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Getting Started in Recipe Formulation Part 2 - Conceptualization and Yeast

Getting Started in Recipe Formulation Part 2 - Conceptualization and Yeast

New beer ideas usually start with hanging out with your homebrew friends, sharing beers and spitballing ideas.  Hey, have you tried that new local brewery’s helles?  Have you ever made one?  Some of the best beers, and the most fun, have been conceptualized over beers with friends.  This week, we’ll talk about bringing that concept to reality, starting with the yeast!

Conceptualization:  What Am I Going to Brew?

Conceptualization:  What Am I Going to Brew?

Let’s be honest, as homebrewers this is the easy part!  It seems like no matter who I’m brewing with, or what we’re brewing, there’s always a pretty significant backlog of beer that we all want to make and ingredients that we want to try.

So once you know what you want to make, you have a pretty good jumping off point.  Then you need to decide if you’re going to be stylistically correct using the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) as a guide, or if you’re going to go rogue.  WIth the BJCP, there’s easily 80-plus competition styles to choose from, so it’s definitely a good place to start. 

There’s not a wrong answer there.  Sometimes, there’s just not a style guideline for a triple hazy fruited milkshake sour IPA, you know?  For me, I envision what I want the beer to be using references from other similar beers that I’ve tried.  Most of the time, if I’m going full BJCP, I’ll start by drinking some of the recommended examples of the style to get an idea of what I like.  This puts my mind and my palette in the ballpark of what I’m shooting for, then I can start thinking of how to make a home brew recipe.

So Many Yeast Strains, So Little Time

So Many Yeast Strains

The beauty of this day and age of home brew is that we have tons of access to just about any yeast strain that you can think of.  It’s because we live in this amazing new world that we can really dial our beer recipes, or test strains to see the ones that we like the best.

Choosing your yeast typically starts with tons of research.  Now that you have a great idea of how you want the other components of your beer to come together, it’s time to hit the books and brochures and see what kind of profile you want.

There are literally hundreds of options for normal yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) and other lactic acid bacteria like lactobacillus spp. as well as wild yeast like brettanomyces spp.  Let’s keep it simple and stick with ale yeast and lager yeast for this article, and we’ll expand on the other strains and types in a later article dedicated to sour beers and funky beers.

Once you land on a few strains that appear to give you the kind of flavor profile that you’re looking for, then you can start getting down into the nitty gritty part of choosing the right strain.

Imperial Yeast In Fermentation Chamber

Where to Start

When choosing yeast, we tend to start with the recommended fermentation temperature.  This will not only help determine flavor profile, but you already have an idea of your available fermentation environment. 

Some people have full on temperature control, from glycol chillers and immersion rigs to temperature controlled cabinets or fridges.  For those of you who are built out like this, fermentation temp isn’t a huge deal because you can dial it to wherever you need it to be.

For those of us without those fun and helpful toys, we need to be real and realize that we’re fermenting at ambient temp.  This makes it so that we need to choose our strains based on the conditions that we have available, and what kind of beer we’re making.  Marrying those two conditions is always step 1! 

Most liquid yeast and dry yeast strains will have plenty of available information on the ideal temperature ranges that they enjoy working in.  Ale yeast strains are typically 62° - 72° F, while lager yeast strains usually range from 48° to 55° F. 

One of the most helpful group of yeast strains around, Kveik (pronounced Kweek) are amazing for those of us who live in warm climates without temperature control with a huge range of 63° F to 105°F.

Attenuation of White Labs Yeast in Pilsner

Attenuation - How Much Sugar Will My Yeast Eat?

From there, I always go directly to attenuation.  This will, in part, determine how malt forward or dry that your beer will be after fermentation has finished.  This will help you determine mash temperatures, overall alcohol, and help determine your overall balance.

One trick that we, and many commercial breweries use, is to use our mash temperature in conjunction with the expected attenuation of a given strain to ensure that we’re creating the balance in our beer that we want.  Depending on what style or type of beer that you choose, there is plenty of precedence for how dry or malt forward your beer should be.

Once you know how you want it to be balanced, it’s easy to use your potential attenuation and your mash temperature to make sure the brewed beer comes out just the way that you want it!

Alcohol Tolerance with Yeast Nutrients

Alcohol Tolerance

Most yeast strains average out at around 12% ABV, but some specialty strains can top out as low as 8% or less, others upward of 15%.  One big part of determining your attenuation is to make sure that you’re not loading your wort up with so much sugar that the yeast dies out before it can even achieve that kind of alcohol by volume (ABV). 

One trick we’ve found that works out really well in higher gravity beers (and even mead, wine and cider) is to use high quality and complete yeast nutrients like Fermaid K and Fermaid O.  These will help thicken the yeast cell walls and allow them to push the limits of how much alcohol that they can tolerate.

We use Fermaid in EVERY fermentation, no matter what.  For beer, it’s only one addition on day 2 of fermentation, but for wine, mead and cider, we will typically make 2 - 5 additions, depending on the gravity and product. 

Flocculation in Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley Ale Yeast

Flocculation - Will They Stay or Will They Go?

In simple terms, flocculation is what percentage of the fresh yeast will stay in solution in the beer after fermentation.  Some strains are what we call highly flocculant strains, like Imperial Pub or Wyeast 1968, don’t want to stay in solution and will fall out when they’re done fermenting and leave a beautifully clear beer.  DOn’t worry, there are still plenty of cells in solution if you want to naturally carbonate your product!

Others, like German Hefeweizen strains such as Imperial Stefon or White Labs WLP300,  don’t want to go anywhere.  They are called low flocculant strains, and like to bind to the extra proteins left in the beer, giving you the hazy-cloudy look that you see in many wheat beers and Hazy Style IPAs.

Different Yeast for Different Home Brew

The Final Decision

For those of us brewing beer at home, bringing all of these concepts together to choose the best yeast for your brew is usually pretty easy.  While there are tons of strains, if you don’t already have a baseline to start with, then go with the strain that seems to match what you want to get out of your beer and start there.

From there, you can always do the same recipe with a slightly different yeast to see what you like more.  This is the beauty of making 5 or 10 gallons at a time!  You can always drink it up with your brew partners and brew it again with just a slight tweak to get exactly what you want!

We hope this second installment of building your own recipes helps you choose the best possible yeast for your next beer.  In our next article, we’ll get down to the nitty gritty of how to choose base malt and specialty malt, and pretty soon you’ll be ready to share award winning recipes and help newer brewers build their own recipes!

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