Homebrew Con 2016

June 16, 2016

It was an honor to be invited to speak at the 39th Homebrew Con in Baltimore, Maryland. For those of you unfamiliar with Homebrew Con, (formerly the National Homebrew Conference), it is a yearly conference on all things homebrew presented by the American Homebrewers Association. (Side note: if you are not a member of the AHA, you should become one. They do so much for our homebrew community and deserve your support. Plus, as a member you get a discount at Bitter & Esters.)

Homebrewcon is made up of several elements: beer, homebrew stuff, gadgets and seminars. When you walk into the convention center there is a main floor with a trade show for all things homebrew. From ingredients to the latest innovations in equipment. (Keep an eye out for some really cool stuff from Blichmann in the coming months.)

The seminars are one of my favorite parts of the conference as there is always something new to learn in brewing and the speakers are fantastic. The keynote speaker this year was Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head. He was introduced by the Governor of Maryland! People are taking notice of homebrew. There were a total of 69 seminars this year, ranging from going pro to how to use malts for foam/head retention. My favorite talk was from Chris White of White Labs yeast on Unlocking the Genetic code of brewing strains. It may sound nerdy, but it was fascinating.

I got the chance to present (“Building your Homebrew Community”) on how to give value to your customer through events and classes to help compete with the growing online market. I was inspired to tell other shop owners about the experiences we have with our amazing homebrew community and how we work to grow it. I had fun and got great feedback and some great tips as well. I was a little concerned that I was speaking to other homebrew shop owners who might consider me a rival. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I met some of the nicest people and everyone was sharing their experiences. Whether they have been in business for 1 or 20 years, we all felt camaraderie. It’s not easy doing what we do but it is a labor of love. Support your local homebrew shop!

Mary Izett and Sam Burlingame also presented seminars, New York represent! All of the seminars will be available on the AHA website soon. You have to be a member of the AHA to access them. Did I mention that you should join the AHA?

Homebrew Con is also where the nation’s largest homebrew contest is judged. The National homebrew competition brings the best beers from regional contests to compete in every BJCP category. The winningest brewer is named homebrewer of the year, a title won last year by our friends Peter Salmond and Oskar and Erik Norlander.

Let’s not forget about the beer though. Every booth had at least two taps, there was a social club every day where 5 homebrew clubs (in three sessions) would pour 12 taps for you to try. Thursday was Craft beer kick off party where you could sample over 50 local craft breweries. Maryland and the mid Atlantic States have some amazing breweries. Word on the street is Devil’s Backbone brewery of Virginia will soon be distributed to NYC. You will be happy.

Several New York Clubs poured beer as Brewnity during the Thursday afternoon Social Club. The Social Club allows homebrew clubs to get together on the trade floor and let you taste their wares for 2 hours. We poured some outstanding brew and had a grand old time. At Friday afternoon’s Social Club the Homebrewsicians presented a poster describing our band. Of the six of us only Chris Cuzme, Sam Burlingham and I were at the conference. We did some acoustic numbers, it was a blast. I love singing to people that are drinking beer.

Friday night was also club night and it was legendary. If you remember club night, you weren’t there. On club night you could head to any AHA sanctioned club for some samples of their beer. Bitter & Esters poured alongside the Brewminaries. The clubs themselves get really creative with their set ups. Jails with taps, a mobile pirate ship kegerator, crazy get ups, it got a little surreal! As New Yorkers we were a bit subdued, although the New York City Homebrewers Guild had a pizza rat theme and were wearing rat ears (they all looked adorable). We let the beer do the talking and all of the area clubs were pouring amazing beer. I’m so proud of New Yorkers. If you are going to take the time and space to brew beer in a NYC apartment, you are going to make great beer dammit!

Saturday night we wrapped it all up with the Grand Banquet and awards ceremony. Four course dinner paired with four local breweries. Got to let loose with my NYC friends and we may have been a little rowdy. Especially when we heard that our friends Sean Torres, Phil Gardner and Patrick Wade from Pour Standards on Staten Island won gold for their stout. That is a big win and we all went crazy. Congratulations guys! After the banquet they had all of the beers entered in the contest outside for us to sample. It was a perfect way to end an amazing conference.

It was a crazy whirlwind three days. There is so much beer you want to try, great seminars to see, homebrewers to talk to, and gadgets to play with. Plus you’re in Baltimore which has a thriving beer scene. I barely slept. The creativity of the beer world is inspiring and exciting. We were all sharing a collective high, and a collective drunk. I love being part of this industry.

Thank you to everyone at the American Homebrew Association for everything you do. It was an informative, fun well run event. Thank you to all of the NYC homebrew clubs for all of the effort you put in to keep this lifestyle going. It’s up to all of us and I salute you.

Special thanks to Sheri, Kat, Alex and Randall for schlepping my beer and stuff to the conference. You are the best roadies I’ve ever had.

Time for a beer,

2015 Year in Review

January 15, 2016

What a fun year for beer 2015 was. So many cool events happened, it makes my head spin. Bitter & Esters is proud to have organized and/or participated in so many of them. Just check out this list:

  • Beer and Pie charity tasting for Charlie Papazian’s birthday. (I’ve still got a few pounds to lose from that one.)
  • Brew for Autism which happens every year on Staten Island. Put on by Pour Standards and the Richmond County Beer club, last year they raised over $14,000 for Autism Speaks. Happening again this year on January 30th, get your tickets now!
  • Bobby Bendily’s Miller High Life challenge at 706 bar! He really tried to clone Miller but his beer was just too good.
  • Tara Whitsitt and Fermentation on Wheels gave a sold out Get Cultured! class at the store. Congratulations to Tara signing a book deal this year! Look for her book and bus coming to a city near you in 2017. 
  • Had a blast at Brewnity at the Bellhouse. Raising over $3000 for City Harvest, two other amazing things came from that event. The Brewsicians, a band made entirely of home brewers, was born.
  • The Brewminaries homebrew club began! With over 50 members this awesome group of guys and gals aren’t slowing down anytime soon. (We love you Brewmies!).
  • Rockaway invites the Brewminaries and B&E to brew five barrels of beer on their system! Ryes of the Brewminaries (a hoppy rye ale) was a hit. It spurned a killer pub crawl and a bike ride to Rockaway, Transmitter and Big Alice Breweries.
  • Michael Tonsmeire, aka the Mad Fermentationist stopped by the shop to share some brew and sign copies of his book American sour beers. Super cool guy with tons of knowledge, one of my favorite events of the year.
  • The Suds in Solidarity benefit (another Brewnity event) for those affected by the East Village explosion earlier in the year. This was the second gig for the Homebrewsicians. We rocked.
  • The 6th generation head brewer of Pilsner Urquell, Vaclav Burka, visited the store and spoke with home brewers about…Pilsners of course! They also sponsored a home brew pilsner contest with a $500 first prize. Congratulations Xavi!
  • We held our second NYC Brewer’s Pro Am with Brew to Share at Covenhoven. The only Pro Am in NYC, it is a real honor to work with some of our talented local breweries and home brewers. Congratulations to Justin Wilson on the win. You bet we’ll be doing it again this year. Maybe you too will get to brew your beer at a local brewery! We hosted our second brewery bike tour to celebrate Justin’s winning beer release at Dirk the Norseman.
  • Mary Izett’s book, Speed Brewing came out this year. Mary held a free Speed Brewing demo at the store and we had the first ever Speed Brewing Contest. We gave people 3 weeks to come up with their best fast concoction. Congratulations to Ivee with her Guava Soda.
  • Two of the leading figures in the beer and fermentation community, Mary Izett and Chris Cuzme, got hitched. Their wedding was held right at the base of the Williamsburg bridge and was a who’s who of the beer community. Everyone had such a good time, it was a night to remember. Congratulations you two!
  • I got to do a home brew demo at Babes in Toyland. Very well received and well, kind of sexy. I hope they invite me back!
  • The Brewminaries hit it big with their home brew event, Prost! Held at Industry City Distillery, it was an amazing event and even brought Bobby back from Mississippi for the weekend. (Check out a great video of the event here!)
  • With the help of the Brewminaries we held an experimental hop tasting to benefit Ales for ALS. The hop, HBC438, has mint and melon notes and works great in darker ales. We raised $250 for Ales for ALS and were able to give Loftus farm some valuable feedback on this brand new variety.
  • We did our second Community apple press day. Joy and Jeremy from Proper Cider are so awesome bringing their grinder and presses to the store. We did two days this year and it was fantastic. We’ll do a tasting of the ciders made that day later on this year. We hope to do a third Cider press day at the end of 2016, stay tuned.
  • We ended the year with an amazing barrel aged beer tasting with Goose Island. Mike Seigle from Goose Island gave awesome info on their barrel age program and we had eight, yes eight tastings of both Goose barrel aged beers and local barrel aged brews. What a great learning event.

Probably one of the best things to happen this year is our friends Oskar and Erik Norlander and Peter Salmond winning Homebrewers of the Year at the National Homebrew Contest. They showed the world that New York City is kicking ass! Another cool thing is the issue of Zymurgy that featured those guys also contained a picture of me and Douglas with Charlie Papazian along with the recipe he created for our store. This blew our minds to say the least.

All this over the course of 12 months including our fantastic monthly beer swaps, lots of beginning and advanced classes, brewing on premises and running a retail store! I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is no way any of this would happen without your support, thank you. Together we make this community. Let’s keep showing the world that New York City is a beer city.  Thanks also to all of the breweries, clubs, bloggers, press and behind the scenes folks.

Douglas and I also want to give a sloppy wet kiss super big thank you to our employees, Ovieh, John, David, Robert and Zach. You guys keep this machine running. We’re starting 2016 with Brewpiphany, a wort give away at Kelso brewery combined with our monthly bottle swap. A kick ass way to start a kick ass year! Happy New year everyone!


John LaPolla Headshot

Consider the Apple

October 5, 2015

The author as a boy, considering the mysteries of the apple.

The author as a boy, considering the mysteries of the apple.

Cider season is upon us, and while I’m normally a staunch partisan when it comes to beer as the one true drink of the people* I’ve taken the opportunity to dip my toes in the world of hard cider whenever fall has rolled around over the past few years. Cider used to be a big thing in the United States but fell out of favor after Prohibition. With the consolidation of breweries and the lag time between planting cider apples and production, cider never had a chance in a post-prohibition world. Cider has recently had a resurgence and good cider is getting much easier to find.

If you’ve never brewed a cider before, then no misconceptions await you – it’s quick and fun! For homebrewers who typically brew beer, brewing a cider can be shockingly easy in comparison, with results that are no less rewarding. You skip the time-consuming mashing and boiling aspect of brewing beer and go straight ahead to pitching yeast and fermenting. It feels a little like you’ve cheated the barley gods of their due and that you’ll pay for your betrayal at some point in the future. In the meantime, you can drink the fruits of your labor (literally) in the form of a delicious, dry cider.

New York State is known for the quality of its apples and getting good fresh-pressed cider around harvest time is a remarkably easy affair – no apple press required. Take a walk down to your local farmers market and chat up anyone who is selling apples. In my neck of the woods, Breezy Hill Orchard is always hawking their delicious wares. It is important that you find a producer who offers unpasteurized or uv (ultraviolet) pasteurized juice. Most apple juice/cider sold in stores contains potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate as a preservative (they prevent yeast from working properly) and won’t ferment very well.

The next step is to pick your yeast. Typically, most people will use champagne yeast, like Red Star Premier Cuvee. It’s a reliable yeast that will ferment out dry and produce a tasty cider relatively quickly. It is not your only option though. I’m an inveterate experimenter and have tried a variety of yeasts (both ale and wine) over the years including:

Wyeast 1968 London ESB
Danstar Nottingham
Red Star Pasteur Blanc
Lalvin EC-1118
Lalvin 71B-1122
Lalvin D47

Overall, I’ve been less impressed with ale yeasts (despite what the AHA might tell you) and tend to gravitate towards wine yeasts as they tend to preserve the apple character more fully. I’ve been especially impressed with the Lalvin 71B-1122 and the Lalvin D47. The former is typically used for nouveau wines (young wines meant to be drunk within a short period of time) and the latter is better for something you plan on aging. It’s important to consider the alcohol level of your cider and factor it into your yeast selection. Most fresh pressed cider will clock in with a specific gravity ranging from 1.040-1.050. As ciders will finish dry (all the way down to 1.000) that means your cider could range from 5-7% ABV. Some people add sugars to their cider to boost the alcohol and to add other flavors. In that scenario, I’d offer up the same advice we give for high gravity beers, consider aging them to let them mellow.

I’ve already made five gallons of cider this year (and have consumed at least 2 gallons of that) and plan to make at least five more. I like to split my batches and will be trying two new yeasts next time around. We recently got in a fresh shipment of Wyeast’s Dry Cider Yeast which promises a “crisp and dry [fermentation] with [a] big, fruity finish.” I’ll be splitting that with another (to be determined) wine yeast.

As always, if you’ve fermented something delicious, no matter what it is we’d love to try it at our swap! Join us on the first Wednesday of every month at 6:30pm.


Johnathan Hagen
Certified Cicerone® (aka “Tastemaster General”)

*I’m open to counter-arguments made in the form of a good bourbon.

You Make Your Community

July 10, 2015

Recently there have been some high profile business closures in the Brooklyn beer scene. Most notably Bierkraft closing a few weeks back and the recent announcement by Brooklyn Homebrew that they will close at the end of July.

Although I do not know the exact reasons these businesses have closed, as a small business owner in New York City I can empathize. Rising rents, smaller profit margins, declining sales, taxes, increasing shipping costs and burnout all compete to make running a small business in NYC very difficult. It is not easy owning a small business in such an expensive city.

Why do we do it then? Because we love what we do. The life I have lived since opening Bitter & Esters has been intense. Long hours, low pay, stress, anxiety, and hard work are the norm. That said, we have met awesome people, made new friends, and helped them with a hobby that is incredibly rewarding. We’ve established and supported a strong community of like minded people and drank a lot of killer beers. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s obvious the landscape of NYC is changing, as it always has. Businesses come and go, but I’ve recently started to see more small businesses closing. These closings are part of a disturbing trend and should act as a wake up call to us all. We make the community we want to live in by opening local businesses and by supporting local businesses. It may sound like a cliche, but without you the customer, we don’t exist. You have no idea how much we appreciate you.

By shopping local you keep the businesses you love in business and you make the neighborhood better for it. A small business in NYC doesn’t have the luxury of low rent, or lots of space, so they can buy in bulk and offer the lowest price. If you want low price, shop the internet. Online stores have giant warehouses in low rent areas and benefit from economies of scale. What we offer you first and foremost, is a community. People who care about you and what you are doing. In our case we sincerely care about you and your beer. If your beer sucks then you’ll be unhappy and you won’t make any more. We want you to make awesome beer and we’re here to help you.

We also sponsor events like the NYC Brewer’s Pro-AM, bring in homebrewing luminaries like John Palmer, Charlie Papazian and the Mad Fermentationist. Our monthly beer swap has even grown into a new homebrewing club (the Brewminaries) that had the chance to brew with local breweries like Rockaway Brewing Company. We love our community and want to make sure it continues to thrive. You cannot put a price on that.

So remember, you are the one who decides the type of community you will live in. Support your local business if you want them in your life.

John & Doug

The Mad Fermentationist at Bitter & Esters

April 6, 2015

Michael Tonsmeire

If you’ve ever read the blog The Mad Fermentationist (and I know you have) you know how knowledgeable and concise Michael Tonsmeire is. He is open and honest and I trust what he says. On Saturday March 28th we had the privilege of hosting Michael at Bitter & Esters to sign copies of his new book American Sour Beers. What started as a talk and book signing quickly became a sour beer swap!

Despite Saturday being the first round of judging for the National Homebrew Competition*, we had a great turnout with the coolest part being that just about everyone brought some sour or brett beer. It was a great selection and Michael tried them all! He really liked my business partner Doug’s sour cider. I shot him saying so on video! Michael brought some of his own delicious beers that he generously shared with everyone. A lemon Berliner Weisse, a Flemish Red made with red wine yeast, and a cider that was dry hopped with galaxy hops. All were incredibly delicious. Michael knows his stuff!

Michael has a wealth of knowledge about sour beers and was more than willing to share. We spoke about how Brettanomyces will scavenge oxygen in your beer as all beers will oxidize when hops inevitably break down. Bottle with brett and your beers stay will stay fresher longer, although you will still lose hop aroma. He mentioned that there is more than one type of lactic acid (apparently they are isomers) when I asked him about the difference between lactobacillus and pediococcus (pedio produces both kinds). We spoke about research he is working on involving glycosides (non aromatic compounds in hops and other plants that create aroma when enzymatically cleaved by yeast) and which bretts and yeast have those enzymes to cleave them (they’re still working on finding that out). He prefers oak cubes to barrels (easier and more predictable) and likes to pitch all of his bugs at once. He doesn’t like to mash or kettle sour (too unpredictable) and his favorite concoction for a sour beer is US-05, lactobacillus brevis and a brett. He answered everyone’s questions with good humor and grace, and it felt like he was just one of the gang. It was a geeky, nerdy, beery fun time!

Michael does have a day job as an economist. He gets some income from being “Mad” but he does this mostly for the love of it and it is pretty obvious he loves what he does. After about 4 hours of talking and signing I introduced him to Roma Pizzeria’s grandma pie (which if you haven’t had it, you should) which he totally dug. Afterwards, a few of us went to Covenhoven to continue the beer drinking. Molly of Covenhoven graciously brought us some more food (I told Mike, stick with me and you’ll have all of the beer, bread and cheese you want!). We hung out trying all of the great local beers they have there and talked about, you guessed it, beer!

It was a real honor having Mike at the store and getting to hang out and chat with him. Until we meet again Mad Fermentationist!

Not so mad fermentationist.

John LaPolla Headshot


*I know that more than a few people wish they could have been there. Thank you judges and stewards who couldn’t make it for doing an awesome job of taking care of NHC NYC!

Ryes of the Brewminaries at Rockaway Brewing Company

March 20, 2015

This past Wednesday Bitter & Esters had the good fortune to brew five barrels of Rye Pale Ale with the fine folks at Rockaway Brewing Company along with the members of the brand new homebrew club, the Brewminaries. How did a brand new homebrew club get to collaborate with one of Queens’ finest breweries?

It all started back in February of this year when I was a guest on Jimmy Carbone’s Beer Sessions Radio along with Chris Cuzme of Cuzett Libations, Kyle Hurst of Big Alice Brewing, and Marcus Burnett of Rockaway Brewing Company. We were discussing the upcoming Brewer’s Choice event where many of the breweries were pouring beer made from New York malts and hops. After the show Marcus asked me if Bitter & Esters would be interested in doing a collaboration brew with them on their five barrel system. They had an open fermenter available in March and since they started off as homebrewers, they wanted to do more events with homebrewers. I said of course, what a great opportunity!

Later that week, Bitter & Esters regular Beer Swap attendees were represented at the great homebrew gathering Brewnity under the name the S.W.A.P Team (Swapping Wonderful Ales Periodically). We even had t-shirts made up, and we all had an amazing time. Afterwards the swappers realized they could combine their efforts and form an actual club. Thus the Brewminaries were born! They took their name from our employee Bobby, who called them our luminaries. The Brewminaries are dedicated to education, experiments and getting together to taste each other’s homebrews. They plan to bring samples of their experiments to our monthly swaps and share them with the community at large. Anyone can become a Brewminary, regardless of your brewing experience. All it takes is dedication and a strong liver. As of this writing they are 30 members strong, have a website and a twitter account. All in just over a month!

As we were deciding how to go about our brew day with Rockaway we realized it would an awesome first project for the Brewminaries! And in what is turning out to be typical Brewminary fashion, they jumped right in with gusto. We decided that they should come up with the recipe and after some wrangling and horse trading, they came up with a rye pale ale hopped with Galaxy and Mosaic hops. Ryes of the Brewminaries was born! I expect that puns will be a running theme with the Brewminaries.

Wednesday March 18th was decided as brew day. All of the Brewminaries wanted to participate but space was limited. So besides myself and Doug, Sheri Jewhurst (President, officially listed as Dictator!), Robert Sherrill (events co-chair), and Barry Wasser (Treasurer) represented the Brewminaries.

We brewed with owner and head brewer Ethan Long. Ethan is a super nice guy, totally chill and brews awesome beers. He put us to work. We did everything from milling the grain, stirring the mash, setting up hoses, cleaning the mash tun and boil kettle and pitching the yeast. It was a lot of work and a great learning experience. You think you clean a lot as a homebrewer? Try what these guys do every day on a five barrel system, it seems like the cleaning never ends!

After brewing we shared some of our homebrews with everyone and they let us taste the eight delicious beers they have on tap. Barry even brought stout brownies!

The beer will be ready by the beginning of May, just in time for nice spring weather. Our plan is to organize a bicycle trip from Brooklyn to Long Island City for the release. That way we can do a bike tour of the awesome breweries in LIC. Ryes of the Brewminaries will be available at some of our favorite local beer bars including Covenhoven. Stay tuned for more info.

Thanks so much to Ethan, Marcus, Ray, Justine, John and everyone at Rockaway, it was a blast! Can’t wait to try the beer. Keep an eye out for more great things from the Brewminaries.

John LaPolla Headshot

Edible Magazine’s Good Cider Event

It was a privilege to attend the first ever Edible Magazine’s Good Cider Event this past Wednesday at Tribeca Three Sixty. Similar to Edible’s annual Good Beer event, Good Cider highlighted over 30 cideries, most of them from the New York area. Good Cider was also a fundraiser for the New York Cider Association who produce Cider Week every year. There were some great food pairings from local restaurants as well.

Hard cider is really taking off nowadays for its fresh taste and local flavor. The place was packed and it was nice to see interest from New Yorkers in a drink that is currently enjoying a healthy revival. Good Cider was a great way to try many of the different flavors and styles of hard cider available. I was able to try a majority of the ciders being poured and as a beer guy I found myself gravitating towards the hopped ciders which were, dry, delicious, and aromatic. I also tried my very first ice cider which is a thick sweet apple dessert wine, balanced and not at all cloying.

I was delighted to see so many people chasing their dreams and starting small businesses, dedicated to bringing different varieties of apples back for cider consumption. Every cider producer was passionate and knowledgeable about their product.

More and more restaurants are offering high quality hard ciders along with their wine lists, holding food and cider pairings along with serving ciders on tap. Perhaps we’ll even start to see dedicated cider bars. Apples, they’re not just for eating anymore!


John LaPolla Headshot

P.S. Hopefully we’ll be doing another pressing next fall – check out our previous post on cider here!

Re-pitching Yeast

March 13, 2015

You’ve fermented your beer, it’s tasting great, and now it is time to bottle or keg. At the bottom of your fermenter is a whole lot of goop called trub (pronounced “Troob”). The trub consists of protein, hop material and fats, but roughly 40 to 60% of trub in a healthy fermentation are leftover yeast cells that did their job. Can you reuse this yeast? Yes you can! With just a few extra steps you can save money and pitch a healthy second generation of yeast into your next batch of wort.

During fermentation the yeast will split 4 to 6 times, meaning if you pitched 200 billion cells you will now have 3-4 trillion cells of yeast in your trub. If you were to just pour your new wort right onto the trub you’d over pitching by a significant margin. The general guidelines for fresh yeast pitch rate is 750,000 cells per ml per °plato of wort for ales, and double that number for lagers. (To find degrees plato just divide your gravity points by 4, 1.060 = 15°plato). For repitching the general rule is 1-2 million cells/ml/°P.

So, how do you know how much trub you should pitch? The short answer that I got from Wyeast’s scientists was that a cup to a cup and a half of trub is a good pitch rate for 1.060 wort or lower. But this is very general and there are ways to hone in this number and pitch mainly yeast and none of the other trub material.

If you want to get down and dirty, the first thing you need to determine is how much of your trub is yeast. 40 to 60% yeast cells will provide a healthy fermentation. If you find that you have less than 30% you may not want to use that yeast to repitch. The way to determine your yeast percentage (without using a microscope) is to take a small sample of trub using a sanitized spoon and fill an empty nutrient vial.

Put this sample in the fridge and allow the yeast to settle out. Generally 40-60% yeast solids (the stuff at the bottom) will correlate to 1.2 billion cells per ml.

Yeast as percentage of trub

Yeast as a percentage of trub

Now lets go back to our math. Let’s say we want to pitch 1.5 million cells of harvested yeast/ml/°P.

1.5 million x 18927ml (which is 5 gallons) x 15°P = approx 426 billion cells.

426 divided by 1.2 (our estimated cell count per ml of trub at 40-60% yeast) = 355 ml. or 12 oz or a cup and a half of trub.

What I like do is take about two-thirds of a cup of trub (around 210 billion cells in this example) and pitch that into a 2000ml starter. This allows my yeast to propagate once and get healthy and ready to ferment.

If you’re not making a starter you can pitch the proper amount of trub directly into your next batch or store it up to two weeks in a sanitized jar in the fridge. The yeast will reproduce during fermentation and the other material from the trub will just drop out. But you can also separate the yeast from the trub by rinsing it. (Often I hear people refer to this as washing the yeast. Washing the yeast is a different process that requires using phosphoric acid to help kill of any bacteria. I am not going to get into that, homebrewers rarely need to do it). In order to rinse your yeast take your determined amount of trub and add it to a jar of boiled and cooled (i.e. sterilized) water. Refrigerate and allow it to settle. The yeast is lighter than the fats and proteins and will separate from them. After a few hours you will have three layers. The top layer will be mostly water, while the middle layer is yeast which you can decant into boiled and cooled water if you want to rinse it again. You can also decant the middle layer into a sanitized jar to refrigerate for later use, or you can pitch right into your wort. The bottom layer is all of the fat and proteins and stuff that you can just toss.

When collecting yeast from your fermenter it is good practice to clear away the top part of the trub and harvest from the middle layer. These will be the medium flocculant yeast. If you want a higher flocculant yeast you can harvest from lower in the fermenter as these are the cells that dropped out first. By doing this you are selecting the yeast that you want to perform a certain way (flocculant vs non-flocculant). It is much easier to harvest from a bucket or conical fermenter than a carboy. I do know of people who harvest from carboys collecting the yeast that blow off during the initial primary phase. I have never tried it so I am not sure about the health or characteristics of the yeast you harvest that way.

Yeast can be used up to 10 generations as long as you are careful with your sanitation.
It’s important to remember when harvesting your yeast to make sure everything is very clean and sanitary and that you work in a draft free environment (good advice for any kind of cold-side operations). Additionally, if your beer had a very high gravity you shouldn’t harvest from it as there are too many chances for mutations. And of course if your beer tastes bad, don’t use that yeast, they don’t deserve another chance!

Have a great harvest!

John LaPolla Headshot

Splitting your batches

February 6, 2015

Johnathan Hagen is the resident Certified Cicerone® at Bitter & Esters. He originally hails from a small town outside of Milwaukee (Algonquin for “the good land”) and will be doing a series of posts on expanding your yeast repertoire. He’s a firm believer that decoctions just aren’t worth it.

I haven’t been able to brew nearly as much as I would like to these past few months (hello fatherhood!) but what I’ve lost in volume I try to make up for in experimentation. I recently started splitting my 5 gallon batches and fermenting in two 3 gallon better bottles (3 gallon glass carboys work just as well) for comparison purposes and to try yeasts that I haven’t used before. I stole this idea from our yeast class here at Bitter & Esters* where we brew the same beer with eight different yeasts to show just how much impact yeast has on the flavor of each beer. While I’m not able to brew 8 beers at a time at home, splitting my batches has helped me hone in on what aspects of each yeast I like best and how I might use them in the future.

One of the big advantages of splitting my batches in this way is that I’m also ensuring healthy cell counts. Homebrewers chronically under pitch their yeast (i.e. not adding enough yeast) and splitting your batches is a great way to ensure that you’re pitching enough yeast. If we’re using a pitching rate calculator (I like Mr. Malty’s) we can see that for a starting gravity of 1.050 we want roughly 175 billion yeast cells which translates into almost 2 (1.9) yeast packs if we’re not making a starter.

Mr. Malty Ale

With this beer, I was actually over pitching a little as I was using two 11 gram-dry yeast packets for what are essentially two 2.5 gallons batches but I planned on fermenting at the low end of ale temperatures (60 degrees). If we adjust the fermentation type to Lager (to account for temperature) we can see that we’d want closer to two (1.7) packets of dry yeast.

Mr. Malty Lager

A quick rule of thumb to follow is that it is easy to under pitch yeast, but difficult to over pitch. If you’re concerned that you’re not pitching enough, consider a second yeast pack or making a starter. (Here are some quick instructions on a starter, but we won’t be covering that in this post).

I recently brewed a very simple pale ale and decided to split the batch between Nottingham and S-05. I tend to gravitate towards liquid yeast merely because there are more options to choose from, but dry yeasts are often a little bit cheaper, have higher cell counts (producing healthier fermentations) and can produce beers that are just as good as those made with liquid yeasts. For this beer, I wasn’t looking for anything particularly complicated and wanted two relatively neutral yeasts that would highlight the malt and hops but otherwise get out of the way (i.e. no esters, no phenolics). Based on my past experience with these yeasts, Nottingham should give more English character with an emphasis on malt character with a pleasant hop bitterness, while S-05 should offer more emphasis on hop flavor and aroma with a serviceable malt backbone.

Nottingham tasting notes:

Aroma: Caramel, Grapefruit, Pine
Appearance: Golden, Slightly Hazy
Flavor: Cereal/Biscuit, Honey
Mouthfeel: Dry, Clean, Smooth, Creamy

S-05 tasting notes:

Aroma: Grapefruit, Pine
Appearance: Golden
Flavor: White bread
Mouthfeel: Dry, Clean, Astringent

Both of these yeasts fell in line with my expectations but overall I found that I preferred the Nottingham. The mouthfeel was creamier/fuller with more complex malt flavoring that was nicely balanced with the hops. The S-05 was thinner, more astringent and hop focused in a way that detracted from the overall balance of the beer. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t use S-05 again, but I’d probably use it in an IPA that would benefit more from its focus on hop character.

Next up I’ll be doing a Robust Coffee Porter that will be split between 1469 West Yorkshire and 1028 London Ale.


Johnathan Hagen
Certified Cicerone® (aka “Tastemaster General”)

*This month’s class has already sold out, but you can always sign up for the April 12th class. Don’t forget about our Hops class on March 8th either. We brew the same beer with 8 different hops! Both classes are fantastic sensory experiences, especially for folks who are looking to expand their palates.

pH meters and Automatic Temperature Compensating

January 16, 2015

hanna ph checkerRecently I have been doing a lot of research for my upcoming water chemistry class with the goal of making a comprehensive, practical class for the home brewer to improve the quality of their beers with water adjustments.

Measuring pH is a large part of my research. In a nutshell, pH is the measurement of acidity or basicity of a solution. As home brewers we are mostly interested in measuring pH for proper mashing techniques and flavors. The best way to measure pH is by using a pH meter. A properly maintained and calibrated pH meter will give you fast and accurate readings.

The one piece of misinformation I keep running into during my research has been about pH Meters with ATC (automatic temperature compensating). The pH of a solution will be lower (more acidic) at higher temperatures. This is because the energy of the liquid makes it easier to split hydrogen protons from acidic molecules in the mash. At mash temperature (140 to 160˚F) the pH can be .2 to .3 lower than at room temperature (68 to 75˚F).(1)

Another reason for lower pH readings at higher temperatures is the meter itself. Warm temperatures change the electrical response of the probe and will create an error in the reading. This is where the ATC function of the meter comes in. It will compensate for its own error when measuring at higher temperatures. It does not compensate for the change in pH from mash temperature to room temperature.

Just like hydrometer readings which assume you have adjusted the reading for 59˚F, the brewing pH that is referenced always assumes that you are measuring at room temperature. The confusion that I have seen during my research is the assumption that if you use a pH meter with ATC that it is compensating for the temperature that you are taking the reading at, and then adjusting the reading for room temperature. This is not true. The ATC function is only adjusting for its own error. Take your reading at room temperature as it’s the best way to assure a proper reading. It’s easy, just take a very small sample and put it in the fridge for a minute or so. Take a temperature reading and then your pH reading. This way you don’t have to worry about error compensation from the meter and you will get the proper target pH reading. An ATC pH meter is not necessary for homebrewing.

Remember to always calibrate your pH meter with fresh calibration solutions, clean the probe with the proper pH meter cleaner and store the probe in pH meter storage solution. You will have accurate readings and your meter will last much longer.

In the future I will discuss more about pH, how and why to adjust it and more about meter maintenance.


John LaPolla Headshot

(1) https://sites.google.com/site/brunwater/water-knowledge

1 2 9