Easy Yeast Washing

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After using a couple of different liquid yeasts for the first time, I decided that since they cost $6.50 a pop, that it'd be the most economical to wash the yeasts for re-use. And being retired, I can't afford to spend a whole lot on the needed equipment to do so. Enter Giant Eagle and BP. They both have Tostitos brand chip dips and salsas in those 15 some ounce jars on the chip shelves. The labels are plastic and easy to peel off. Wash them out in the sink, then soak in PBW for a little while. Rinse well and sanitize with Star San before storage for later use.

I feel that this helps prevent anything nasty from getting a foothold in the jars until they're actually used. I sanitize them again right before filling.I also found the 1 gallon size Vlasic kosher dills in a fancy looking glass jar on sale for $2.99 at Giant Eagle as well. Bingo, perfect size for yeast washing!I soaked it for about a week with PBW to get most of the pickle smell out of it. The little bit of smell left will come out with successive cleanings and sanitizings. So, using about 2C of the boiled and cooled water, pour it into the fermenter and swirl it around to loosen the compacted yeast and trub.

Pour this into the washing jar, and top off with boiled and cooled water until nearly full, or at least 3/4s of the way up. I try to tailor the total volume to how many jars I have available to fill, minus some 3-5 inches of trub that will invariably settle out. Three or four of these jars will be enough. In this first pic, you can also see the oz markings on either side of the logo.

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In this pic, I'd already filled two jars and was waiting for more trub to settle out.It isn't a quick process. It took a couple hours to settle the trub about 1/2 of the way down to pour off a couple jars. Didn't think of doing this write-up until this point. So I had to wait for it to settle out some more. Here's a pic that shows the layering effect as the heavier trub settles out of the yeast and liquid.

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You can wait until the trub settles some 2/3s of the way down, but time is a double-edged sword here. As the trub is settling down, so is the yeast in the liquid column above that. At the very top, you can see the liquid is starting to clear.

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So you can't wait too long to pour off the yeast/liquid mixture. Keep an eye on the darker colored trub layer. It slowly follows the yeast to the top of the jar and you'll start pouring that if you're not observant. After pouring a jar full to just under the threads (just like when canning), you have to wait for the trub layer to settle down some more. Here's how far I fill the jars.

Easy Yeast Washing - unionrdr - 4-414.jpg

And waiting for it to settle out more...

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I got part of a jar's worth, had to wait for it to settle down once again.

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I used a notepad and fiber glass reinforced packing tape to make labels for the jars. Yeast type number and name, date collected (if not washed right away), date washed. After it's used once for a starter, the next batches label should denote that it's the 2nd washing, 3rd, etc. to keep track of how many times it's been washed and reused.

I initially had to save all the yeast until I got a jar big enough to wash in. So any more than 3 days or so in the fridge, the yeast when warmed will flake and clump. It'll then go to the bottom of the washing jar first. So it's best to have enough jars to wash it right after collecting from the primary fermenter. This way, you can let the trub layer settle 1/2 to 2/3s of the way down and start filling jars until the trub comes up to the top of the washing jar.

In these next two pics you can see two jars I had in the fridge from the bottom of the first batch of the same yeast. A substantial trub layer can be seen in the jar on the left.

Easy Yeast Washing - unionrdr - 7-417.jpg

In this next pic you can see where the yeast flaked and clumped up after being in the fridge about one month. I tried swirling it to break it up, but it didn't seem to wanna break up very easily.

Easy Yeast Washing - unionrdr - 8-418.jpg

This view also shows the aftermath of adding the jar with all the trub to the other jar after pouring off most of the clear liquid to make room for the addition. I had sanitized a pint glass to pour off the extra liquid in and covered with plastic wrap. I figured it'd be better used to top off the jars in case I came up a little short from washing the last jar or two.

I also made sure to re-wash and sanitize the now empty previous jar to pour off more yeast into. You can see that in this pic.

Easy Yeast Washing - unionrdr - 9-419.jpg

I wound up getting about 2/3s of that last jar out of the washing jar. You can't pour off liquid yeast all the way down to the compacted trub. You'll definitely lose a little yeast to the trub, which won't stay put as you drain off successive pourings. It basically lowers the level of yeast and liquid down closer to the trub in actual practice from my observations. So put them in the fridge for at least about 3 days to give them time to settle down well. The you can easily pour off about 3/4s of the clear liquid when making a starter. I use an 1000mL Erlenmeyer flask to make starters of 800-1000mL. Here's a pic of an 800mL starter I did with one batch of the WL029 yeast I used on my light and dark hybrid lagers.

Easy Yeast Washing - unionrdr - 10-420.jpg

This size starter would be a good average amount of wort to use with 1 jar of the washed/settled yeast. About 1/4C of plain extra light or light DME mixed in boiled water to 800-1000mL (1L) Stir til DME is comopletely dissolved. Cool in ice bath till down toabout 70F. Stir up yeast in warmed up jar & pour into flask with DME solution. Cover top loosely with sanitized aluminum foil to allow a little air in. but no nasties to settle in.Larger starters or successive starters for the same batch of yeast can be done to increase yield for fermenting bigger beers. I hope this write-up simplifies yeast washing somewhat. It isn't hard, but it will definitely take a considerable amount of time to finish. So wait until you're done with cleaning up after bottling day and sitting down with a homebrew or two with the rest of us to wash the yeast. It was a logical way to pass the time for me.

* I'll add some more pics to this posting when I wash the WL029 yeast to clarify the beginning of the process.

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50 COMMENTS
Posted: 
July 30, 2013  •  06:38 PM
How long have you been able to keep the washed samples?
How long before you've noticed off-flavors or significant deviation from the original specimen?

Washing always seemed like a great option for someone who's brewing every couple weeks. Personally, I only brew about once every couple months. So, for me, the $7 or so is a small price to pay for peace of mind that I have fresh, viable yeast that conforms to its manufacturer's standards. If it's viable over a longer term, maybe I'll consider washing after my next batch.
Posted: 
July 30, 2013  •  08:10 PM
"The you can easily pour off about 3/4s of the clear liquid when making a starter."

Do you pour this off and use the remainder in the starter? Or do you use the 3/4s as the starter?

I have saved yeast in the past by not using all of my prepared starter and then making a smaller starter. I saved the new little starter in a flip-top bottle. Definitely ran into some weird fermentation a as a result...

Thanks for the step-by-step process!!
Posted: 
July 30, 2013  •  08:26 PM
@ambiguator I kept my Lager yeast for one year and reused it. I typically only do lagers in the winter because the temperature of fermentation is right where I need it in the garage.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  11:27 AM
@ambiguator Washed yeast in sanitized containers with the wash liquid up to the base of the storage jars threads will last for several months sealed in the fridge. This slows down the yeasts' metabolism,kinda like suspended animation you see in sci-fi movies. Just bring it up to room temp before making a starter with it. This will not only "wake them up",but propogate more new yeast cells as well. You def need to make a starter with stored washed yeast the same way you would with vials of fresher liquid yeast.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  11:34 AM
@fatmike1968 When you're washing the yeast,The trub slowly settles to the bottom faster than the suspended yeast does. But it is a close race. As the trub settles out,the suspended yeast also tends to settle too. But at a much slower rate. As the trub settles a pretty good ways,you'll see a very small layer of clearer liquid at the very top in the wash jug. This is the point where you need to pour off the yeast/liquid into the storage jar.
It's about the same with the starter made from them. After the yeast in the starter have consumed the simple sugars,they start to settle out. Putting the starter in the fridge will aid in this process. When the liquid is clear,remove the starter frim the fridge & bring to room temp. Before you pitch it,pour off 3/4's of the clear liquid,leaving just enough to swirl up the yeast into a pourable form again. This is what is meant by "decanting".
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  11:41 AM
Even though washed yeast being kept in the fridge is like suspended animation in regard to the yeast cells,some deaths do occur. But not that much compared to the total number of cells in that layer at the bottom of the jar. The amount of yeast in that layer will vary according to how much yeast was in suspension when it was poured off the trub in the wash jar.
But attrition from storage time is a slow process. Yeast cells are tough critters that can take quite a lot of different little fluctuations in there environment & still remain viable. While it is true that the sooner you can use them,the more viable the stored amount of yeast will be. But a good amount of the total number of cells in that jar will still be viable,feeding on the ones that didn't make it after metabolizing the simple sugars in the starter wort. Just like if they were in a batch of beer.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  12:27 PM
+1 for saving yeast by making a huge starter. Very clean...almost no trub issues. Also I like the idea of having 4 "generation #1" jars. Also, fatmike1968 has a good idea that I use the other way around...harvest for storage but save a little then add more "wort" to make the starter for brewday. This can be bumped up a second time (let it settle and pour off the clear liquid if you're making a big beer (or like me 15 gallon batches)to get a bigger starter.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  01:37 PM
I would recommend just putting the big jar in the fridge and letting it settle for a day or two. Then pour off the liquid and pour the pure yeast into the small jars.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  02:14 PM
Well boberdc,the only problem with that is the yeast will have formed a layer on top of the trub & be hard to seprate from the trub. That's why we let the trub settle so far & pour off yeast & liquid. Lots easier that way than reching under all that liquid with a spoon trying to scrape the yeast layer off.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  02:32 PM
right - I pour off the liquid into the sink, then pour the yeast into the jars until I reach the trub layer (which is normally nearly non-existent for me) and then stop. No spoon required. Does that mean that I don't get all of the yeast? Sure, but I always have more yeast washed in the large jar than I can possibly reuse before the end of its limited lifetime.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  02:41 PM
This is why I pour off as much yeast as possible (which is at least 90% of it) while washing. I then flush the trub & clean/sanitize the jar before storage. I don't like saving trub myself. not to mention having another brewing element/ingredient taking up fridge space if I don't have too. I just make sure I have enough jars for the yeast liquid to start with.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  04:05 PM
Why don't you just use dehydrated yeast, and if you need to be conservative, start growing more in a a sterile environment before hand 2-3 days to build it up? Yeast that ferments with juice, like grapes or other fresh fruit, does not remain true to it's origins. It hybridized IE, crosses with native wild yeasts. We at the winery buy special bred hybridized yeast, such as Vin 13, that have been carefully controlled grown and crossed. Pretty soon, you may have some kind of yeast that may or may not work like you think it should.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  04:16 PM
Brewer's yeast are a bit different than wine yeasts. As I understand it,they can be reused about 5 times before some mutations may occure. I haven't gotten that far yet. I keep notes on all my brews,& this is going to be something I watch as relates to specific performance characteristics.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  04:35 PM
When I did this the other day with my double IPA I had this strange layer of what seemed to be foam and hops but looked like krausen. It formed this layer then liquid and then the thicker stuff on the bottom (yeast and trub). Have you seen this before? Since I knew there was likely a lot of hop matter in there I just poured this stuff off and took what was left.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  06:06 PM
@ambiguator i have been washing yeast for about 4 yrs. i have found as long as u keep in a fridge u can reuse yeast 2-4 months later if it is on the longer side like 3-4 months i would suggest a starter before u use. if u are gonna store longer u should use a mix of 75% water and 25% glycerin and freeze then it will last up to a year. i use it in that fashion just for hard to get yeasts like seasonals or when i harvest from a commercial brew that is a bottle conditioned like most belgians
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  07:29 PM
@cfrodge Never got that one. Did the krausen sink back into the brew before you racked to the bottling bucket? Just pouring it off was a good thing,imo. Just save the yeast & pitch the rest down the drain.
Posted: 
July 31, 2013  •  11:12 PM
Another tip. When you need to get settled yeast out of a jar, use a stir plate to resuspend the yeast into a pourable liquid. I usually decant most of the clear liquid until I have about 50/50 yeast/liquid left in the jar. Then I place the jar on my stir plate and drop in a sanitized stir bar. I spin it slowly while it's getting to room temperature. By the time it's ready to be used, all the chunks are gone and it's nice and pourable. You can shake the jar instead, but then you have a lot of froth. It's ok if you're using it to pitch into a starter or your wort, but if you're decanting liquid and transferring to a smaller jar to reduce the fridge space needed, then you don't want the froth.
Posted: 
August 1, 2013  •  02:51 AM
I would hesitate to reuse a pickle jar. Disposable jars have thin glass and will easily shatter, especially after cycles of heat and sanitizing. They will shatter even when not dropped. Use pyrex grade for your own safety.
Posted: 
August 1, 2013  •  08:57 AM
Great post! thanks for sharing! I like to use canning jars and they can take the cycles of heat and sanitizing without shattering
Posted: 
August 1, 2013  •  01:44 PM
@StepR

@Smithwrecked
The kosher dill jar in question will never see heating/cooling cycles,nor will the storage jars. I have an Erlynmyer flask for starters or rehydrating. It's made to take heating & cooling. And the pckle jar isn't all that thin,not like twist off bottles. It's def heavier than that,since it held a gallon of pckles & brine. That alone had some weight to it. I think the weight of yeast,trub & water is lighter than the jar's original contents,so I don't see any problems there.
So basically,the washing jar will never see the fridge,let alone any heating. I don't think we have any canning jars larger than 1/2 pint anymore. Besides that,the Tostitos dip jars seem to be the right size to get a good amount of yeast settled out of the amount of liquid & yeast they'll hold. Maybe I can add some pics to illustrate this. I did wanna add a pic of the 1st settling in the wash jar I missed last time to the beginning of the article. I'm glad my article has stirred some conversation on this topic. Just trying to pass on information on my experiences for others to learn from.
Posted: 
August 4, 2013  •  01:28 PM
Here's the procedure I follow:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f163/yeast-washing-illustrated-41768/

It looks like the main difference between yours and this method is that it uses a two step sedimentation.

I've kept yeast for at least a couple of months before using them again. The yeast I'm using right now are on their 6th successive brew. I was told on one brewery tour that they use their yeast for up to 5 successive brew, so we'll see what happens over time with mine.

I also keep frozen stocks mixed with malt extract as a cryo-protectant, so I don't expect to ever have to buy yeast again. Unless, of course, that I want a different strain.
Posted: 
August 4, 2013  •  02:27 PM
That older yeast washing thread uses canning methods,& that's fine. But since the jars go in the fridge,boiling them isn't any better than soaking them in starsan right before filling,lids & all. Boiling the water to wash the yeast out of the trub I find is better than a lil Starsan mixed with said water. Boiling some o2 out of the water that'll be on top of the settled yeast is def better. It also looks like he's trying to settle out the trub before pouring off into the wash jar to settle again. In one pick,I see yeast about 3/32" deep on top of the trub (lighter layer. That's a lot of yeast to loose. I try to not let the yeast start layering before pouring it off.
2 step system is ok if you use carboys or better bottles where you can see the layering as it happens. Plastic pails & Cooper's FV's don't allow for this. So my way is easier with plastic fermenters. Not to mention ,that trub will not stay settled on the bottom. It slants up to the top as you pour off the yeast water. Gotta keep an eye on that no matter which method is used.
Posted: 
August 5, 2013  •  02:23 PM
Here's the procedure I follow:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f163/yeast-washing-illustrated-41768/

It looks like the main difference between yours and this method is that it uses a two step sedimentation.

I've kept yeast for at least a couple of months before using them again. The yeast I'm using right now are on their 6th successive brew. I was told on one brewery tour that they use their yeast for up to 5 successive brew, so we'll see what happens over time with mine.

I also keep frozen stocks mixed with malt extract as a cryo-protectant, so I don't expect to ever have to buy yeast again. Unless, of course, that I want a different strain.
Posted: 
August 5, 2013  •  02:49 PM
Nothing further to add bristela? A lil weird to just copy your previous statement.
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  12:35 AM
[QUOTE="unionrdr;2147483621"]1[/QUOTE]

Sorry about that. Not entirely sure how that happened.

I appreciate that I may use a lot of yeast with this method. I very much measure it by how successfully the batches I collect do with my next brew. My last batch had the lid blown off so I'd say reasonably well. This was primarily my fault though for over-filling slightly. At least it shows the yeast were active.

I do use a starter culture the day of brewing. First thing I do is boil some water and add it to some honey and Wyeast nutrient in a pint glass along with a stirring magnet. This goes on my stir plate and once the mixture is cool enough I add the settled yeast (having poured off any supernatant). This remains strirring while I brew and added when everything's done.

Never had it fail. I actually collect less yeast than I used to as it was taking over the fridge. As it is now, I collect enough from each brew to brew two more, so not going to run out any time soon.

Sorry again about that repost. Wasn't anything intentional on my part and definitely not trying to be arsey.
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  12:36 AM
[QUOTE="bristela;2147483620"]1[/QUOTE]

That should be "lose" rather than "use" in the second para.
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  03:11 PM
That's weird, it's posted my first response again :( Know of anything I can do to stop that happening?
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  03:38 PM
Did you hit rply on what I said or yours? Maybe that's it/ That is a lil weird. Try just using the comment box. Well,in the end both methods work well. I def got the same shmbo problem. Brewing stuff taking over a part of the fridge. And I got a ton of grains & hops coming in tomorrow...
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  08:01 PM
We've just moved house. The new one came with a downstairs fridge, so my yeast collection will have room to grow :)

Just for reference, I'm posting this in the comment box and pressing the "submit comment" button just once. We'll see what happens.
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  08:58 PM
We've just moved house. The new one came with a downstairs fridge, so my yeast collection will have room to grow :)

Just for reference, I'm posting this in the comment box and pressing the "submit comment" button just once. We'll see what happens.
Posted: 
August 6, 2013  •  10:09 PM
Double reply again. Maybe check your browser settings? This is weird.
Posted: 
August 7, 2013  •  02:50 PM
We've just moved house. The new one came with a downstairs fridge, so my yeast collection will have room to grow :)

Just for reference, I'm posting this in the comment box and pressing the "submit comment" button just once. We'll see what happens.
Posted: 
September 6, 2013  •  06:04 AM
How do you estimate the number of cells in the jars? How do you know how much to pitch?
Posted: 
September 6, 2013  •  02:29 PM
I haven't got into that yet. But the 15-16 ounce jars I use are filled to the base of the threads. The 3/8-1/2" that settles to the bottom of the jar is enough to get a good starter going. That's maybe half of one of those white labs vials to start with.
Posted: 
September 13, 2013  •  04:18 PM
@unionrdr Hi there.

Thanks for this article. You have also commented on some of my posts and I have really appreciated those replies.

I have just read this article and I am wondering....why not just wash the yeast as well as possible because eventually we all have to make starters from those jars. Meaning that once the starter is chilled over night in the fridge, the healthy yeast cells will drop out of suspension....and the layer in your starter bottle is a relatively pure yeast layer that gets pitched (and on top of that....we tend to discard the liquid in the starter bottle anyway). Any thoughts?
Posted: 
September 21, 2013  •  11:50 AM
That's the whole point of washing the yeast,to get out as much trub as possible. When you wanna make a starter,pull out a jar & let it come up to room temp.Pour off most of the liquid & swirl up the rest. Pour it into your wort in your starter flask or whatever you use. Put sanitized aluminum foil over the top to let air in/co2 out. So you're doing about the same thing with the jar of yeast that you do with the starter.
Posted: 
October 2, 2013  •  04:31 PM
7 nkjnk kkjnk kkj
Posted: 
October 2, 2013  •  05:16 PM
Say what?? What exactly are you trying to say? Or is that drunk speak?:)
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  02:23 AM
Thanks for the article im just now beginning now to re use yeast. For one who hasnt done much of washing or restarting. It would be cool to have arrow pointing at what your describing it would me it easier for this newbie to understand better im a visual person! Great article!!
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  12:40 PM
@eluterio-I could redo the pics,but I'm not sure I can edit articles. You basically see the darker trub settling out of the lighter colored yeast that stays in suspension long enough to pour the lighter colored yeast into sanitized jars. It's pretty straight forward in that respect. If I can get a new camera,I'd like to do a video version.
Posted: 
November 21, 2013  •  03:30 PM
I can see it but not very clearly but thats ok. Video would be awesome!
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  02:44 AM
I have a number of gallon pickle jars I use as mini-fermenters for small batches.

I've found that leaving the lids outside where they get direct sunlight for a week all day kills the smell very well. You'll get best results in the late spring/early summer when the days last longest and sun is most intense, but I would bet a longer exposure in the winter will still work. The combination of sun, fresh air and heat does wonders.
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  12:02 PM
Letting them air out is the old school way of eliminating the pickle smell. But it def works. Just sanitize it before washing any yeast & you're good to go.
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  03:11 PM
Just to drill down a bit, I want to stress that sunlight is the key -- I initially tried just letting the first lid sit out inside, but time by itself wasn't enough. Blasting them with direct exposure to the sun really helps, no doubt some combination of UV and heat being the difference between just airing them out.

I think it would be interesting to see what effect rubbing with stainless steel has. Stainless is a great way to get the smell of onions and garlic off your hands, although it's possible it won't work on pickle smell due different compounds being involved, or the way I think the smell gets imbedded in the lid's gasket.

Anyway, I like the writeup and the use of the gallon jars -- they're great and super cheap.
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  06:44 PM
Yeah,the large kosher pickle jar full of pickles was $2.99. Can't beat that! I wonder if it is the UV in combination with the temp on the clear glass getting the smell out? Interesting thought anyway. I also liked how the dip/conqueso jars are the right size to get a decent amount of yeast to make starters with. Leaves plenty of beer on top.
Posted: 
November 26, 2013  •  07:47 PM
Good write up man. Easy to follow and love the classy jars!
Posted: 
November 27, 2013  •  12:42 PM
Yeah,I like the fancy scrollwork on the bg kopsher dill jar. It has oz markings on it as well. The storage jars are from those dips on the lil shelf atached to the munchy isle shelves. They settle out to a decent amount of yeast top make starters with. Maybe in December I can use some of the WL-029 kolsh yeast I saved to brew some more hybrid lagers.
Posted: 
December 18, 2013  •  10:51 AM
Have you tried using a piece of a "Potable Aqua" chlorine dioxide water purifier tablet to control any unwanted bacteria? I tried this once and it didn't seem to affect the yeast. Or haven't you had any contamination problems?
Posted: 
December 18, 2013  •  03:43 PM
@Beerwolf- No,never had aby contaminations as of yet. I cool the water to around 70F or so,about the same temp I do when chilling wort before top off. I keep it covered while cooling to keep nasties from settling in it. But chlorine tablets to me might make off flavors in beer they're added to. Unless,of course,you decant most of the liquid frim the stored yeast first.
Posted: 
September 24, 2014  •  11:59 AM
Since then I've found that spring water is a bit better for brewing & starters/rehydrating yeast. The yeasties seem to like the low mineral content of the spring water. Too bad though that the fridge evaporator motor went south. My yeast stash has to go down the head & start over...
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