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.

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.

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.

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.

And waiting for it to settle out more...

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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  • #41
@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.
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.
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  • #44
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.
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.
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  • #46
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.
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  • #48
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.
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?
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  • #50
@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.
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  • #51
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...
Coming back to this post somewhat late (May 2016).
If I recall correctly some recent posts have suggested that yeast nutrient should be added to any washed & low temp stored yeast samples.
You don't mention this in this post but have you subsequently adjusted your methodology?
BTW exactly what yeast nutrient is I don't know.