Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cluturing Yeast Pt 2

As promised, here's some more on the latest steps in my yeast culturing project... We left off with a petri dish streaked with yeast from my slurry. Here's what it looks like now:

The next high-level steps are to:

1) Prepare 10ml starters

2) Innoculate those starters with single colonies from the petri dish

Equipment (in addition to what was used in the previous steps):

1) 10ml test tubes - I prepared three starters

2) Airlocks - I treated myself and got some of the fancy glass ones so that I could sterilize them in the canner if needed

3) Drilled stoppers - I was unable to find drilled stoppers that fit test tubes and would accept an airlock, so I was forced to take matters into my own hands. I took stoppers that fit the test tubes and drilled them myself. It's a huge help to have a drill press handy when doing this.

4) Autoclavable test tube rack - Mine has turned out to be not so autoclavable

5) 10ml pipette

6) Prepared sanitizing solution - Use this to fill the airlocks. I just use my handy spray bottle of Star San.

7) Olive oil and a tooth pick.


1) Prepare the starters - Using the same 10brix wort (with a dash each of Five Star 5.2 and yeast nutrient, no agar this time) and the pipette, fill each test tube with 10ml of starter wort. Also at this time, I dip the tooth pick in the olive oil, and put a tiny drop in each of the test tubes. I won't get into that in this space, but here's the rationale behind it (the fatty acids in the olive oil are a substitute for aeration of the wort). Put the stoppers and airlocks in. Fill the airlocks with sanitizer. Presumably you've already got the test tubes in the rack.

2) Sterilize the starters - This is a basic water bath procedure. Place the rack with the starters in your stainless steel sauce pan. Add enough water to the bottom to come about 1/3 of the way up the test tubes. Heat the water to a simmer. Wait for the starters to come up to a simmer and then give them about 10 minutes. Take off of the heat and allow them to cool to room temperature. Now you've got yourself some sterile 10ml starters. Note: at the same time that I'm doing this, I also like to prepare my sterile distilled water for cooling the innoculating loop. Put some distilled water in a small pyrex flask, cover with foil, and let it serilize in the sauce pan next to the rack.

3) Innoculate the starters - Take the starters to the clean, draft free area where your petri dish is hanging out. Put on your dust mask to contain your disgusting germs. Flame and cool your innoculating loop. Open up the petri dish. Quickly grab a small colony from the center of the petri dish with the innoculating loop, quickly open one of the starters, and quickly add the colony to the starter. Quickly put the stopper and airlock back in the starter. Did I mention that you should act quickly? Quickly repeat until all starters are innoculated.

4) Wait - Let your starters culture up in a clean, draft free room temperature environment. You should see activity within a day or two.

Next steps... Once these starters have finshed we'll repeat the above steps with 100ml starters, innoculating them with the 10ml starters.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saturday brew

Given the sorry state of the kegerator these days, it was time to brew up a quickly servable batch. I decided to go with something along the lines of a British bitter, but considering that I was using almost exclusively American ingredients, I'll call this an American Bitter. The details:

9 lbs Briess Organic two-row
.5 lb Briess Special Roast
.25 lb Muntons crystal
.25 lb Muntons dark crystal

Mashed in at a 1.2 quart:1 lb l:g ratio to 140˚ - this was way low. I was shooting for 150˚, but this is homebrewing, so somehow I missed. Go figure. I was able to add some more boiling water to get up to 146˚, and that was just going to have to do. After a one hour mash, added some more boiling water to mash up to 158˚. This sat for a few minutes before I started recirculating until the wort was clear, and then began the sparge. Colltected 6.75 gallons at 1.036 OG and began my boil. Hop charge as follows:

60 minute hops: 1 oz Brewer's Gold pellets at 7.46% AA
20 minute hops: 5 grams American grown whole Goldings at 4.2% AA
15 minute hops: 5 grams Willamette whole hops at 4.5% AA
10 minute hops: 5 grams Goldings
5 minute hops: 5 grams Willamette
Flameout hops: 5 grams Goldings and 5 grams Willamette

Added whirlfloc tab at 15 minutes short of flameout. Final kettle volume 5.25 gallons at 1.048 OG. Chilled to 70˚ and pitched my zillionth generation Cal Ale slurry and shook the heck out of the carboy since my O2 bottle ran out. 24 hours later I've got high krausen at 66˚.

I also began growing up my yeast from the other day, so there will be another post on that hopefully tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh Sam, you're the dreamiest!

If you've got an hour to kill, check out this New Yorker article on Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head and some back and forth between Sam, Garret Oliver, and some beer advocates.

What do I think of it all? Well, I'm glad you asked.

First and foremost, I'm completely behind Garrett. After reading the article and subsequent comments from Garrett on the BA thread, there's no question that he has every right to be upset that his quotes were used out of context.

But he should be furious - along with every other brewer who gave time to the author - that he was completely duped on the subject of the piece. From what I can read he was asked to participate on a piece about craft brewing (or "extreme brewing", I can't really tell) and it turned out to be a fluff piece on Sam Calagione.

I have to completely disagree with most all of the BA commenters, including Garrett himself, that this was a great article or a well done piece on craft beer. It might be a great article about (and great publicity for) Sam and Dogfish, but I really fail to see how this article benefits anyone else out there in the craft brewing community, except by virtue of their association with Dogfish as members of the same craft brewing community. All publicity is good publicity, as pointed out by many in the BA thread, but this article certainly benefited one much more than it did the community.

I read Brewing Up A Business. A great read and very informative. I would strongly recommend it to anyone out there interested in craft brewing. What I learned about Dogfish Head is this:

Sam's skill as a marketer far surpasses his skill as a brewer. And I mean that as a compliment - Dogfish Head has, by light years, done a better job of crafting its image than any other microbrewery in the country.

But I'm sick of hearing about Sam. There are celebrity chefs all over TV, I know, but I never really imagined how the Cult Of Celebrity might touch the world of craft brewing. I think that Sam has turned into America's first Celebrewer. Sure, Garrett and Jim Koch have had their faces out there for a while. But not like this:

"For a while after college, he did some modelling, and he still looks as if he belonged in, well, a Budweiser commercial. He has a surfer’s loose, long-muscled frame and perpetual tan. His chiselled features are set in a squarish head and topped by a thick black ruff. When he talks, his lips twist slightly to the side and his voice comes out low and woolly, like a crooner’s at a speakeasy."

Give me a fucking break. And let's not forget about how many times we have to be reminded what a cool rebel he is and how radical and extreme he is. He'd be arrested, tarred and feathered in Germany. He'd be fired if he worked for a publicly traded company. He's inspired by Andy Warhol. He flunked out of high school.

Does the guy make beer or is he James Dean? Or Paul Bunyan, perhaps, is a better analogy.

Look, the New Yorker can do whatever they want. They can write about whomever they wish and on whatever subject they think will sell magazines and they have absolutely no obligation to the craft brewing community at large. But I, for one, am tired of hearing about how great Dogfish Head is. I really like the Palo Santo Marron. It's a great beer. I love it even. The 60 Minute is an excellent IPA. Everything else I've tasted from them reminded me of bad homebrew - the kind of beer where the brewer couldn't resist throwing that last ingredient in that makes it wind up tasting confused and over the top and, well, not like beer.

I don't care if people love Dogfish Head and think it's the greatest brewery on the planet. That's fine. To each his own. And I don't begrudge Sam Calagione for anything he's done or is doing. This is America and he has a right to run a business any way he sees fit. If the New Yorker approached him and they want to write an article about him he has an obligation to his business to accept that publicity.

But I'm interested in craft brewing for the beer, not the bullshit and the hype. And to read an article that primarily serves to blow smoke up one guy's ass rubs me the wrong way.

If anybody actually read this thing I'm sure I'd catch a ton of shit for it. I'm not trying to tell anyone that they shouldn't like Dogfish Head. But if this little blog post serves as a couterpoint for one or two people, then great.

There, I got it off my chest.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Culturing yeast

This weekend I got around to setting up some agar slants and petri dishes in an effort to culture up some yeast. I have a slurry of Cal Ale yeast that has gone through several pitches and I'm going to streak a petri dish to isolate colonies of what hopefully will be my "house" yeast strain. I've been re-pitching this slurry at a temperature slightly lower than what is recommended for the strain (65° as opposed to 68°), so this is an experiment to see if the yeast has adapted to a slightly different environment and taken on a different character (i.e. produces a different tasting beer).

There are definite risks in this experiment. For example, since this slurry has been re-pitched several times, I'm quite sure that it's not 100% sanitary. I could easily wind up isolating a colony (or colonies) of wild yeast, bacteria, a mutated strain, who knows what... So what I'll probably wind up doing from a high level is:

1) Streak the petri dish to isolate colonies

2) Ferment three small samples of wort with three separate colonies

3) Taste the fermented wort and hopefully find that one of them is acceptable

4a) Inoculate an agar slant from the best sample

4b) Culture up a starter for a full 5 gallon brew from the best sample and hope that the resulting beer is awesome

Here are the steps that I followed to make create the culture medium for the agar slants and petri dish:


1) Wort - I usually save my last runnings from a brew day and boil them down to around 10 brix on the refractometer. Saves me from having to buy malt extract.

2) Agar - 1 tbsp per cup of wort. This stuff has to be simmered for a little while to dissolve before pouring into the petri dish or test tubes. You can find it in most health food stores - it's a vegan gelatin substitute.

3) Yeast nutrient - I add a pinch per cup of wort.

4) Five Star 5.2 - Since I'm boiling down last runnings, I like to make sure that the pH of my medium is stable, so I add a pinch of 5.2 to the wort before simmering.

5) Glass petri dish

6) Test tubes with screw on caps for agar slants - I get these. There's an option for autoclavable caps, which is really important.

7) Small funnel for pouring medium into slants

8) Test tube grabber - don't want to handle hot test tubes if you don't have to

9) Inoculating loop

10) Pyrex dish with autoclavable lid - I was lucky to just have this lying around the house. When you culture the petri dish, you want it to grow in a sanitary environment. So you need to enclose it in something. Pyrex glass is perfectly autoclavable, but the lid can be tricky. I tried my darndest to get Pyrex to tell me whether or not this lid would hold up in a pressure cooker at 15lbs. Of course they wouldn't give me a definitive yes, so I just went for it and when the lid didn't melt, I knew I was in business.

11) Pressure cooker - I think this is a 12 quart model, not sure. It's made by Mirro and I got it on eBay for a pretty reasonable price. Also great for canning stock!

12) Yeast to streak the petri dish with

13) Propane torch to flame the inoculating loop

14) Sterile distilled water in a small pyrex measuring cup, covered with foil - to cool the inoculating loop

15) Small stainless steel sauce pan to simmer the wort

And here are the steps that have been taken so far:

1) Set up the pressure cooker - Put the bottom down and add in the recommended amount of water. Place the glass pyrex dish in the center. Put the bottom half of the petri dish in the pyrex dish. Put the distilled water in the pyrex measuring cup next to - not in - the pyrex dish.

2) Simmer the wort, yeast nutrient, 5.2, and agar (this is the culture medium) for a few minutes in a small stainless steel sauce pan until the agar is all dissolved. Not too long though, because supposedly under too much heat you can denature the agar and it won't congeal.

3) Pour culture medium into the bottom half of the petri dish to a depth of about 1/8 to 1/4".

4) Place the plastic lid on the pyrex dish - I put it on kind of half cocked, so that it will vent, but just stable enough that I can put stuff on top of it, like....

5) Put the top half of the petri dish on top of the plastic lid, open side up.

6) Using the funnel and grabber, fill the test tubes with culture medium to about 75%. Be careful, they fill up quickly.

7) Screw the caps on the tubes very loosely and lay them down inside the top half of the petri dish. The idea is to keep them on an angle so that when they cool and the medium congeals it's in a slanted configuration. It just so happens for me that the top half of the petri dish is perfect for this.

8) Seal the pressure cooker according to its instructions.

9) Process on 15lbs for 15 minutes, as per its instructions. On mine, I keep it on high heat until steam starts to come out of the vent, then put the 15lb weight on it. Once the weight starts rocking gently, reduce heat to maintain and turn the heat off after 15 minutes.

10) Allow the pressure cooker to cool to room temperature - this takes a good few hours.

11) Set up to inoculate the petri dish - have your yeast, flame, and inoculating loop ready. I also wear a dust mask so I don't breath my filthy germs into my culture medium. This should be done in the cleanest, most draft-free area of your house.

12) Open the lid to the pressure cooker. Seal the caps on the slants and close the lid to the pyrex dish as quickly as possible. Note: I seal the slants in a sanitized sandwich bag and keep them in my fermentation fridge until I'm ready to use them. Also note: You should see that your culture medium has congealed and is solid. If it's not, (i.e. you pick up an agar slant and it's still liquid) something went wrong and you need to start over. You either denatured the agar, didn't dissolve it all the way, or didn't use enough. Also also note: There will be condensation in the slants and in the pyrex dish. I haven't figured out how to deal with that yet.

13) Bring the pyrex dish, top half of the petri dish, and distilled water over to where your inoculating area is set up. Peel back the foil on the distilled water. Open up your yeast sample.

14) Flame the inoculating loop to sterilize it and cool it in the distilled water.

15) Quickly dip the sterilized inoculating loop in the yeast sample.

16) Open the lid to the pyrex dish and streak the culture medium in the bottom half of the petri dish. The standard method of doing this is to run a zig-zag pattern in the four corners of the plate (I know, a circle doesn't have corners), dragging the fourth one into the center. The idea is that by the time you've swiped the sample across the four outer quadrants of the plate, you're down to single cells by the time you get into the middle. This is where your single cell colonies will be found. Something like this:

17) At this point I sprayed sanitizer in the top half of the petri dish, then quickly flamed it to dry it. There's probably a better way to keep the top half of the petri dish sterilized.

18) Put the lid on the petri dish, then put the lid on the pyrex dish.

19) Keep the whole thing in the same clean, draft-free area if you can. I can't, so I keep it in the most clean, draft-free area that is also inconspicuous. Periodically burp the lid as the yeast grows on the medium.

Next steps...

After a few days, I should have small colonies of yeast in the middle of the petri dish that have grown up from single cells. These will be used to make small samples of test beer as described above. When I get to that next step (hopefully tomorrow) I'll post more.

Friday, November 14, 2008


If you should happen to find yourself in downtown Jersey City around happy hour and you're looking for a drink, Ox is well worth the visit. Definitely more of a wine/mixed-drink scene than a craft beer bar, but half price drinks until 9 can't be beat. Of their four taps, three seem to be dedicated to North Coast's Blue Star Wheat Beer and Red Seal Ale, and DFH 90 Minute. The fourth tap rotates (last night it was a Smuttynose Ale - not sure which, my guess was Old Brown Dog).

I'm no hophead and not really a fan of DFH's offerings, but I'm sure that there are a lot of people out there who would be very interested in $3.50 pints of 90 Minute. Not sure what the deal is with bottled beer. They used to have the bottle selection on display, but that was not the case last night. Saw a dude drinking a Peroni, so at least we know they have that - thank god.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend in Philly

Saturday morning at the General Lafayette Inn was the 1st Annual Stoney Creek Homebrewers competition. I definitely have to tip my cap to the competition organizers. For a first time competition to start on time and end on time (if not early) is most impressive. The judges were definitely well looked after at this one.

I judged Porters and American Brown Ale in the first round and IPA's in the second. Turns out that the first place IPA from our flight went on to win Best Of Show. As for me, I was pleasantly surprised by how well my entries were received. A first place for my Munich Dunkel, second for Oktoberfest and Amber Ale, and third for my Dubbel. Honestly, I really thought the amber was the only one that had a chance going in. Boy, they really have some great taste in beer in those Philly suburbs...

After the competition, R and I went into center city for the night. Here are some of the stops that we hit with some brief details on each:

The Nodding Head: Definitely one of my favorite brewpubs around. Had some nice apps (the white bean and sage thing is awesome) and a few half pints so that we could sample most of what was on tap. Not the best beer experience we've had there (no Berliner Weiss and a couple of the beers tasted like they may have been a tad long in the tooth), but still a must for us when we're in Philly. Love that all of the beers were 5% ABV of less, including a Scottish 60/- and a Mild.

The Standard Tap: I've read all about this place being at the forefront of the "gastropub" movement (don't get me started on what an annoying term "gastropub" is), but had never actually been. We got some small plates - butternut squash soup, tuna tartare (that was out of this world), fried oysters (eh), and a stone crab claw (had no idea how thick the shell is on one of those things). We were kind of beer-ed out by late Saturday night, so we each had a Yards Pale Ale and called it quits. I was floored that they had Climax Nut Brown on tap. Don't see that every day and I have to give huge props to a place that does.

Beau Monde: Another Philly "must". Best crepes around. R had spinach and swiss, I had gumbo and andouille. And as usual, it was awesome. This might be our favorite brunch place in the whole entire universe.

Pat's: Best cheesesteak ever. I choose Pat's over Geno's now, rather than doing the taste test (i.e. eating two cheesesteaks back to back, one from each), mostly for political reasons. I only ingest cheese wiz inside the Philadelphia border. Couldn't live with myself otherwise.

Tria: Whoa. Talk about love at first sight. Or is it bite? Or sip? Right before leaving we hit this spot for their Sunday School thing. Great beer list, great wine list, insane cheese. Turns out they get it all from Murray's, which is good to know. I can stop there at some point this week to get some of that queso gallego that knocked our socks off. If this place was in Manhattan, I'd be there twice a week (and it would also be twice as expensive, but that's neither here nor there).

It should also be noted that we went to the Rodin museum. Lest you get the impression that we go away somewhere and just eat and drink ourselves into a stupor. We're cultured people.

And... we got out of town just in time to fight the traffic and get home to see the Giants defeat the Eagles - in Philly. I come to your town, I eat your cheesesteak, and then I laugh at your team in defeat! Ha!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some industry news over on Lew Bryson's blog (see Boston Beer and Trading Down posts - Lew posts in bursts sometimes, so try to keep up). I get geeked out on beer biz trends just as much as I do on the art and science of brewing, so this stuff always keeps me interested. However, there's something that makes me squirm in my chair a bit when I start reading about cost outlooks and third-quarter results when it comes to beer. Moral of the story? Don't go public. Stay small, drink local. Tell Wall Street to go take a crap. Board yourself up in a boobytrapped shack in the woods and drink homebrew. Buy some shotguns. Grow a beard.

I'm much more comfortable with information like this:

Yay craft beer.

This weekend I'll be heading out to the Stoney Creek Homebrewers competition at the General Lafayette Inn just outside of Philly. I've got a few entries in, so with any luck I'll return with some good news about my brews. R will be along with me. We tried to get a room at the Inn's awesome guest house, but it was all booked up. I have a feeling that the competition organizers have something to do with that. Instead we're staying in center city. We'll probably hit some of our usual favorites (Nodding Head, Beau Monde, Pat's) and hopefully a few we've never been to(Standard Tap, Tria). Any tips, let me know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Getting your money's worth

Had a blast at Brewtopia on Friday night. Working the NYCHG table was a lot of fun. It was great to get such positive feedback on the beer that I brewed and served, and also fun to talk to some new people about homebrewing. Hopefully we'll get some new people interested in the hobby.

As for Saturday...

One of these days I'll learn that I don't need to drink every drop of beer I can get my hands on at these beer festivals. I went with R on Saturday afternoon. The two tickets were pretty expensive - came to about $130 - and somehow I think we actually managed to get our money's worth. By the time we left, the fates had determined that Saturday night and Sunday morning would be shot.

This was the second year in a row for Brewtopia at the cruise ship terminal, and this year definitely went better than last year. They made much better use of the space available and there seemed to be more tables - meaning fewer lines. They also set up a specific area for food and made it much easier to get food quickly, though the quality was nothing to write home about (probably being generous here). It's really expensive, though I think we'll probably go back again next year.

Speaking of tickets to fun events...

After being given quite the hard time while tailgating before the Giants game due to my condition (paying for Saturday), the game itself was a blast. Always fun to see those Cowboys fans leave Giants Stadium with their tails between their legs. Does it get on anybody else's nerves that all of these asshole Cowboy fans who come to Giants Stadium are all from Jersey? I mean, these people aren't flying up from Dallas to take that kind of abuse.

Also got tickets to the Cunningham vs. Adamek Cruiserweight championship at the Prudential Center in Newark on 12/11. I can't wait for this. I've never been to a prize fight in person before, and I've been looking forward to it for a long time. Thankfully the Prudential Center has a (small) craft beer selection.