Meet Mrs Yeast, my most reliable and hard working employee.  She always turns up, works 24/7, 365.25 days in a year and doesn’t belong to any union or professional body pressuring me for benefits.
Isn’t she fabulous?

Yeast is everything when it comes to brewing.  Providing a good environment for the yeast to propagate and ferment is the key to making a great beer.   The type of yeast used (the strain) has a critical outcome on the flavour profile.   Even when using lager yeasts, the differences are substantial.  For brewing a successful and great tasting Bavarian Helles, the choice of yeast and successful handling is of uttermost importance.   But we all know this already…

What is difficult for the home-brewer, is to provide an excellent environment for Mrs Yeast to go about her business.  Being a good employer means to provide a great work environment for your best employee so that she’s very happy and always able to perform at 100% to her ability.

I’ve done a lot of work with various yeast strains and methods in the last months.  I am a bit perplexed at the popularity of posts such as the Schneider Mash schedule, yet other musings about fermentation practices only attracted a fraction of the interest (60% less).  Arguably, mashing is important, especially when one works with difficult malts such as wheat malts, or when one wants to brew a very light coloured Helles but with plenty of mouthfeel and maltiness.   For both of the above, decoction mashing is pretty much unavoidable.  For wheat it helps to break down the excessive protein better, and for Helles the extra starches extracted will lead to a much higher efficiency and therefore a brighter beer.

Components for building an electro-magnetic stir plate.
Components for building an electro-magnetic stir plate.

But how the yeast is handled is the most important.  Choosing the right strain is comparatively easy because all the main manufacturers list the characteristics quite well.  But for these characteristics to manifest themselves and for the yeast to perform to her best the following conditions are necessary for the workplace:

  1. Sanitary conditions (quite obvious)
  2. Temperature at pitching and then for primary fermentation (most get it right)
  3. Temperature for conditioning (often overlooked)
  4. Correct cell count for the style and gravity (a bit harder to get right)
  5. Good oxygenation (most don’t get this right at all – even professionals struggle with this)
  6. Secondary fermentation.  Critical for lager beers, highly recommend for ales (often grossly misunderstood.  See all the confusion around Kräusening as technique)
  7. Harvesting, re-use, storage and propagation (can be quite challenging and will require a microscope)

I am a bit perplexed that a beer style whose name derived from the conditioning method, namely lager, is only drawing a fraction of the attention to the very same technique.   Again, mashing is important, but the mash won’t make me a great beer.  It’s the fermentation that delivers this.   It’s a big topic and I have loads of notes and observations to share.   So I’m going to break it up and share it with you over the next couple of weeks…  Getting this right is, in my opinion, the best investment any brewer can make.