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When planning to brew an Irish Red Ale a few weeks ago I decided to use White Labs WLP004 - Irish Ale Yeast to ferment it, that is until I found out my LHBS had none in stock. After investing so much time in formulating this recipe I already had my heart set on pitching nothing else, I wanted everything to be perfect for my very first attempt at this beer style. So I postponed my plans to brew that weekend and decided to just wait for a fresh batch of WLP-004 to be delivered, in stock and ready for me to use. Of course that never happened, either I brewed that weekend as originally planned, or I had to wait three more weeks before having time available for another brewday. Ultimately my brewday was saved by a few packets of Safale S-04 Dry Ale yeast that I bought on brewday morning, along with some hops and freshly crushed grain. Nearly a month later this Irish Red Ale fermented with S-04 both tastes and looks remarkably good and if the WLP-004 could have improved this beer any I'm not exactly sure how it would.

After transferring the finished beer to a keg and bottling bucket a nice thick layer of S-04 yeast was left behind covering the entire bottom of the fermentor. Using a one gallon pickle jar, an inexpensive plastic turkey baster, some sanitized water, a long handled spoon and a bunch of previously used yeast vials I was able to put an entire year's worth of S-04 yeast in my refrigerator. If you've never taken the time to reuse the yeast left over from a previous batch of beer and you've decided to give it a try, using S-04 makes it really easy to get started. Since S-04 is a high flocculent yeast it will settle out of your beer really quickly, once it's done churning wort sugars into alcohol and Co2. The S-04 settles out quickly to form a thick compact layer of yeast cells, on the bottom of the fermentor, with minimal amounts of trub or other impurities. Those very properties make S-04 yeast a perfect candidate for collection, long term storage without the risk of contamination and guaranteed results when pitched into future batches of beer.

While packaging the current batch of beer fill a wide mouth one gallon jar with filtered water and boil it for 10-15 minutes to sanitize it, then cool it down to match the temperature of the beer being packaged. Sanitize the gallon jar, turkey baster, long handled spoon and yeast vials in a solution of StarSan while waiting for the water to cool. After transferring the beer from the fermentor just leave a little bit of beer behind to keep the yeast cake covered, then put the lid back on the fermentor until you're ready to wash the yeast. Kept at or around 65-70F and covered with beer the yeast can stay in the fermentor without worry for several hours while waiting for the packaging to be finished.

The idea is to gently pour the sanitized water into the fermentor and then use the long handled spoon to stir the yeast up into suspension, eliminating as many yeast clumps as possible. This stirring never takes me more than a couple of minutes before I open the spigot and transfer the yeast slurry into the sanitized jar, where it'll stay for a few days in the refrigerator. Once the jar has been filled nearly to the top spray some StarSan on two pieces of plastic wrap and the top of the jar. Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar held in place with a small elastic band and then do the same with the second piece of wrap. After two days in the refrigerator the yeast will drop to the bottom of the jar in a very tight compact layer that can then easily be sucked up in the turkey baster then squirted into the waiting yeast vials for storage.
After only a few days in the refrigerator the yeast inside the vials will further compact separating the cells from the sanitized water. The water floats above the yeast that's at the bottom of the vial and the vials of yeast will look just like the vials you buy at your LHBS. Using this method of yeast washing and storage I was able to refill 16 vials with the S-04 yeast left over from a single five gallon batch of beer, proving once again just how economical and easy it can be to grow your own.

Vince Feminella [aka: ScrewyBrewer]
[email protected]
I will be looking to put together a frozen liquid yeast bank in my brew shed once its completed for this very reason. Its getting harder to make sure the LHBS has the yeast I need for a batch these days with the hobby blowing up like it has.
Plus it saves $$$ to harvest and re-use yeast which we are all a fan of.
Considering he stocked 16 vials of yeast to reuse, that's actually $64 worth of yeast. And considering each of those, once used, could be re-collected in the same way, this can actually be a method by which a brewer could save a decent amount of money on yeast.
Obviously yeast collecting is not for everyone. To some people it simply won't be worth the time and effort, not matter how much money it might save. I can also see this not being efficient for someone who does not use the same yeast on a regular basis. If you only brew with S-04 once or twice a year, 16 vials will be more than you're going to need for a long time to come.
@Ferde357 its not for everyone. But a $4.00 packet of yeast easily converts into a plentiful supply of liquid yeast to have on hand.
The thing I've always wondered about yeast harvesting is the long term storage. I like the idea of doing it, but I don't think I brew frequently enough to reap the benefits. From what I've seen on tools and calculators, viability drops fairly quickly on fresh yeast. Is it possible to freeze like bbohanon mentions above? I haven't seen anything really detailed on what would be involved in freezing yeast to prolong storage, if indeed this is possible.
I'm curious too, because I have a batch of IPA sitting on an S-04 yeast cake right now....
The thing I've always wondered about yeast harvesting is the long term storage. I like the idea of doing it, but I don't think I brew frequently enough to reap the benefits. From what I've seen on tools and calculators, viability drops fairly quickly on fresh yeast. Is it possible to freeze like bbohanon mentions above? I haven't seen anything really detailed on what would be involved in freezing yeast to prolong storage, if indeed this is possible.
I'm curious too, because I have a batch of IPA sitting on an S-04 yeast cake right now....
....aaaaand I just found this (before anyone tells me to search the forums :)
@Ferde357 I am allowed (by state law and license) to brew 200 gallons of beer. At 5 gallon batches, that is 40 batches. At 4 dollars a batch for yeast, doing this would save me $156 a year. (That's minus one batch for the initial collection.) .. While that seems like a drop in the bucket, I get to know my yeast. I can play with it over different batches of beer if I want.. Oh, and that $156 can be used to buy other ingredients or tools.
So, yes.. It is work. Yet, it is work that can prove beneficial over time.
Even my wife looked at me and said .."Brewing beer seems like a lot of work you can just spend an extra $1 a bottle of beer to not have to do." .. And she is right, but I wouldn't have the pleasure of saying .. I did it.
For longer term storage (without freezing), you can decant the liquid off the top of each vial and replace it with fresh wort every 4-6 months or so and it will keep the yeast happy until you're ready to make a starter.
Is there enough yeast in one vile to pitch on brew day or are you still going to have to create a starter on anything north of say 1.055?
I have washed yeast, but I never know it's viability and don't like making starters to cross my fingers and hope. Some of these washed examples were over a year old however. I could see having a stockpile of 04, 05 or nottingham around for ripping out a variety of ales. Thumbs up!
Great article! I have had success washing S-04 and Nottingham but I never thought of using a turkey baster though. What a great idea.
To me the alure is the significant savings in comparison to other ingredient costs. When I do a 4-5 gallon batch, $7 on a vial of yeast and maybe $1-2 on DME isn't really that significant a cost when you might be talking $30 of other ingredients (because I like big, hoppy beers). However, I also occasionally like to make small batches. I just spent $39 on ingredients for two 2.75 gallon batches (a Steam beer and a Pilsen), $14 of its was for the yeast...if those had been 4-5 gallon batches, it probably would have been $50 in ingredients, making the $14 a much smaller portion of the over bill.
I enjoy brewing a heck of a lot more than any possible savings, but heck, with the current prices around me, a typical "decent" bottle of beer is around $1.60 with tax, and my usual costs for a 4 gallon batch (my typical size) is around $.80 a bottle. So making small batches seems like a waste, as it increases my costs to more like $1.20 or so per bottle...why not brew big? But then I have so much beer I have to wait awhile between brews.
Its a bit of a catch 22, but if I can wash and reuse yeast occasionally (even if I only keep 2-4 strains "on hand"), that makes a HUGE difference in willingness to brew small.
So, sooner rather than later I really want to give this a try. It is an EXCELLENT idea to reuse the yeast vials. I've been chucking them, but now I am going to start keeping them to sanitize and reuse!
The sanitized turkey baster is also an amazing idea!
@azazel1024 Which is why my final line on my response.. "And she is right, but I wouldn't have the pleasure of saying .. I did it."
I have had much better Chocolate Milk Stouts than the one I just brewed and finally got to taste last night. Yet, I have not had better where I can say .. It's mine. :)
I actually want to grow my own ingredients even. As I have to mail order everything as is, and mail takes an extra day no matter what. (Middle of no where Oklahoma.)
Small batch brewing really makes saving yeast more appealing. Myself, I am also getting into saving it for other projects, and for the neighbors hogs. He said he will supply me bacon.
@30Bones for yeast I've washed and stored at 37F I estimate a 10% reduction in cell vitality and viability per month. I do make fresh starters from the washed yeast once they've been in storage for a month or more.
I use a simple formula to account for this where a vial of fresh yeast equates to 100 million cells, when stirred into two liters of 1.040 wort, and the resulting starter should produce 220 million cells.
From my experience if you're putting it in White Lab vials you will literally see the compact yeast reduce in volume over time. I've seen the same thing with fresh White Labs yeast over time as well. I assume this is the yeast cells dying/losing viability. Anyway, I calculate the yeast at 4 billion cells per ml of solid. That means if the white is to the top of the ridge on the vial I would have 140 billion cells. Look at the picture of the vials. I would say the two on the far right have ~50 billion and ~100 billions cells respectively.
@Ferde357 its not for everyone. But a $4.00 packet of yeast easily converts into a plentiful supply of liquid yeast to have on hand.
For dry yeast you can't beat buying a box of yeast for $30-40 off eBay. I bought a box this summer and still have half a box left. Washing and stocking yeast is a great idea for special liquid strains although in a refrigerator they have short lived viability. When the year looses its bright white layer and becomes a brownish murky color it looses its cell count and must be slowly nurtured to pitching volume.
@emyers one could also argue that shipping yeast in the heat of summer is not the best way to assure you're getting healthy yeast. Which also raises the question of how was the yeast stored before it was ever shipped to you. Another benefit to growing you own is you are responsible for the yeast storage from the time the cells are created until the day they're pitched.
I am actually move towards mail-order sometimes, but that is because of my wife. She wants me to brew with as much organic ingredients as I can, and my LHBS doesn't stock organic malts...so mail-order only. I haven't made the plunge yet, as I have to get a mill still, but once I do, I am there. It won't stop me from buying stuff from my LHBS frequently still.
I do also want to grow my own hops, or at least SOME of my own hops. I should be able to trellis and grow a couple of dozen vines which I'd figure should be enough to do at least a couple of varieties and keep me well stocked with them.
So when I keep hearing about yeast "washing," all it actually is, is adding sanitized water to the yeast cake?
I am planning to use this as a washing method, but I am also gonna freeze mine in Glycerin. For anyone wondering, it is a much more effective way to store your yeast long term. This will also allow me to do some yeast blends, as well as hold on to some stock dregs I get from my bottles. PM me if you would like any details on the glycerin techniques.
Fine, but is only one vial enough to brew one 5-gallon batch or do you need to use more to get a proper starter?
@xben I just made a four liter starter last night to pitch in a ten gallon batch this weekend. Eyeball a new vial of yeast from your LHBS and note how full of yeast it is, they're about 100 billion cells typically.
Then eyeball your washed yeast vials and try to get the same amount of cells, it may require using more than one vial depending on how full of yeast they are. In the case of my starter I pitched four vials of my washed yeast, which roughly equals two new vials from the LHBS, into my current starter.
so basically you could brew 4 batches.. it finally worth it, considering 2 new vials cost 10$ each! thanks for that experiment
I prefer to wash yeast with beer and keep a whole mason jar or two in my fridge. Its very easy to decant. Just shake the yeast cake up, pour in to as many jars as you can, let sit for an hour, decant off the trub, repeat and put in fridge. Sanitizing water for this is not necessary. You don't even loose beer because the slurry has a lot in it already. You can also consolidate once the yeast settles.
I used to "rinse" yeast and reuse. Rinsing is the process of using distilled water to collect and store yeast for later use. Washing is a prodess of cleaning yeast with acid wash. These terms are commonly misused. Yeast viability in a good case will drop to below 50% after 14 days. It is not recommended do use yeast collected from a previous batch later than that time and 2-3 days is better.
I spent a lot of time and energy trying to save money when first brewing and washed and reused yeast as a way to do so.
After 10 years I beleive strongly that yeast is the difference between making okay beer and beautiful beer. The question of why a beer is better one batch compared to the previous always comes back to the yeast.
The proper quantity and quality of yeast pitched and the conditions that the fermentation take place in are most crucial parts of brewing.
I recommend using new yeast every time you brew unless you can reuse yeast within a couple of days (I frequently throw a batch of cider on a rinsed yeast cake). Use a stirplate to make starters. Use yeast nutrient. Use oxygen.
Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff have a good book called, simply, "Yeast".
@benbradford - I agree 100%. Everything I have read from the established experts (I own the book "Yeast" and highly recommend it) says not to expect harvested yeast to maintain its quality beyond a week or so in the fridge. Yeast quantity is important when pitching, but also yeast health. I am very interested in harvesting and reusing yeast, but the only SCIENCE I have seen that confirms the quality of harvested yeast can be maintained is when freezing it quickly to about -80 degrees F. I don't have the facilities to do that. After all the research I have done I have come to believe that if you pitch yeast that you harvested from a batch that has been refrigerated for any length of time, you are almost certainly pitching something different than what you started with. As with everything, if it works for you, then by all means do it. If you like the beer you make with it, that's all that matters - more power to you. For me, I need to see the science that says I can do this and maintain the yeast quality.
I used one vile of WLP011 European Ale Yeast in five consecutive batches with each yeast cake being washed with beer and stored in the fridge for at least a month at a time. Starters started fast.
You just make a starter with the saved yeast. It's pretty simple and just requires a small amount of DME. If you have a flask and stir-plate, you are definitely in business, but they aren't required.
@benbradford I've read and reread Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff's book Yeast several times since it was first available and also have successfully rinsed/washed yeast for future batches for even longer than that. For me storing the washed yeast at 37F and making fresh starters before using it to make beer is all that is needed.
If you have stored yeast for three months or more it makes sense to make a starter, ferment a batch of 5% alcohol beer and then repeat the washing process. The resulting second generation of your very own 'house yeast' can then be safely stored for several more months. At that point you can decide to toss out any remaining vials of first generation yeast you stored previously, or hold on to it longer.
I do this all the time but saving that much yeast is not going to help much. I wouldn't use yeast that's older than 1 year. What I do right after I rack the beer I will rack the east too in 12oz bottles with the flip-cap so I can re pitch it. I realized that I don't need a lot of them.
The flip cap works great, the yeast will continue to produce co2 and the flip cap will allow you to release the pressure in case it over carbonate.
I found this the easier way plus a 12 oz bottle with be more than enough for 10gals and no started would be needed (IMHO)
@BrewingSailor I never trust science when the person doing the "science" is making money off you at the same time.
On the other hand, I do trust PassedPawn, who invested in all the equipment to check viability and saw no problem with his washed yeast.

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