So...finally have these things going...hopefully I'm using them correctly
Homebrew 101: Happy Yeast Zombies
July 21, 2014
Before we get started with this one, you may want to go grab a few beers; this one is going to be a bit longer than usual (don’t worry it just means you get more sweet sweet reading candy for your eye holes) Ready to keep going…..cool beans.
Of the four basic ingredients of beer, the most integral for making beer the glorious nectar we all enjoy is yeast. These wonderful little micro-organisms (yes yeasts are living cultures, and every time you drink a beer you put them inside you….have fun with that thought) are not only responsible for the alcohol content of beer and most other adult beverages, but are integral for natural carbonation and contributing to many of the flavors of a brew by consuming the malt sugars extracted from the grains. Yeast, like most other things pertaining to brewing, is a diverse and complex topic all its own, with many microbiologists dedicating their careers to this single little organism. Being a home brewer doesn’t require that level of dedication, but a basic knowledge of how to use yeast properly can make all the difference in the quality of your beer.
So, what is yeast anyway? Well to as mentioned previously yeast is a micro-organism that feeds on sugars to and produces alcohols and carbon dioxide as a byproduct. It is in the fungus family, and consists of ovular cells that reproduce by budding new cells (And there is your random semi-gross fact of the day! You’re welcome for the knowledge, now take a sip of your pint) Why is it important to know this? Well there are a few reasons: First, understanding that the yeasts are living things and as such need to be kept in an environment that keeps them sustained. It is also important to understand that there are a wide range of species of yeast, some of which are more appropriate for certain brewing and baking goals than others. What type of yeast is most appropriate for your brewing needs will largely depend on your experience level and type of beer that you are making. Again this is something on which entire books have been written, but for the sake of brevity we will go over the most common types used in home brewing:
Ale Yeast v. Lager Yeast: We are all familiar with the different qualities of ales compared to lagers in terms of flavors and colors, etc. The difference between the two styles is largely related to the types of yeasts used and the fermenting environment each requires. Lager yeasts prefer temperatures close to the 40 degree range and will generally ferment at the bottom of your primary vessel. Ale yeasts generally favor warmer temperatures and will tend to ferment at the top of the primary, hence the “Foam Eruptions” that can occur with particularly active yeast or overfilled carboys (way better than the alki seltzer volcanoes you made in elementary school) This is another topic that I learned allot about from John Palmers How to Brew, (credit where credit is due) and if you are interested in learning more about the differences between yeasts, it is a great resource.
Dry Yeasts: We are all probably familiar with the jar of yeast granules that some family member kept in the fridge for baking. You most definitely DO NOT want to use baking yeast for your beer, but the same principle of storage and longevity can be applied to beer yeasts. Most often dry beer yeasts will be more durable ale yeast species and are well suited for those just starting on home brewing and/or making LME recipes (What’s an LME? Well clicked click on “lme” in the Tags over there to read all about them!) Dry yeasts may also require a larger volume than expected when pitching into your wort (i.e. more than one individual packet) but also have the added benefit of being easy to store if you will have long periods between your brews.
Liquid Yeasts: If you want a more diverse selection of yeasts to ensure you have the right one for your brew, liquid yeasts are a great option. Most liquid yeasts will come pre-measured for five gallon brewing projects, so if you are brewing a larger volume you again may need to pitch more to ensure proper fermentation. Companies like WYeast also sell yeasts packages with activators (basically a snack for the yeast to get it nice and rowdy before it goes to fermentation) which are convenient if you don’t want to go through the trouble of activating your yeast in a separate vessel. Again, these species offer more variety but can be more sensitive to wort and temperature, so it is best to use a dry yeast until you have a few batches under your belt.
This should be a good starting point and review of what yeast is and how best to choose the right strain for your brew. Most brewing supply stores are also staffed with folks who can point you in the right direction if you’re not sure what the best fit is for you. And with that, I’m off to drink my fungus cultures for the evening, happy brewing all and remember, keep your germs happy!