Plain Berliner Weisse Tasting

A while back I made a post about bottling the Berliner Weisse  brewed on April 10, 2011 and split into plain and raspberry infused portions. Those of you who have been following me for a while would know that it’s this beer that really started this blog and several initial posts were about the sediment and pellicle observed during its fermentation. Of particular interest to me was looking at Saccharomyces sporulation – a sign of sexual reproduction in nutrient poor environment which may give rise to “new” and “mutant” strains with varying characteristics and flavor profiles. This topic comes up every now and again in the homebrewing community and gives rise to arguments about yeast reproduction. Just recently I was a part of a discussion where some claimed yeast only reproduce by budding while others said sexual reproduction occurs. In any case, let us be clear that brewer yeast can reproduce by means other than budding.

On a dark and windy evening, sitting in anticipation of the super storm to hit New York, I decided to go ahead and finally do an official tasting of the plain portion in hopes of bringing a few bright summer memories. I have tasted it two or three times before and even brought it to a homebrewer meetup once, but never felt like it was really all that interesting. However now, after over a year and a half since it’s creation, I feel it is finally ready to be tasted properly.

My colleague Sam of eurekabrewing, a fellow scientist and a homebrewer who lives on the other side of the Atlantic also made a similar beer and posted a rather nice writeup on it here (seriously, read it, it’s very educational) followed by tasting notes. As I tasted my Berliner I went back and read over his observations and was surprised at how different our beers turned out. It just goes to show that there are more than one way to make and interpret a given style.

Plain Berliner Tasting:

Appearance: Very pale, straw colored. Lots of bubbles at first and then calms down. Clear with a little haze. Head lasts about 5 seconds and then dissipates completely.

Smell: Champagne. The smell of champagne permeates the air as soon as you open the bottle. Can’t really describe it any other way. Just champagne. Some minor funk and lemon.

Taste: Light lactic sourness up front, giving way to malt with a hint of sweetness and breadiness. Tastes like champagne otherwise. White wine, bright, a hint of funk, some pear, white apples. Long dry, tart, mouthwatering finish with more white apples appearing at the very end. Want to take another sip again and again.

Mouthfeel: Very light. Medium carbonation.

Overall: Very impressive. Perfect summer beer. Unmatched refreshing quality. Amazing how much it improved since the summer. Low sourness makes it perfect for my tastes as I’m not a fan of “so sour you can feel your tongue dissolving” beers. I’m impressed! Even my mother liked it, which has only ever happened with a Dubbel before. Looks like I’ll pull out my 15 Gal fermentor out of the cellar and make another batch in the upcoming months.

Stay tuned for an official tasting of the raspberry infused portion…


Sending Brettanomyces

Alright guys!

The time has come for those of you outside New York to get your hands on some of these Brettanomyces strains!

The list of things I have for you stands thus:

WY Berliner Blend Isolate – OUT

Cantillon Iris Isolate C1 – OUT

Cantillon Iris Isolate C2 – OUT

Cantillon Iris Isolate C3 – OUT

Some of them have labels dated May 26, 2012. Don’t be alarmed. I simply had some old leftover labels and stuck them on because I don’t like them just laying around. All of them were aliquoted on October 20, 2012.

As much as I’d love to be able to just give these things away, unfortunately there are shipping costs, so let’s make it 10 bucks for the shipping. Email me at with what you want and your address and we’ll arrange the shipping. Don’t be shy. If you want all 4 strains feel free to say so. Shipping will still be the same. If you’d like to trade yeasts, that would also be cool. I’m currently on the look out for Brett c, Brett l, Brett “Drie” and Lactobacillus brevis. Pure cultures preferable, but not an absolute must. If you have some other interesting strains, by all means let me know.

Observations thus far:

C1: Based on what I heard from a couple of people this strains ferments fast and produces some acid. It was described as very bright, very tart and lemony. I have not yet tried it myself and will do so shortly. Tasting the starter leftovers didn’t tell much beyond that it’s not unpleasant.

C2: No reports yet and I have not tried it. The starter still emits that forest strawberry aroma.

C3: I currently have 2 beers fermenting with it being the sole fermenting organism. I’ve been smelling airlocks daily and even though the beers are different and have heavy late hops (3 oz of Strisselspalt vs 3 oz of Callypso + 6 oz of orange/lemon/lime peels) they share a lot of similarities in smell, which must be the yeast. For about the first week the beers smell very sulfurous and even vomity. After about 1 week it changes to kind of a sweet, dark berry kind of thing. A couple of days later there is so much pineapple that I was able to smell it just by walking near the fermentor. Pineapple gradually gives way to mango and orange kind of smells. After that it subsides and lets hops and other smells appear, but still retaining a strong pineapple/mango/orange character. Another interesting thing is the way it ferments. If you watch it close enough, you’ll see that it first forms a film on the surface of the wort and the first bubbles are filmy. Then it becomes a snowy white beautiful foam and then the hops and hot break start coming up and it all turns into the ugly mess we all know and love. It bubbles and bubbles and bubbles like every second for weeks. One of the beers had OG of 1.033 and it bubbled for nearly 3 weeks straight. Another one was 1.056 and also bubbled for nearly 3 weeks. And now the weirdest thing. At some point the krausen just drops like a rock. It’s literally goes from thick sludge to nothing in a matter of hours and that’s when the pineapple smell starts appearing, and it still keeps bubbling just as it did with krausen. It’s almost like they just go under and turn into bottom fermenters. Just weird… I suspect that this is due to their seemingly high flocculation property. There were 4 starters standing in front of me and C3 seems to fall out and leave clear beer the fastest, followed by C1 and then C2 being the slowest flocculator of the Iris isolates. I have not yet tasted the beers or measured FG, but I will keep you updated for sure. It should be noted that around the time of the pineapple appearance the heat got turned on in my building and I came home to find them bubbling at 82 degrees (they were right by the heater). Next day I could smell the pineapple from a few feet away. Perhaps all this fruitiness becomes really low and calm with age and the vinous character appears later like it did with the original primary isolate culture after a few months…

I imagine their alcohol tolerance is alright since they managed to survive in a 5%abv beer for 5 years.

Can’t say anything about the Berliner Brett (which I still suspect is Brett a, that WYeast used to sell once upon a time) because I noticed that the flask cracked and I just let it sit and slowly churn away without spinning so as to not break it. It’s kind of the reason for this delay as the Cantillon strains have long since finished fermenting.

These cultures aren’t high enough in cell counts to pitch directly into wort unless you’re adding it into secondary or mixing with something else. If you intend to use them in 100% Brettanomyces beer you should make a starter and treat it as you would your normal Saccharomyces. Experts in all-Brett fermentation recommend higher, lager-like pitching rates and I would follow that advice.

As before, should your beer turn out poisonous or disgusting I am not to blame. Use at your own risk. And please tell me how you used them, what beers, what observations you made and how the beers turned out (sending me a bottle will earn you brownie points).


Yeast Rehydration

What can be easier and more straightforward than yeast rehydration, right? Apparently not…

As I’m sure all of you are aware, there is an ever ongoing debate in the homebrewing community in regard to dry yeast rehydration. Some say dry yeast must be rehydrated before pitching while others just drop them straight into the wort. Personally I’ve always belonged to the latter school of thought and indeed have never rehydrated yeast in my life. My main problem with this approach is the idea of letting the yeast just sit in a cup of water for 10-30 or so minutes. Knowing the microbiological prowess of majority of homebrewers this step just screams “contamination” to me. I’ve even seen people say they just use cold water with some fructose in it because “bacteria can’t be active in cold water so there is no need for sanitation”. Another problem is that a lot of new brewers just boil their yeast when they do it by not letting the water cool enough before pouring the yeast into it and then freaking out that there is still no fermentation after 3 days.

Recently this topic caught my attention again and I decided to try rehydrating and show how I’d do it so that perhaps some new brewers would avoid making silly mistakes. As always if there is an error with my approach, I’d be happy to discuss. First of all there is a debate on water vs wort rehydration with evidence seemingly pointing in the direction of “rehydrating in wort kills a lot of the yeast while doing it in water does not”. Names like Jamil Zainesheff and Chris White are often mentioned and their experience and expertise sited. An interesting study HERE addresses this issue and though I find reports utilizing methylene blue vital staining dubious, I’m going to choose to believe this one because it seems credible, well composed and with good references. Perhaps some day I’ll repeat this and check with other stains (been aching to try Neutral Red and Phenol Red as vital stains lately) when I have a little more time and energy. Thus we will continue this little project under the assumption that rehydrating in water is better than in wort and its temperature in terms of RT vs 80⁰F has no significant effect on yeast viability. I think the reason why they die in wort is osmotic pressure and cell wall fragility. These guys are just waking up, their cell membranes are literally like a mesh so they are unable to control what goes in and out, and suddenly they are dropped into this sugar-rich and hop-rich environment and some cells are just too weak and couldn’t rebuild their membranes yet and get killed, i.e. they are unable to retain the water inside and it’s being sucked out by the relatively high sugar gradient outside, sugars rush in, hop acids and oils rush in and so on and so forth and basically poison or physically rupture the cells.

Bottles after cleaning

It is fortuitous that I recently came by a whole box of 30 autoclavable 125mL glass cell culture bottles along with some other glassware (they just kind of dropped into my lap as me and some guys were on our way out to celebrate passing our qualifying exams and advancing to candidacy, which also means that I was wondering the night NYC subway drunk and with a box of glassware later that night). For the next couple of weeks there was no obvious application for them until this dry yeast idea came into my mind. So, after washing them in boiling water and soaking in ethanol to disinfect just in case there was anything there, I filled them up with around 100mL water and sterilized in the pressure cooker at 15 psi for 30 minutes. Both Danstar  and Fermentis recommend rehydrating in sterile water or wort that is 10 times the weight of yeast so 100 mL for an 11g packet should be good. After that their directions differ in that Fermentis recommends stirring/shaking while Danstar advises not to do it until later and also recommends feeding in a little wort at later stages to get it to the same temperature as the wort prior to pitching. What I decided to do is just rehydrate in room temperature sterile water as per Danstar instructions since I’m using their Windsor yeast and then pitch without the wort additions. After sterilizing the bottles with water in them they were allowed to cool to room temperature and then stored in the fridge until needed.

Sterilized bottles in the fridge waiting to be used

On the brew day one bottle was taken out and allowed to warm up as the day went on. During wort chilling the yeast packet as well as scissors used to open it were rubbed with alcohol to sanitize and minimize possible contamination and stored under UV light (yes, I finally installed UV light in my hood) until use.

Warming up for use. Could those be Brett starters in the background?

Contents of the packet was poured into the bottle and allowed to incubate for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes the yeast turned into a paste-like mass. It was then gently swirled to resuspend and pitched into the fresh wort. Fermentation started much sooner than the normal 12-16 hours I usually see when just pouring the dry yeast into the wort. This would suggest that rehydration prior to pitching really is better for yeast survival. All in all this procedure barely adds any more time or effort to my brewday, especially if there are already bottles with sterile water available so I’ll continue rehydrating before pitching in future.

Let’s recap the protocol:

  1. Fill up culture bottles with ~100mL water and sterilize in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes at 15 psi. If such bottles are unavailable, one could use a small jar.
  2. Allow the water to cool enough to use or store until later use.
  3. Sanitize the yeast packet and scissors used to cut it with alcohol.
  4. Pour the yeast into your bottle/jar with sterile water and let sit on our table for 15-20 minutes gently swirling it once in a while.
  5. When the yeast reach a paste-like consistency gently swirl the container until homogeneity is achieved.
  6. Pitch into the wort.
  7. Let ferment.
  8. Enjoy your homebrew!

UV lamps and hoods are unnecessary and were only used since I have them. Just do it quickly and carefully at your kitchen table and you’ll be perfectly fine.

Hopefully this was an interesting and helpful read for some of you guys.


Dry yeast poured into the bottle

Same bottle 15 minutes later ready for pitching

Witch Poison Wild Gruit Tasting

There is always luck involved in brewing, especially when one’s doing a spontaneous fermentation. So let’s see how lucky I got with this one. As I mentioned in the original post this was a semi-spontaneous gruit. WYeast blends were added long after fermentation was over and the main fermentors were dry bread yeast and everything else that lived on the grains used. For a long time this brew was horrible and stinky, but as the time passed it changed and evolved into something unexpected and even beautiful in a way.

By now it’s almost 1.5 year old and spent 5 months in the bottle. Since this beer is highly carbonated I decided to go on an adventure and taste it twice. That is taste it immediately and write down my notes, and then let it sit for a bit to calm down and warm up a little and taste it again. Another thing is that there seems to be a lot of bacteria in the sediment because of how wispy it is. The lightest movement causes it to puff up into suspension.


Appearance: Yellow gold. Brilliant clear, but once even the tiniest bit of sediment gets in it becomes cloudy (such is the nature of bacterial sediments). Big fluffy head recedes immediately into nothingness. Constant stream of bubbles coming from the bottom. Champagne-like, sparkling. As bubbles burst when they come to the liquid interface, drops of beer shoot out into the air and hit your nose and face. Looks like a very “happy” beer.

After letting it sit for around 10 minutes there is still a constant stream of bubbles coming up from the bottom.


Smell: Sparkly bubbles attack your face with their bursts so it takes a little bit to get used to it and start smelling. Juniper greens, juniper wood and big earthy funk hit your nose at first. Grassy, hay-like, dried peas aromas detectable. Old vegetation.

After letting it sit for around 10 minutes a sweetness appears. Malty, sugary, musty-wine-like. Swirling the glass results in return of the juniper/funk that completely masks the gentle sweet notes.


Taste: Earthy funk up front, followed by more juniper. This gets washed away quickly by the high carbonation that just explodes on your tongue. After that passes, soft sourness appears and blooms, covering your whole mouth. Commandaria-like wine sweetness and mustiness appear after you get accustomed to the sourness. Light astringency numbs the tongue while the interplay of sour and sweet goes on for a while in the back. Some heat in your stomach after a couple minutes.

After letting it sit for around 10 minutes carbonation recedes and the flavor changes. There is still funky juniper in the beginning, but it gets overtaken by a tsunami of sweetness and sourness almost immediately. Same kind of musty wine sweetness, but the sourness is weaker than before so the sweetness eventually wins. Really weird in a good way. It’s like a mix of sour and sweet grapes in your mouth. Long finish.

Mouthfeel: High carbonation. Very light feel even after you allow carbonation to get down. Very very light with a lot of interesting flavors.


Overall: This is an interesting brew. Not something I’d drink every day – more like once in a while, so this one is probably going to last me years. It was very enjoyable to explore it in two attempts. There is definitely something witchy and dark about it. I got a picture of late autumn with bare trees, dead plants, cold, damp, chilling wind, light drizzling rain and mist in my mind while drinking it. It’s interesting that there is no smoke detectible whatsoever in this brew. One would think with all that smoked malt you’d get some, but alas there is none.

Yeast Extract Update

I wrote before about making a yeast extract at home and I just realized that I never followed up on that. Turns out it’s actually a very good yeast growing medium. It’s been used in about 1:1 proportion with DME based starter to make a starters and the results were just unbelievable. At first the fermentation was so vigorous on a stirring plate that there was actually foam billowing out of the flask. When I first counted I thought there was something wrong and did the dilutions over again and ended up with the same counting results of up to 1.6E9 ml-1 i.e. about 1.5 trillion cells in a 1 liter starter. And that’s assuming 80% of the cells seen were viable (don’t feel like staining with trypan blue). It should probably be pointed out that this was tested with Brettanomyces. Since then the proportion has been cut to about 1/10 of the total volume in a usual DME based starter and seems to be working quite well.

Another thing to confirm the nutrient richness of this concoction is that I tried making plates with this extract. As some of you know if there are too much goodies in the agar it won’t solidify (for example high gravity wort). In the end I diluted that extract 10-fold and used twice the amount of agar and they were still too soft or not solidify at all.

From this I’d conclude that such yeast cake utilization is very nice for growing more yeast if you can do it. Perhaps there is something wrong with my calculations, but judging by the yeast sediments at the flask bottoms at least it’s way better than just DME based starter.

A bottle of home brewed yeast extract with some of my daily torture in the background