This past Father’s Day, my brother and niece had flown in from Arizona, and along with my parents, we had all gone to some out-of-the-way NJ Diner for a Father’s Day luncheon. Upon getting back to the neighborhood, Maurizio d‘Errico, or Moe as we prefer to call him, sent me a text that he would be brewing in his apartment, and because he knew that I wanted to come by and check it out, he invited me over. I bought a six pack of cold Yuengling bottles at the Fort Place Deli and headed down to his place on Montgomery.
The bell didn’t work, so I called him when I was outside and he bounced down the winding steps of his building to meet me at the front door. He lives a couple of floors up, in an apartment that he’s sharing with a roommate for the moment…just until his wife Marita’s contract on the cruise ship is done, and she comes home in August. It was a warm day and the brewing made the kitchen a hot, damp place. But here was Moe, with the smell of malt in the air, a wooden spoon in his hand, and a smile on his face!
He was brewing a smash, in which he’d used 12 lbs of 2-Row Pale Malt and was on his way to adding 2 ounces of Motueka hops, a fairly new variety out of New Zealand. A distended smack-pack of Pacific Northwest Ale yeast stood at attention, waiting for their feast.
Moe comes to Staten Island from Venice, Italy and his approach to brewing is fun and vibrant. Learning the basics of homebrewing from a book at Bitter & Esters in the minutes before buying some grain, he dove headlong into brewing and joined Pour Standards, Richmond County’s Homebrew Club. Now, 4 beers and a cider into it, his curiosity is growing but he has the same problem that all Staten Island homebrewers face… there’s no homebrew shop on Staten Island. So, while its possible to get grain, yeast, hops and equipment in Brooklyn, it’s definitely not convenient for us…especially those with no car. Walking through the subways and streets, on the way home, with 15 pounds of grain is not ideal.
Moe’s equipment is pretty basic: a kettle from the local ‘$1 and Up’ store, a 3-gallon Better Bottle with a make-shift top, and a salvaged water-cooler bottle to ferment 2 1/2 gallons in each. He enjoys experimenting with unique and savory flavors, such as Artichoke or Dill Pale Ales. You know how it is… each time you brew, you figure out more equipment that you need and subsequently, the next time is a little easier.
It’s urban homebrewing on Staten Island, and it’s cramped… but such a beautiful thing.
Try his beer at a Pour Standards meeting, or just catch him in person around St George.
For some time now, I’ve been interested in propagating proprietary yeast blends from popular, unfiltered craft beer. So it shouldn’t come as a surprised that The Alchemist’s Heady Topper yeast (called Conan) would be my first choice.
NOTE: This is not a guide, but instead an overview of the process I used for this project. I’ve left out some information that should be implied, such detailed sanitation procedures, in order to keep things short.
My process for propagation isn’t new, and is a combination of guides I’ve found online. Here are two of them:
I wanted to steamline the pitching process for stepping up the yeast, and figured the fastest way to achieve this goal was to pressure can wort for each of the 6 major step ups. In order to achieve the process, I would need a pressure canner, mason jars, canning accessories (jar tightener, lid magnet, etc.), and a lot of DME.
Here’s my list of equipment/tools/ingredients before starting:
Yeast Step Up Volumes: (TOTAL = 12.6 l at 1.042 OG)
Step One: Preparing Starter Wort for Canning
I decided to boil 13 liters of starter wort for 15 mins to distribute into quart mason jars prior to canning. I understand that many homebrewers who can starter wort simply mix a measured amount of DME into individual mason jars for pressure cooking. However, I wanted to make sure that each of my mason jars had the same OG, and boiling wort seemed to be the only way to achieve my desired results. An extra step, but one I didn’t mind making.
While I waited for the starter wort to come to a boil, I opened the two cans of Heady Topper to enjoy. In order to lower the risk of infection, I pour 80% of each can into a tulip glass, swirling the remaining beer in the can with the yeast that settled to the bottom. This step is important, since those can dregs contain the yeast you need for propagation. I also made sure to cover the cans with sanitized tin foil as soon as I finished pouring the beer out.
Once 15 mins passed, I distributed 12.6L of wort into 12 Quart Jars, and 5 Pint Jars. I also put aside 200ml of wort so that I could pitch the Heady Topper dregs. Also, make sure to add yeast nutrients to each of the jars to help keep the yeast healthy.
Step Two: Pitching Heady Topper Dregs
This step was easy. I pitched both can dregs into the 200ml of starter wort once it chilled to room temperature and place the jar lid on top, tightening it lightly so that gas may escape if necessary Stir by shaking the jar lightly, oxygenating the wort. A stir plate isn’t necessary at this stage, since there is such a small amount of liquid.
Step Three: Pressure Canning Process
Some believe pressure canning starter wort is the only safe way of storing wort, while others say the odds of botulism risk are so low, one may prevent infection of wort by utilizing standard homebrew sanitation practices. Since I planned on distributing the yeast to friends and other homebrewers, I didn’t want to take any chance, regardless of how small. Additionally, I plan on canning figs and other seasonal fruits to use for brewing when they’re not in season.
I pressure cooked canned wort at 250 degrees F for 15 mins, and let sit on a towel over night to chill to room temperature.
Step Four: Stepping up the yeast
By the next day, the 200ml starter had a visible light foam wreath which formed on the top of the starter wort, indicating yeast growth. I then pitched the entire 200ml starter into my 2000 ml Erlenmeyer Flask, along with 400 ml of starter wort. This was enough to add my stir bar (sanitized, of course) and stir plate into the process.
The rest of the process followed the steps below:
It’s also good to note that I needed to switch vessels once I reached step up 5 and step up 6. I transfered the starter to a 1 gal jug for the 3.2 l step up, and then transfered to a 3 gal carboy for the 6.4 l step up. I did, however, run into a small issue using the 3 gal carboy. The thickness of the glass made it impossible for me to use my stir plate set up. My only solution was to manually shake the carboy, which I tried to do roughly every 20 mins to keep the yeast in suspension.
Step Five: Transferring to jars for Cold Crashing
I prepared 12 sanitized Pint Mason Jars to distribute the yeast starter into. I gave the starter one final swirl, to re-suspend the yeast so that it may be equally distributed, and carefully split the starter into each jar. I carefully, and loosely, applied the jar lids and placed each jar into the fridge for cold crashing.
Step Six: Transferring to jars for distribution.
After placing each Pint jar into the fridge for cold crashing, I began to prepare the half pint jars for distribution. I filled each half pint jar half way with water and microwaved them individually for 2 mins. This not only sterilized the inside of the jar, but also deoxygenated the wort (see Yeast Harvesting: A Novel Approach). I then let the half pint jars sit out over night to chill.
The next day, I carefully decanted roughly 80% of the spent wort in each of the pint jars, swirling the remaining yeast and wort together, and transfered to the 250 ml jars for chilling. The yeast in each jar settled to the bottom within 24 hours, leaving a mostly distilled water solution on top. This should help the shelf life of the yeast, even though I would recommend using it within the first week or two.
NOTE: I sampled some of the starter wort from each of the pint jars, just to test for infection. While it was very sweet, and almost tart, there was no lingering sour or acid sensation on my palate. I had a similar experience when I propagated this yeast the first time around. It’s also good to note that there is no apparent botulism infection within the canned wort, seeing as I am still alive and kicking after sampling nearly 12 jars of starter wort.
That’s pretty much it. Like I said earlier in this post, I used this yeast before and I loved the results. The White IPA I brewed with it had a lot of interesting character. Attenuation was roughly 80%, and the beer came out very estery (melon, pineapple, tropical). I fermented at 62 degrees, and allowing temps to rise to 68 over 5 days.