Mute Dog Fermenting

Mute Dog Fermenting is a home based brewery and fermentation outfit run by Matt Spaanem. It is not open to the public, however if you’re interested I’m always happy to meet new people and share knowledge over a tasty beverage.

How to harvest wild yeast

A number of people have inquired about my process of capturing wild yeast for use in my beers so I figured I should write up a detailed post about my process, which is actually fairly low tech and easy for anyone to do. I don’t capture yeast from the air, I’ve never tried so dont ask me anything about how to do that. I’ve captured almost all of my yeast from fruit and that’s what I’m going to show you how to do here.

Step 1: Find some fruit.

Almost all sugary fruit has got yeast hanging out on it waiting to get access to that sugar to have a feast. I recommend using fruit you grew yourself or wild foraged that way you know for certain that it hasn’t been treated with any chemicals or irradiated to kill those wonderful yeasties that you’re after. That said, I’ve captured yeast from dates imported from Oman and Mexico, and even from some cherries I got at walmart so if you don’t have access to a fruit filled garden don’t let that stop you. If you are going to get fruit from the store, I recommend organic, though it’s not required.

Step 2: Make a (hopped) starter.

Make yourself a low gravity starter (1.020-1.030), 300mL is plenty if you get something good you can step it up later. Add a touch of yeast nutrient to the starter. If you want to decrease your chances of getting lactobacillus and pediococcus (and other bacteria) drop a hop pellet or two into your starter when you’re boiling it. You don’t need to do a long boil for the hops, they are anti-bacterial even when not isomerized. Don’t bother trying to decant off the hop gunk or filter them out, it doesn’t matter and you’ll just contaminate your wort which is reserved for the next step.

Juniper berries and branches in a starter
Juniper berries and branches in a starter

Step 3: Add the fruit to the starter.

Take the fruit you’ve selected and add it to your starter. You have now pitched the yeast into your starter. Swirl it up really well to add some oxygen and then put an airlock on the starter. I know this is against the logic of starters where you want lots of oxygen for yeast to be able to reproduce, but with a wild inoculation there are other things that need a good supply of oxygen that you don’t want to grow, like acetic acid bacteria and mold. Put the airlock on, you can use foil when you’re stepping up something good later on. It may take a week or even longer before you see activity, don’t despair. While there is yeast on fruit, there’s generally not a whole lot of it so be patient.

Step 4: Determine if you got something worth pursuing.

Once you start seeing activity, you should get some sort of a krausen on your starter. Now it’s time to determine if you got something good. Take the airlock off and give it a good sniff. If it doesn’t smell like vomit you’re probably good to go. If it smells good leave it alone to let it finish fermenting and flocculate out. Once the foam has died down and the yeast has settled stick it in the fridge to crash. Make a step up starter at this point if you think you’ve got something good. Once it’s crashed use a thief/baster to decant the ‘beer’ off the top of the yeast layer. I stick a racking cane cap on the tip of my baster so I don’t have to worry as much about sucking up yeast from the bottom.

Smell the beer and if it doesn’t smell off, give it a taste to see what you’ve got. Look for esters and phenols, as well as off flavors. If you do have some butyric acid (pukey or parmesan flavors) in small quantities don’t worry, you may have had some enteric bacteria initially but they have a very low alcohol tolerance so they should have died off after the yeast got going. If you step this up that flavor will likely be gone. Additionally brettanomyces can eat the butyric acid and make wonderful pear flavors out of it. If your beer is sour you probably got lacto as well as yeast, if this is what you wanted, great! if not, you can dump it and start over or try washing the yeast which I’ll have to write a different post about.

If it smells and tastes good, step it up with a bigger starter to build up a pitchable population for a batch of beer. Congrats you’ve got some wild yeast to make delicious beer with!

Yeast from an Omani Date
Yeast from an Omani Date

Some additional notes:

If you want to increase your chances of getting something good that’s not contaminated with something awful you could add the same fruit to a few starters, I’ve never actually done this though. My success rate has been better than 50% for getting something good that makes good beer vs getting things that were just weird/off or moldy that I dumped.

Some fruits are likely more prone to have nasty on them: Strawberries seem to rot if you look at them wrong, I’ve never used one to harvest yeast but I feel like that would be a waste of time and effort. Apples are often used to start sourdough cultures so if your looking for sour bugs that’s a good place to start, otherwise I’d avoid it. Obviously don’t use overripe or rotting fruit. I’ve had good luck getting just yeast cultures off of grapes and dates in particular, raw honey is another good one to try.

If you were going for just yeast, you probably got a mix of saccharomyces and brettanomyces in your starter, keep this in mind particularly if you are bottling the beer, the brett can keep on working on higher chain sugars for a long time and you may end up with overcarbed beer or even exploding bottles, this can be minimized if you store the bottles in the fridge after conditioning. Personally I like to save off a gallon of my first beer with a new wild yeast and just let it sit for 6+ months to see if it does anything interesting. I have one strain that starts out fruity like english strains and after a few months those give way to spicy saison-like phenols. This is likely the action of both sacc and brett, but I don’t have a microscope so I don’t know for sure.

I generally harvest the dregs from my first batch in a jar that I keep in the fridge. Then when I want to make an new batch with that yeast, I take a small amount from the jar and step that up in a starter. You can however keep harvesting the dregs and reusing them each time, this will eventually select for yeast that is more flocculant and yeast that gets going quicker, in other words any brett and other yeast that takes its time will be weeded out.

Filed under wild yeast.

Update your bookmarks

Mutedog has moved to a real URL! mutedog.beer (yes, that is actually a real URL.) Please update your bookmarks and rss feed links accordingly. Right now everything should be getting forwarded but eventually the old domain will go away and then you’ll be DOOMED!

Filed under admin.

Sled Dog Christmas Gruit

A member of my homebrew club suggested that we brew up the “twelve beers of christmas” mentioned in Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing. This idea was met with much enthusiasm and soon enough we had thirteen beers of christmas that were being brewed for a Christmas beer exchange and party. I chose to brew the Christmas Gruit, which is based on a smoked weizenbock with the addition of a number of gruit herbs, juniper being the most prominent among them.

I made a ten gallon batch of a smoked weizenbock using homegrown hops in the boil. After chilling I split it into two fermentors and each one got a different yeast, one used my wild hefe yeast and the other used a recently caught yeast from some wild grapes I found growing near my home while taking the dog for a walk. This new yeast seemed promising in the initial starters so I decided to risk it on a full batch, I’m glad I did.

Ingredients:
10 lbs Wheat malt
8 lbs munich malt
2 lbs crystal 60
2 lbs northwest pale malt
2 lbs rauch malt
2 lbs torrified wheat

2 oz homegrown Hallertauer first wort 90 minutes
1 oz homegrown Mt. Hood 30 minutes

OG: 1.070

After about three weeks I had to decide which batch to add the gruit herbs and spices to so I took a sample of each and added some crushed juniper berries to them both and let it steep for a few hours and then tasted them both. I decided that the batch with the new yeast lent itself better to the flavors of the juniper, the hefe yeast batch was accentuating the smoke flavor from the rauch malt (perhaps the due to clovey phenols?) which was fighting with the juniper flavor. So I kegged that batch at this point as a tasty smoked weizenbock.

I racked the remaining batch into a 5 gallon carboy to which I had added:
1 lb of honey
8 oz crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sweet gale
1/4 tsp mace

I left it to secondary on the gruit for six weeks or so, the honey should add about 7 points to the gravity and should ferment out completely. After the six weeks the gravity seemed* to be stable at around 1.007 (putting this beer at 9.1% abv) so I racked it into a bottling bucket with priming sugar and bottled into 12 oz bottles. This is the first time I’ve bottled an entire 5 gallon batch of beer in many years and it just helped to remind me of how great kegging is.

Since I was going to give a number of these bottles away at the exchange I decided that labelling would be appropriate. I designed the labels to be 7.5 inches wide by 3 inches high and printed three to a standard 8.5x11 sheet of paper and cut them out by hand. Since I was printing three to a page I decided to use three different Dora head illustrations for a bit of variety. I stuck the labels on with milk. Labelling bottles is nearly as tedious as filling bottles, once again: kegging ftw.

I’m really pleased with the new yeast, especially happy that it took the beer to 9%. It is actually quite similar to my abbey strain in the esters it produces. My next beer is going to be a split batch with these two yeasts side by side. I’m hoping they are the same, which would point to this yeast being the dominant strain in the neighborhood, though additional local harvests would need to be done to further verify if this is the case. The beer is quite good, and VERY junipery, especially on the aroma, with some additional herbal things behind the juniper and supported by maltiness in the background. If I were to make this again, I would cut the amount of juniper in half. That said it is still a very tasty beer and I’m pleased to drink it.

More photos

Filed under gruit, wild yeast, christmas beer.

Brewing a Cypress beer

In Norway there is a tradition in a lot of farmhouse brewing to use a juniper infusion for your strike and sparge water. Basically, strike and sparge water are heated in the kettle with juniper boughs. Additionally, juniper boughs are used in the mash vessel as a filter bed/false bottom to aid in lautering.

I don’t have access to much juniper where I live, but I have a bunch of Leyland Cypress trees on my property and the boughs of this tree make a really nice tea. So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try making beer using cypress infusion in the spirit of traditional Norwegian brewing. It didn’t hurt that I am of Norwegian ancestry either.

So I trimmed a few branches off of a tree and set up my HLT and mash vessel with a bunch of cypress boughs for the brew.

I also took this opportunity to attempt a 15 gallon batch of beer. I have a 19 gallon boil kettle so I can’t quite do a full boil without making a huge mess via boiling over but I can get pretty close. I figured I’d just top up at the end of the boil before chilling, which is what I did.

The strike water had a nice piney aroma to it, I hopped with all glacier hops, which, if you’re not familiar with them, they are described as ‘hoppy’ which seems unhelpful, but it actually fits quite well. I really like these hops and I’d like to get some rhizomes to grow them next spring.

For the 15 gallon recipe is used the following ingredients:

  • Loads of spruce boughs (I didn’t weigh them) for the strike and sparge water, and also in the mashtun.
  • 18lbs Pilsner Malt
  • 2lbs Aromatic Malt
  • 2lbs Cara-pils Malt
  • 2oz Glacier Hops (first wort) @90 Minutes
  • 1oz Glacier Hops @10 Minutes
  • Mute Dog Abbey Yeast
  • Mute Dog Palatki Yeast
  • Brewery Ommegang House Yeast

Each of the three yeasts fermented a separate 5 gallon batch of the beer. I ended up unintentionally mashing a lot lower than I had planned. I think my problem is inaccurate volume measurements when I pour the strike water into the mash vessel. Anyway I mashed at about 148F for an hour and did a 90 minute boil. At flame out I topped my wort up to 15 gallons and chilled it down to 75-80F and drained into 3 separate carboys for fermenting with the three different yeasts. The OG was 1.039, one point higher that BeerSmith calculated.

After 2-3 weeks of fermentation I took some gravity readings and the gravity for each batch was crazy low ~1.001. I sampled all three batches and they were good, very dry somewhat saisony tasting. I kegged the batch that fermented with my Abbey yeast and left the other two batches alone.

After drinking off the keg for a bit, I felt like you couldn’t really taste much in the way of cypress in the beer. There was just a hint of something slightly different about the flavor of the bitterness that maybe might possibly be cypress, but it if you didn’t know about the cypress, you probably would even notice, let alone identify it as cypress.

I decided to try dry cypressing one of the other two batches. The beers had been in primary for about two months by this time. The batch with the palatki yeast looked to be forming some sort of brett pellicle so I figured I’d leave that one alone to get funky and dry cypress the batch with the ommegang yeast. I took another gravity reading and it had gone down to 0.997!

I collected 12oz of additional cypress boughs and added them to a brew bucket, then I racked the beer onto them, sealed up the bucket and put an airlock on. I let them steep for about a week before racking the beer into a keg. The beer has been in the keg for almost a week now and it is just beginning to get fully carbonated. It tastes incredible. I may have overdone the dry cypressing, it is intense in the aroma and flavor of the beer. An earthy, woody, aroma, followed by a fruity, almost christmas tree but not quite, citrusy/ascorbic acid flavor, with some malt and hop bitterness in the background.

I really like it a lot.

I’m not sure what fate lies in store for the last 5 gallon batch, I figure I’ll let it hang out for a few more months and see if the brett does anything interesting to it. I do know that I definitely like this beer and it will likely need to become part of some sort of seasonal rotation or something. I do want to see how the flavor might be different from boughs harvested in the spring vs late summer as my wife tells me she can definitely taste a difference in the tea she’s made recently vs the stuff made in the spring.

View all the photos from the creation of this beer on imgur.

Filed under treebeer, cypress, saison, wild yeast.

Is this beer infected? Yes it is.

A lot of threads over on the Homebrewing Subreddit ask if their beer is infected, and 99% of the time it’s not. Well this beer is infected! I infected it myself. Here’s the story:

A while back I harvested two different wild yeasts, one from some juniper berries I picked at the Palatki indian ruins in Sedona, AZ and the other from a date purchased at the local super market, though the date originated in Mexico. Both of these sources provided me with yeast and bacteria when I initially added them to starters. I washed these starters using chlorine dioxide (which I should really write a post about). I’d never washed yeast before and I wasn’t entirely confident that I wouldn’t kill the yeast along with the bacteria, so I saved a bit of each starter aside before I washed. The washing process did work however and I got my yeast sans-bacteria, these two strains became my Palatki Strain and my Fruity Strain respectively.

Since I am lazy I just kinda left the two vials I saved some of each initial strain out (covered of course) in my office for a few months, one of them grew a strange goopy yeast colored sort of pellicle, they both got rather sour (yes I did taste them). I have been wanting to brew up some sort of lambic-like beer and I thought to myself, I will just blend these two infected starter batches together and step that up and put it into a beer. So that is what I did. I won’t know how the beer turns out for a long while yet, but I pulled the beer out of my fermenting fridge today after being in there for 3-4 weeks in preparation to rack it into a new carboy for an extended secondary. and it had the funky pellicle on top. It is definitely infected:

So there you go, if you were wondering what an infected beer looks like. This one is infected and that’s what it looks like. Other infections can look different, but this is how mine looks.

I gave it a whiff after moving it and it has a sour but very fruity aroma, I’m looking forward to this beer, I think it’ll be excellent and I’ll have my very own bug farm for future sours.

Filed under wild yeast, lambic, bug farm.

Turmeric Bug

Ginger bug is the term for the wild yeast and (generally lacto) bacteria found on ginger. To get some you grate up some (non-irradiated) ginger root, combine it with some sugar and water in a jar and wait. I was reading in Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation that the same thing could be done with Turmeric and Galangal root. I’d never seen turmeric in root form for sale anywhere, but I happened to notice some the other day at my local highfalutin grocery store. It was pretty expensive so I just bought a tiny piece. I brought it home, grated it up, added a few tablespoons of sugar, a bit of yeast nutrient and some warmish water. A day or so later it was bubbling away rather vigorously!

I’m assuming I have some combination of yeast and lacto bacteria here. It smells like intense turmeric so it’s hard to tell if it is getting sour at all. I’m going to let it go for a week or so while I try to decide what I should do with it. I was thinking I’d like to make a turmeric ‘beer’ like a ginger beer, but the root is pretty expensive. Maybe I’ll just try a gallon batch for starters and see how it is.

Filed under wild yeast, bacteria.

More wild yeast

so what else is new? When I made cider last fall from my apples it began fermenting on its own, and in a panic I shoved a bunch of the Hefe strain in on top of whatever was already fermenting in there. So now I have a bunch of flocculated yeast from that batch and I was thinking I should try fermenting something with it and see what it does. Maybe I should try the cider first?

What I should probably do as a responsible yeast owner is to plate all of these cultures up and separate them from their friends. Well until I bother to get the equipment for that I remain in the realm of primitive yeast wrangler, I guess.

Filed under wild yeast.

Harvesting yeast from honey

This has got to be one of the easiest ways of harvesting wild yeast, at least of the methods I’ve tried it worked on the first try and I’ll be brewing a beer to ferment with this yeast this coming weekend.

As you may know honey is naturally preservative, ie it won’t ever spoil on its own. Honey has some natural anti-bacterial properties in it, bees are pretty awesome that way. Of course one of the main reasons that honey won’t go bad is because sugar is a preservative. Yes, sugar. Ever noticed how the bag of sugar in your pantry also never goes bad? Sugar at very high concentrations is a preservative. Think of the fruit preserves your grandma used to make perhaps.

Anyway just because honey is a preservative doesn’t mean there’s not some of our friendly yeasty pals sleeping dormant in the honey just waiting for it to become diluted enough to get to work on all that glorious sugar. The key to harvesting yeast from honey is to get raw or unpasteurized honey. I was lucky enough to buy a whole bunch from a neighbor of mine that keeps hives in their back yard. So the yeast is a uber-local, yay!

Anyway, what you do is get a sanitized container, like an ehrlenmeyer flask or heck use a clear beer bottle. Add some of the unpasteurized honey, add about 4-5 times as much water as honey, plus a bit of yeast nutrient or energizer. Swirl it all up to dissolve the honey and nutrient in the water and then stick a bung and airlock on and wait. Don’t become discouraged it may take a few days, my concoction sat around doing what looked like nothing for a couple of days before I noticed the beginnings of fermentation.

I’ve only done this once and it worked, and was not contaminated so I’m not sure if that’s typical with harvesting yeast from raw honey or if I’m just lucky. However you will likely be able to tell by sight and smell if you have an infection. if it looks like you’ve just got yeast let it ferment completely and let the yeast settle. Then draw off some of the fermented liquid (which is technically mead) with a thief or baster and give it a taste. Mine had some fruity notes which I’m not sure if they were from the honey or the yeast (the local honey had a really fruity flavor to it) and no off tastes like bandaid or solvents.

If the yeast seems good then on to the next step: ferment a beer with it! which I’ll be doing hopefully this weekend. I put together a simple recipe for a sort of belgian pale ale and I’ll be adding my small starter of wild yeast to it and see what I get.

Filed under beer, wild yeast.

Rhubarb Menace

There is a concotion that has been growing in popularity in some homebrew circles, and I’ve even seen something like it being produced by some commercial breweries. It’s called Graff, and it’s a hybrid of beer and cider, though arguably more cider than beer, though I suppose that depends on how you decided to build a recipe. I don’t have access to a lot of apples, however I do have access to a lot of rhubarb. now rhubarb and apples aren’t particularly similar, except they both have malic acid as their predominant acid. I figured this was good enough reason to try making a graff with rhubarb instead of apples.

Thus was born Rhubarb Menace.

Some of the other differences in rhubarb and apples is the amount of sugar. Apple juice will have around 5% sugar, rhubarb has pretty much no sugar to speak of. Rhubarb also has a much stronger concentration of acid compared to apples so I don’t need as much rhubarb to achieve a similar amount of acid/flavor compared to apples. To make up for these differences I added table sugar (sucrose) and water to my recipe to sort of simulate apple juice but made from rhubarb.

As for the grain bill, ‘traditional’ graff has got some wheat to aid in head retention, a bit of crystal malt, and a bunch of light dry malt extract or just pale malt. I kind of wanted to have a red color in my graff so I decided to go with some Carared crystal malt, I also wanted some caramelly flavors so I added a crystal 120, and also a pound of two-row and a pound of wheat.

My recipe ended up as the following:

  • 10 Lbs Rhubarb
  • 3 Lbs Carared
  • 2 Lbs table sugar
  • 1 Lb Crystal 120
  • 1 Lb malted two-row barley
  • 1 Lb malted wheat
  • 8 oz Ginger Syrup (@10 minutes)
  • 1 oz Cascade Hops (@15 minutes)
  • 1 Tbsp Calcium Carbonate
  • 1 Tbsp Pectic Enzyme
  • 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • Wyeast Belgian Ardennes yeast

I put the rhubarb in the fermentor with the sugar, calcium carbonate, and pectinase to thaw in the morning.

In the evening I did a fairly large minimash with all the grain in ~2 gallons of water. That went pretty well but it was a bit large for the small pot I was using. Regardless I seemed to get pretty good efficiency.

After the boil I strained out the hops and poured the hot wort over the top of the still partially frozen rhubarb, this worked pretty well to cool the wort down. Then I filled the fermentor with additional water to about the 5.25 gallon line. The temperature was around 72F so I pitched the yeast and sealed the fermentor. OG 1.048

Fermentation took off and it went pretty well. I pressed the rhubarb after a week and left the beer in the primary, it had fermented fairly quickly and a lot further down than I (or hopville) had anticipated; it was at around 1.008 at pressing. It looks like the Ardennes yeast ate pretty much all of the sugar except for the stuff from the Crystal 120. I’m going to adjust the recipe for future batches to include additional crystal malt (I know carared is crystal but apparently it’s not crystal enough).

Tasting it at pressing I was unimpressed, it didn’t taste bad or anything but it also didn’t taste good, it was a really sort of meh. I knew from some of the talk about graff that age is very important to the beer’s flavor so I held out some small hope.

I left it in primary for another week, then I transferred it to a keg. FG was 1.006 for an ABV of 5.6% it was tasting slightly better after the week but I was still unimpressed.

After 2 weeks in the keg the flavor had improved drastically, the flavors really came out and can be picked out when you taste it as opposed to before when it was just a muddy mess. It is a sour beer (how could it not be?) with a slight fruitiness and some malt in the background, it tastes a lot like a sour brown ale, if you like sour beers you will probably like this. I’m quite pleased with how this has come out especially after being fairly concerned with the initial tastes at pressing/transfer.

As I mentioned above, I am going to adjust the recipe to include a bit more darker crystal malt to leave some additional residual sweetness and boost the malt flavor a bit more, and maybe use a munich malt instaead of two-row. I can’t taste the ginger at all so I’d just leave that out and probably increase the hops. Obviously I’ll be refining the recipe over time but I’d call this first try a success.

Filed under beer, experiments.

Ahab's Ruin

With the success of my Dark Cherry Whatever I decided I would brew another beer and ferment it using the leftover pressed fruit from a wine. This time I used the crushed and dessicated grapes from my small grape harvest this year. I had enough grapes this year to make about a gallon of wine, I pressed the grapes and then added the pomace into a batch of Merlot that I made from canned concentrate, then I pressed them again and put them in the freezer until I was ready to make this beer.

After doing some research I found out that Dogfish Head had made a wine-beer hybrid call Red-White which was a Wit style ale with Zinfandel grape juice added. Since I like Wit beers and my grapes were red (they’re Marquette). The name for this beer came from a friend of mine suggesting I call these wine-ale hybrid beers ‘Wale’ so Wit Wale became Ahab’s Ruin which is probably a bit dramatic.

Here you can see the pot starting to heat up and some of my ingredients, including the grape skins and slurry in the plastic bag on the right.

I put together a fairly simple recipe for the beer, basically half wheat extract and half table sugar (to simulate the grape sugar if unfermented grapes had been added) a bit of Crystal 40 for some color and more complex sugars. Instead of the traditional hops, because let’s face it, this beer is already off the map in terms of tradition, I used Cascade hops from my yard (they’re free and I have loads of them) and, of course, coriander and orange peel. Half of the coriander came from my garden, but apparently an ounce of coriander is a lot of coriander seeds and I had to supplement with some store bought seeds.

Once the beer had been brewed and cooled I put in in the fermentor and added in the grape skins, seeds, yeast slurry and whatever other residue was left over from the wine fermentation that I had saved. I poured it into a mesh bag in the fermentor, which I highly recommend doing if you’re going to be doing this sort of thing. The beer/wale fermented fairly well though it took the yeast a little while to get started, I think this is probably because the yeast had been frozen, and maybe because the montrachet yeasts were like, “Hops? What the heck is hops?” But they got the job done in the end, fermenting down to 1.005, I was worried that it might end up being too dry.

Once the beer was done fermenting I kegged it since I recently got some a kegging system set up (which I can’t reccommend enough over bottling). It did not turn out too dry, there’s just enough malt sweetness to balance the spice of the coriander and the fruity sourness from the orange peel and grapes. I’m pretty pleased with how this came out and I’ll be making this again with next year’s grapes.

Filed under beer, experiments.