Friday, May 7, 2010

Pitching Rate Experiment

One of the neat things about homebrewing is that you have so many people with different degrees of experience and all kinds of systems. One of the forums I frequent, over at Northern Brewer, will often have someone new to brewing asking a question. A lot of people chime in. The funny thing is, there are usually two camps that end up breaking out on any topic. Glass fermenters versus plastic fermenters is common. One that recently came up involved pitching rates.

As you can see by the introductory question, the starter of this particular thread wants to know that when it comes to pitching liquid yeast into a batch of beer, should he pitch one Activator pack, or two.

Let the shitstorm begin.

Where I stand on this opinion depends on the strength of the beer you are making. My general rule is that anything at a specific gravity of 1.055 or less I would feel comfortable throwing a Wyeast Activator into, preferably fully puffed out after you've smacked it, but still okay if puffed out just a little. Case in point: I made a Patersbier at my dad's place. The Activator pack was 3 months old. I didn't feel real good about the age of the pack, but I trusted the Trappist High Gravity yeast to be a strong one. The gravity of the beer was 1.048, so I wasn't too worried about it. Fermented it for a week at around 63 degrees, finished at 1.011. Done.

At about 1.060, I begin to make yeast starters. So I do believe in starters. In fact, I really wanted the Koelsch I just made to do really well, so I made a quart starter for it, even though the gravity was only 1.050. I moved it to secondary after 13 days. The gravity was at 1.016 at the time, which was kind of surprising; I thought it would finish lower. That starter grew for about 28 hours.

Of course, the most frustrating thing to me about homebrewer opinions, is that at times, people think that their opinion is the only way to do things. That's fine. Believe what you want. But just don't tell me it's the only way to do things. Or tell me I can't do something, especially if I've done it, or if I think it will work. See the Koelsch above as an example. Made with 95% Koelsch malt. Some dude said on the NB forum that I couldn't make a Koelsch with that malt. Guess what? Did it. Guess what else? It tastes fucking great. As my wife put it, "Reminds me of the beers I used to drink in high school." Well, maybe. It is a Koelsch.

So this guy, Sean, decided to do an experiment. As you can see, for the cost of shipping, he sent us 3 beers to try. I got my brewing friend, John, to share the tasting with me. I told him, "YOU CAN'T TALK ABOUT THE BEER UNTIL WE'RE DONE!" He looked at me funny.

Here were our comments:

John (A): Cloudy. Not really amber. Hazy. Smells of alcohol. Tastes somewhat fruity, mildly hoppy, tastes of alcohol. Over-attenuated? Slightly astringent. Low mod. body, good carbonation.

Jez (A): Decent foam. Kinda light in color for an amber. Decent lacing. Hazy, smells fruity, apple-juicy, caramel, alcohol. Flavor is a bit appley, hops are nice. Very dry, not much of a malt backbone. Mouthfeel: Back bit of hops. Smooth feel. Appropriate carbonation. Seems like it's underpitched. I seem to have gotten better attenuation from a smack pack.

John (B): Thicker head than A. Same amount of haze as A. Smells slightly estery, flavor is estery as well. Less astringent than A. Is this under-pitched?

Jez (B): Bigger head on this one. A bit stronger lacing. Same haze as A. No fruity aroma, maybe some caramel nose. Very dry, nice hops for an amber ale. Same mouthfeel, nice carbonation. Guessing this one used a starter.

John (C): Same as A.

Jesse (C): Same as A.

So as you can see, I thought A&C were underpitched, John thought B was underpitched.

Overall, I think that there really wasn't that much difference in the beer. One was not really better than the other. I think that if you told me that these came from the same batch, I couldn't really tell a difference.

I'd like to thank Sean for the beer. It's always so nice to share someone else's beer. I'll be in Indianapolis in May. Perhaps I could bring you some of mine?

Also, this confirms my indifference to "amber" ales. I think I like more of an Amarillo-Zeus-Simcoe combo of hops in mine.


MiBi said...

I would have to agree that there are a 100 ways to skin a cat. I to don't mind all the different advice, but I dislike when people start to argue with each other. I did a yeast experiment once where we decided to put wYeast 1056 up against wYeast 1274 or American Ale and American Ale II. We did a tasting after the fact and found some differences.

When I took it into the forums people appreciated the info, but then a couple of guys started jumping on each other about some specifics of the yeast. Its cool to hear all the info, but when it is presented in such a way it doesn't stick for me.

I'd prefer a nice response with detail and facts to back it up.

Here is the discussion on my end. The jist of it took place over on Northern Brewer I believe.

American Ale 1056 vs American Ale II 1272

Mike's Brew Review

Jez said...

Yeah, and both are solid yeasts. It's just a matter of what you like, I guess.