I had a friend and fellow homebrewer (Matt Spaanem) over while I was brewing up a Saison for our Pinot Noir Barrell Solera club project. He brought me some of his wild yeast that he had harvested from honey to use in that brew. Here is his blog where he talks about his foray into harvesting wild yeasts from many different sources. Matt Spaanem’s wild yeast blog
The yeast he brought me is his Abbey Strain. His description of the yeast is as follows. “Abbey Strain – This strain was initially collected from unpasteurized honey from my neighbor’s hives here in Washougal, WA. This strain is amazing, producing fruity bubblegum flavors it tastes just like a Belgian abbey yeast, it also has a fairly high tolerance, producing a beer with nearly 12% ABV. It’s also pretty highly attenuative. Subsequent local yeast harvests indicate that this yeast is the dominant wild strain in my neighborhood.”
This article isn’t actually about that strain of yeast though. I’ll save that for a future story on our Solera Project. This article is about my desire to harvest yeast from my property to use in a beer. Matt is an expert at this kind of thing and he was more than happy to assist me. Since I was brewing a 10 gallon batch of beer for the Solera Project, I had a ready source of freshly boiled wort to make a starter with. We took a tour around my small piece of property (12,000 sq. ft.) and decided on the Lavender Bush in my wife’s water garden.
We cut a 5 inch branch off that had 10 small flowers on it and threw it into my Erlenmeyer Flask which contained 1500 ml of cooled wort. It was starting to form a little foam and by day three, it looked like this.
Notice that it has sanitized aluminum foil on top of it. The stir plate is “not” running at this point. When harvesting wild yeast like this, you also have all of the other wild microbes in there. Those microbes thrive on oxygen, so if the stir plate is running, it’s introducing oxygen (which is bad). Without oxygen, you’re giving the yeast that is present the best chance at out-competing those wild microbes.
Once it had fermented out, I put it in my refrigerator and let it settle out. Two weeks later I had a brew day, but didn’t use that yeast, as I was brewing up a new recipe of mine that needed a London Ale style of yeast. However, two weeks later I had another brew day, where I could take advantage of that wild Lavender Yeast. I was brewing two batches on this day, back to back. A long day, but fun! I pulled the wild Lavender yeast out and poured off most of the now clear beer on the top and left it sit, until I had some fresh wort for it.
I started my first batch, which was a ginger/cinnamon spice beer, based on great leaks brewings “Christmas Ale”, which you can read about at the link. Once my boil had started, I pulled off 1500 ml of wort and let it cool down in my refrigerator. Once it was down to 75F, I pour it on top of my Lavender Yeast in the Erlenmeyer Flask and turned on the stir plate. It wouldn’t be needed for another four hours. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of it, but it was developing one heck of a Krausen! I definitely had very active and very healthy yeast!
I then brewed up a basic Belgian Saison. I pretty much used the recipe from Jamil Zainasheff’s and John Palmers book, “Brewing Classic Styles”. Here is the recipe I used. Belgian Saison with Lavendar Yeast
After getting the first beer in the fermenter going, I started on the Saison and eventually, I got it into the fermenter and gave it 25 minutes of oxygen with my aquarium pump set up and then pitched the Lavender yeast. I brewed this Wild Lavender Saison on September 26th, 2015, so it’s been in the primary now for 11 days. I just tasted a small sample of it and I’m tasting a little bit of bubblegum. Still a little sweet too and the airlock is still bubbling slowly. I haven’t taken a gravity reading on it, so I’m not sure how much further it needs to go, but I’ll just have to show some patience with it. What I can say by the taste is “It’s Beer Yeast!!”. I’m really happy with how it tastes. It seems to be an Abbey Style Strain, similar to Matt’s Abbey Strain.
I kept the fermentation temperature neutral on this at about 66F to 68F throughout the first 11 days. I think I’ll kick the temperature up to about 72F on it now to let it finish out and clean up after itself. When it’s time to bring the temperature back down (probably down to about 65F or less (I’ll first rack it to a secondary) and then harvest my new wild yeast from the primary.
That will allow me to make more wild Saisons and eventually have enough wild Lavendar yeast to share with my friends!
I’ll post a tasting of this beer and the final gravities, ABV’s, etc. at a later date.
Check back and keep on brewin’!