Recently I and some members of my homebrew club brewed 70 gallons of Belgian Dubbel in order to fill a former Merlot barrel. 70 gallons is quite a lot of beer and this brew required a large amount of belgian candi sugar. Seeing as how the stuff costs something like $7/pound at homebrew shops and it is basically just cooked sugar I went in search of how to make this stuff at home.
What I found was that “basically just cooked sugar” isn’t quite accurate. Despite what many online tutorials for making candy sugar tell you, there is a bit more to making candi sugar than cooking sugar syrup until it achieves a desired color. I found the process at the Sui Generis blog. The process is split among two blog posts and you have to do a bit of flipping between the two to determine the recipe which is kind of annoying so I figured I’d outline it here in a more readable way. I’m also making the syrup in a slow cooker which is a different and (I feel) superior method because you don’t have to be constantly monitoring it, stirring super hot boiling sugar, and stressing that it’s getting darker than you wanted. Another note: I’m outlining a 1kg sugar recipe here but accompanying photos are from a 3kg batch so bear that in mind when looking at the photos.
The basic premise behind this method vs just cooking invert syrup until it turns dark is that this method utilizes maillard reactions where the other method is only caramelization. With maillard you can get more complex and desirable flavors like stone fruit, raisin, etc. The main difference between this method and the cooked sugar method is that we’re not using any acid to invert the sugar (acid puts an end to maillard reactions) and are adding a base part way through to really drive the maillard reactions. I’m also making it in a slow cooker over the course of 8-10 hours depending on how dark you want it to get.
1kg table sugar
5ml dry malt extract (we need some nitrogen to help drive maillard reactions a tsp is fine)
Add your sugar, malt extract and 200ml water to your slow cooker, stir to make sure all of the sugar is wet. Turn the slow cooker on to high setting, put the lid on. If you’re able to weight the lid to help prevent any build up of steam from escaping do so.
Combine the slaked lime with the 60ml water in a glass and stir it up and then set it aside to allow it to settle.
Go away for an hour or so
Return and stir the sugar sludge in the crock pot it probably won’t be fully dissolved quite yet. Put the lid back on and leave for another hour or so.
Return to see that the sugar has fully dissolved. At this point our simple heating should have produced some inversion of the table sugar, enough to help with the maillard reactions we’re about to help initiate.
Decant the clear liquid that has separated from the lime in the glass, I use a sort of flat ladle spoon to do this. Also be careful as this liquid is incredibly basic and will burn your skin.
Add the decanted liquid to your slow cooker to increase the pH
Stir your sugar syrup up and replace the lid and weight
Go away for a few hours
When you come back the room will smell like baking cookies, check on the color, and see where it is at.
When the color/flavor is to your liking turn off the slow cooker and pour the syrup out of the pot and into something else to hold it for storage, mason jars or a disposable foil tray work well. Keep in mind that when this syrup cools it is going to be incredibly viscous and difficult to pour out of containers without warming it up quite a bit. With the slow cooker we aren’t bringing the sugar syrup to crack temp with this method so it will not completely solidify to the point where you can break it into chunks.
This is not all that difficult to do, probably the hardest part is acquiring the pickling lime as it’s no longer recommended for use in pickling. I ordered mine from Amazon.
Making your own wild fermented hot sauce or salsa is fairly simple. I use a few special things to make it a bit easier but they’re not strictly necessary. You can easily make this with equipment you likely have around the house. If you’ve fermented your own sauerkraut before then this process will look very familiar to you.
Basically choose what you think you’d like to have in your salsa/sauce. Understand that the lacto fermentation will add some sourness and possibly some fruity flavors to the final product. It will also reduce some of the heat of your peppers. The simplest recipe would just contain hot peppers and salt.
For my most recent creation I wanted to try incorporating pineapple into the ferment, hoping to retain a bit of it’s sweetness in the final product. I used:
1 12oz can of chopped pineapple
a few cloves of garlic
half of a sweet onion
I diced every thing up and added them to a self-burping fermentation jar. I weighed the jar first so that I could get a measurement of the weight of the ingredients after they’d been added to the jar. After weighing the ingredients (minus the salt) I added 2.5% of the ingredient weight in salt, sealed the jar and shook it up to distribute the salt and mix the ingredients. If you don’t have a scale to weigh out the ingredients you can just sorta guess with the salt, for a full quart jar of veggies to be fermented, use 1 tablespoon of salt. After shaking it all up I used a spatula to push any ingredients stuck to the sides of the jar back down and pressed everything down a little bit to make sure it was submerged slightly under a bit of brine that was being extracted out of the peppers, onion and pineapple (not to mention the syrup that came with the pineapple). Don’t worry too much about getting it submerged but you don’t want big chunks sticking out as they could grow mold.
I sealed the jar and left it in my office. Within a few days I could see that it was fermenting and had formed a bit of a pellicle on the surface. I let it go for a couple of weeks, the pellicle formed a few bubbles but there was no vigorous activity. This is what I was hoping for. I was slightly concerned that with the extra sugar from the pineapple that some yeast might take hold and ferment all of the sugar out completely. A vigorous ferment would indicate that this had happened. Lacto is generally a pretty low key fermentor, but it does generally form a thin pellicle so you can see that something is happening. Another nice thing about lacto is that it’s fairly lazy and it generally will not ferment all of the sugar available to it, or at least it will take its sweet time in doing so.
I left the jar to ferment for a few weeks. I mostly ignored it but every now and then the jar would burp itself and I’d get a whiff of fruity jalapeno heat as I was working. After I’d let it sit around for long enough (how long you let it go is really up to your discretion, some people only lactoferment veggies for a few days, some go for months) I took a taste and it was spicy with an underlying sweetness. I emptied the jar into a blender and ran it until everything was pretty well liquified. This turned it into a salsa of sorts, but without the chunks. If you want a hot sauce a la tobasco instead of blending you’ll want to press all of the liquid out and separate it from the solids. You could achieve this by wrapping it in a tea towel and squeezing it or hanging it somewhere to slowly drip into a container. I prefer to just blend mine, it’s easy and it tastes good.
Appearance: very pale straw and crystal clear with a big rocky head that is quite slow to dissolve.
Aroma: a bit of barnyard funk, slight malt/hops.
Taste: light beer flavor with an overtone of Brett funk throughout. For such a low abv beer there’s still a nice touch of maltiness and pretty strong funk considering. Hint of clove in the background.
Mouthfeel: fairly light, but not quite watery. Maybe a little watery.
Overall impression: As a super session saision, an attempt to make a hydrating beer for feeding to summer farm workers this definitely succeeds. This is actually my favorite variation of them. It seems like with so little malt sugar it’s difficult for sacc yeast to produce a lot of it’s signature flavors. Brett doesn’t seem to have that problem though it seems like bottle conditioning helped it out. I think I will make this beer again next spring in larger quantity if possible.
I realize I should have posted sooner about the wasp yeast. Here’s a picture:
WTF? yeah, I went and did that. It wasn’t completely my fault though. Maybe partially my fault. Okay, story time:
Ever since I captured some wild yeast from unpasteurized honey, I’ve had this thought in the back of my brain to somehow catch a bee and just throw the bee into a starter and see what I get. Well years have gone by and I haven’t done that. Then, one day a few months ago, I read an article that was posted on Milk the Funk about how some scientists determined that wild saccharomyces yeast will overwinter in the stomachs of queen wasps and hybridize in her gut. That’s kinda neat, kinda creepy too I guess.
A few hours after reading this information I was out putting some chicken into my smoker for the first time since last fall. I take the cover off, and what do I see curled up in the recess of the smoker door handle? It’s a wasp. I poked it with my finger to see if it was dead, it moved a bit, not dead, but pretty sleepy probably since it’s still somewhat cold. It’s an overwintering queen. I put her into a jar.
Coincidentally, I just happened to have to make some starters that same day for a brew day coming up. I took it as a sign from God; the wasp went into a starter. Of course by the time I was ready to put her into the starter, I had brought the jar into the house and she had warmed up and woken up and probably wasn’t too pleased about her imprisonment. Okay, so how do you get an angry wasp in a jar into an erlenmeyer flask full of wort? I thought I could put her in the freezer, but that’d take a while. In the end I just shook the heck out of the jar until she seemed to be pretty stunned then I used the flamed end of an xacto blade handle to crush her a bit and into the starter she went.
She was pretty slow to ferment initially, this picture is actually from before the starter krausened, so something else was going on in there. lacto? enteric? when I tasted the starter (before pitching it into my Farm Hand’s Ale) I didn’t detect any off flavors, mostly it was pretty bitter from hopping the starter, and had the characteristic fruity bubblegum flavors that other local captures of yeast around my neighborhood have. We’ll see how it goes. I made a lot of that beer so I can afford to let her portion age for a while to see what (if anything) shows up.
So, as you can probably guess, I love Saisons. The typical story told about the style is that it emerged from farmhouse brewing traditions in France where they needed a beer for their seasonal farm workers to keep hydrated while working. If you know anything about saison today you’ll know that it’s not exactly something that you’d want to drink a lot of and then go try to wield a scythe and get some work done. So it’s likely that the first saisons were much lower strength beers than what is typically available today. The BJCP has mentioned “Table Saison” as a variant of their 2015 definition for the style that ranges 3.5%-5% I actually wanted to make something that was even lower alcohol than that (if possible, I have this curse about trying to make session beers and they end up being 6-7% somehow). My goal was to make a beer that was around 2.5% abv, but hopefully didn’t taste too watered down.
Farm Hand’s Ale (15 gallon batch, 30 minute boil)
10lbs Northwest Pale Ale Malt
2lbs Flaked Oats
1.5lbs Aromatic Malt
1.5lbs Munich Malt
2.5oz Glacier Hops 3.2%AA FWH @30 minutes
2oz Glacier Hops 3.2%AA @2 minutes
I decided to go with the high % (though maybe not a terribly high amount) of aromatic malt for this to help give it a good malty flavor despite the small amount of malt being used. I included the oats to boost the mouthfeel of what is likely to be a rather thin beer otherwise. I used glacier hops because glacier hops are the best, and did a 30 minute boil because I like to shorten my brew day.
I mashed this beer rather thin since my HLT is my old 10 gallon boil kettle and I wanted to get 15 gallons of runnings so I mashed in with 9 gallons of water to achieve a mash temp of 155F and then sparged with another 9 gallons of water after about an hour. It took a while to get to a boil and my 19 gallon kettle was pretty much maxed out, I actually saved a few gallons off and added them to the kettle as I went to chill. Otherwise the boil went fine with no major hiccups.
I split the wort among 4 fermentors, 2 2.5 gallon and 2 5 gallon batches were all pitched with different yeasts. The 2.5 gallon batches got my wasp yeast for it’s inaugural batch and the other 2.5 gallon got some of my local yeast, that was harvested from a plum blossom. I think I need to just come up with a name for all of the local yeast captures, since they are all pretty much the same yeast. The 5 gallon batches got my hefe/brett (probably needs a better name) culture and my abbey culture that had been revived from a jar of yeast that has been in my fridge now for 3 years and 4 months, ha!
The original gravity came out to 1.031, which is 6 points higher than I was shooting for meaning my efficiency was 88.5% which seems incredibly high to me, I wonder if the thinner mash had something to do with that? So I guess this could possibly qualify at the low end a Table Saison depending on attenuation. All of the batches took off fermenting pretty quickly. I will post tasting notes when they are ready.
On March 5th I gave a presentation at the PNWHC about how to catch wild yeast. It went pretty well and I got a friend from my homebrew club to film it for me. So now it’s up on youtube for your viewing pleasure:
I’m also going to write out some words here describing what I talked about in the video for you people who hate watching videos like I do.
What is Wild Yeast
A lot of beers are marketed as wild if they contain brett, brett itself is often called a wild yeast, and WPL644 trois was thought to be brett but is apparently sacc and is being called a ‘wild’ saccharomyces. But if you buy a pure strain of brett from a lab, is it really wild? You know what you’re buying, you know basically how it will behave and what it will do to your beer. Maybe that yeast strain was wild once but I don’t really think that’s wild anymore.
My definition: Wild yeast is yeast that came from the wild
Sources of Wild Yeast
My favorite source of wild yeast is from fruit. As we all know yeast likes sugar and fruit generally is sugary so fruit would be a logical place to expect to find yeast in larger proportions. Some fruits I’ve gotten yeast off of: dates, juniper berries, cherries, grapes, apples. Other good options to try: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, plums. Farm pressed unpasteurized apple juice is another good source, just get the juice, stick an airlock on it and let it ferment.
If you’re trying to capture a sort of terroir for a specific area then I recommend using fruits harvested from that area, either grown yourself or wild foraged. You can also get yeast off of store bought fruit, just try to get organic if you can and do not use irradiated fruit as that won’t work.
Veggies are another good source, though you’re more likely to find bacteria on vegetables. Think about sauerkraut, you chop up a cabbage, mix in some salt and it ferments itself; plenty of lacto there. Ginger root and it’s cousins (turmeric, galangal) seem to have a plethora of useful microbes hanging out on them including sacc, brett, lacto, even some useful molds.
Flowers are another option for wild yeast, especially if it’s spring and there’s not any local fruit in season to harvest from. I recommend using edible flowers, like apple/plum/cherry/peach blossoms, roses are also edible.
Raw/unpasteurized honey is another good source of wild yeast. Isn’t honey anti-microbial? It kind of is, but the main reason it never goes bad is that same reason that a sack of sugar in your cupboard never goes bad, the high concentration of sugar is the main thing that protects it. the sugar sucks the moisture out of any microbes that happen to be in there, causing them to go dormant or die. But the ones that don’t die are dormant just waiting for the conditions to become favorable, ie the sugar gets watered down.
Insects are another source of wild yeast. I recently read about how Saccharomyces overwinters in the stomach of queen wasps, a few hours later I just happened to find one taking a nap on my smoker, I also had to make starters for a brew that evening so I took it as a sign from God. She went into a starter as well, fermented quite vigorously too. I haven’t used her in a beer yet.
Open air inoculation is probably a method you’ve heard of for producing wild yeast beers. Lambic and other belgian sour beer producers utilize this method most famously and some american breweries have also begun replicating this process. I haven’t done a ton of open air inoculations, from what I’ve read of other people doing it, it’s a good way to catch mold, though I have been successful the one time I’ve tried it.
How to capture
So you’ve got your source, how do you get the yeast that may be on it into a beer? Essentially it boils down to: make a starter, add your source. However there’s a few things to do a bit differently for this starter:
if you’re just trying to capture yeast and not bacteria (yeast in this case includes sacc and brett) you should make a hopped starter, just toss a small amount of pellets in your starter before you boil it, you don’t have to target a specific IBU level hops will inhibit lacto even when dry hopped. Make sure your starter is high enough gravity (~1.030) to end up being above 2% abv when fully fermented out, this will kill enteric bacteria. I also add some nutrient to the starters to give the yeast some extra food. Shake up or otherwise oxygenate the starter before adding your source.
Add the source. If you’re inoculating from open air, I’d pour the starter into a sanitized shallow bowl, cover with cheesecloth to keep bugs out (or don’t) and let it sit out for at least 3-4 hours and not longer than 24 hours, shorter is probably better to minimize oxygen exposure and reduce the chances of catching mold. Then add it back to your starter flask. Put an airlock on the starter and don’t stir or otherwise try to aerate this starter at this point. This is to deter mold and acetic bacteria.
Wait patiently. I’ve had to wait upwards of a week before I noticed any visible activity/fermentation in some starters.
If you want to catch both yeast and bacteria then there are a few things to do differently. Mainly, don’t hop the starter. Add your source and cap the starter with foil and feel free to aerate. Try to keep the starter cool, in the low 60sF if you can, this helps the yeast to have a chance to grow alongside the faster growing bacteria which prefer warmer temps. Again, wait patiently.
Some nasty things can potentially grow in this first starter that can make you ill. You’ve probably heard that no human pathogens can grow in beer and this is generally true, but they can grow in wort. The reason why this isn’t an issue for homebrewers is that they are typically pitching a vast amount of yeast into their wort and nothing else is going to have a chance. With this first starter, we’re not pitching a vast amount of yeast, we’re pitching a tiny amount of yeast, and also a tiny amount of other microbes that we may not want.
Here are some things to do to lower the risk of those things taking hold.
Pre-lower the pH of the starter wort to 4.5 or less to inhibit E. coli and C. botulinum. Typical wort pH is 5.0 so you don’t have too far to go to get to 4.5. You can also fortify the wort to 4+% abv by adding a neutral spirit such as vodka, this will inhibit E. coli and outright kill enteric bacteria. You can also keep the starter for a month at room temp (not in the fridge) which will let E. coli really die off. You can read more about safety precautions here. I haven’t done any of these things (partly because I wasn’t aware of them until recently) and I haven’t gotten sick, maybe I’m just lucky? Regardless, if you do happen to be immune compromised then I recommend that you stick with lab yeast.
Did you catch anything good?
So now you’ve got your source in your starter, how do you know if you caught anything good? Well first off, did it ferment? Like I said earlier, be patient, you may have to wait some time to see any signs of fermentation and it’s also possible (but unlikely in my experience) that it may not ever ferment. If it doesn’t ferment then, obviously you didn’t catch anything you’d likely want to put into a beer. If it does ferment, let it ferment out completely.
Did it grow mold? If so you should toss it and start over. Yes there are some molds that aren’t harmful, but I don’t know how to distinguish them from the bad ones so better/safer to just start over.
If it fermented, how does it smell? If it smells awful, like poo or vomit or feet, you probably don’t want that in your beer so chuck it and start over. If it smells good, that’s a good sign that you got something good. If it smells good and didn’t grow mold crash it in the fridge, decant the pseudo beer from the top of the yeast and give that a (small at first) taste. It’s not going to taste exactly like beer but it’ll give you an idea. If it tastes good then you probably got something good.
You probably noticed I said toss it and start over a number of times above, while my success rate for catching wild yeast is above 50% there are many roads to failure at this step so you may want to make up multiple starters at one time to increase your chances of success.
Step it up
Now that you’ve caught something good it’s time to step it up to eventually pitch into a large batch. You can do a starter now how you normally would, though if you’re going for just yeast it won’t hurt to continue using a few hop pellets in your starters. Feel free to aerate your starter like your normally would at this point.
For newly caught yeasts I typically have a standard saison recipe that I like to pitch it into, but you can let your culture choose the style of beer you brew, if it seems very fruity, maybe a british or american style would be more appropriate. Spicy/bretty would lend itself to a saison or farmhouse beer. bubblegum and clove flavors could do well in a wit or abbey style beer. Did you go for bacteria and get some sourness? Brew a Berliner Weisse or Gose. Whatever you choose to brew for this initial large batch of beer, I’d steer away from overly hoppy or malty styles just so that you can really get a good understanding of the sort of flavors your yeast produces.
Keep in mind that your wild yeast may take longer to ferment a beer. I typically give my beers at least two weeks in primary sometimes as long as a month depending how busy/lazy I am. For the first trial of a new yeast, when it seems to be done fermenting ie the beer has reached expected FG (or lower) and doesn’t seem to be dropping any further, I like to rack a gallon into a separate jug, put it under airlock and stash that away for 6+ months just to see if the yeast does anything further with the beer. Sometimes after tasting that aged beer I’ve wished that I had left the entire batch to age. The rest of the beer I’ll keg, I recommend against bottling, especially for this first batch just because you don’t know if they yeast will slowly continue to produce CO2 and result in bottle bombs. If you are unable to keg then you could bottle and store the bottles in the fridge after they have primed, but I still caution against that as I’ve had some jars of slurry carbonate in the fridge. Cold temps aren’t a guarantee of stopping some wild yeasts, they can be very hardy.
Save the slurry
After racking the beer off the trub, I just dump it all into a jar and stick it in the fridge. Put a label on the jar or you will forget what it is. I have 2 mystery jars in my fridge right now. When I want to make a beer with that yeast again, I’ll make up a starter and just take a scoop of the trub from the jar and grow it up in the starter. In this way I always have a sort of baseline from which to draw, every beer with that yeast is ‘second’ generation. How long can you store it? I’ve had one jar in the fridge for three years and still got viable yeast out of it, though it took a lot longer for the starter to get going. Maybe it’s just that particular yeast, but like I said wild yeast is typically hardier than their coddled lab cousins.
Where to go from here?
Well obviously, make amazing beer. If you want to get more scientific you can learn about making plates for isolating specific yeast strains from your culture and making slants for better long term storage. I haven’t done either of these things yet. As we know with homebrewing, the rabbit hole goes ever deeper and you can go as deep as you want.
Here are some more great resources for info about wild yeast beer, sour and funky and other crazy beer experiments.
You’re probably already familiar with The Mad Fermentationist. If not it’s a great blog about wild and mixed microbe beer making (among other things). he has also written a book called American Sour Beers that I can’t recommend highly enough.
There is a facebook group called Milk the Funk that is just amazing. It’s full of tons of smart people who are happy to share their knowledge and are doing a ton or really interesting things with beer. Joining that group has vastly improved my facebook feed. Milk the Funk also has a website with a great wiki full of tons of great info.
The Yeast book by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff is also a great resource though it can get pretty technical at times. It is packed full of great info about yeast in general.
Another great resource is Wild Brews by Jeff Sparrow, this book deals more with the production of Lambic and sour Flemish ales. There’s a ton of great info about a lot of the microbes we’re looking to catch though: Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus.
I hope this info is helpful to you. If you have any questions hit me up on twitter. Go catch some yeast!
Update: A Spanish homebrewing blogger requested to translate this post into spanish for his readers: here’s the post!
Update: A French homebrew blogger has translated this post into French.
A member of my homebrew club brought a ton of hops to our Christmas party in January to give out and I went home with three good sized bags of hops. Two of which were Chinook, which I really dislike when used for bittering. I mentioned on twitter that I wasn’t sure what to do with all of these chinook hops, and another member of the club, Tyler, tweeted back that he was in the same boat.
I suggested we try them as dry hops:
An interesting idea that’s been floating around in the craft brewing and homebrewing arenas recently is getting yourself some generic american light lagers, opening the bottles and dry hopping them with a few pellets of hops. You use a variety of hops (though only one variety per bottle) let them steep at room temp for a few days, then chill, decant and taste. It’s a way to give yourself an idea of how that hop variety would taste when used as a dry hop without much in the background beer to muddy the waters (so to speak). I believe this idea originated with Anchor Brewing.
This idea resonated with tyler, and he suggested we do so with a large variety of hops and bring the resulting beers to the next club meeting since the theme was hoppy beers. He got some additional hop varieties donated from our LHBS, I had some additional pellets in bulk in my fridge, in all we ended up with 11 different hop varieties dry hopped in Coors Light since we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy Bud (lesser evil I guess? we were gonna get Miller Lite but couldn’t find it in bottles).
Anyway, after that long introduction here are my notes on the hops we sampled:
Hallertauer Hersbrucker - quite lemony, herbal
East Kent Goldings - mild herbal
Amarillo - fruity and delicious
Willamette - cheesy (these were also gifted at the club party and had apparently not been stored well, I doubt this is representative of the variety)
Horizon - herbal, slight lemon
Cascade - fruit, citrus
HBC 438 - slight peach and licorice? this one was kind of odd
Glacier - herbal
Mosaic - overwhelming cat piss, lemon, fruit
Falconer’s Flight - really lemony
Chinook - herbal, flowery; could be good dry hopped in a saison
A few things that stuck out to me:
I was surprised at the lemonyness of the Hallertauer Hersbrucker. That wasn’t something I would expect from a noble hop.
I didn’t hate EKG or Chinook as dry hops. I generally dislike both of these hops when used in the boil. I’m actually looking forward to using the Chinook as a dry hop in some saison down the line.
I thought Mosaic was disgusting, it was super cat pee. I’ve gotten this before from beers featuring Mosaic, but generally not as a dry hop. I used to think it was a 30 minute addition that brought out the cat pee for Mosaic, but now I’m wondering if there’s something else at work here (harvest time, hop yard, vintage?).
The Willamette were cheesy, I guess they hadn’t been stored well, but it’s still not a loss, I’m going to put them into a paper bag and let them sit out and fully oxidize, the cheesiness well go away and they’ll eventually be good hops for use in sour beers.
All in all it was a cool experiment and an easy one to do to try out a whole bunch of hop varieties. Just don’t be too upset about drinking some hop particles as they don’t always like to stay at the bottom of the bottles.
Appearance: Fairly clear light straw color with minimal head that dissipates quickly into a thin surface lacing. Vastly different from the other raw beers.
Aroma: Slightly hoppy with a rustic barnyard note: earthy, herbal.
Taste: Grainy, herbal, a touch of citrus/lemon, funk throughout. I love it. The taste is everything I want out of a farmhouse ale.
Mouthfeel: Fairly thin but not watery; hard to explain.
Overall impression: This is a great beer; like I said above, it’s everything I want a farmhouse ale to be. I’m really pleased with this, especially since I was initially considering dumping it. This was the other half of the batch with the cypress/lemon balm wort, fermented with a wild sacc/brett mix for four months. It had this sort of unpleasant dirt flavor going on that I really disliked, I think from the lemon balm? I figured I should try dry hopping it so I filled a bottle from the fermenter, dropped a couple of horizon pellets in and a carb tab, after a week it was pretty good. I tried it again with some glacier pellets and it was also good so I kegged it with both and I was blown away! The dirt flavor is gone and replaced by this pleasant citrus note. Additionally the hops just seem to accentuate the funk from the brett. I need to dry hop with these hops more, they really are my favorite varietals.
Another thing rather striking is the clarity of the beer. Considering the other raw ales were quite hazy this one is downright transparent. I don’t know if that’s from the time or the brett or both.
Appearance: The beer is a pale amberish to slightly red in color, with a respectable amount of head upon pouring that condenses into a mat of foam capping the beverage.
Aroma: A hint of roast (I assume from the victory malt) and subtle esters.
Taste: Malt and mild roast with maybe a bit of hoppy astringency. I think I don’t like the Sonnet Hops that I tried out for this beer. There are some subtle esters below the surface but nothing that really stands out.
Mouthfeel: Thin with high carbonation on the tongue. I may have bottled this too early.
Overall Impression: I don’t really like this beer all that much. Not that it isn’t a good beer, it is. There aren’t any off flavors that I can detect, I think it’s just the matter of I don’t like the Sonnet Hops. That said, I prefer the control I fermented with the same yeast (the one that came from my neighbor’s honey) that hadn’t been dried on a stick. The control seems to have more fruity esters and bubblegum flavor that I really like about this yeast. Now that I think about it, the kveikstokk yeast is a bit more similar to other wild yeasts I’ve captured from around the area here.
Maybe you’ve heard of a Magic Stick? No? Kveikstokk literally translates from Norwegian to ‘yeast log’ in English. It’s basically a stick of wood that is used to store yeast between brews. Supposedly the origin story is that long before people understood what yeast was they noticed that brews tasted better if they stirred them with a certain stick. The theory being that good yeast from a previous brew stuck to the stick and transferred to the next brew via the stick.
I was inspired to give this method a try when I read about kveikstokker on Lars’ Blog. I have collected apple and birch branches from pruning trees on my property for use in the smoker so I decided I’d try to make a couple of kveikstokker from those branches. I used a rasp to take off the outer and most of the under bark, and then used a hand saw and a file to put some notches and grooves into them to give the yeasties somewhere to stick to and hide.
Once I had the sticks ready there was the matter of yeasting them up. I figured the best way to do this would be to toss them into fermenting beer so I brewed up some Belgian Pale Ale, split it into two batch and pitched my abbey strain in one and another locally harvested strain in the other. In a show of spectacular poor planning I found out at this point that the kveikstokk I had made from the apple wood was too fat to fit through the carboy neck, so only the birch kveikstokk made it into a beer to get yeasted up. It happened to be the beer with my abbey yeast.
After three weeks or so, the beer was done fermenting and in another display of poor planning I could not now remove the swollen with beer (and yeast) kveikstokk from the carboy. I racked the beer out of the carboy and for a while I was concerned that I was going to have to figure out some way of drying out the stick inside the carboy. Fortunately with much tugging, cursing and wiggling I was able to extract it and hang it up to dry. Once it was dry I put it into a plastic container to keep it safe from day to day banging around the workshop until I brewed again. Lucky for me, I happen to own a gallon jug with an extra wide neck so my issues with carboy necks weren’t an issue when using the kveikstokk to ferment a beer.
Eventually I brewed up another Belgian pale ale and I was able to use it. I placed the kveikstokk into the sanitized jug and filled it to the shoulders with wort affixed an airlock and placed it inside the fermentation fridge along with the main batches of the beer.
After two days there was still no action on the kveikstokker beer and I was wondering if it was going to work. My worries proved unfounded as on the third day krausen formed and it looked to be fermenting just fine. Hooray! It worked! After three or so weeks it appeared to be done fermenting, as did the larger batches with normal pitches of yeast. I bottled the beer and hung the kveikstokk up to dry again. After the beer had been bottled for a bit more than two weeks I chilled a bottle down and poured myself a glass. It was decent, but not as good as the large batch of beer that I used a normal pitch of the abbey yeast on. I’ll do some honest to goodness tasting notes on both of the beers in a few days.
This was a fun experiment and I think I’d like to give it a try with some of my other wild yeasts; probably one of my cultures that (I believe) contains brett. Brett is supposed to be able to break down uber complex wood sugars so it seems like living on a stick wouldn’t be a difficult feat for such a beast. So that may be in the future. Maybe I’ll whittle the applewood down so it’ll fit into a carboy neck and toss it into a brett ferment. Other than that, I’m not sure if the kveikstokker is a great idea for a direct pitch. I do also want to try using it to inoculate a starter, build the starter up and then pitch that in tandem with the same yeast from my typical starter/pitch procedure. It could be that this is some sort of strange way of storing yeast (maybe as a backup) for the long term?