Managing Wyeast 3724

Wyeast 3724, Belgian Saison, is a yeast that gives wonderful results.  My Belgian Saison is fruity, spicy, tangy and quite possibly my best beer to date.  There’s another batch of it in the refrigerator turned fermentation chamber downstairs – the Inkbird temperature controller allows me to heat as well as cool to keep the temps within about a 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degree Celsius) range so I’m holding it at 30 degrees C (about 86 degrees F).  The stuff is amazing – you’d guess at that temperature it would be a fusel bomb, headache in a glass, swamp water, anything but a very good Saison.  The yeast thrives on temperature, throwing spice at low temperatures and fruits at high.  But the yeast has a down side.  If not handled very carefully, it tends to stall at about 1.030-1.035.

The strain is reported to be related to red wine yeast and in our other adventure in alcoholic fermentation, we use red wine yeast at about 30 degrees C.  Red wine yeast is also sensitive to pressure.  So here’s what I do to keep it going past the stall point:  I keep the yeast very warm, warmer as fermentation progresses, ending up in the 90’s F if possible.  I have two ways of getting to that temperature.  One is the refrigerator mentioned above, the other is even simpler:  I fill a cheap plastic cable tub with just enough water that the carboy doesn’t float, throw in a 200 watt aquarium heater and warm the water to the temperature I want.  The heater controls the water even more tightly than the refrigerator with temperature controller.  Once the water is warm, I put the carboy in and let it continue to ferment.  To make sure the pressure isn’t an issue, I replace the airlock with aluminum foil crimped over the top.  I never bother to sanitize aluminum foil or plastic wrap, considering them sanitary off the roll, and have never had problems.

Last batch, the yeast, treated with proper care, fermented through from about 1.070 to 1.006 without stalling.  It slows down immensely after the first week but keeps chugging away.  This batch continues to ferment away, it’s down to 1.022 since last Sunday.  It still has a lot of residual sugar courtesy of a late addition of turbinado syrup last Wednesday (+3 days) and the initial flavors seem to be going as I’d like and as they did last time.  Repeatability is the measure of how well we brew.  If we can brew the same thing twice and have it come out the same, we’re doing it right.  This batch seems like it will be roughly the same as last and I’m satisfied with that.

If the yeast stalls completely, you can warm it, rouse it and see if it starts to ferment again.  If it won’t finish, I’ve done batches using champagne yeast and White Labs’ San Diego Super Yeast (WLP 090).  My recommendation is the White Labs strain.  It seems to finish cleaner than the champagne yeast.  In either case, if you use a finishing yeast, make a starter and pitch at the height of fermentation for best results.

Link to the “90 Degree Saison” recipe:

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all, regardless of religious belief.

I’m sitting drowning a bit of sorrow with a Sourdough Blonde.  Sorrow because of my disastrous attempt at makng sourdough bread yesterday.  I don’t know what happened but the stuff absolutely refused to rise!  My suspicion is the starter.  I had a starter before that made good bread but I failed to feed it for a few days at room temperature.  At the end, what was left smelled like socks.  Dumped, I ordered a San Francisco Sourdough Starter, activated it but it’s never quite performed as advertised.  After two straight disastrous attempts, I ordered a new starter, this time the Yukon variety.  Will see if that’s the cause.

We stirred up a white blend, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Verdelho.  The instructions call for reserve juice.  My experience on the Mosel is to ferment it until it’s the sweetness you want, then stop and stabilize.  Partially fermented grape juice tastes vastly different than fresh so I think that’s largely the difference between domestic and imported Rieslings:  Germans don’t back-sweeten, Americans do.  So we put the reserve in the fermentor and will stop the wine when we’re satisfied with the flavor.

Time to get my Maerzen done.  That’s up next week.  I’ll be eating my own cooking – no decoction this time around.  Just a protein rest, 131 degrees for 15 minutes, then a saccarification rest, 152 degrees for an hour.  Fermentation, highly controlled, around 50 degrees until done.  I want exquisitely clean beer, no esters, and good bitterness for the style.  I’ll switch the first wort hop from Magnum to Perle, last modification before brewing next weekend.  Okay, it’s April but I’ll be lagering in a 32 degree refrigerator, not an ice-filled cave, so it should be fine.

Kettle Souring

I got the tip on how to do this from Tim at the Dry Dock Brewery.  He’d given us a taste of his “Regal Tang” so I asked where the pineapple and mango flavors came from.  Turns out he’d used yoghurt to pitch lacto into hot wort, left it overnight, then boiled with hops the next day.

So I tried a batch.  I mashed, ran off the wort, boiled it for ten minutes, stuck a thermometer probe into it and cooled it to 120 degrees.  At 120 degrees, I pitched a couple teaspoons of my sourdough starter into it, insulated the heck out of it (as best I could), then left it overnight.  The next morning I checked the pH.  It was about 4.1, I wanted in the vicinity of 3.5.  I let it set a couple of hours then checked again.  4.0.  So I turned my hot plate on low.  The wort began to warm very slowly.  Seeing that it wasn’t about to get away from me, or so I thought, I went upstairs to take a shower.  When I came back to the wort, the pH was 3.9, okay, but the temperature was 151 degrees.  I’d killed my lacto.  So I boiled, fermented and still got a pretty good beer out of it, not as tart as I’d like but still nice.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures.

New procedure involves my Inkbird temperature controller.  It controls both heating and cooling.  I generally use it to control my fermentation chamber – it’s holding the temperature above room temp for my 90-degree Belgian Saison.  Next batch I run my hot plate through it controlled to 120 degrees (50 celsius) with the probe in the wort.  The controller in Celsius mode holds the temperature to +/- 0.3 degrees, effectively 1 degree Fahrenheit, and the temperature is adjustable to 0.1 degree Celsius.  Interesting because the actual conversion of 120 degrees F is 48.9 degrees C.

So why kettle sour when there are other alternatives such as sour mashing, Brett fermentation, wild yeast, sour blends.  The literature will tell you, at least the snobbish parts, that kettle souring lacks “complexity” compared to other souring methods.  Here are my reasons for kettle souring above the others:

1.  It’s very controllable.  Some other methods give you what you get.  Souring in the kettle leaves you in control – you can stop the process at whatever level of tartness you want for the effect you want.  I’m even thinking of a very short kettle souring for my next batch of Irish Stout, since Guinness is rumored to use stale (read old), slightly soured beer in their blending process.

2.  You don’t contaminate equipment.  You boil the kettle after souring, killing off all the lacto before it can infect your next batch.

3.  It’s fast.  No waiting for a year or so for your Brett or your Lacto pitch to sour the beer.

4.  You can even control what you pitch.  Yoghurt works, sourdough starter works, natural sauerkraut would work, even pitching grains would provide lacto.

5.  Less chance of the enteric bacterial stench.  No need to stink up your work area.

6.  Most important, I like the results.

Guinness-Style Stout – A Beery Fable

Yesterday I bottled a Guinness-style dry Irish stout I named “Student’s Guinness-Style Irish Stout.”  I’m sure fellow statistics geeks out there realize why but I thought I’d pass on the reason for the name.

In the late 1800’s a fellow stats geek named William Gossett was hired to work in Guinness’s pilot brewery evaluating ingredients.  Most of the statistical methods we use today hadn’t been invented so he had no easy answer to how do you determine difference between ingredients given you can do a very limited number of pilot brews with them.  As today, you couldn’t tell a lot about ingredients from their statistics, you had to brew with them.  This meant his sample sizes were very small, five or less.  To use the normally accepted z-test required 30 samples.  So Gossett developed the math to detect difference in small sample sizes.

Then, the knowledge Gossett had developed was a closely guarded trade secret – Guinness was the only brewery that knew how to do the test.  But Gossett, a scientist, also had the right to publish so to guard his true identity and that of his employer, he employed the pseudonym “Student.”

The test, the bane of many elementary statistic students, is called “Student’s t-test.”  It’s easily the most famous statistical inference test and it has beer in its pedigree.  Cheers!

Forgot to mention brew day yesterday, Belgian Saison. More to come later.

Sourdough Blonde – An Adventure in Kettle Souring

Sometime last year Tim, the head brewer at the Dry Dock South, led me into the back and handed me a sample from one of the fermenters.  It was nice!  Tropical fruit flavors, some lactic smoothness on the tongue, tart and clean.  So I asked the secret and he told me, a pitch of organic yoghurt once the wort had reached 120 degrees then keep it warm overnight.  By morning the pH was in the 3.5 range.  From there, boil as usual.  So I tried it.


This is Sourdough Blonde at eight days in the bottle.  Instead of the yoghurt pitch, I used a couple teaspoons of my sourdough starter as the lacto source.  She came out very nice, not as tart as Tim’s due to an error on my part, more on that later.  But the tropical fruits – pineapple and mango – are there, some malt flavor is still to be found despite the souring.  It has some body and is a pretty beer.  I’m happy with it!

My error was temperature control during souring.  I chilled the wort to 120 degrees, pitched my sourdough and insulated the heck out of the kettle to keep it warm.  By the next morning it was in the 90’s, warm enough for lacto but cool enough to allow some unwanted bugs to take hold.  So I started applying heat using a hot plate.  It looked as if all was well, the temperature was holding between 110 and 120 degrees F so I went to take a shower.  When I came back, it was 150 in the kettle, all my lacto were dead.  The pH had only dropped to around 4 but there was nothing to do other than to continue processing.

She came out good, though.  And I got a two-stage temperature controller so next time, the hot plate will cut off at 120 degrees.  More on kettle souring later. Here’s the recipe:

First Impressions: Inland Island 007 American Ale Blend Yeast

A company has started producing and distributing yeast in vials of 200 billion cells, the normal pitch rate for an ale.  I tried it for my last pale ale.

So far, so good.  It’s produced a nice pale ale.  Diacetyl was rather high at the end of primary fermentation but it has produced lots of gas in secondary.  We’ll see if the yeast has done its job and cleaned up after itself.  I’ve been running secondary at 72 degrees, a tip I picked up in my writing hiatus to activate the cells and get a drier beer.  The diacetyl comment was actually a bit premature –  used Colorado Malting Company’s Pale Ale and it always gives a very malty flavor so even a trace of diacetyl would make the green beer taste like butterscotch.

The beer is in secondary now.  It’s dropping nicely bright.  More to come as the beer is finished.

Tasting Notes: Westvleteren Blonde Clone (Patjesbier)

Drinking this tonight, the first bottle of the Westvleteren Blonde Clone, a Patjesbier.  The recipe is from Zymurgy Magazine.


The beer, as you can see, has a persistent white head, is amber in color and bright.  It laces the glass quite nicely.  Aroma is fruit, I get peach, and mint.  There is no hop aroma, to be expected given a single hop addition at 60 minutes.  There’s malt in the nose as well, a Belgian biscuity note reminiscent of a good whole-grain bread.  Flavor is Belgian biscuit.  The fruit is apple (not acetaldehyde, a good apple).  There’s spice as well, a prickly, warm feeling on the tongue.  The bitterness expresses itself in the aftertaste.  There is no hop flavor.  Body is light but not watery, carbonation is good.

Overall, I won’t score myself but it’s a beer I’m proud of.  It’ll get into my rotation.  It requires good temperature control in fermentation but if you can control your temps pretty closely, I’d recommend brewing it.

My recipe is shared here: