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Liquid Yeast, Time To Step Up

by Bill Bunning

Many extract brewers make great beer using kits with dry yeast. Many ask themselves the question, what simple things could I do to make this beer even better? You could add specialty malts, like crystal or chocolate; use some extra hops for flavor or aroma; or maybe try some of those liquid yeast.

Why use liquid yeast? Almost all liquid yeast come from a single strain. They are purer in form than their dry counterparts. There is a lot more variety with liquid yeast strains. Finally, if you want to make an authentic lager or wheat beer, they re the only thing going. You can't get these yeast in dry form. I know, some companies claim they have dry lager yeast, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Liquid yeast comes in two basic varieties. Wyeast (pronounced Y-Yeast) come in the "pouch within a pouch". You break the inner pouch (containing yeast) so it mixes with the outer pouch liquid (yeast starter). The pouch will swell in a couple days as the yeast multiply. That's when the Wyeast packet is ready to be stepped up. Yeast Lab yeast comes in a 50 ml vial that s ready to step up.

But what about all the trouble you go through to "step up" the liquid yeast to suitable pitching size. Some directions say that there's no need to step up the liquid yeast. Do NOT pitch without stepping up. Long lag times will result during fermentation. Your beer still could turn out, but you re giving all that bacteria time to get cranking too.

Stepping up liquid yeast is really quite simple. If your using Wyeast, you need to get started about 4 days prior to brew day (depending on how old the yeast packet is). On that day break the inner pouch and shake the outer pouch to mix. Sit it somewhere out of the way at room temperature. In a couple of days the packet should swell. Two days prior to brew day make a starter. Clean and sterilize a 22 oz beer or wine bottle, an air lock, and a funnel. Add 4 tablespoons dry malt extract to 2 cups water and bring to a boil. (You can add a hop pellet or two). Boil 15 minutes, cover, and chill. I use an ice water bath in the sink. When it's about tap water cool, pour into the sterilized bottle and add the contents of the Wyeast packet. Aerate and top with an air lock. In two days you'll have a healthy starter ready to pitch into your brew. Yeast Lab requires only 2 days since you're pitching the contents of the vial into the cooled starter. If you re making a lager, I would step this starter up one more time to at least one quart. This would require an additional 2 days.

But what about cost? Liquid yeast cost about 5 times as much as dry yeast. You could start culturing the yeast, but we ll save that for another time. Anyway, it s your beer and you wouldn't be brewing it if you were satisfied with BudMilCoors. Try taking the plunge into liquid yeast; your beer will thank you, your friends will thank you, you ll even thank yourself.

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