For me one of the most tedious things to deal with in brewing, beside sanitizing, has been the temperamental nature of yeast. Certain yeast strains need to ferment at certain temperatures. Ferment too cold and it goes dormant, add it when your wort is too hot and you kill your yeast. I have been using dry yeast simply because I once pitched a liquid yeast which never started fermenting. Dry yeast is generally more forgiving, has more active yeast cells and activates pretty well. The problem is, they are sort of generic meaning that you will not get subtle nuances from your brew that your specific style should have unless you use an appropriate yeast strain.
Two of the key players in the field of yeast are White Labs and Wyeast. Each carries multiple strains (white labs, wyeast) which all have their own characteristics. It is best to choose a strain that matches the style of beer you are brewing.
Yeast is what makes beer beer. By eating up the fermentable sugars that the grains provide, the yeast creates alcohol. The faster the yeast starts working, the better your chances of having a bacteria-free brew. After you terminate the boil of your brew, you want to bring down the temperature as fast as possible. To do this, we use a wort chiller which hooks up to a garden hose and allows cold water to run slowly through the copper coils and then back out again drawing the heat out of the wort. I just received my wort chiller from the Grape and Granary in Akron. Great deal at $49.99 for a 25′ 3/8″ copper tube chiller. I couldn’t make one for that price.
Once the wort is cooled down enough, around 70-75°F, you want to add it to your fermenter and pitch the yeast. The less time between end of boil and fermentation the better. This cuts down on the possibility of bacteria and infection in your beer. If the good yeast gets activated well, it will kill off unwanted bacteria, but if the bacteria is active it will take over and ruin a whole batch of your beer.
I am no expert on brewing yet but seeing as the yeast is such a vital part of the brewing process, I have begun treating it as such. I have moved on to liquid yeasts, but have also started to do something that will improve my yeast to help insure faster starts to fermentation. This begins a couple days in advance of brew day. By creating a yeast starter, I can double the amount of yeast cells that I add to my wort when I pitch my yeast. This will help get fermentation going faster and it is also recommended for higher ABV beers to have a successful fermentation.
Here is my first formula for a yeast starter for Wyeast 1272 American Ale II that I am using to brew my Black Nugget.
Liquid yeast packet (or harvested yeast)
4 oz DME (calls for Plain Light but I used Amber)
32 oz water (boils down to about 18 oz)
Bottle stopper to fit 22 oz bottle
Let yeast packet sit out for 3+ hours
Bring water to boil in sauce pan/mix in DME
Boil for 15 min (add some hop pellets if you’d like)
Cool to 70-75° (place pan in ice bath)
Funnel into 22 oz bottle
Add yeast packet (mine was Wyeast American Ale II 1272)
Place stopper and airlock and shake to mix
Of course everything should be sanitized first. I got activity pretty quickly on the day I started it and a nice yeast cake forming the next day. A couple days later I drained some of the starter and added some more wort to keep the yeast active. 24 – 48 hours later, pitch the starter into your cooled wort and let fermentation begin. Once you’re done with your brewing, you can harvest and clean your yeast and save it for future brews.
I am crossing my fingers for a successful pitch of my first yeast starter as I brew tomorrow.