Side by Side Cantillon Brett Tasting

It’s been a very long time since my last post. Lately I’ve been even busier than before, which is not unexpected for someone in my position, and homebrewing as well as yeast ranching has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist for me. I have been reduced to reading blogs and fantasizing about homebrew over the last few months because I can’t take part in it in real life on account of working seven days a week. Though I have full intentions to brew and make new plates to isolate more goodies, my last brew day was in the spring. Even on weekends I’m stuck in the lab glued to a microscope, dissecting newborn mouse eyes. The situation may be changing as enough eyes have been collected to keep my experiments rolling for at least a few more months. Hopefully, soon enough I’ll start brewing and isolating bugs again.

One of my readers asked for a side by side tasting of the BK C strains and it sounded like a good idea. Besides, I wanted to do this for a long time so thanks for the encouragement.

Left to right: C1-C2-C3

Left to right: C1-C2-C3

The recipe for these beers is simple:


US 2-Row Malt 80.0 %
US White Wheat Malt 20.0 %

Mashed at 147˚F.  OG – 1.056. FG – 1.001.


German Tradition
1.00 oz
60 Min From End

US Calypso
2.00 oz
5 Min From End

US Calypso
1.00 oz
At turn off

Left in primary for 3-5 months and bottled with table sugar to ~3 vol.


I have tasted these beers before and gave some descriptions here and there, but never all together and never with a few months of age on the bottles. So let’s see how they are doing.



Appearance: Orange/yellow. Clear with just a little bit of haze. Medium head in beginning, but then recedes to a ring around the glass. Lively carbonation.

Smell: Woody funk in the foreground, followed by sweet, fruity notes. Ripe pineapple and citrus. Allowed to stand and breathe a little, the woody funk goes down and sweet fruitiness becomes more prominent.

Taste: Whoa, it changed a lot since last time I tasted. Initially there is no woody funk at all, and the flavor is malt forward. Barnyard, earthy, wet funk makes an appearance and is almost instantly washed away by carbonation to be replaced by lemon, hay, and woodiness. Lemon and woody funk fight for dominance with lemon being the victor in the end and lasting through the finish. If I didn’t know this this has never even touched wood, I would argue that this beer was barrel aged for too long due to really woody-barrelcharacter. Very dry and just a little tart. Enough to make my mouth water. A bit vinous, like dry white wine. Citrus, citrus, citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium. Surprising for such a dry beer, but it’s by no means thin. Mouth filling, even somewhat coating.

Overall: This beer has improved a lot. Rather than weird woody funky fruity beer with individual characteristics not really playing harmoniously, as was the case just a few months ago, I feel like now it’s a much better brew. Things just work, and work well. There is too much woodiness for me, but otherwise it’s a very pleasant and refreshing beer. Perfect for the summer. I’m really interested to see how it continues to develop.


Appearance: Yellow/orange, much like C1, but brighter. Clear with a little haze. Champagne-like carbonation with a lot of head at first, but then goes down with nothing remaining, just bubbles coming to the surface.

Smell: Woody funk, but much less pronounced than C1. Grassy, sweet, fruity, apricot. More appealing to me than C1.

Taste: Also quite different than it was the last time. Malt forward, very subdued woody funk that lets fruitiness and even what seems like sweetness to come through. I’m sure I can taste just a hint of strawberry on the overall fruity background here and there. Dry and vinous, tart, but less so than C1. Woody funk comes back in the end and gets replaced by hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Fuller than C1. I noticed before that C2 seems to produce almost an oily mouthfeel and this is the case. It’s almost oily, almost velvety, just strange for such a dry beer.

Overall: Not as refreshing as C1, but interesting nonetheless. It’s pleasant, and the absence of dominating woodiness is a big plus.


Appearance: Straw yellow and crystal clear. Initial head recedes to nothing, same as C2.

Smell: Similar to C2 in terms of less woody funk, but more herbal, grassy, Cantillon-like. Does not smell sweet, though one can still detect pineapple notes.

Taste: Fruit forward. Sweet, pineapple, white apple, general fruitiness. Woody funk makes a sudden and strong appearance and disappears leaving light bitterness and gentle woodiness behind. Probably the least woody of the three beers. Tart, dry. For some reason really makes me think of big, juicy, sweet white apples. Funk comes back in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Light. Lighter than C1 or C2.

Overall: Interesting. Not bad, but I feel like it needs more age. Fruity.


It’s intriguing that they changed as much as they did and I’ll be sure to give them another official tasting maybe in a year or so. Overall I’m pleased with the way they turned out. Stay tuned for more posts coming in future!

More on Yeast Rehydration

The issue of dry yeast rehydration has been following me around since about the time I first wrote about it. A conversation here and there sparked up, often resulting in lengthy discussions on the topic of water vs wort and temperatures. Some took my suggestions and ideas readily, backed up with some info from a scientist who worked on these, while others were more skeptical. In either case it seems that people who tried rehydration in warm water preferred it to sprinkling straight into wort. The hardest issue for people to understand seems to be the matter of yeast viability. I find it very hard to explain that making a starter with dry yeast is pointless because osmotic pressure would kill a large portion of the initial culture and the time would be simply spent on rebuilding it to its original numbers. It doesn’t seem like it’s a very difficult concept to grasp, but the issue persists. Rather than debating and trying to back it up with simple scientific logic, I decided to conduct a little study to address the questions of temperature as well as sugar and hop compound concentration in dry yeast rehydration.

The original study was supposed to just be a temperature series in water, but right when I was about to start, it occurred to me that repeating the same series with different worts would also be interesting. The experiment consisted of three series:

Water – just plain sterile water.

Starter – a simple standard starter made with 100g DME per liter of water. OG ~1.040.

High OG/IBU – some wort I had saved in my freezer from an IPA I brewed some time ago. OG of 1.068 and 123 IBU.

The idea was to test the concept of temperature and osmotic pressure as well as assess the effects of high hop compound concentration on ensuing yeast viability after rehydration. For that purpose I used a packet of Danstar Nottingham that’s been sitting in my fridge for a while. It’s safe to assume that the viability of that culture is not at its optimum, but it’s what I had on hand and its response should be comparable to that of a fresh pack.

Experimental design was simple and straightforward:

Incubate yeast for 15-20 minutes in each medium at following temperatures: 35C (95F), 32C (89.6F), 25C (77F), 16C (61F) and 4C (39F). Stain with trypan blue and count dead and living cells. For each data point, between 120 and 1500 cells were counted, totaling in around 5000 cells. Let me tell you it wasn’t at all fun. In cases where cell viability was so low that counting would have been a waste of time (see example below), I assigned values of 1 and 5% based on qualitative observation.


An example of a sample with such low viability that counting was useless. Red arrow = dead cell. Green arrow = live cell.

The results were not completely unexpected. As expected, cell viability was much higher in yeast rehydrated in water rather than in wort. As the temperature decreased so did the viability, though more rapidly than I would have expected. This could be attributed to the age of the packet, but getting 85% viability in water suggests that they are still pretty healthy. What’s interesting is that starter wort largely imitates the water curve, but with significantly lower live cell counts, but high OG/IBU wort does not. It seems that in those conditions yeast get killed very quickly in warmer temperatures and they survive better in slightly cooler conditions. At around 17C (63F), which is a normal pitching temperature for most beers, the starter and high OG/IBU wort intersect and are almost the same as the temperature decreases. This suggests that when it comes to sprinkling dry yeast straight into wort it makes no difference if it’s a small or a big beer. Osmotic pressure will kill them just the same.


Final verdict: Warm water is better for rehydrating yeast than cool water, starter or pitching straight into beer.

I suppose the viability curves would be a bit higher if the pack was fresher and they vary a little from batch to batch, so I constructed a theoretical viability curve chart based on these findings, but with an increase of 10-15% so as to not surpass  100% viability and decrease the sudden drop below 30C.


I hope this little study has been helpful to you since some of you have been asking me to do a temperature series for a few months now. I also hope that this cleared up some doubts and concerns that you had regarding yeast rehydration.

Note: Don’t forget to equilibrate the rehydrated yeast prior to pitching into wort as a large temperature differential may kill or mutate a considerable portion of the yeast. Allow the rehydrated yeast to passively cool to temperature of your wort, or add small portions of the wort to the yeast until the temperatures are very close.

As always, comments, discussion, critique are always welcomed.



Homebrew Alley VII Homebrewing Competition

Hey everybody! Remember me? That yeast rancher from Brooklyn, NY? Yes, that one! Well I’m still alive and kicking! I apologize for the long hiatus in posting yeast experiments, but the truth is that I’ve been just too busy in lab. With grants due in a couple days there has been quite a push to come up with ideas and preliminary data to test them. Since the primary aim of this particular grant is my thesis project, I hope you can understand how it takes precedence over brewing and yeast ranching for the time being. Hopefully after submitting it this week things should get back to normal and I’ll no longer slave away until 10-11pm every day and will have time to brew some beers and ranch some yeast. The next yeast experiment is already planned out and will probably be posted in about a week for the benefit of a portion of my readers who have been asking me to do it for some time now. Until that sweet time comes I’ll try to entertain you by telling you how my first homebrew competition since 2011 went.

This year Homebrew Alley had over 700 entries, making it the biggest one yet. I picked it because it was local and there was no need for shipment as long as I paid the entrance fees and dropped the bottles off at the appropriate location. As you probably know, I always refer to competitions as a waste of beer and money because of my previous experiences with oxymoronic comments from judges (like the famous “dry and cloyingly sweet”) as well as just plain wrong statements such as describing Brettanomyces character of beers that have never been touched by Brett. This year I thought I’d give it another try mainly to see what people think of my sour brews. To my surprise, my Berliners ended up taking 1st and 3rd places in the categories entered. Another surprise was the scores for the Witch Poison Gruit. Though it received the lowest score I’ve ever gotten, it was nice to see that the judges accurately identified its characteristics, which they thought to be fermentation flaws, but instead came from the ingredients. To me that shows that this time people judging the beers were competent and didn’t just make things up.

Rather than posting the photos of the score sheets I’ll just give you the text because some of them are written in extremely illegible hand or just cut off mid-sentence.

So, on to the scores!


Not sure why they sent me two 3rd place ribbons.

xxxx = can’t be read without a cryptologist.


Berliner Weisse

Entered in Category 17 A


Judge #1:

Aroma: Moderate sour aroma (both lactic and slight acetic). Moderate leather, hay – nice. Complex. No hops. 9/12

Appearance: Pale yellow. Very slight haze. Pours with very low white head that dissipates immediately. 2/3

Flavor: Aggressive, but not overpowering sourness, mostly lactic. Bone dry. Mild Bretty barnyard flavors. Hints of wheat and honey in background. No hop flavor. 16/20

Mouthfeel: Effervescent, very prickly, no astringency or warmth. 5/5

Overall Impressions: Excellent Berliner. Maybe a little big for the style, but delicious. 8/10

Total: 40/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Very mild sourness. Mostly lactic. Allows some wheat to shine through too. No hops. Some barnyard xxxx in there too. 8/12

Appearance: Pale golden. Opaque. Very slight white head xxxx energy and fades quickly! 2/3

Flavor: Sharp sourness – very lactic with supporting horsey and barnyardy. No fruit or yeast character evident. 16/20

Mouthfeel: Super light body. Low carbonation level. Dry as heck! No booziness. 2/5

Overall Impression: Undercarbonated for the style. More would have made it livelier. A little more general “funk” than a Berliner typically has. But this is a very tasty Berliner. Should get even better with age. Thanks for entering! 7/10

Total: 35/50


Final Assigned Score: 37.5

Place awarded:  3rd


My thoughts: It’s interesting how two people drinking the same beer differ in carbonation description. It was also a little surprising to see that it’s aggressively sour because I always thought of it as very mild.


Troubadour (Berliner with raspberries)

Entered in Category 20 A


Judge #1:

Aroma: You can smell the sour as it pours. Tartness dominates, followed by a hint of “stinky feet”. Raspberry in the back (very true to life raspberry at that). Slight petrol behind, which is complementary. 10/12

Appearance: Pours with large head that rapidly disperses to film on top, clear, light pink/straw color. 3/3

Flavor: Sour tartness dominates. The raspberry flows behind. Otherwise clean lactic strong. Petrol notes towards end compliment. Some barnyard character as well. 17/20

Mouthfeel: High carbonation, light body, puckering, dries out. 5/5

Overall Impression: A delightful beer. The level of tartness is on the higher end of the spectrum for a Berliner and also has a nice depth. Displaying nice lacto as well as Brett character. This might be intense for some, but I love it. Beautiful job! 9/10

Total: 44/50


Judge #2: actually same person as Judge #1 from Berliner Weisse

Aroma: Strong grainy wheat aromas accompanied by a touch of green apple-like sourness, a touch of acetic acid and a hint of raspberry. Slight phenolic. No hops. 10/12

Appearance: Pours fairly clear. Salmon color with a tall white head that dissipates quickly. 3/3

Flavor: Wheat apparent along with an aggressive sourness (combo lactic and acetic, more lacto). Mild plastic phenolics. Raspberry barely perceptible, but there. Hops not apparent – good. 17/20

Mouthfeel: Medium body (maybe a bit high for the style). Very highly carbed – nice. Mouth puckering, prickly. 4/5

Overall Impression: Very nice Berliner. Could use a touch more raspberry. Maybe a little big for the style. 8/10

Total: 42/50


Final Assigned Score: 43

Place Awarded: 1st


My thoughts: Never expected this! When I brought this brew to a homebrew meeting and people gave it very positive and enthusiastic reviews I thought they were just being nice. I guess this really is a successful combination. Now I just don’t have an excuse to not make this again!


Schismatic Dubbel

Entered in Category 18 B


Judge #1:

Aroma: Raisin, stone fruit, malt sweetness, restrained hop character. Sweet fruity ester character from yeast is very restrained. 9/12

Appearance: Pours with a thick, tan, airy head. Reddish-brown color. Clings to glass very beautifully. 3/3

Flavor: Salted caramel sweetness is dominant. Fruity yeast characteristics are very pleasant and has a strawberry quality to it. Alcohol warming is very noticeable at end (and on breath afterward). Toffee is dominant. 15/20

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-high carbonation. Initial creamy texture which leads to an alcohol warmth and slightly chewy. 4/5

Overall Impression: Very well executed beer in terms of style. However, alcohol warmth could be toned down just a touch and you may want to experiment with slightly less caramel malts. I really enjoyed this beer. 7/10

Total: 35/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Big malty nose with some toffee notes and a little clove. 8/12

Appearance: Dark amber color with beige head. Great retention. Fairly clean. 3/3

Flavor: A lot of toffee + caramel. Very malty. Some raisins + phenols. Nicely balanced. Whole lotta toffee! 10/20

Mouthfeel: Medium-full mouth. High carbonation. Creamy. No alcohol warmth. 4/5

Overall Impression: Good example, but it falls a little flat in the end. 6/10

Total: 31/50


Final Assigned Score: 33

Place Awarded: none


My thoughts: This is not bad for a dubbel brewed in 2010 I think! Interesting how they differ in terms of alcohol warmth. Sounds like I should try recreating it.


Witch Poison Gruit

Entered in Category 17 E


Judge #1: Non-BJCP

Aroma: Big smokiness xxxx. Light cooked vegetables. Cabbage aroma. Some baby diaper, tons of diacetyl. Malt aroma – low to none. 3/12

Appearance: Golden. Hazy billowy head. Fizzy like soda. Head disappeared quick. 2/3

Flavor: Sharp sourness with Bxxxx smokiness. Smoke is peat-like with some bacon. Tart. Not a ton of malt. 7/20

Mouthfeel: Med-low boon. No astringent. No alcoholic. Tart. 3/5

Overall Impression: Unfortunately the diacetyl and smoke in this beer make it hard to drink. It is complex, just not the right kind of complexity. 5/10

Total: 20/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Slight fishy aroma and a xxxx dominant cherry wood smokiness. No hop aroma. 5/12

Appearance: Pours orange-gold with thick head that dissipated almost immediately. Cloudy, but appropriate for style. 2/3

Flavor: Very complex, with smokiness and somewhat unusual fermentation characteristics. Strong lactic tartness, appropriate, but (not sure what happened here. he just cuts off) 8/20

Mouthfeel: Light body and medium carbonation. No alcohol warmth or astringency. Very strong and lingering slickness from lacto and diacetyl. 1/5

Overall Impression: Very strong lactic taste, but not very refreshing. Need to clean up the lactic off flavors (smokiness, fish) and reduce the slickness (probably combination of lacto and diacetyl) 4/10

Total: 20/50


Final Assigned Score: 20

Place Awarded: none


My thoughts: This is the lowest scoring beer I’ve ever had, but despite that I am strangely happy about it. The judges described it pretty accurately, but didn’t know that it’s all not fermentation flaws, but derived from the ingredients themselves. Smokiness, fishiness and bacon are contributed by a huge amount of peated malt. Vegetative character is contributed from the juniper branches, pepper and lemongrass. Slickness is probably from the rye. In any case I agree with them that the vegetal smell isn’t very appealing. It also looks like my suspicions about using rye and darker malts in a no-boil beer is not a good thing. Something in them doesn’t play nice with the bugs. Don’t know what to make of diacetyl as I haven’t noticed it. It probably wasn’t the best idea to enter it is a Gueze, but I just didn’t know where else to stick it. All in all this beer is what it is and they got it pretty much right. Most important thing is that I enjoy it in the summer, and strangely, so does my mother who hates beer.


There you have it. Looks like my Berliners are better than I thought and this gives me more incentive to continue with funky and sour brews.

As I mentioned before, I am still very much alive and intent to keep homebrew funky yeast science going strong. In recent days I’ve been getting more emails asking about the Cantillon Iris isolates as well as whether or not I’ve isolated some new strains. The answer is a definite YES. There will be more Iris strains in upcoming weeks and there will be more unique bugs isolated soon too. Hopefully after this week I’ll be able to get back to it.


Unexpected Joy

So these last couple of days I’ve been going through the junk that’s been destroyed in the basement and throwing everything out. All my beers and mead drowned in the flood there and, as I mentioned previously, just got dirty, but survived otherwise. Among the disaster something very pleasant appeared. That something was a whole box of a dubbel I made over two years ago and thought was gone completely. Don’t know where it was hidden, but it got uncovered by the water. This was one of the last beers I entered into a competition and it did reasonably well (34 I think). I’ve thrown out all the score sheets because they’re all trash and never offer anything constructive even if they are “perfect example of the style” and “no aroma or flavor flaws”, which is why I don’t enter competitions anymore. For example one of the judges based his entire scoring on the Brett character in that dubbel. Only problem is that there was no Brett in it whatsoever and I didn’t even have any Brett in my yeast collection back then. Just a waste of good beer. In any case I put the bottles into the fridge and decided to pop one as I was reading through some stuff for an upcoming post that was a lot of work and I think you all will enjoy. Another thing that makes this brew so special to me is that the original recipe is lost for ever. It was on my hard drive when it crashed in December 2010 and was never recovered. Funny how I remember every recipe lost in that crash (including a very special Trippel that might pop up sometime in a certain Wisconsin brewery 🙂 ), but not this one… Alas! Hope you guys enjoy this little tasting with me.

Bottles of the Witch Poison Gruit. Labels got completely washed off.


Managed to get some Troubadours into plastic crates

Some more Berliners

Surviving Berliners

What wouldn’t a homebrewer dig through to get to his beer…

Appearance: Deep dark red. Clear, but really dark so you can’t really see through it. Lots of bubbles coming up. Thick, dense head that last a few minutes and falls back to around 1/4 inch and stays like that.

Smell: Strong smell. Can feel it as soon as you open the bottle. Sweet, malty, bready, rum notes, sweet alcoholic notes, dark stone fruits, plums, D-2 candi syrup, beautiful Belgian yeast notes.

Taste: Mmmmmm! Mmmm! Mmmmmmmmmmmm! Oh how I missed this beer! Taste is very similar to smell, but amplified. Bready malt, stone fruits, sugar, yeast. Bread and yeast dominate this one. Some very nice alcohol touch adding spiciness to the picture as well as light warming in your chest after a few sips. Dry finish. Really cool how it’s dry, but you still get that malty and sugary taste. Finish is not very long. Some oxidation is apparent in the very very end, but that’s not really surprising after years in the bottle.

Mouthfeel: Very light, almost soda-like. Medium-high carbonation keeps it tasting light and prevents from being heavy. Really easy drinking beer.

Overall: Not anything super incredible or anything. Just a decent dubbel that I thought was gone for ever so that makes it a little more special for me. This brew is something between Delirium Nocturnum and Ommegang’s Dubbel. Probably going to try to recreate it again. I remember the main grain was Munich and the yeast was from Unibroue…

Troubadour Tasting

It’s time to finally do an official Raspberry Berliner tasting!

In the aftermath of the disastrous hurricane Sandy that stormed through the eastern seaboard it’s nice to have something as simple and comforting as a glass of good brew. During the storm I lost power for some time, cell network, hot water and heat, but now everything is fine and I’m back to brewing and drinking. It should probably be mentioned that this bottle is the only 750mL bottle of Troubadour that escaped the storm unscathed thanks to being in the fridge. All others, along with plain Berliner, Witch Poison Gruit, Mead and others were in a basement that got flooded and I didn’t think anything survived in there after seeing the complete destruction that the flood caused. This morning I went down there with a flashlight and waded my way through water, mud, silt, broken furniture, destroyed boxes and so on in search for my beer and some lab equipment I was keeping there. After seeing annihilated shelves and chairs hanging from the ceiling (water rose higher than the basement sealing) I didn’t have much hope, but luckily all my beers and mead escaped unharmed and were only covered in silt! I was able to recover everything I hoped to find there in good condition.

Anyway, let’s get down to it!

I’ve only tasted this beer once before this summer when I brought it to a homebrew meetup and it was well received and I liked it more than the plain version. Not a single bottle had been opened since then so it was a bit of a special experience opening this one. Since my family is celebrating my birthday tonight (it’s actually tomorrow, but everyone is busy) it was a nice addition to the evening.

Appearance: Brilliant, crystal clear. Orange-pink color. Lots of bubbles. Head rises and quickly falls into a ring around the glass that persists throughout the tasting.

Smell: Bright, acidic, very similar to the plain version but with a pronounced raspberry instead of champagne aroma. Funky. Sour. Delicious!

Taste: Lactic sourness up front, but very gentle, just how I like it. Funk from the nose carries into the flavor and takes over. Raspberry pokes out here and there but is not the main player. It’s there, but in the back seat playing along with everything else that’s going on. Possibly very light, almost unnoticeable acetic note. Slightly musty. No malt noticeable. Mouthwatering tart finish. Vinous.

Mouthfeel: Very light but with so much flavor!

Overall: I impressed myself with this beer. Amazing how something so simple turned out so tasty. I am determined to get back into that basement and rescue my 15 Gal fermentors to get the next batch of Berliner going as soon as I can do it!