BetterBeerBlog friend and supporter Arie, is a breadmaker, among other things. It's not something he does for a living but for fun. Over the years he's fine-tuned his breadmaking skills and nowadays, Arie enjoys incorporating brewing ingredients into his bread, like wort and grains. In fact, I helped him bake some bread several months ago. It was during that time that Arie and I discussed collaborating on a homebrew project. So it was decided that we'd take some of his sour dough yeast and use it to ferment one of my homebrews.
Choosing the yeast was the easy part. Unlike traditional brewer's yeast, there were no tasting notes for this particular strain of yeast. I wasn't sure how it would ferment or what its characteristics would be. Instead of brewing blind, I decided to brew up a yeast starter to see what the initial characteristics would be.
Arie had given me a yeast starter for this yeast in a jar. In the jar, the yeast smelled bready, sour and a little boozy at times. But when I brewed up a yeast starter from the same yeast using dry malt extract, it didn't have any of those charateristics. What I did notice though, was that the yeast took off very quickly. I imagined that a 5-gallon batch would really get this thing going and that I would have to use a blow-off tube.
I decided to brew a simple wheat ale for this yeast. I felt using wheat malt was a natural choice for yeast that liked to dine on flour. I also wanted to have a more citrus-like finish to the beer to compliment the tartness, which is why I chose Citra hops. With these decision in place, we got to brewing.
Arie has been using this yeast for the past 7 or 8 years in his own breadmaking. Beyond that, the yeast has a very interesting history in and of itself.
The history has been asked for. All I know is that it started west in 1847 from Missouri. I would guess with the family of Dr. John Savage as one of his daughters (my great grandmother) was the cook. It came on west and settled near Salem Or. Doc. Savage’s daughter met and married my great grand father on the trail and they had 10 children. It was passed on to me though my parents when they passed away. I am 76 years old so that was some time ago. I first learned to use the starter in a basque sheep camp when I was 10 years old as we were setting up a homestead on the Steens Mountains in southeastern Oregon. A campfire has no oven, so the bread was baked in a Dutch Oven in a hole in the ground in which we had built a fire, placed the oven, scraped in the coals from around the rim, and covered with dirt for several hours. I used it later making bread in a chuck wagon on several cattle drives – again in southeastern Oregon.
Considering that the people at that time had no commercial starter for their bread, I do not know when it was first caught from the wild or where, but it has been exposed to many wild yeasts since and personally I like it. I hope you enjoy it.
You can read more about the history of this yeast here.
- 6 lbs – Bavarian Wheat dry malt extract (DME)
- 1 lbs – Simpson's Golden Promise (2.6 L)
- 1 oz – Fuggles (4.3) bittering
- 1 oz – Citra (13.6) flavor
- 2L – Yeast starter of sour dough yeast
- Steep all grains for 30 minues at 155° F.
- Remove grains. Bring to a boil, add 1 oz Fuggle hops for bittering, 60 minute boil.
- At 30 minute mark, add 6 lbs Bavarian Wheat DME
- At 40 minute mark, add in wort chiller to sanitize in boil.
- At 57 minute mark, add 1 oz Kent Goldings hops.
- Flame out, add 1 oz Citra hops, chill to 65° F – 70° F.
- Pitch yeast starter and aerate.
Tasting Notes (wort) — 12/1/11
Muddy, dark gold with hop particulate floating and no head. Aroma is sweet, wheat malt-like with fresh hop character, slightly citrusy. Flavor is sweet, like breakfast cereal (Honeycomb brand). Hop bitterness is medium. Body is full, no carbonation.
Tasting Notes (after primary fermentation) — 12/22/11
Hazy, dark gold color with no head. Aroma has a clovey, slightly peppery character. Some wheat malt notes as well. Flavor is wheat malt-like up front, slightly grainy character at the end with a light, wheat malt tartness in the finish. Hop flavor has a lemony citrus character to it. Body is light, no carbonation, balanced finish.
It should also be noted that I lagered this beer for about 7 days at ~40° F to see if I could get the yeast to flocculate.
Tasting Notes (final) — 12/24/11
Hazy dark gold color with a fluffy, merenge-like white/off-white head. Aroma is clovey, with a light peppery character, and lemony citrus notes. Flavor has a wheat-like malt flavor, with some lemony citrus notes, some clove-like flavors and light wheat-based tartness in the finish. Hop bitterness is medium-low with citrusy hop flavors. Body is light, carbonation is spritzy and the finish is balanced.
I carbonated this beer at approximately 3 volumes/atmospheres.
Original Gravity: 1.054
Final Gravity: 1.018
Estimated Alcohol by Volume: 4.8% ABV
This was an interesting experiment in brewing. Using unfamiliar ingredients can be a challenge but you don't have to go into things blindly. In the case of yeast, you can always brew up a yeast starter to get a small idea of what you're going to get. Unfortunately with starters, you don't get to see the other aspects of the yeast lifecycle, such as flocculation.
Even with the yeast starter, the sourdough yeast acted much differently in primary fermentation than it did in the yeast starter. For instance, there was a huge lag before the yeast finally got going. I didn't have this issue at all in the yeast starter, the yeast started working in a manner of hours. With the larger volume, it took the yeast nearly a day to show signs of life. I was getting ready to repitch some yeast from the bread starter but opted against it once I heard the first few burps from the airlock.
I also wasn't expecting the yeast to be so… thick. The sourdough yeast was a dark colored, viscous mess in the fermentor. I don't think I've ever experienced something like this before. One of the reasons I originally opted to do a wheat ale was that you could serve it cloudy and be forgiven. That said, the sourdough yeast wouldn't flocculate and it just hung around in suspension making the resulting beer look like mud. I wasn't having any of this so I put the beer into my lager fridge for a week to try and settle out the yeast. It seemed to do the trick.
Because this was a sourdough yeast, I also expected more… sour flavors to come out. They didn't, which I was a little disappointed with, but it's a learn-as-you-go sort of thing. At the very least I have a baseline to compare future brews with.
When it was all said and done, Arie was very pleased with how the final beer turned out. I'm going to bottle the beer in the next couple of days and put it on tap at home. Arie gets to keep the bottles and I'll get the draught version. Win-win! We were both so pleased with how the beer turned out that we have another brew scheduled for late spring using the same yeast, this time, a saison.
Note: Some of the images used on this post were contributed by Arie.