar agar to 250ml of wort. Agar agar is available in shops that sell a lot of Asian ingredients. I got mine in the Asia Market on Drury St. in Dublin. Beware- when I went in first the only stuff I could see was in the Japanese aisle, and it came in either red, or green- it was clearly dyed in order to make some hideous dessert. The slants I made with it didn’t work, green dye ran everywhere. In one of the Chinese aisles though, I found the clear, uncoloured stuff. It’s made from red algae, and it looks like scrunched up cellophane.

Dissolving agar in the wort

You have to heat the wort and add the agar gradually, until it has all dissolved. This took a while, maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Unlike with gelatine, it doesn’t really matter if it hits the boil now and then. It was hard to find good information on ratios, but 10g/250ml made quite a well set jelly, you could probably get away with less.

When it had all dissolved, I added it to 10 or so vials. I used vials I got from a fellow homebrewer, Shane, who got them from some scientific supply place. They are handy because they are large, but also have a flat bottom, and they’re made from a resin that can withstand high temperatures. This means I can stand them in my pressure cooker. Real scientists

Fill them to between 1/4 and 1/2 full

use a thing called an autoclave to sterilise with steam, but it’s essentially a big pressure cooker with more bells and whistles on. Steam sterilises, and the higher pressure the steam is at, the faster it does it. I popped everything in the pressure cooker for about 15-20 minutes, with the lids lightly on the vials.

When that was done, I screwed the caps on, and I laid the vials on their side, so that the jelly came almost to the lid. This means we have a surface area that is a diagonal cross section of the tube, that is, quite a nice little area for the yeast to grow. Popping everything in the fridge at this stage speeds up the setting.

When it’s all set, it’s time to inoculate the slants with yeast. If you can find an

Sterilisation by steam

inoculation loop in a scientific store or on ebay that’s great, I made one by twisting a guitar wire so it had a loop about 2mm wide on the end. I had sterilised this loop in with all the rest of the  gear in the pressure cooker. The loop picks up the yeast on the end. It’s not necessary to have it dripping with the liquid yeast, a small amount of cells will grow up to be colonies of millions.

Old slant containing yeast growth on the right, fresh slant on the left

For the next stage it’s crucial that everything is super clean, because this is when the sterile slants get open, and there is the risk of exposure to something other than yeast. Make sure hands are sanitised, and surfaces, and if possible work beside a flame, as this means the air above where you’re working is less likely to have any nasties in it. I do this step in my kitchen beside the gas cooker with one ring on.

Each time you dip the loop in the original yeast, you need to sterilise it. You can do this by holding it in the flame for a few seconds. I cool it then by dipping it in a glass of starsan. Some people recommend touching the hot loop off the inside of the vial to make sure it’s not still hot as this will kill your yeast. Dip the vial in the yeast, and then quickly remove the slant’s cap, swab it from the end to the entrance in a zigzag motion, and replace the cap. Sanitise your loop, and repeat with all your other slants. That’s it, you just leave them out somewhere and in a few days you’ll notice a nice creamy coloured growth where you swabbed, that’s the yeast. A week later you can pop them in the fridge for storage. By this time, if any are bad, you’ll notice. It has happened once or twice that I got some blue mould growing in my slant, so it’s always a good idea to do more than you need in case this happens.

After 5 days or so, healthy white yeast growth is visible!

You can then grow up a fresh, 1st generation yeast whenever you need it, and if you fear that your slants have been in the fridge a little too long, you can always use an old slant to inoculate a new slant, as I did in this case. Instead of dipping your loop in the liquid, you just scrape it on some of the yeast in the old slant.

Tip: When you buy a liquid yeast vial from Whitelabs or whoever, leave a few ml of liquid in the vial when you pitch to your beer, and pop it back in the fridge. This will be enough to make slants with at a later date.

Other resources:

I cannot recommend Yeast by Chris White (of Whitelabs) and Jamil Zainasheff highly enough. Get it if you’re interested in yeast and how to handle it properly.

There are lots of other online guides to making slants such as




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Kev’s New Kit: Brewday

In the attempt to meet a certain important academic deadline, I haven’t been posting. I have

How Rustic!

been brewing, and now that I’m back to blogging who knows what delights will appear in due course.

The post that takes me out of my hermit-like exile is devoted to a Saturday’s brew day at the brand new shed-brewery of my brewing associate Kevin, in Dublin’s north city. Poor Kevin finally has a shed of his own, which is the unalienable right of every man and woman interested in fiddling and tinkering with objects, and above all, brewing beer. It’s not a huge shed, and it’s an odd little shape, nonetheless it contains a brewery capable of boiling probably 80L, though we only brewed half that.

The Elements of KevBrau

The Kit: The boiler and the Hot Liquor Tank are 100 litre pots that were sourced in France. I bagged one too, which I use as a fermentor. Kevin has taps on his, and they are both heated by quite impressive gas burners. The gas bottles live outside the shed, and with the window and door open there is no danger of any fume buildup. The mash tun is a picnic cooler with something like a 65L capacity. The transfer between the vessels is via a little 12v pump, a solid little workhorse despite its size! There is a vent that is happily situated right beside the boiler. In time I think this could be hooked up to a lid with a flexi pipe, to direct the boil off steam straight out of the shed.

For our brewday we made a simple stout, something along the lines of an “export strength” beer. We brewed 40L, our recipe was straightforward, if I remember correctly there was 12 KG of Pilsner Malt, 800 G of Roast Barley, 700 G of Chocolate Malt, and 500G of Black Malt. There may also have been a little crystal in there, I’m sure Kevin can fill us in in one of his “witty” comments. The Og was to be in the 70s somewhere. The water was treated with calcium chloride flakes, at least, it was the second time around. Kevin already had it measured out and dissolved in a pot of water, waiting to be added to the mash. I tipped it out because I thought it was just dirty water. That’s what happens when two people try to brew a beer.

Nom Nom Nom

The mash smelled incredible as usual. My favourite mashes are the really dirty looking ones where there’s heaps of dark malts, like this beer. The smell of chocolate, coffee, just general roastiness is almost irresistible. I wanted to scoop some out and eat it like porridge. We ran the wort off into the boiler, sparged, and added the second runnings, getting about 45 litres.

The brew took most of the afternoon, and in between waiting for this to heat up, or that to cool down, we played, at a rough estimate, 30 games of Pro Evolution Soccer 8 (Kevin has recently upgraded from PES06), getting through such classic matches as France vs Germany, Brazil vs Argentina, MUFC vs Chelsea, several “El Classicos” and of course, em, Sweden vs Denmark.

The beer was hopped with Northern Brewer, a mid strength hop which has quite a spicy smell. Around 80 G went in at the start, with a couple of additions towards the end of the boil. The beer should be around 70-80 IBU, which might sound like a lot, but the higher the strength of a beer the more it needs to be balanced by higher hopping, or else it can taste cloyingly sweet, even if it is 40 or 50 IBU on paper. This is especially true of big stouts.

We pitched some very fresh yeast that I had taken from an active fermentation only that morning. The stout had taken off by the following morning, so here’s hoping it ferments out well. The yeast was originally White Labs 028 (Edinburgh Ale), which I had cultured on to slants in the fridge.

All in all, an epic brew day, with the new setup performing extremely well!

**Special Edit!** I neglected, in this post, to mention the awesome cookies, not to mention the bean soup that Hazbo made us while we were fearlessly brewing. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my admiration for Hazbo, and add that she looked fantastic on saturday on her way out on the lash with to meet some knitty types for cocktails and sushi. Knitters are clearly classier than brewers.

Post-Brew Gunk


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Three Men and a Little Barrel

Decommissioning the barrel at an undisclosed location in Naas, Southern Eire.

Finally, closure on our Epic project. A little over a month ago, Kev, Peter and I gathered in Naas to bring forth the fruits of our labour, the beer that we now call Diogenes, and described in several previous previous posts . After a gestation period of about 4 months, we each filled two 20L containers to bottle at our leisure, and we bottled the remaining 50L or so there and then, on a freezing day in January.

Diogenes finished at an Epic 11.5% ABV, which means it attenuated even further in the barrel, gaining an extra point ABV since it went in. Tasting it, we were very excited. Obviously putting something in a wooden barrel and leaving it you take your chances, but there was not a hint of funk about the beer. Tasting it alongside a pre-barrel bottle you could discern a real smoothness about it, the angular, almost rough taste points in the pre-barrel beer, the harsh roastiness from the excessive amount of black malt had all vanished. The whiskey was obvious. The oak’s vanilla was a beautiful accompaniment to the imperial stout flavours, and of course in the glass it is a thing of beauty, thick and black and velvet, it stains the glass brown as you swirl it up the sides.  We all agreed (to unashamedly blow our own trumpets) that this may be one of the best beers we have tasted, let alone brewed.

With a beer that clocks in that high, we decided we’d need to reseed the yeast, that is, introduce new yeast at bottling time in case the yeast already in the beer had either dropped out of suspension (perfectly possible after 4 months in the freezing cold), or else had just plain died due to the high alcohol content. If this happened, it would not be possible to bottle condition the beer (i.e. carbonate it), and so it would be flat. We reseeded 2 packets of safale s05 dry yeast for the 50l we bottled on the day, which is a high reseed level, I estimated it was over 3 million cells per ml. It is common practice for the stronger belgian beers to be reseeded at bottling time for this same reason, and 3m cells per ml is on the higher end of the scale, so when I came to bottle my own portion I used considerably less, which seems to have worked nicely. We didn’t want too much carbonation for this beer, as the almost syrupy black consistency is rather pleasant when undercarbonated. I bottled the majority of the beer in small bottles, and a number of them in large bottles which I corked, and I intend to keep for some time. I wasn’t one to muck around with the final product, being a purist, but Kev, who thinks he must be an Irish Sam Calagione or something decided to steep some of his on raspberries, and he says it’s great, but I haven’t had any yet *hint hint*.

We’re so happy to have seen this project through, and even happier that all our effort paid off so well. Everyone who has tasted this beer loves it, and it was a big hit with the other homebrewers at the Beoir January tasting session at the Bull and Castle pub in Dublin. It’s the end of a great adventure, and the only question is, what goes in the barrel next? Answers on a postcard please.


Filed under Beer, The Barrel Project, Yeast

Brewing a “Black IPA”

A wonderful new oxymoron from our American cousins, but as Ron Pattinson pointed out last year this ‘innovation’ was already brewed by the brewers at Burton, home of hoppy IPAs at least as early as 1888. The passage from the old brewing book that Pattinson pulls out hits the nail on the head as to what this ‘new’ style is supposed to bring us, basically it will look beautiful and black like a stout, but it will taste like an IPA. Faulkner in “The theory and practice of modern brewing” says

while I can example this by referring to the black beer produced at Burton, which has been universally described as a mere black pale ale—i.e., though black in colour, its palate taste reminds one very strongly of the pale beers produced by Burton firms.

The Grain Bill: Pale, Crystal and Carafa

He is not a fan. But Kev and I were intrigued enough to give one a go. The style that the Great American Beer Festival recognise as “Cascadian Dark Ale”, “India Black Ale” or “Black IPA” seems like a bit of fun. But why is this not just a heavily hopped stout or Porter? Well the key is to get the thing black without giving it a burnt or coffee bitter roast character that a stout might have. The key to this is to use dark caramel malts like dark crystal, and “Carafa®”, a proprietary malt from Weyermann. Carafa is de husked roasted malt, and by removing the husks you remove a lot of the bitterness. Of course the Continental Europeans have long been at this, i.e. brewing black beers (schwarzbier) which taste just like lagers, that is they do not have the roasted character, but they are very dark brown or black. Faulkner in the cited passage basically says this about the Burton example: ‘it might be ok for the euro-types, but it’s not what I expect from a stout”

It will be quite understood that I am not decrying this article; it may and does suit many palate tastes, and is thought a great deal of on the Continent, but at the same time it differs very widely from the accepted standard quality of a black beer as specified

Plenty of Hops

So basically the point was to make an IPA, but add some Carafa malt to turn it black. Here’s what we came up with:

“Black IPA” : 40L : Mash Efficiency 86% : OG 1.076 : ABV 7.2% : 78 IBU : 34 SRM

Grains: 9KG Pale Malt, 1KG Munich, 750G Crystal (55l), 750G Crystal (150l), 500G Carafa® III

Hops: 60 mins: 65G Magnum, 20 mins: 40G Chinook,40G Cascade, 5 mins: 25G Chinook, 30G Cascade, End of Boil: 40G Amarillo, 20G Chinook, Dry Hop: 100G Citra

Yeast: Wyeast West Yorkshire (1469 PC)

We mashed at 66c for 60 minutes, and sparged with 80c water. We treated the water roughly for the “porter” profile on the following calculator with some

Recirculating the mash: Don't disturb the grain bed!

CRS and some Calcium Chloride. We used a mixture of Bairds Maris Otter and Weyermann Pale Ale Malt as the base malt. We are accustomed at this stage to using Magnum as a nice clean bittering hop, and as for the rest, we thought that the sweetness of Cascade would be tempered by Chinook, which I regard as a bit of a ‘rough’ flavour, but rough in a good way. I think Stone brewing Co. use a lot of Chinook in their IPAs, and I once made an all Chinook IPA that was one of my favourites. Amarillo has to my mind a more pleasant aroma to Cascade, so we stuck it in at the knockout. As far as the Citra goes, well, we were already brewing the latest fad from America so Citra, a proprietary hop recently developed for Sierra Nevada (and the talk of the town, where that town is exclusively populated by hopheads) seemed apt. It is used as a dry hop in their beautiful “Torpedo”, in fact it is dry-hopped using the device of the same name, a vessel that is filled with hops while the already fermented beer is pumped through it repeatedly to strip every ounce of flavour from them. I’m really looking forward to it, it is supposed to be very similar to Amarillo, on the orangey side of citrus.

In fact, we realised half way through the brew that we were brewing very trendy; combining the hop-du-jour, Citra, and the latest style from the Pacific Northwest. The July-August edition of Brew Your Own magazine devoted an article to it, “Birth of a Style: Cascadian Dark Ale”. As Kev leafed through it he looked at me, horrified, and said “Do you realise that we’re really brewing to style  here?”, as the article waxed lyrical about the “unexpected flavours” revealed by the interaction between the classic Northwestern hops like Cascade and Amarillo, and the debittered dark malts. I’m looking forward to those!

We mashed a total of 12KG, which is about as much as my mash tun can handle, though I have noticed that my efficiency rockets when I brew this amount.

The blue one is dead. The rest are healthy, but they are very sad. This is like a little yeast funeral.

Last weekend Peter and I brewed a clone of Goose Island IPA (recipe to follow shortly) and my efficiency was up towards 80%. For the Black IPA I calculated it as 86%, which I imagine is down to the increased grain bed depth, I have read that correct grain bed depth is important to efficiency. I recirculated 2L as usual, we ran it off, and had to sparge twice for about 44L pre-boil volume. I added about 2 or 3L extra during the boil to keep it topped up, and I had enough to make a 5L batch of 2nd runnings at about 1.045 OG.

Lately, inspired by Chris White (of Whitelabs) and Jamil Zainasheff’s wonderful book Yeast, I got the old microscope down out of the attic. I had a starter on the go of West Yorkshire yeast from Wyeast, and so I plated up a diluted sample of it, and I added the pigment “methylene blue”, which is used to check the vitality of your yeast cells. The dead cells stain blue, because they cannot metabolise the dye. I’m still waiting for my Hemocytometer to arrive in the post, it’s basically a microscope slide that

Because this beer was such a great idea we decided to ferment it in a giant lightbulb that Kev found.

has a tiny grid etched on it, so you can do a yeast count, and estimate upwards based on how many cells there are in a microscopic square, to how many millions of cells there are per ml. But at least this showed me that very few of my cells were dead, and so the yeast was healthy. It was surprisingly easy to take a picture, I just held the camera up to the eyepiece and twirled the knob until it was in focus.

Our Black IPA is fermenting away strongly now, and as soon as it gets near the final gravity I plan to introduce it to 100G Citra, and they can have a little chat about who is trendier.

Happily fermenting away


Filed under Beer, Hops, Recipe, Uncategorized, Yeast

Ring Out, Solstice Bells!

A quick recipe post today, in the window of opportunity between christmas presents and overeating. This year’s christmas beer is called simply “Solstice”, in honour of my favourite christmas song, the only non-christian one I know; “Ring Out Solstice Bells” by the glorious Jethro Tull. “Seven maids dance in seven time”. Indeed.

Skerries Covered in Ice

Skerries, like most of the rest of the country has been under ice and snow for weeks now, and the lowest temperatures in decades are being recorded, as low as -19c in some places. Skerries hasn’t dropped much below -8 at worst, but it’s colder than I’ve ever known. I’m on constant freeze watch for my beer in the shed. As long as it doesn’t freeze this is excellent lagering weather.

Which leads me to a feature of Solstice. I used some repitched Wyeast 2124, “Bohemian Lager” Yeast. The Wyeast site says it can be fermented at a higher temperature, the usual 18-22c ale range, to achieve a type of common beer, which I discuss elsewhere. However I couldn’t find any mention of this on the Megabrain, so I decided to experiment. My beer fermented vigorously at about 17c, and produced the most solid head of foam I have ever seen, solid and thick, and in weird swirling formations. It smelled a little sulphurous for a day or two, as lager yeast can, but it ended up very clean, and with no off flavours such as fruity esters you might be worried about. All in all I can recommend this yeast as a good clean yeast that you can ferment indoors during winter temperatures, and then lager outside.

I started late with this beer, it was only brewed on December 1st, and 10 days later fermentation was well finished. It was so clear when I sampled it out of the fermenter that I’m surprised it’s still pouring a little cloudy from the keg. It could be that it’s so cold in the porch that chill haze is a factor. It is quite a dark beer with amber notes when held to the light. The head retention is good. It is basically in the style of a continental brown beer, it tastes lagerlike, but with a good sugary whack from the crystal used for colour. My initial inspiration came from some of the festive beers I sampled in belgium at the end of November, in particular a spiced offering from Senne I think.


As a festive beer this is hopped low, and spiced high. I used Ginger, Nutmeg, and just one Star Anise. I tried to be subtle, but I would definitely add less ginger next time, it sweetens the brew and dominates the other spices. I aimed, and achieved 6% abv, which is a proper level for a festive beer I think. The aroma is also dominated by ginger.

Half a Pint of Solstice Please!

Here is my recipe

“Solstice” :  25L : OG 1.056 : FG 1.011 : 6% ABV : IBU 40 : SRM 17

Grains: UK Pils (2.5 KG), Munich Malt (2.5 KG), Wheat Malt (.5 KG), Crystal 55L (.5 KG), Roast Barley (.15 KG), Acid Malt (.1 KG)  Mashed at 67c for 70 mins

Hops: Magnum (25g, 90 mins) Cascade (25g 10 mins)

Spices: 1 x Star Anise, crushed, 1 Heaped tsp Nutmeg, 1 heaped tsp finely grated Ginger (Added to boil for final 5 minutes)

Wyeast 2124 “Bohemian Lager”, repitched, 200ml

1 tsp Calcium Chloride.


Happy Christmas everyone!


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Brewing Rochefort 10

Rochefort 10 is my favourite beer, it is all figgy and rummy, it is strong but it doesn’t burn. A sentence from a review I read has stuck with me; “it is a beer that cries out to be the last of the evening”. I have a small amount of it from last year’s visit to Belgium, it is around 1 year old. I decided to try to brew something similar. In another post I have enthused about Stan Hieronymous’ fantastic book “Brew Like a Monk”, and that is pretty much my sole authority for attempting to brew something like this beer. Here are the vital stats that Stan has managed to wrest from the monastic secrecy that shrouds St. Remy. The OG is 1.096.  The ABV is 11.3%, which means a whoping 89% attenuation, the FG must be something like 1.011. I know from Mr Malty that Wyeast Belgian Abbey II is at least based on Rochefort’s yeast, althought it is likely that Rochefort’s yeast is more complex. However Wyeast state that the attenuation is only 73-77%. We shall see, but that’s a serious difference in attenuation.

A Clone meets his Hero

As far as the rest goes, what we know from Stan is that the IBU is 27, the hops are Hallertau and Styrian Goldings, the malts are  Pilsener and Caramel, and there is white and dark sugar and also wheat starch as adjuncts. Furthermore the colour was 90 EBC. On the basis of these facts I constructed the following recipe

“Rochefortesque”  25L,

Grains: 6KG Pils, .5KG Crystal (120L), .6KG Special B, .6KG Flaked Wheat, .3KG Black Malt

Adjunct: .5KG Demerara Sugar, .5KG Soft Dark Sugar  (added to boil t-20mins)

1tsp coriander seed, 8 mins

Hops: 65G EKG (4.8%) 80 mins, 40G Hallertau Hersbrucker (3.2%) 10 mins

Wyeast Belgian Abbey II, 3L starter

Mash at 66c, 70 mins

Bottling some 70CL bottles for Keeping

I added the flaked wheat because Hieronymous said to use wheat starch, which I imagine is pretty much like flour. I had to use black malt to get the EBC up to 90. I would probably have used something like ‘Carafa’ in hindsight, which is debittered black malt I think. As it turns out I don’t think my version has acquired a harsh taste on this account.

Corking and Capping the Large Bottles

My OG was 1.093 (so close enough), and I fermented this at the ambient temperature of about 18C in my 80L plastic boxes, which have proved themselves to be attenuation machines in the past. After about 10 days(it was slow out of the blocks, my starter was a couple of weeks old at the time) the gravity had dropped to 1.021, which was about in line with Wyeast’s guide of 77% attenuation. I roused the yeast and placed the fermenter on a heat pad, raising the temperature to 23C (real Rochefort Does this too, as Hieronymous notes), and within a day the gravity fell to 1.015, which was close enough for me. That makes the beer 10.1% ABV rather than 11.3, but again, I just want to be in the same general region as these monkish genii.

My Haul

Tonight I bottled it, about 10 70cl champagne style bottles with corks and 29mm caps (as opposed to the normal 26mm caps), and the rest in small 33cl bottles. I will try to age the large bottles for several years. I took another gravity sample just to make sure (ahem), and it was still at 1.015. I opened a bottle of 1 year old Rochefort 10 to taste alongside, and I was quite happy, given that mine was only 2 weeks after inception, and the real thing was a year. My colour was spot on. I had the same rummy, figgy flavour. If anything, real Rochefort had more of a depth of flavour, more sugary body than mine. At the same time it was hard to tell with the difference in carbonation. What I can say is that there was not flavour in mine that was out of place, so I can only hope that it will develop a similar character to its idol over the coming months. If any of you are considering a Rochefort clone, this will at least get you in the  right area.


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