Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Farmhouse Ale Experiment

A few weeks ago a had the pleasure of drinking a bottle of Lost Abbey's Avant Garde farmhouse ale. I really enjoyed this beer, and noticed quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Thought it would be interesting to see if I could harvest the yeast from the bottle and brew something up with it.The big question, which I still don't know the answer to, is whether Lost Abbey uses the same yeast to bottle with as they use for primary fermentation.  Probably not, but so what.  I tried it anyway.

When I poured the beer, I was careful to not disturb the sediment and left about a half inch of beer in the bottle as well.  Then I put the cork back in and set it in the refrigerator for a few days until I had some time to brew up a starter.  When I finally had time, I got the bottle from the fridge and let it sit out at room temperature for a few hours.  Then I brewed up a small wort using a couple pints of water, about 1 1/2 cups light dry malt extract, some yeast nutrient and a few hop pellets.  Once cooled I poured this into my sterilized bottle and shook it for a few minutes to aerate.  Then I swirled the sediment around in the Lost Abbey bottle, popped the cork out and poured the sediment into my starter bottle. On went the airlock and all was set to see what would happen in the next few hours(hopefully), or days.

Next morning I took a peek out in the garage:  nothing happening.  A few days pass, and no bubbles from the airlock, and no foam in the bottle.  I check the temperature and it's about 64 degrees.  The Lost Abbey website says the yeast for this beer is a house lager strain that they use at ale temperature.  So I figured 64 was probably ok.  A few more days went by and still nothing.  I figured at this point the experiment failed, and went about other things.

A couple more days went by, and as I was fishing a beer out of the garage fridge, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there was some white forming in the yeast starter over in the area I ferment my beer.  I thought to myself, "oh great the mold is setting in".  I didn't want to mess with it, so I left it.  Then the next morning I went out to dump the starter and to my surprise I had a fermentation going!  The white stuff I had barely looked at before was actually the first foamy bubbles as the yeast finally started getting active.  I checked the temperature, and it was now about 68 degrees in my little cave/corner in the garage.  So maybe those extra few degrees where what the yeast needed to get a kick start?   Here are a couple photos of the yeast starter:

All looked good, so I decided to go forward with the experiment.  I brewed up a small 3 gallon batch of wort and pitched this yeast starter into it.  This time primary fermentation started up within an hour or two and is now slowing down on its third day.  The krausen looks real good, and the smell coming from the airlock smells like beer.  Maybe there is a little sulfury/banana smell?  Hard to tell.  But since this is supposedly a lager yeast I would expect it to smell quite a bit different from the Cal and American Ale yeast I usually use.

So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this will be drinkable and actually taste good.  I plan to condition it for a month or so then bottle it and maybe taste it after another month in the bottle.  I'll update the post when I try the beer.  Cheers!


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I'm a big fan of Avant Garde as well. Are you fermenting in your garage in that 64-68 F temperature range?

Karlis said...

Hey Bill, yes I ferment in my garage. I have an area that is actually cut through the garage wall into the open space under the stairwell in my house. I insulated, dry walled it, and put down porcelain tile floor. I call it my beer cave. Temperature stays fairly stable. Goes up a bit in the summer, but I don't get drastic or quick fluctuations. It works ok for now, though in the future I really want to put some insulated doors on the space and turn it into a temp controlled fermenting space.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! I can't wait to hear how this turns out!

Anonymous said...

Karlis any before/after comps with temperature regulation? I've been having a ton of trouble in my wine/beer room, along with storing my alcohol...a ton of boxes and cases. Temps run +/- 20 degrees which I think could be doing some damage! :\

Karlis said...

Hi Anon - I don't have any temp control yet. I don't really get fluctuations more than around 3-4 degrees during a day, but can vary as much as 10 over the course of a week or two. +/-20 though would be real tough for a fermentation though. They'll either slow way down if too cold or start producing lots of off flavors and fusels when it gets to hot.