Yeast Starters

On July 27, 2008, in Homebrew Gadgets, Homebrewing, by Mark Ranes
Nasty Hands Covered with DME!

Hands Covered with Nasty DME!

I read a simple, yet very cool tip on a beer blog recently (I don’t remember which blog or I’d give it credit:) that makes creating yeast starters a breeze.

My personal feeling is that DME is the most vile stuff on earth.  As soon as it comes in contact with any moisture (like in the air or even your hands), it creates a nasty, pasty coating on everything it touches.  Little poofs of it go everywhere even when you just open the bag!  Jeez – I hate the stuff, but it is a necessary evil.  Anything I can do to cut down my contact time with the stuff is a blessing.

Measuring DME

Measuring DME

Basically, I just buy a bag or two of DME, pre-measure it into Ziploc bags, add a pinch of yeast nutrient, and then throw all the little pre-measured bags into a 1 gallon Ziploc for storage.  Then, when it’s time to make a starter, I just cut the bottom corner off one of the pre-measured Ziplocs and pour it into the flask – no funnel needed. I then just add water and proceed as normal.  This process means that I have to touch the DME just once – and I like that!  Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

Small and Large Pre-measured Bags of DME

Small and Large Pre-measured Bags of DME

My general process of making yeast starters is similar to what other homebrewers do, but may differ a bit because I like to “feed” my starters.  I use two flasks for making starters – a one liter and a two liter flask.  I use two-thirds of a cup of DME in the two liter flask, and add 1400 ml of water.  In the one liter flask, I use one-third of a cup of DME, and add 800 ml of water.  Each flask is boiled for fifteen minutes.  After boiling, I quick-chill the large flask in an ice bath to get it down to pitching temperature.  In goes a vial of White Labs yeast – or sometimes two, for a high gravity brew.  I like to get the starter going four or five days in advance, if I plan well.  Usually it is just a couple days prior to  brewing, though.  The large flask is put on a stirplate and the small flask goes into the refrigerator.

Boiling Flask of Starter Wort

Boiling Flask of Starter Wort

Once the large flask is on the stirplate, I put a shot of oxygen into the flask, and then turn the stirplate speed way up to get the starter wort into a froth, mixing the oxygen into solution.  I usually do this two more times in the first couple hours the wort is on the stirplate.  In general, I keep the stirplate on 300-400 rpm until it completely ferments out – usually in about twenty four hours.  If I have the luxury of three or four days before brewing, I’ll put the large flask into the refrigerator for a day to get the yeast to drop out of suspension.  This way, I can decant off much of the starter wort and then “feed” the starter again for another complete fermentation to kick up the yeast cell counts.

If I only have another day before brewing, which is more typical, I’ll add about 300 ml of “feeder” wort from the small flask early in the day.  This sets the starter off again on a quick fermentation, waking up the yeast and slightly increasing cell counts.  Finally, on brew day morning, I’ll add another 300 ml of “feeder” wort to wake up the starter and get it ready for pitching into carboys.

Stirplate, Feeder Wort and Oxygen

Stirplate, Feeder Wort and Oxygen

Throughout this process, I maintain strict sanitation procedures.  About a minute before the flask is done boiling, I put aluminum foil on both flasks, and the exposure to the air and unsanatized equipment, from this point on, is minimized.  All stoppers, stir bars, yeast vials and even my hands, are thoroughly sanitized before they are exposed to the starter wort.  Lets face it, you don’t want your yeast starter to be the contaminating agent for ten gallons of brew!

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On a Roll – Brewing Again!

On June 24, 2008, in Homebrewing, Recipes, by Mark Ranes

Two Hearted Ale IPA LabelLast minute decision – time to brew an IPA!  I recently found a clone recipe for Bell’s Two Hearted IPA and I’d like to give it a shot.  I did mix it up a bit, by juggling the crystal malts and adding some corn sugar to dry out the ale.  I’ll also be using White Labs Pacific Ale yeast – just because I love it so much.  I used a couple additional White Labs Cal Ale yeast vials that were outdated by a month, but they should add to the yeast cell count by a huge margin – and then get out of the way.

In the past, I’ve embraced single hopped ales – to get to know the bittering and flavor profiles of the hops.  I’ve also told numerous people over the past few years that if I was stranded on desert isle, with only one hop – it would be Centennials, so I’m excited to taste this ale.

Two Hearted IPA
14-B American IPA

Size: 10.08 gal
Efficiency: 75.0%
Attenuation: 75.0%
Calories: 317.28 per 16.0 fl oz

Original Gravity: 1.071 (1.056 – 1.075)
Terminal Gravity: 1.018 (1.010 – 1.018)
Color: 7.3 (6.0 – 15.0)
Alcohol: 7.03% (5.5% – 7.5%)
Bitterness: 60.84 (40.0 – 60.0)

20.0 lbs Pale Malt(2-row)
4.0 lbs Vienna Malt
10.0 oz Crystal Malt 10°L
6.0 oz Crystal Malt 40°L
1.0 lbs Cara-Pils Dextrine Malt
1.0 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added during boil, boiled 60.0 min
1.0 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added during boil, boiled 45.0 min
1.0 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added during boil, boiled 20.0 min
1.0 lbs Corn Sugar
1.75 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
1.5 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added during boil, boiled 0.0 min
2.0 oz Centennial (10.5%) – added dry to primary fermenter
2 ea Whirlfloc – added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
1.0 tsp Yeast Nutrient – added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
1600 mL White Labs WLP041 Pacific Ale

I’m wanting to get up early and get this brew going.  With all of the fires around all of California, I want to get out of the smoky air as soon as possible tomorrow.  Today I was outside for a couple of hours and came away with sorry lungs and a huge headache…

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Lazy Barleywine

On April 16, 2008, in Homebrew Gadgets, Homebrewing, by Mark Ranes

I brewed a big ‘ole barleywine on Valentines Day this year (isn’t that romantic:).

It was the biggest beer I’ve ever brewed and came in at OG 1.134!  It was like syrup when I put it in the fermentor.  Obviously I was worried about the yeast’s ability to chew through the wort, but I made a huge 1600 ml starter, with 2 vials of White Labs Cal Ale yeast, WLP001.  It took off with a huge ferment, with a massive krausen, that put a ton of yeast in the bucket holding the blowoff tube.  I was hopeful.  After about 25 days I took a hydrometer reading and the hydrometer bottomed out -meaning that it was still way too high.  I added a properly rehydrated packet of Safale US-05 in hopes that it could wake up the lazy barleywine.  All the while, I’d been performing my standard late fermentation carboy swirling on a daily basis, in hopes of rousing the yeast.  I tested it again after a week and it had dropped a bit, but not enough.  A couple weeks ago, I had Stephen pick up a vial of White Labs Champagne yeast, WLP715, in hopes that its high tolerance for alcohol might help finish off the barleywine.  Additionally I put a heating pad on the carboy, insulated by a Carboy Cover, and hoped for the best.  There was some activity in the airlock, and I’ve continued to swirl the carboy on a daily basis.  I’ll take another hydrometer reading soon to see how much progress I’ve made toward the final gravity.

I’d like to give a plug to Carboy Covers.  I’ve been using them since I started brewing and I gave a couple to Stephen because he taught me so much about brewing (even though I’m now a better brewer than he is:). Basically, most brewers know that light is an enemy to your fermenting, as well as finished, beers.  Carboy Covers keep the light out of your carboys.  They are made of soft fleece-like material and come in a variety of fashionable colors.  You can get them for 1, 3, 5, 6 and 6.5 gallon carboys and I can attest to the fact that they do hold up over time.

The green Carboy Cover in this picture is over three years old and does have a nasty yeast overflow stain on it, but I’m sure with a simple rinsing, it will clean up nicely:)

Originally, I picked all of my Carboy Covers up on eBay, but there were no auctions running when I wanted my last batch, so I paid full retail at $11.00 a pop – still a good deal in my book.  There are currently a couple eBay auctions running right now.  I recently had to resort to using bath sheets to cover my carboys since I had so much beer in glass.  Now, with four additional Carboy Covers, I can have up to 40 gallons in glass, and protected from light!



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The Day After…

On March 26, 2008, in Brew Pubs, Craft Beer, Food, Homebrewing, Music, by Mark Ranes

Yesterday, we dropped off Brenda’s car in Livermore, grabbed a rental (a Pontiac G5 – ugg!) and headed off to Concord. After a quick stop at MoreBeer to get a variety of stuff – most notably four vials of White Labs Pacific Ale yeast (thankfully White Labs has decided to make this yeast available year-round. It used to be one of their seasonal Platinum strains), we headed off to the EJ Phair Alehouse. I was disappointed that the didn’t have Drake’s IPA on tap, but they did have Stone IPA, so I had that with their Spicy Steak Wrap. Good stuff:)

Spicy Steak Wrap

We killed some time shopping and then picked up the Jag. Traffic was light (spring break?) and we got to Redwood City with plenty of time for dinner. We had Mexican food for dinner, at a place called Margaritas, about a block from the Fox Theater. As we were finishing dinner, Paul Thorn and the band walked by the restaurant, presumably heading out for dinner before the show. I waited in line at the box office to pick up our tickets, while Brenda got in the main line to enter the Little Fox.

Little Fox Marquee

There was open seating, so we were hoping to get good seats. There were only a dozen or so people in line in front of us, so we weren’t too worried:) Unfortunately, there were having sound board problems, so we had to wait an additional half hour, out in the cold, before we were let into the theater. At 7:30 p.m., they let us in and we grabbed two seats, literally in front of the center-left side of the stage. We were so close I rested my feet on the stage for most of the show! I grabbed a couple of beers for us (I had a Sierra Nevada Pale). We kicked back waited for the show to start. It was a older crowd, and many of the folks had Paul Thorn stories to tell. Paul and the band came out exactly at 8:00 (I love people that are on time:) and he immediately apologized for wearing an ugly shirt.

Paul Thorn Performing

He said he’d gone out for a run that afternoon, come back to the Little Fox, and was bummed that there was no shower – so he’d taken what he called a “whore bath,” where you clean yourself with paper towels and water. Then he discovered that the venue didn’t have an iron to press his shirt for the show, so he had to wear a shirt that he could pull directly out of his suitcase, and didn’t need ironing. It was an interesting shirt…

He played almost all of the new CD, but the cuts sounded polished, like they’d been playing them for years. Paul sang an acoustic set in the middle of the show, to spell the band, and he played one of my favorite unrecorded tunes, “Might as Well Stay Married.” One of the lines goes “I couldn’t get laid when I was single, if you threw me in a women’s prison, so I might as well stay married.”

All in all, the band played for two solid hours, without a break, and it was the best show I’ve seen Paul put on. After the show, Paul met with crowd to sign CDs and take pictures. He is a gracious guy and took the time to chat individually with everyone who wanted to meet him.

Mark and Paul

Me and Paul. Aren’t you glad I Photoshopped out the bloody eye? 🙂

Brenda and Paul

Brenda and Paul

Autographed CD

My autographed CD

We were on the road by 10:15 p.m. and home a little after midnight:)

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