British Brewer

Recreating the perfect British Pint

Archive for the 'Economics' Category

20 January

Brewing on a budget – Borrowing Yeast

Yeast StarterAs part of the continued deep dive into specific ingredients and techniques (so far we have dug deeper into yeast and reviewed water treatment) I thought a further post on yeast was in order especially given the cost of quality yeast. Its expensive.

As I mentioned in an earlier post on why I brew, its not just the pleasure of drinking high quality fresh ale, or the enjoyment of simply brewing, but also the lower cost of home made ale that stokes my passion for homebrew.  Brewing your own real ale is very economical. I was reminded as I toured the liquor store today and noticed a 6 pack of Fullers ESB on the shelf for $12 (or $2 a bottle), and remembered I have 2 cases (48 bottles) of my own version (though still not up to Fullers quality) in my cellar that cost me approx $4.75 per 6 pack ($0.79 per bottle).  Given I like to use the more expensive liquid yeast from Wyeast or White Labs I find yeast is the most expensive ingredient in my brews. These yeasts have reliable attenuation percentages and produce very consistent results every brew. I have never had a bad batch.  But they are expensive, most being over $6 a packet.  What also doesn’t help is I am often left guessing what type of yeast to purchase for a recipe, e.g. is it a London Ale, London Ale III, or a Thames Valley strain?

But what if I could get the right yeast and pay nothing (except for the one time cost of a single bottle of beer). I could bring the price of a 6 pack of Fullers ESB down to $4 (or $0.66 per bottle) helping my budget somewhat and deliver an even closer match to the original I am trying to clone.

This brings me to the main reason for the visit to my local quality liquor store (as I rarely buy beer except for research purposes), to acquire a sample of 2007 bottle conditioned Fullers Vintage Ale.  As noted in my prior post, I am unhappy with the results of version 1.0 of my Fullers ESB clone.  As part of my research into figuring out how to improve the recipe I have been investigating how to improve the malt, hops and yeast mix.  I have managed to finally find a reliable source for the appropriate hops but got stuck on the yeast. Fullers, like most breweries, is very secretive around its yeast as so much of the flavour and character of the finished ale comes from it.  During my research I was browsing some recipe web sites and found a post on a bulletin board where a homebrewer from England was trying to replicate Fullers London Pride using some yeast grown from a yeast sample he had lifted from some bottle conditioned Fuller 1845 Ale.  Much like homebrew, bottle conditioned commercial beers are naturally carbonated in the bottle using residual yeast and priming sugar leaving a sediment on the bottom of the bottle. The sediment is rich with yeast cells and, with a little care and attention, these cells can be reactivated and grown to be used again in whatever beer you choose. In my case any Fullers clone I might make in the future.

But isn’t all beer sold in the USA pasteurized? I always thought so. So what commercial beers are out there that we could use to create our own free supply of yeast?  The answer appears to be not many.  As a rule almost all imported bottled and keg beers are pasteurized, the reason given to preserve freshness and enhance shelf life (though this point in hotly debated, I can attest to having regular gravity beers in my cellar for months and they continue to improve with age).  Furthermore almost all domestic US bottled beer is also pasteurized though domestic US keg beer is typically unpasteurized and “fresh” (with the exception of the mega-breweries such as Bud who pasteurize everything).  But recently the rules appear to be slowly changing. It is now possible to get imported and domestic bottled conditioned ales for higher gravity brews. I have noted Ringwood, Fullers 1845, Fullers Vintage Ale, and Sam Smiths Organic Ale from the UK and Shipyard Barleywine and Sierra Nevada from the US all available unpasteurized and bottled conditioned in the US market.

So how do we take a sample of bottled conditioned ale and re-culture it for use in your typical 5 gallon batch of homebrew?

  1. First acquire some bottled conditioned ale that matches either the style you are shooting for or from the same brewery that brews the ale you are attempting to clone (chances are its the same strain)
  2. Pour yourself a drink, make sure to save ~20% of the ale bottle, including all the sediment from the bottom
  3. Assemble the following to make a “yeast starter” :
  4. In a saucepan bring to a boil 8 oz of water, add Wheat DME and the hop pellets and boil for a total of 10mins
  5. After 8 mins add yeast nutrient (optional)
  6. Cool rapidly, I partially submerge the saucepan in a sink full of ice cold water and stir vigorously, this also aerates the liquid
  7. Once the liquid is cooled to 80ºF pour into a clean, sanitized flask or carboy
  8. Add the remaining 20% of the bottle conditioned ale, including sediment, from the bottle you purchased
  9. Insert stopper and airlock and keep at a constant 68-75ºF. The yeast should come back to life within 3-4 days.
Yeast Harvesting Materials

The Equipment

Mixing in the Wheat DME

Mixing in the Wheat DME

Source Ale

Pour drink, saving 20%

Yeast Nutrient

Add yeast nutrient after 8mins

Cooling starter to 80%

Cooling rapidly in cold water

Final product

Transfer to flask, add ale with sediment

Once the yeast is active you can either use it or place in the refrigerator to sleep.  Make sure to keep some back to re-culture again for another brew.  Yeast can stay healthy for up to 3 months in the fridge, so make sure to re-culture a batch before 3 months to keep the strain alive or you will just have to go out and actually BUY beer, how does that work with the budget!

Other resources:

  • For a complete list of breweries where White Labs and Wyeast strains originate you can look here.
  • For a list of bottled conditioned ales capable of harvesting yeast go here.
09 January

Beer Wars

Kevin, a good friend, professional brewer in a former life, and a former colleague of mine at Fidelity Ventures, writes posts at a great beer review blog Beer Observer. I was on the site earlier today and found a post by Kevin I had missed from early in 2009 about a documentary made by an independent film maker and beer nut, Anat Baron.  Anat is a former LA Producer who went on to work for Mike’s Hard Lemonade and knows a thing about making it in the beverage industry and making movies.

The movie is “Beer Wars” (trailer here), a documentary on the battle ranging between the mega-breweries and the small independents. The film focuses on the US market, but the theme is eerily similar to the one I covered in my recipe post on Flowers Original Bitter. The theme is closer than I thought as one of the major mega-brewers highlighted in the movie is Anheuser-Busch, makers of Bud and a whole host of other brands.  Anheuser-Busch was acquired by InBev in November 2008 by none other than the Belgium based InBev, owners of Flowers Original, making the largest brewery in the world with over 300 brands and 25% of all beer consumed in the world.

I have nothing against InBev or Bud, it is a matter of personal taste for me and I know cost for many other people.  I happen to like Real Ale and will support the breweries and home enthusiats that brew it.  This movie is important to me for one reason (minus the corporate bad, little guy good vibe which I could live without, its a free market), it does expose what people are really drinking, the fact that adjuncts are the base ingredient used in the bulk of mass produced beers on the market, not barley, so its not beer. Its important to know what you are drinking.

One way to really know what you are drinking is to brew it yourself. Its fresh, cheaper, and in almost every case, better than the mass produced stuff at the liquor store.  Go see the movie if you can or look for it when it comes to iTunes later this year. I’m off to bottle my Wadworth 6X clone, it smells good.

18 November

Why Brew?

Why brew? I started for 2 reasons.  One because college buddy Chris Penner and I brewed at college and I seem to remember it tasting pretty good.  But my memory of these times in none too clear and there are some VERY good reasons for that.  So maybe I just want to see if we were any good or if it was all in my head.  I do remember brewing a couple of ales back home in good old New Malden, but was that just beginners luck?  My tastes have matured over the years so will I still like the beer today? Only one way to find out.

Second reason is the money.  Like so many people in this current economy we are having a tough time. I have been out of work for most of this year and am actively seeking employment.  So budgets have been slashed and we are always looking for ways to save money.  So I made a spreadsheet, for those that know me this will come as no surprise, I have spreadsheets for almost everything.  I figured out the ROI on the equipment I would need to buy, including ingredients, and figured that after 6 batches of 5 gallons I would pay back the money I spent.  We will get into the equipment in my next post.

So how cheap is it?  For a batch of Best Bitter, a solid session brew of medium strength and taste, the cost of a simple extract based recipe is ~$32.  If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a good homebrew supply store you would need to add shipping also. I use Northern Brewer for almost everything these days and their fixed shipping price of $7.99 per order works well for me as I tend to order over 20lbs of ingredients at a time.  So this adds up to $40 for 5 gallons of high quality ale.

Using $40 as a benchmark lets see what the savings work out to. In theory a typical homebrew batch of 5 gallons yields 40 pints of ale. In reality once you have racked the ale a couple of times to remove the sediment you tend to have about 35 pints or approx 560 fl oz.

So what is 560 fl oz of premium Best Bitter worth to me (Best Bitter is a form of English Pale Ale)?  My favorite London Best Bitter is Fullers London Pride.  I can buy a 6 pack of 12 fl oz London Pride at Blanchards for ~$12 or $2 per 12 fl oz bottle. Multiply this up to 560 fl oz (~46 bottles of Pride) and you get a price tag of $92, over 56% savings.  You will find the pricing works out for the lower end ales which tend to require less ingredients = less money.  If you can remove shipping from the equation then high quality ale really can be enjoyed on a budget.

So I hear “homebrew really isn’t as good as the real-thing?”, “what about the choice?”. I can honestly tell you that homebrew is the real thing, it does taste better, you have infinite variety thanks to sites like Hopeville, and you can even clone your very favorite beers and compare just how different they are.

The only real issues come when you run out and have to go to the store and pay double for a weaker brew (and don’t forget the sales tax).  Another issue is time, you cannot just run down the road a buy a six pack whenever you feel like an ale, you need to plan ahead. Patience is definitely required to make great ale, something we will discuss next time.

So what are we waiting for, next post we will get into the basic equipment required and cover the basic ground rules of the road. Time for a draft pint pulled fresh from my own tap 🙂