Sunday, December 18, 2011

Being more "hands-on"

In the past few months I have been working staidly towards building a HERMS system. It took a while, but I finally got together all the components I needed, and I was finally going to assemble it over the next couple of weeks when SWMBO and the Junior Brewmistress are away visiting relatives in the States. So naturally, now that I'm all ready, I'm re-thinking the whole idea of building a new system.

See, I decided to build a HERMS system after I saw one on a fellow-brewer's rig. At the time I was brewing BIAB with a bag that really was not suited for the part. I had all kinds of problems with efficiency, mash temperature, and recipe balance, and I thought that a system where you set it to the right settings and forget about it sounded fantastic. My decision came to fruition when I switched from BIAB to a cooler-mashtun, and had to deal with mash temperatures being all wrong without being able to add heat as needed (a major benefit of BIAB).

Since those days, two things have happened that cause me to rethink the HERMS idea:
1. I found out that HERMS isn't all that -. You still have to futz with it to get things to work right. You're dependent on more equipment that can fail on you, and it's generally more complicated. In beer, as in life, K.I.S.S.
2. I've become a much better brewer. - I've gained experience. I've learned my current system. I know what to do in certain situations. A dough-in that ends up too low or high doesn't freak me out anymore. I know what to do in that case. I've successfully dealt with a stuck sparge, calculated water volumes, and had consistent efficiency rates. A lot of those problems that I wanted to use HERMS to solve I ended up solving without.

One might ask: I've already spent all the money to get the components. Wouldn't it be a terrible waste not to build the HERMS now? Well.. Yes and no. In reviewing the various things I got for the system, I think the only thing I will end up not using is the temperature controller. Everything else: The pump, the tubing, the spigots, the electric heating element, I have use for all of it (in fact, with the exception of the pump, I already use all of it in my current system.) Heck, when I set the pump up to do fly-sparge, I might even install the controller inline somewhere to see what the spage water temperature is. Waste not want not. :)

Don't get me wrong, I still think HERMS is massively cool. I like gadgets, and I like fine-tune control, so chances are I will probably build it eventually. But I think that I have not come close to using the full capacities of my current system yet, so rushing to upgrade it seems a little ridiculous. Plus, I think that if I do the build in a year or two, I will have a much better feel for what I'm doing, and a much better understanding of the process, which will lead me to build a better system and, ultimately, make better beer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dry yeast to Liquid yeast table

I had a discussion with a fellow homebrewer some time ago, where he claimed that dry yeast is as good as liquid yeast, and that it can produce equally good beer. I argued to him that it sounded unreasonable to think that you can substitute the dozens of liquid strains available with the handful of dry strains and expect the same results, and in response he sent me to do some reading.

Well I did some reading, and it turns out, we were both right. There are, in fact dozens (if not hundreds) of yeast strains out there. Each differing in flavor profile, attenuation, flocculation, temperature range and other factors, and indeed most of them produce different results (to a lesser or greater extent) than the dried yeast that is suppose to substitute them. However, there do appear to be certain strains that are the "major players" in the world of yeast, and that are the strain of choice for a large number of beers. Many of those appear to also be available in dried form. In fact, it appears that most dried yeast available today is a dry form of well known liquid strains.

So I compiled a little table of dry yeast and the liquid yeast from which it is derived. This is not an equivalence table - there are many more strains that you can substitute a given strain of dry yeast for and get acceptable results. The strains in this table are supposedly identical, or nearly identical to the liquid form.

A couple of caveats:
1. Like any form of processing, drying subtly changes the yeast. So while the strains are supposedly identical, there may be slight variations in profile, lag time, etc.
2. Since the information here was compiled from several different sources, and is sometimes based on opinions and educated guesses it varies in reliability. Those strains for which confidence is not high, or that there is debate about the exact strain of are marked with a question mark.

US-05 - WYST1056 - WLP001
US-04 - WYST1098/1099? - WLP007
K-97+ - Wyeast 1007? - WLP320?/036?
WB-06 - WYST3333 - WLP380 - Weihenstephan 66?
T-58 - WYST3724/1214? - WLP565/500? - Chimay? / Saison Dupont
S-23 - WYST2001?/2206? - WLP800?/820? *
S-189+ - ? - WLP885 - Samichlaus
W34/70 - WYST2124 - WLP830 - Weihenstephan 34/70

Nottingham - WYST? - WLP039
Windsor - WYST1928?/1068? -WLP002
Munich - WYST3638 - WLP351 **

CoopersAle - ? - WLP-009

Mutons ale - WYST1968? - WLP-002 ***

+ Yeast is marketed as "Craft Brewing" yeast (as oppose to home brewing) and may not be available in small packets
* S-23 Seems to change its character depending on brewing temp. Fermenting clean at about 60F, and fruity at around 50F
**Danstar Munich is reputed to be the same strain as 3638/351, but the drying process tends to result in a less phenolic profile
***For an opinion on Mutons yeast I will refer you to Finn Hill Brewing Blog, which I feel has summarized the yeast well: see comments below the chart.

I'll welcome any additions and contributions to the chart. I've primarily focused on yeasts available in Israel, but if anyone wants to add international yeasts, I'd be happy to.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The first ever Three Cats "Beer God" award

As we grow and develop as brewers, beer connoisseurs, and craftsmen, it is important to learn from others who have valuable insight to share. Often those others are writers and professionals who share their advice via printed or electronic media. But just as often, if not more, these advices come from fellow brewers who answer a simple (or not so simple) question. Sometimes, the difference between success and sewage hinges on who's advice you listen to.

When we do get an especially good piece of advice, I feel it is important to share it and acknowledge to giver. I recently got such an advice: I had brewed a lager with a bit of difficulty, and had invested quite some time and effort into it. Considering the brew's rocky birth, I was thrilled when I tasted it at bottling and found that it had quite the potential. However, when I tasted the first bottle after carbonation I was nightly dismayed: The beer had almost no carbonation!

I was ready to pour the thing down the drain (as was the advice of a fellow brewer) and disavow ever brewing lagers again. Luckily, before I did, I shared my predicament with another brewer. His advice was as follows:

" Warm them up and turn them upside down to get the yeast back into suspension. If that doesn't work you can uncap all the bottles and dose with a bit of fresh yeast." "I'd wait 2-3 weeks, it is not an instant fix. If that doesn't work you can try the reyeasting."

I was a bit skeptical that such a simple idea would work. But my other options were pouring more yeast in or pouring the beer out, so I didn't mind trying. I took the beer out of the refrigerator, gave it a few good shakes, and turned it upside down. Then I forgot about it until this last weekend.

When I came back to it a couple of days ago, I poured a cold bottle into a mug, and was amazed to see actual stable head forming on the beer! I tasted it, and by gum, it had carbonation!. Not as much as I'd like (I think I didn't quite give it enough sugar) but definitely in the realm of drinkability. My beer had gone from sewage to success!

The brewer who gave me the advice which saved my beer was Mike "The Mad Fermentationist" Tonsmeire. And for his help he is presented with the first ever Three Cats Blog "Beer God" award for outstanding advice or service in the field of Home Brewing. Mike, this one's for you: