Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Batch 36: bighouse farmhouse

I'm going to start a running discussion that will illustrate the process of making a batch of homebrew from beginning to end. It will be deadly boring, but I will take lots of pics to make it more bearable. This batch, although it is a style that matures fairly early, will not be drinkable until mid-to-late October.

To give you an idea of the timelines, the bitter some of you tasted at Destiny's place was brewed on January 3rd. The apple cider was started on July 22, 2008. Brewing/fermenting is a game of patience and planning. The yeast are in control -- we just give them the food and time they need to do their work.

Ok, so the new batch. It's a farmhouse ale, which is a type of rual Belgian beer. It's part of a family of beers that are made with heat-loving yeast. Most yeast like it around 60-65F; farmhouse starts to work around 80F and really comes online around 90F. The resulting beer is a bit "wild" tasting, with a tangy, horsey, or leathery notes. The yeast lives there in Belgium and is harvested by American yeast culturers for propagation and sale to homebrewers. This batch is called "bighouse" because I am increasing the batch volume 30% for reasons that will become clearer on brewday.

I bought a pure culture of the farmhouse and propagated it in sterile agar slants like you probably saw in high school biology. This is where our story starts.

Preparing for brewday
The brewing (boiling) will occur approximately this upcoming weekend. There is no way to know for sure, because the yeast has to be ready.

I took the yeast culture out of the 40F refrigerator and sat it out to let it come up to room temp. While this happened I sterilized the yeast starter materials. Inside the pressure cooker: three different sizes of Erlenmeyer flasks with starter wort (unfermented pre-beer liquid) for the yeast to feed on. If you've ever proofed yeast before it's kinda like that, only working from much smaller, purer yeast samples and growing to much more yeast than you would ever use in bread. Takes days instead of minutes.

Sterilized the glassware, utensils, and liquids in the pressure cooker for 15mins @ 15 pounds. Did it outside on an old early-60s coleman camp stove I got for $10 on craigslist, as the 22qt Mirro doesn't fit well on the stove. And putting out that much heat wouldn't do any favors for my aged AC.

Let everything cool and laid out the sterile implements. The steel rod is an inoculating loop, which is flamed/quenched between each step to avoid cross contamination. The water in the mason jar was canned previously so it was already sterile. Since I lack an extra $5000 for a venthood, I make do with the poor man's version: bottom oven on low, vent-a-hood running. The object is to keep beastie-laden dirt particles flowing upward instead of settling on your working materials.
Not pictured: propane torch for flaming the 'noc loop.

Scraped the yeast out of the tube and deposited in a 50ml flask with a tiny magnetic stirbar. Re-covered with foil; this looks odd but is standard laboratory practice. The flask will sit on a stirplate for a day or so before the yeast solution will be "stepped up" into a larger volume of food in a larger flask. The stirplate has a spinning magnet in it that induces the magnetic stirbar to spin in the flask although there is no physical contact. The spinning aerates and agitates the yeast; you'll want to take my word that this is a Good Thing, as the reasoning behind it is arcane and of no use to normal people. :-) The styrofoam bit between the flask and the stirplate is for insulation. This old lab stirplate runs hotter than my other homebuilt one, and I want to control how much heat makes it to the yeast starter.

The starter is now 20cc in volume. By brew time it needs to be 500-1000cc.

That's it for now. I'll tag this series with batch36 label so folks can string the entries together after the whole thing is done.


  1. I bet your neighbors think you have a meth lab.

    BTW, the bitter was my favorite!

  2. It's worse than you think. Consider this:

    It's real. And it is an indicator of how nanny-statism and the misguided War On Drugs (spit) can make citizen science harder to do.