Starsan, is it made from the tears of a unicorn?

Star San

You know you’ve stumbled onto a great blog when it talks about cleaning and sanitation. Nothing excites the masses more than detailed, long, scientific discussions regarding cleanliness. Nevertheless, if you’re a homebrew nerd like me, you’ll know that cleaning and sanitation is the difference between a great beer and a terrible beer.

This week I’m going to give you the run down on ‘Starsan’. For those of you who don’t know, Starsan is a sanitizer produced by Five Star Chemicals. Now before we start, you might be wondering, what is the difference between a cleaner and a sanitizer? A sanitizer is NOT designed to clean the gunk off your equipment. Once it is already clean, a sanitizer is meant to remove the nasties which could infect your beer.

In terms of sanitizers, Starsan is likely the most popular product used by homebrewers. The major stand out benefit of Starsan is that it is ‘no rinse’. This means you can soak your utensils in it and then put the beer on top without rinsing. WHAT! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BUBBLES! Go on any homebrew forum and you’ll find hundreds of people questioning whether the bubbles could affect their beer. The concept that the bubbles would not at least add some off tastes just confuses people.

Up until recently I have just accepted this blindly and assumed like everyone else, that Starsan is made from the tears of a unicorn and is therefore magic. Everyone knows that if you add anything magic to your beer it is impossible for off flavours to be added as a result. It really seems logical if you think about it. Whilst this answers is sufficient for me, I thought I would have a look on the web to find out why you don’t have to rinse it. Finding information was really hard but the generally accepted attitude is that because the main ingredient is phosphoric acid, when you add beer the acidity is diluted/lowered to a level that doesn’t affect the yeast. Further the yeast uses the phosphates produced as food. Even though I totally understand every aspect of that (I don’t), I’m still going to stick with my magic reason.

Starsan is quite economical with only a really tiny amount required (approx. 30g per 19L). To be honest, I’m not overly particular about the mix ratio but try to adhere to the above loosely. I suspect this is what most people do.

To properly sanitize an item, the Starsan only needs to make contact for 30 seconds. A great way to do this is to make up a spray bottle and simply spray down the items you need to sanitize.

Taste_of_hops_grande

If you’re trying to brew and you don’t have Starsan, you are playing with fire. For a relatively small investment, you can make the process of sanitizing one of the easiest parts of your brew day.

If you have any questions let me know but fair warning, if they are scientific in nature, I am likely to just make something up.

My First Yeast Starter!

Yeast Starter

So I have a confession to make. You’ve probably noticed I like to pretend I am an expert brewer. I am a giant nerd and regularly read everything I can find on brewing so its easy to talk the talk. But when it comes down to it you can know all you want but unless you can walk the walk, it really doesn’t mean anything.

One very basic thing I really should have done earlier in my brewing life is a yeast starter. Despite their relative ease, I just found the ease of dry yeast to be too tempting. Despite this, the allure of many different yeast options together with the option to overbuild starters (for harvesting purposes) was too strong. Also, considering I had just bought a stir plate it seems only reasonable that I would need to use it!

Recently I brewed a Samuel Adams Boston Lager Clone. Given Xmas was just around the corner it seemed like a great beer to be sipping on during those warm (hopefully dry) summer days. To get that crisp lager taste I wanted to try Wyeast’s Bohemian Lager (#2124).

I wanted to make a 3L yeast starter but quickly ran into problems. My first problem was that I didn’t have a pot big enough! Seems an obvious issue but I’ve always been a little special. Another problem I have is I have an induction stovetop so there is no chance of heating the erlenmeyer flask direct.

Yeast Preparation

Accepting that I would need to do a couple of boils I had to first test how much water would evaporate during the 10 minute boil. I tried a 1.2 L boil and low and behold, it was the perfect evaporation rate.

Heating up 1.2 L of water, I then added 100g of DME. After the 10 min boil, I placed it in an ice bath and stirred until cool. The next problem I encountered was my inability to transfer to the flask! To say there was spillage was a bit of an understatement. In the end I ended up with 2.5L instead of my 3 but I wasn’t too worried.

Adding the yeast, I placed it on the yeast starter and set it going. After 48 hours it was ready to cold crash. Once crashed, I decanted off the yeast and wallah, a large amount of yeast!

So how was fermentation? Fermentation started strong after about 18 hours and kicked on strong until finished. My lager fermented out lower than I expected (3 points) which I am unsure whether is normal for the strain. Tasting the beer, I had no diacetyl or off flavours so considered it a win.

I will need to make a few tweaks to make my yeast starter process easier but other than that, the process was relatively easy and led to great results. Next I’ll look at building a larger yeast starter so I can start reusing yeast. That’s the great thing about this hobby, there is always one more thing to learn!

If you have any questions on yeast starters or anything else please feel free to leave them below.

Yeast: Liquid vs Dry- a beginner’s review

IMG_1903

If you’ve been following this blog you’ve likely read my previous post, ‘My first yeast starter’. Despite my enthusiasm (read:obsession) with home brewing, I have only recently started to use liquid yeast cultures. So how have I found them in comparison to the dry?

The first thing I need to point out is that now I’m confident using liquid yeasts, there are a LOT more yeast options available to me. Previously I was limited to those yeast strains which were able to be dried successfully and withstand the substantial heat required to do so. Whilst the list of dry yeasts is better than it used to be and is growing, it has nothing on the extensive amount of liquid yeasts available.

Another thing I have noticed with my liquid yeast starters is that fermentation kicks in a lot quicker. Whereas previously it wasn’t uncommon for my lag time to be up to 24 hours before I started to see visible signs of fermentation, I am now seeing this in 12 hours. Fermentation could be starting even sooner but I usually don’t make a habit of sitting in front of my fermenter. I can’t help but feel that has got to be a good thing.

Rogue Beard Beer

A brewery in the US actually used the yeast from their brewmaster’s beard!

So is there any difference in taste? I can’t say definitively because I haven’t brewed the same recipe with dry and then with liquid yeast. What I can say is that the lager I brewed recently tasted amazing straight out of the fermenter compared with previous ones I have done that required extended lagering. This may be a combination of a number of things including my focus on doing diacetyl rests but in any event it couldn’t have hurt.

So will I use dry yeasts going forward? You really can’t go past the convenience of a dry yeast. I’ll likely keep some in the house and use the trusty old US05 for american ales. Other than that I may just be a liquid yeast culture convert.

What about you? Have you found any difference with dry yeasts to liquid yeasts?

Where do I get recipes for homebrewing?

So you’ve got your equipment all ready and you’re keen to get started on your first batch. What should you make?

It is generally recommended that you start with an ale. Brewing a lager comes with more complexities that you probably don’t need right now. Its not necessarily harder, but why add further steps at this early stage? Read More

What equipment do I need to brew my own beer?

If you want to get into homebrewing, you are going to need equipment. This equipment can be as simple as a pot on your stove or an expensive 3 vessel system with automated controls. The first thing you want to consider is if you want to brew with extract or all grain.

It used to be the norm that homebrewers would start by brewing extract and after one or two years, they would ‘graduate’ to all grain. Nowadays however, more and more people are starting with all grain. With the abundance of information available on the internet and the relatively small difference in equipment needed, I would tend to recommend if you are serious about it, starting with all grain. I did and I wouldn’t change it. Read More

Is brewing your own beer worth it?

Bottle BombsWhen I tell people I’m really into homebrewing I get met with a number of similar responses. A lot of work colleagues tend to look at me like I’m some kind of alcoholic who should never be promoted. My friends however tend to have more varied responses.

The questions I tend to get most are “how long does it take” and then “is it worth it?”

In regards to the first question, a usual brew day will take between 4-6 hours depending on how quickly I want to get through it. I’m an all grain brewer and tend to not rush it as I enjoy the process. How quickly the beer is ready for consumption depends on the type of beer but I could turn one around in about 3 weeks if required. Read More