Friday, November 27, 2009

Holiday Cheer 2009!

I haven't posted on here for a while, because I have been posting on the facebook site and twitter, but the Heuvalstad Holiday Cheer 2009 edition is in the works. Currently it is in the secondary fermenter, sitting on 2 lbs of cranberry relish, spiked with ginger, coriander, and 1000 ml of sterile wort i had saved up. currently the alcohol content is at 6.6%, I am shooting for 8%!

The Beer is a Holiday variation of a Beer that I call Heuvalstad Shenanigans- A Belgian Style Wit Beer, spiked with Belgian Candi Sugar to boost alcohol and with a special spice blend. For the holiday version, cranberries, ginger, and extra sugars are added to boost the alcohol, to warm you up on those cold winter nights. Yes, it even gets cold here in Florida sometimes!

Until Next time, Cheers!

Gregg, The Yeast Master

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Last weekend my cousin Tony V and I started a 4 gallon Batch of Apple Cider. We obtained 4 gallons of pasteurized fresh pressed apple juice and added 2 packages of Lavlin EC-1118, 3 capsules of servomyces, and 1lb of belgian soft dark candi sugar into the fermenter. fermentation started within about 6 hours and is still proceeding now. after day 3 a large amount of hydrogen sulfide started being produced. now, we were fermenting at about 75 degrees which *may* have been a little high, but given the range of the yeast and the amount of nutrients added, it's likely that this is just normal H2S production associated with cider production (cider makers call them "rhino farts"), but i still get nervous. my plan was to add a tube of white labs saison yeast blend once primary fermentation slowed anyway, so hopefully this will help clean it up. aging cider can take up to a year, so it will be along wait, and i hope it will be worth it!

until next time!

Gregg, The Yeast Master!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Yeast Starters...A little education, ok maybe alot this is a long post! lol

Greetings Beer Lovers!

Tonight i started and completed Phase 1 of prep work for Brew Day on 10/31/09, I made sterile wort (a term we brewers use for unfermented beer) for my yeast starters. This operation is usually undertaken 3-5 days before brewing using a well established process that i have used before, but it is a little scary. Before I talk about the process i used I will give a short primer on yeast starters and why we, as brewers use them.

Yeast that is packaged for use for baking or brewing is dormant. Yeasts are a pretty "smart" fungus. They will eat sugars until they sense that their food supply is running out. Once they sense the supply is dwindling, they will stop reproducing, stop the fermentation process; eating sugar and excreting alcohol, CO2, and other compounds, and go dormant. After the yeast go dormant, they can either be kept in a slurry with distilled water, or kiln dried.

Anyone who has done any baking involving yeast, like bread, for example, knows that if you use dried yeast it must be "proofed". This can be done in several ways, depending on what the recipe calls for. Usually the yeast is added to a little warm water and sugar, allowed to rehydrate and become active. This method can also be used with dried beer yeast strains as well. Yeast strains that are chosen to be dried, are usually very robust in order to survive the drying process.

These dried yeast strains can usually just be rehydrated and pitched directly into the wort, especially in lower gravity ale type beers brewed at warm temperatures (60 degrees to 90 degrees) Low gravity beers have a low percentage of dissolved fermentable sugars, to yield low percentages of alcohol and ales are brewed using top fermenting yeast that work at higher temperatures.

This is all well and good, but the variety of dried yeast strains is very limited. There are about 8-10 dried beer yeast strains, and while they have been used by both homebrewers and professional brewers alike, there are many, many yeasts strains from around the world that are not robust enough to be dried, and come in liquid slurry form. The liquid yeasts are where the fun starts for the homebrewer, but they sometimes involve a little extra work, prior to brew day, and that's where the yeast starters come in.

Homebrewers are inventive little buggers. We see equipment and procedures used in large scale breweries, and we try to adapt those to are small scale home breweries. It's like any other hobby, i suppose ya start small and eventually it's a monster, much like this Blog Post! Anyway, when it comes to yeast, large scale breweries employ several methods for getting their yeast into the wort. Companies like White Labs, which serves homebrewers and professionals alike, can provide micro and macro breweries pitchable amounts of liquid yeast, that is amounts that can be directly added to the wort with no further propagation or starters needed. They can provide enough pitchable yeast for wort amounts from 1 barrel (33 gallons) to 200 barrels (6,600 gallons). Micro and Macro breweries can buy a new package of slurry for every batch they make, which is expensive, but guarantees a good quality yeast with no contamination or mutation. Some breweries will harvest yeast from beer while it is actively fermenting and put it in a propagation tank and then pitch it into a batch of beer.

Homebrewers have a few options when it comes to liquid yeast brands. Liquid yeasts offer nearly 80 different varieties of yeast strains which have been harvested, propagated, and perfected from around the world. Some of the worlds most famous beers owe a great debt to the resident yeasts in their local area. Each regional yeast lends its own special attributes to the beer, which home and craft brewers used to make magic!

The two biggest Bbrands that Homebrewers and wine makers use are White Labs and Wyeast. Brewers have their preferences between these two companies. Both provide excellent products, they just come in different packages.

White Labs packages their yeast in small viles in slurry form that they say are ready and viable enough to be directly pitched into a 5 gallon batch, provided they survive shipping in a hot truck.

Wyeast packs their yeast in a foil pack in slurry with a small packet of nutrients and sugar inside the packet. These packs are called "smack packs", because about 12 hours before it's time to pitch, you smack the packet, bursting the inner packet. In about 12 hours they yeast come out of dormancy, reproduce, do a little mini-fermentation and the pack swells. The yeast are proofed and ready to go!

Myself, I prefer White Labs yeast. I have used both, and have had the smack packs fail, and then have to scramble to find yeast on brew day.(there are only a couple of homebrew shops in town and they are far away from me). White Labs says that their viles are ready to go on their own to ferment 5 gallons of beer with no problem. I have done this on low gravity beers and had great success, although the lag (time it takes for yeast to absorb oxygen, start reproducing, and then start fermentation) was a little long, and the longer the lag, the greater chance any wild yeast or bacteria can take over and ruin the beer. To prevent this, a starter can be made, to allow the yeast to grow, become strong, and increase their numbers to be better able to start their fermentation cycle. This is a good thing, and where Phase 1 begins!

The usual process of making a yeast starter for the home brewer starts with boiling water in a pyrex erlenmeyer flask. the size of the flask can range from 500 ml to 4000 ml. I generally use a 2000 ml flask. Anyway, the process after the water is boiling is to add a measured amount of dried malt extract, watch it boil over :) and then let it boil for about 30 minutes. Then, the scary part is, you take this boiling flask and place it in an ice bath to cool down. It goes against every natural instinct to place 220 degree glass into freezing cold water. Even though i know pyrex is designed just for this sort of thing, i cringe everytime i do it. i wear long heavy rubber coated nylon gloves and get ready to run. I figure there has to be a better way, and i think i found it!

Tonight i put 4000 ml of water in a large pot and brought it to a boil. I then started adding dried malt extract and yeast nutrients into the water, had a minor boil over :) and then boiled for 30 minutes. I then prepared 10 pint sized mason jars and got the pressure cooker ready. I then poured the wort into the jars and placed them into the cooker. I processed the jars at 15 psi for 30 minutes. Now I have 10 pints of sterile wort!
When it comes time to make the starters, all i have to do is pour my sterile wort into my two flasks, add my 4 yeast strains, 2 to each flask, and a little nutrients, and let the yeasts propagate! No scary temperature shock, and the wort is STERILE. Usually when using the older method, the starter can be contaminated as it rapidly cools as a vacuum is created (remember the science class trick when ya crushed a can by temperature difference) and can pull in nasty wild yeasts and bacteria.

So that's about it for this post, I know it was long, but i hope i shared my (limited) knowledge of yeast propagation. Many books have been written on this subject, and i could write much much more about the process (i think i may be a lil obsessed lol). i'm excited about this new method of making starters and i hope it will be a success!

Until Next Time,

Gregg, The Yeast Master

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brew Date & Style Have Been Set

Greetings Beer Lovers!

So after a lil hemmin' and hawin' I have decided on a style which I am going to brew. It will be in the style of a Spiced Belgian Strong Dark Ale. I will be brewing it on October 31st, 2009 around noonish. I know most of my friends will not be able to attend on such short notice, due to it being Halloween and all, and that's cool, I just hope ya'll will be there for the tapping of the keg around February! This is going to be a BIG Beer! It features 8 different types of grains including a smidgen of wheat, 2 pounds of Soft Belgian Candi Sugar, 2 hop additions,5 secret spices, and 4 count em 1, 2, 3, 4 different Belgian Yeast Strains! The picture above shows the ingredients, minus the 2 additional yeast strains, sugars, and Belgian Special B Malt.

All these ingredients will come together to create a lovely aroma and flavor and should weigh in somewhere between 8%-12% alcohol, depending on how well the yeasts do! Speaking of yeast, next update I will share a method of yeast culturing that I am experimenting with that will (hopefully) make stronger, faster, better, and most importantly very sterile yeast starters! What's a yeast starter? Tune in next blog to find out.

Until Next Time,

Gregg, The Yeast Master

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

End of Day four of the Moto, Disaster Strikes...

So I popped open the fermenter to give the Moto its second stir of the day, and was hit in the face with a strong smell of vinegar. Yup, lactobacillus and acetobacter reared there ugly head, and beat out our friend, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, beer yeast out for dominance in the the starter. The smell is not as strong as distilled vinegar, but it is there, and the taste is reminiscent of a Belgian Lambic, sweet, slighty sour, actually quite nice...but not Sake like at all. It's a lil disappointing, but that's okay, it was a first experiment, and I'm not out a ton of cash so it's not that bad. I think I am going to return my focus to what I'm good at, brewing beer. I've had no failures with beer so far, and it is my true love. I may revisit Sake brewing again one day, but for now, beer is calling me, and I can't deny its call...

I'll decide what type of beer I'm going to brew in a few days and post it here. I'm also going to use this blog as a beer "education" resource. I have amassed a large amount of brewing knowledge over the years, and I would love to share it with everyone!

Until Next Time


Gregg, The Yeast Master

Day Four of The Moto, all seems well

So I came home and gave the Moto a stir and all seems well. There was a sign of bubbling and the Koji enzymes seem to be liquifying the rice quite nicely. There is no strong odor of Lactobacillus or Acetobacter, the two main bacteria involved in making vinegar. A taste and smell test from a thin layer that was on the spoon after the stir is sweet, and definitely has a Sake flavor to it. My mind has been set very much at ease over the Moto process after a little research into the Moto and what it is and what is going on. It is simply a rice beer yeast starter. When brewing beer, most brewers will make what's called a starter. The starter is nothing more than a miniature batch of beer into which the vile, smack pack, or packet of dry yeast is introduced, and allowed to propagate. This process increases the amount of viable yeast cells in a given volume and also strengthens them to get them ready for the task ahead of them: converting sugars into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and a host of other chemicals we call beer and wine. The fermentations in these starters is usually not overly spectacular, as there is not a huge amount of food available for the yeast, and they will simply reproduce (asexually, how boring!), eat sugars and convert them until they sense the food stock is dwindling and then go dormant. This process can go almost unnoticed in an Erlenmeyer flask, even if you were to sit there and stare at it. This explains the flat airlock and seeming lack of huge fermentation activity at this time. The Koji are hard at work converting the starches in the small amount of rice to fermentable sugars and water, and the yeast are eating the small amount of sugars, reproducing, creating a slight amount of alcohol and going dormant, and then reactivating as the Koji break down more starches!

My mind is very much at ease now knowing this and I am really looking forward to the next stages of the Sake Brewing process, The Moromi, and the Odori, a 26 day process during which more rice, Koji, and water are added slowly and in small amounts to allow the Koji to break down each addition in to sugars and the yeast to convert those sugars into Sake! It really is a tandem operation and a great example of a symbiotic relationship!

Until next time!

Gregg, The Yeast Master

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Sake Saga Begins! Stage one. Moto!

So I started this whole Sake saga on 9/19/09. I have to say I am more than a little nervous. After soaking my Koji Rice (Rice covered in mold which converts the starch in the rice to sugars which can be fermented), rinsing and soaking the Sake Rice, and preparing all the equipment, I started steaming the Sake Rice. I discovered during this process that my steamer was not up to the task and it took quite a while to get the rice steamed. This was the first "problem". Next I added the Koji Rice and Steamed rice to the fermenter. A that point it looked like rice porridge, and very thick rice porridge at that. Now, the Koji mold is supposed to break down and liquify the rice, and turn it into moto, but I am worried that I didn't get the rice steamed enough, and that the lil mold buggers won't be able to break down the rice properly. Yesterday (Sunday) I brought the temperature down and pitched the yeast in to start fermentation. I only had one viable pack of yeast, as my feline friends, thinking the yeast packs were kitty treats ripped one pack open creating a nice mess in the kitchen. 12 hours later (Monday) I just checked the ferment and gave it its first stir. There are some signs of fermentation (nice yeasty aroma, some bubbling on the surface) and the moto is more liquidy than before, which is good. There is one fly in the ointment though. To brew sake it is necessary to used an open style fermenter with a lid, in other words a brewing bucket. I despise this type of brewing vessel but it is necessary to use it so that rice can be added and mixed by hand as the process moves forward. Overnight, the lid to the bucket became unsealed, and may or may not have allowed nasty bacteria or wild yeasts in. No bueno. As of right now, a taste test from the sanitized spoon used to stir the mash up tells me that there is alcohol present, so fermentation has occurred, but the airlock is flat with no bubbles at this point so I can't tell if the alcohol is from the initial yeast starter or is a result of fermentation from the moto itself. It smells good so far, and no vinegar smells or tastes so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I really need to relax, and have faith in the chemistry at this point, but I always find that hard to do when brewing a new style, and this is DEFINITELY new ground for me. Starting with barely 4 cups of rice and very little liquid seems so wrong somehow, but as Charlie Papazian, the father of homebrewing says, I need to "Relax, and have a Homebrew". I don't have any homebrew at the moment, but I think I will have a nice Belgian Blonde ale, relax, and snuggle with my DVR.

Until next time...

Gregg, The Yeast Master

Friday, September 11, 2009

A New Start...

So, Here I am Blogging about Brewery Heuvalstad, my Home Brewery, that I hope to one day be a working MicroBrewery and Brew Pub. I guess I should start at the beginning. My Name is Gregg Vona and I have been brewing Beer and Mead since 2001. My good friend Jim Driggers got me started in this whole brewing thing and I have been in love with it ever since.

My first brewing experience was a batch of straight mead that started out awesome, but due to impatience and some not so good sanitation techniques turned into 5 gallons of honey vinegar. I regrouped and brewed up a Bavarian Pilsner which was a great success!! After that I was hooked!

8 years later I have brewed 6 successful brews ranging from a Blonde Ale to a Belgian Style Dubbel and I have formulated and written 12 great recipes representing different regions of the world and their styles.

Now something new has piqued my interest, Brewing Sake. The process is ancient and time honored...and time consuming! Unlike most beer styles that you simply brew, pitch the yeast and sit back and enjoy the show, Sake Brewing requires alot of hands on (literally!) work!

This Blog will document all my brewing endeavors and hopefully my transition to commercial brewing! For the next 40 days or so, my Fermenters will be dedicated to brewing Junmai Grade Premium Style Sake!

This entry is dry I will admit, but hopefully the blog will become exciting as events unfold!

For Now I will say Good Night, and Cheers!!!