This weekend I brewed a 10 gallon batch of IPA ("Olympic IPA" for the London games...go 'Murrica!) and I thought I'd drop a few thoughts and notes on how things went and talk about the yeast a bit.  

There are many variables in the brewing process that impact the final result, but none as important as good healthy yeast.  Yeast can provide up to 75% of a beer's flavor profile, so keeping them happy is vital to making good beer.  Because they are so important and they are living organisms (well, in the case of a 5 gallon fermenter billions of living organisms) they are one of the most expensive components of a batch of beer.

One way to cut down on cost is to wash and reharvest yeast after each batch of brew.  When healthy yeast are introduced into an ideal environment (sweet wort at the right temperature) they will eat the sugar, reproduce, and discharge carbonation and alcohol.  When all the sugar is gone, the yeast cells fall to the bottom of the fermenter forming a yeast "cake."  After bottling, kegging, or moving to a secondary vessel for other aging or flavor additions, this yeast cake can be cleaned up and stored for reuse.  

The basic idea is to keep the yeast dormant, so using sanitized (boiled) water you can collect samples in mason jars.  Below is a picture of some yeast that I had washed and stored for a few weeks that was used on Sunday's brew day.  Inside the jar you can see a thin layer at the bottom, which is a mini yeast cake, and on top is a liquid of some leftover beer and sanitized water.  Just storing these jars in the fridge will keep them at bay for up to a year.
Washed and reharvested yeast. The yeast cells are the small layer at the bottom of the jar.
Now when you want to bring these valuable unicellular party animals back to life, it's a fairly simple process that yields great rewards.  The amount of yeast you pitch into a batch of beer can have a huge impact on the results, so you don't want to under or over pitch.  1 pint sized jar (above) doesn't have enough cells in it for proper pitching, so you need to make a "yeast starter."  Basically it's making a mini beer with no hops.  

First thing is to take the mason jar out of the refrigerator to allow the yeast to get up to their ideal temperatures (mid 60's for ale yeast, mid 50s for lager yeast).  While that happens, boil some dry malt extract (DME) in water to get about 1-liter of wort  with an OG of 1.020-1.040 depending on the beer and your personal philosophy.  Boil the wort for 15 minutes or so, cool, and transfer to a sanitized jug for fermenting.  I use growlers from a local brew pub (see picture below), but this can be done in any number of vessels.  Cover with foil and let the biology do the rest.  The yeast, if still viable, will begin to eat the sugars and multiply to provide a better pitch rate for a full batch of beer.

Depending on when the starter is made and when brew day is can determine how the yeast gets pitched.  If the starter is made only a day or 2 before brewing, it's just fine to dump the entire vessel into the batch of beer.  If the starter is made 5-6 days ahead of time, it allows the yeast to settle towards the bottom, where you can put it in the fridge again (this bring the yeast all to the bottom) so when you pitch you can pour off the liquid on top and just dump the yeast in.  Either way is just fine and works great. 

If you use brand new yeast it might take up to 72 hours for noticeable signs of fermentation (bubbles in the air lock), however using a starter can speed up this process greatly.  For example I made 2 starters for Sunday's batch, and pitched the yeast around 2:00pm.  By 7:00pm both fermenters were bubbling very actively.
Two growlers, each with a yeast starter for Olympic IPA. 1 mason jar of washed yeast goes into each grower, and each growler will be the yeast for a 5 gallon fermenter.
Alright, so that was lengthy, and frankly pretty vague.  I could go into this a LOT more, but I want people to read it and enjoy it rather than read it and get a nosebleed.  

Cheers & have a good week!
Happy birthday USA!  I'm going to celebrate by brewing, and yes even writing about the ESB (Extra Special Bitter).  Given that it's 10:00am and 91° and humid it's dubbed Heatwave.  This is disgusting weather, too bad I can't (well, shouldn't) burn propane inside otherwise I'd be in the basement doing this instead of sweating like a pig on the patio.  Oh well, I love the outdoors, hence the name of the brewery!

Just like most brew days, this beer really started last night.  I crushed the 11 1/2# of grain and took some notes to get ready for the morning.  Then a few members of the tasting panel came over and we sampled beers for a few hours.  A quick night of sleep, some water, coffee, and ibuprofen and here we are.

8:00am - Pre-heat mash tun by filling the cooler with hot water.  This helps maintain mash temperatures by minimizing heat loss to the walls of the cooler.  Again, I'm a nerd, but this helps produce quality beer.
8:05am - Start heating strike water.
8:30am - Mash in.
9:20am - Start heating first sparge water.
9:35am - Take first runnings and dump sparge #1 into mash tun.
9:45am - Collect 2nd runnings and dump sparge #2 into mash tun.
10:00am - Full volume in brew kettle.  Yes, I'm sweating like crazy at this point.  I'm sitting near an open flame when it's 91° outside.
10:15am - Boil starts!
10:20am - Add bittering hops.  Now that the lid is off the kettle I have to be on the spot with driving bees away since they're very attracted to the sweet wort.  But I don't want them falling to their death in 7 gallons of boiling liquid.
10:30am - Give a friend's phone back that he left here last night. I guess a case of homebrew and 2/3 bottle of bourbon is enough for one night...
10:50am - Add flavoring hops, round 1.
11:00am - Add flavoring hops, round 2.
11:15am - Add aroma hops.
11:20am - Flame out, and start to cool wort.
12:30pm - Pitch Yeast and start cleanup.  

5-gallon brew days are a lot less stress and work than 10-gallon days.  Now that we're all set it's time to go drink some homebrews, grill out, sit by the pool, go boating, and watch some people blow stuff up.  God bless the USA!
Alright, so I promised that I'd have a new post whenever I got around to a 5-gallon batch using the smaller equipment, but things have been busier than expected and I haven't brewed in a while.  So, I'll keep people updated with what has been going on in beer related news for GOB.  

The Brewmaster and The Boss visited friends in California for a wedding and tasted plenty of wine and beer (see reviews of Russian River).  California is a great place for amazing beers by the way.

One of the members of the Tasting Panel got hitched last weekend, so that was a pretty good reason to party.  Heading to the wedding with a cooler of homebrew was a great idea for getting the wedding party started in the hotel before pictures and the ceremony.  I didn't hear too many complaints from people so I guess we're doing our jobs!

Last week the 2012 version of Checkered Buffalo was bottled, and is slightly different than 2011.  Lower in alcohol content but still delicious, I'm anxious for it to carbonate and be ready for consumption.

Last night I transferred 10 gallons of Single Speed to carboys for dry hopping. I didn't  have the exact hops I thought I did so I flew by the seat of my pants.  Depending on how the schedule dictates my time next week that will get bottled in 7-10 days.  Until then I need to work on freeing up a few bottles, which just so happens to be one of my favorite things to do.  I also washed and harvested some yeast from the bottom of the Single Speed fermenters for reuse on later batches.  I'll talk about that in a new post shortly...

I've got grains hops and yeast to make a London style ESB (Extra Special Bitter) so hopefully I can make some time for that in the near future and add that to the pipeline. Until then keep those bottles cold and your glasses full.
Single Speed Brewday
A man can only be told so many times to do something before he finally caves in and writes on a blog even though he doesn't really know what that is supposed to be.  Anyway, I'll share how my day goes today brewing Single Speed American Red Ale.  This is a 10-gallon batch brewed on the larger of the 2 systems I have.  Picture ans some information below.

The brewday really starts a few days in advance as I make "yeast starters."  Basically yeast are cool little fellas that eat sugar and poop alcohol and carbon dioxide.  They turn sugar water into beer.  By making a small solution a few days in advance I can verify that I have active yeast that will produce a quality beer. 

Last night I weighed out the grains that are needed and put them through the Barley Crusher grain mill.  This takes the grain and tears the husk off and breaks it open.  This will allow the inner starch of the grain to be exposed to hot water on brewday and be converted to sugars (thanks again high school chemistry & biology).  After crushing the grains they're sealed off for the night and I do some nerdy calculations.  After all, brewing is essentially science and I'm an engineer so yes I follow numbers pretty closely.

Finally brewday.  After getting more propane I'm ready to start...
10:15am.  Heat 9 gallons of water (called strike water) to 165° to mash in with the grains.
10:55am. Mash in.  Basically mix the strike water with the grains that The Boss and I weighed and crushed last night.  Check out pictures...she was a good little helper!
11:30am. Start heating sparge water.  This is used to "rinse" the grains to get any extra sugars out.
11:32 am. Open a beer to keep the homebrew gods happy. Besides, you can't drink all day unless you start in the morning!
11:50am. Recirculate wort (the strike water now has sugars from sitting for an hour with the grains so it's now called wort) through the mash tun to clear grain dust from the beer.
11:55am. Pump wort into boil kettle.
12:00pm. Pump sparge water into mash tun.
12:15pm. Pump sparge wort into boil kettle and start flame.
12:20pm. He-Man brew kettle and 12 1/3 gallons of wort onto new burner as typical brew kettle burner had gas leak. Sweat profusely. 
12:45pm. Open another beer.  Hell, nobody's standing here telling me not to!
12:50. Clean CFC (counter-flow-chiller). Neat little series of plates that is used to cool the boiled wort to the correct temperature to pitch the yeast.  Hot wort goes in 1 end, cold water goes in the other, they travel through a series of plates crossing over each other, and the cold water draws the heat from the hot wort.  Thank you heat transfer class at Marquette University.
1:00pm. Boil has started.
1:05pm. Add bittering hops.  Hops that are boiled for 60minutes add primarily bitterness to the beer. Hops boiled for 20-40 minutes contribute flavor, and Hops boiled for under 10 minutes add primarily aroma.  Dry hopping (aging the beer in a fermentation vessel with extra hops inside) adds only aroma and is a wonderful thing. I'd expand more on what hops I'm using but please refer to the recipes page for more information.
1:45pm. Add flavoring hops.
2:00pm. Add aroma hops.
2:05pm. Flame out. Cool wort through CFC into sanitized fermentation vessels and pitch (add) yeast.  

Clean up sucks but is a necessary evil.  I'm not going to go into detail on that.

That's pretty much how the day goes every time I brew using the 10-gallon setup.  Next time I do a 5-gallon batch I'll document that as the equipment is a little diffferent.
From left to right: HLT - Hot liquor tank. Used to heat strike and sparge water. MLT - Mash/lauter tun. Used to mix strike water and crushed grains to produce wort. BK - Boil or Brew Kettle. Used to boil the wort and add hops. Not shown is the pump mounted on the lower deck to transfer liquids. Lifting 150# scalding hot barrels isn't fun.