How to pitch yeast correctly into beer wort

How to pitch yeast in your homebrew beer

adding yeast to the beer wortNewbie beer makers may have heard the expression “pitch your yeast” and wondered what the heck it meant.

I myself was horribly concerned that I had missed a trick when making my first brew after learning this phrase.

Had I missed out a step?

Had I ruined my beer?

Nope, of course not.

‘Pitching yeast’ is just homebrewer lingo for adding yeast to the wort.

Without yeast, your wort will not turn into beer. The yeast, is an active living organism that feeds on the oxygen and sugars in the wort and as a bi-product produces carbon dioxide and the sought after alcohol.

Yeast is a sensitive cell based life form and needs the correct conditions in which to thrive and help make really good beer.

That’s way though pitching your yeast is more than simply adding it to your beer – it needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly.

The short version is if you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur.

This is why the cooling process can be so important.

That said, pitching yeast too cold means the yeast won't start its job.

Your fermenter might have a temperature gauge on the side, else you might need to get your hands on a thermometer.

I’ve noticed that some brewers can be super sensitive about yeast and the preparation and pitching of it. There are arguments about the best method but the casual home brewer should not get caught up too much in it.

If you follow some good beer making instructions, you shouldn’t have any problems from the yeast.

The easy way to pitch your yeast is 'dry pitching'

If you are like me, once you have prepared the wort your the 30 litre drum, you are ready to add your dried yeast. The easy way is to simply open up the packet that came from the beer kit, and drop it into your wort. This is called pitching your yeast dry.

Maybe give it a gentle stir with a clean spoon. Close off your fermenter securely and place your beer in a good spot for a week or two to let the yeast do its job.

Off course, make sure the temperature is OK. It probably is but check anyway.

But if you want to give the yeast the best chance to to their job really well:

Re-hydrate your yeast before you pitch it

A handy method that many earnest brewers follow is to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly.
Rehydrating yeast in a glass

The theory is that there can be a concentration of sugars in the wort which means it is difficult for the yeast to absorb water into its membranes so that they can begin to activate / metabolize and thus commence the fermentation process.

Based on that, I imagine that if you have made a high gravity wort that's full of sugar and fermentables for the yeast to eat, hydration is a good step to take.

In my experience I’ve never had the yeast fail with a simple beer kit but if you are keen to cut the potential problem out, feel free to re-hydrate your yeast.

Do this by boiling some water and letting it cool. You can then add your yeast packet (or two!) to the water and let it begin to absorb – you shouldn’t do this too far apart from when it is time to pitch the yeast.

Cover and leave for about 15 minutes and then inspect. It should have begun to smell like you are making bread and 'bubbled' a bit (see the above picture). If so, it’s ready to be pitched.

Once you've added the yeast to the wort, there will likely be some left in the glass - I have a 'waste not want not' kind of view so I add some water to the glass, give it a swirl and add it to the yeast as well.

If there is no churning or foaming or sourdough or bread like smells, it could be your yeast has died from old age or environmental damage such as being left in the sun. You may need to use a new packet of yeast...

How many packets of yeast should I use?

Generally speaking brewers will use one packet of yeast however if you a trying to make a very high alcohol beer where the yeast is expected to do a lot of work, you might want to consider using two packets.

You may want to use two packets if your yeast is fairly old as the older it is the less potency the yeast will have as the yeast cells will slowly die off over time.

The 'denser' or thicker your wort, the more yeast you will need.

There's also a difference when making an ale or lager. Yeast becomes slow to ferment when when it’s cold. Given lager ferments at a much lower temperature than ale, it's reasonable then to use more yeast with the lager to finish the job properly.

Some brewers use the rule of thumb to pitch about twice as much yeast for a lager as for an ale.

Using liquid yeast

If you intend to use a liquid yeast it should really be pitched to a starter wort before THEN pitching to the main wort in the fermenter. Here's a handy guide to making the starter from one of the true industry legends, John Palmer. 

That said, many liquid yeasts can simply be pitched as normal so check the instructions that come with your unit.

What are some good yeasts to brew with?

If you do not wish to use the yeast that comes with the beer kit you have, you could try what a gabillion brewers use, the American ale yeast, Safale -05. I've used it personally and it goes great guns, and is tried and true. The Safale - 04 is a handy English ale yeast too.

A quick summary of pitching yeast 

  • Pitching yeast is simply adding it to the beer wort
  • Add it when your wort is the recommended temperature – check your beer kit’s recommended temperature
  • You can pitch dry yeast straight into the wort
  • Or you can add it to water just prior to pitching
  • Dry yeasts have a longer storage life than liquid yeasts. 
  • Liquid yeasts must be stored by refrigeration means.
  • The older the yeast, the more of it you will need to use. 
Image credit to Justin Knabb via Creative Commons Licence

10 questions about using hops one way or the other

what beer hops to use with beer

If you know a thing or two about beer, you'll know that the hops plant is so crucial to making good beer that the Germans made it the law for it to be an ingredient of beer!

There's a bit of mystery and magic about hops. They are like the secret ingredient that make everything taste and smell so delicious. 

Honestly, having a sniff of a freshly opened packet of hops is one of the best smells in the world.

It smells like...victory. 

While you can't go terribly wrong with hops, you can go even better when you learn all the tricks and tips of using them. And that means questions need to be answered about how and when to use them.

Questions like: 

What kind and where from? 

What's a hop tea?

What is dry hopping? 

We have the answers!

Let's start with one of the most common questions about hops, what kind you might want to use.

What kind of hops should I use with my beer?

using beer hops with homebrewDifferent hop varieties suit different kinds of beer. After hundreds of years developing beer, there are now some well established rules of thumb for what kinds of hops brewers should use. 

Here's a wee guide for what hops to use:

  • The English Golding hop has become the signature hops of English ales. The popular Fuggle hop is another popular hop used for ale beer. 
  • Saaz hops are closely aligned with the brewing of lagers, mostly for the delicious aroma that has become associated with the beer. Saaz hops are an excellent choice of hop for the enthusiastic homebrewer.
  • Pilsner beers have become nearly synonymous with the four so called 'noble hops'. These are varieties of hop called Terrnanger, Spalt, Hallertauer and of already mentioned Saaz. As an aside, pilsner beers are known as traditionally coming from the Czech Republic.
  • If you're looking for hops that might help your beer taste a bit like the classic New Zealand beer, Steinlager, you might buy Green Bullet hops
  • America, the land of the free beer drinker, has become a home for hop production and many new varieties from old favorites have been developed. American hops are recognized and appreciated all around the world for their bold, and often intense flavors they imbue in beer. American hops are often described as being citrus like, however that's a most elementary description. Cascade hops are a very popular choice.
  • Chinook is another popular 'north western' hop.

What is a 'hops tea'?

Sometimes when making homebrew, beer makes also like to make a cup of hop tea!

Why would we do this?

The idea here is that the great hops aromas and oils have been removed from bullets due to the boiling and will then mix easily with your wort brew.

How to make a hops tea for homebrewing

Put the hops in a muslin bag (or tie up a square of it) and then boil it for several minutes. During the boil, have a good smell and enjoy the aromas as it wafts around the kitchen. That's the deliciousness you want to impart into your beer.

When you've boiled the hops for long enough, turn the pan off but leave everything right where it is to cool.

If you have already prepared your wort, so now put everything you've boiled - the whole muslin bag and the tea that you've made into the primary fermenter.

You can also drink your own hops tea too! It's done slightly differently to the above method for beer - you let the hops steep as you would any other tea and then drink when cool enough.

When should I add the hops pellets to my beer?

Typically the beer wort is boiled with the hops added at crucial moments before it is cooled down to begin the fermentation process. The timings of when to add the hops in the boil can be critical as the different timings can cause the hops to work differently on the beer.

If you are making your own wort (that is you are not using a beer kit) then it's best practice to follow a tried and true recipe, at least as you first start out.

If you're at that point, you'll want to understand that the process is sometimes known as the “hop schedule”. A hop schedule will lists the length of time that the hops should be in the boil, not the amount of time you should wait to add the hops.

This allows you to making your timings correctly.

The rough guide is the longer you boil the hops, the more bitterness they will impart. The shorter you boil them, the more flavour will be added. It depends on how you want your beer to benefit from the hops addition.

If you are using a simple beer extract kit then you can add the hops when you are preparing the batch of wort. Just throw it with your wort and nature will do the rest.

Some people like to delay adding the hops until a few days later. This is fine, but in our experience of using brewing kits, it makes little difference to the end result in the hop aromas and taste your beer will have. 

What's the best way to properly store hops?

It turns out that turns out freezing hops is actually a popular trick with beer brewers!

If you've purchased a vacuum sealed packet of hops and have some leftover, then we do firmly recommend that you freeze them.

Quite simply, take your leftover beer hops and place them in a zip-lock bag. Remove the excess air and then seal. Grab a Sharpie and write on the name of the hops on the bag so you don't forget and then place in the freezer until required.

If you want to go all 'professional' you could use a vacuum sealer to remove all the air.

In such cases, you might not need to freeze the hops if the sealing has been done properly, but it wouldn't hurt.

You can also refrigerate the hops. Again, put them in a zip lock bag or something airtight and remove as much air as possible if you can. I read that hops can stay fresh for up to a year this way but I know specialty brewing shops off load older hops much more regularly (handy trick, follow brewing specialists on Facebook - the ones I follow often announce that they are giving away their old hops stock because they have a fresh order coming in).

I reckon that as long as your hops has not been exposed to too much oxygen, it will keep well enough for the average homebrewer to not have to worry about hops going stale.

I've made a very hoppy beer, how long should I let it bottle condition?

We would recommend you start drinking your beer when it's ready to be drunk rather than saving it for a rainy day. Bottle conditioned beer starts to become very drinkable from around the 3 week mark, depending on the storage conditions so any time around then would be a good time to start drinking your beer.

Go on, you deserve it!

The longer you wait beyond this period, the strength of the hops begins to dissipate. Your beer of course will not be ruined, it will just be less hoppy than you may have expected.

What is the practice of dry hopping beer?

It sounds like a fancy technical term but 'dry hopping' is simply the moment when the brewer adds hops in (dry) pellet form to the fermenter after the wort has been prepared.

The brewer is of course using hops to improve the aroma of the beer and to add some bitterness to the brew (bitterness is best produced by the boiling of hops though).

This ‘dry’ practice is often done later in the fermentation cycle of the beer. The thinking behind adding the hops later is that the hops aroma is more likely to stay with the beer brew through to the bottling process.

This is because the bubbling process and emission of carbon dioxide via the air lock allows the aromas to escape.

Bearing in mind that one should leave one’s beer to sit quietly for a couple of weeks before brewing to ensure that the yeast has had a chance to do it’s thing, this is a great opportunity for the oils and bitterness of the hops to also transfuse into the beer. It’s for that reason why dry hopping is a popular practice.

So if that's dry hopping, what is wet hopping?

wet hopsWet hopping is simply adding in freshly grown hops into the primary. Homebrewers have been known to grow their own hops, harvest it and then add it to their beer. It's the natural way to use hops.

Turning hops into pellets has become popular as an easy means of distribution and serves as a way to preserve the life of the hops - it's a plant after all and just like when you don't eat the carrots in the fridge, they become rotten.

You can actually grow your own hops in your backyard garden too. All you need is to get your hands on some rhizomes, get your green fingers out and plant them in a spot that will let them grow like crazy.

A good source of hops rhizomes is from local Facebook groups. Home brewers often sell them to one another quite cheaply or just for shipping costs.

My hops is just floating in the primary fermenter. Is this normal?

Yes, when you first add hops to your wort it breaks apart from its pellet form and generally just floats at the top of the wort and this is normal. Given a few days, it will impart its wondrous qualities to the beer and then fall to the bottom of the fermenter, its job done.

If you don't want this to occur, you could think about placing your hops in a muslin bag and dropping them in. Maybe put a glass marble in the bag so it weights down.

Can I add hop pellets into the beer before bottling?

If you've ever wondered if you could simply add a hop pellet to each bottle of beer when bottling your batch, think some more.

You're setting yourself up for a potential disaster. While it can work, you are at serious risk of causing beer gushers. If it merely foams you are likely to experience your beer head to suffer from hop stuck in the head and floating in the beer.

Ideally you want the hops to fall to the bottom of the fermenter so that when you fill your bottles you do not get the residue.

That said, if you leave your beer to condition for long enough so the hops drops to the bottom and becomes part of the sediment that usually forms, you might just get yourself a fairly hoppy beer. That said, leave your hoppy beer too long and you will lose the hoppiness.....

At the end of the day, if you're cool with your beer being a bit messy and prepared to run the risk of bottle bombs, you might get good result.

Where can I buy hops?

There's two ways to buy hops - in person or online. If you are going to do it in person, you need to find a local specialty beer brewing shop. I love going into specialty beer shops as the owners and staff are usually beer enthusiasts and give the best service and advice. 

Seriously, if you live close by to one, using a specialty store can save you delivery and postage costs and it's worth it to get that personal contact and ask any questions too! My personal favourite in Wellington is Brewtopia and the lads at The Brewhouse have been very helpful too. 

However if you're a busy brewer or live in the outback somewhere, shopping for hops online is a breeze. If you live in New Zealand we recommend Brewshop as they have fair prices and a very impressive delivery time.

For you Americans wanting to drowning in cascade hops just order hops from Amazon. There are plenty of reputable beer brewing equipment experts on there and between them, they have a large selection of the best hops to buy.

Review of 'Dry Stout' Kit by Williams Warn

williams warn dry stout review
Having had a fairly good experience with the WilliamsWarn's 'Bohemian Pilnser' homebrew kit, I thought I'd give their 'Dry Stout' a go. If you think Guinness or Murphy's brands of beer, that's the ballpark we are in.

The product maker makes this claim:

"Our Dry Stout has a black appearance from the crystal malts, roasted malts and roasted barley employed in the grain mix. The result is a great Dry Stout that has liquorice, roasted coffee and chocolate flavours dominating."

dry stout beer kit
Getting ready on the kitchen bench!
Will I be able to make a beer that matches this claim?

Let's find out!

I did the basic preparation as you do for kits. Basically I followed my own beer making guide!

I left the wort to sit in the fermenter in the garden shed. Winter's just creeping into my end of town so I wrapped it with a few old painting sheets and let it be for exactly a week.

The fermenter started bubbling within 24 hours and stopped doing so around day 4 or 5.

I bottled 8 days after getting the beer down. I didn't taste it but it had a nice smell, perhaps one more noticeable than many other brews I've previously done. 

And now we wait.

So while we wait for the stout to bottle condition, let's shoot the breeze about a few other things.

What was the yeast used for the stout?

The yeast that came with the beer kit was a 11g pack of Fermentis S-04 yeast.

This yeast is often used with English ales. It's an adaptable yeast that actually suits a range of ales (you could use it with a nut brown ale for example) and is known for its ability to form a compacted sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. This is awesome as when bottling there's less chance of sediment getting into your finished beer, giving you the oft prized clear beer.

Fermentis recommend that that their yeast should be added to the wort when it is above 20 degrees centigrade. Frankly after I filled the fermenter with water from the garden hose, I just pitched in it!

I've read that the kit also sometimes comes with the Danstar Nottingham ale yeast.

With the kit and same branded Light Dry Malt Extract, I paid 44 dollars which is a bit on the steep side, if you ask me. The DME cost 20 bucks! Nearly as much as the kit as it self (though that had 20 percent off, cheers Nathan at Brewtopia!).

So I guess the idea is that WilliamsWarn is supposed to be a 'premium beer kit' producer. Actually, the prices on Amazon are about the same as what I paid so go figure.

But to be frank, when I made the Bohemian Pilsner I didn't notice any real difference in quality say compared to a Mangrove Jacks or Coopers kit. I'm actually pretty sure that most kits on the market these days are quite suitable kits for brewing with.

But enough of this 'chit chat'.

The tasting results are in.

First up, I brought a few bottles in from the shed after a couple of weeks conditioning and left them in the fridge for two nights.

I then opened and slowly poured into a long glass. The beer smelled really good and was a nice dark colour, just the kind one would expect. A small but creamy looking head formed which bode well for the taste test.

And I got say, this was a pretty good darn beer. It had some thick body and it felt like it was heavy enough to count as a stout. The Williams Warn kit had delivered.

But did it deliver on the promise of making beer in which "liquorice, roasted coffee and chocolate flavours" dominate? It's a romantic description but in a sense it's true. While I certainly haven't detected any liquorice notes, coffee and chocolate are fair assessments but they are not pronounced.

I can't help but wonder if this brew would have been better if I had used oak chips to give it some flavour boost.

Review Verdict: Recommend you have a crack. Order the kit from Amazon today