My “Dirty” Secret: Reusing my Fermenter

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BryanEBIAB

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Truth time: I only clean my fermenter about every 8 brews (or when something goes wrong) reusing the same yeast over and over.

I’m no flavor expert but I very much enjoy the beer I make. I don’t usually detect any off flavors.

I brew the same lager about every two weeks and just pitch the wort on top of the old yeast cake without cleaning the inside of my Ale Pail. After two brews, I have to scoop out the accumulated yeast at the bottom, usually with a sanitized coffee cup or something or else I end up with a blow over. A 1/4”-1/2” of cake is what I’m going for.

I’ve learned to swap out the spigot because any wort or beer not available to the yeast on the “wrong” side of the valve is vulnerable to bacteria and mold: terrible surprise when it’s time to rack. Other than that, I try to be very careful about keeping the outside clean. Any spots/dirt get a scrub and spray of sanitizer. The fermentation chamber (a box made of rigid foam insulation) is also kept clean/sanitized.

I use a hop spider and whirlpool, trying hard to only transfer clear wort into the bucket.

I love reusing my yeast and the effort saved from one less thing to clean.

I’m clearly a “certain type” of brewer. I’m sure some folks will say they would never even try it but I just had to get that off my chest. Thanks, guys!
 

McMullan

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That adds a whole new perspective to 'continuous fermentation'. I dump fresh wort on top of a yeast cake without cleaning the FV when I make big, imperial strength stouts. Judging from the crud stuck firmly to the FV inside wall, I dread to imagine what it might look like after about 8 goes.

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seajellie

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And here I thought I was a heretic for going three times......

First brew is a "starter" batch. I brew a lot of lagers, and the whole process of making big starters seemed like a waste of time and material. So I just started doing half batches with one yeast packet. Guess what? Those brews are great. Often a leichtbier.

Next batch might be a pilsner or VMO.

Third batch, a dunkles.

After that, yeah, those krausen rings are horrifying.
 

seajellie

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At the risk of enabling your "dirty" habit BryanEBIAB, I leave the same spigot in the primary for the duration. But before and after each use, I pour boiling hot water multiple times into the spigot (closed & turned wrong way up), followed by multiple sanitizer rinses. It does make a mess so use a catch tray of some sort. It's served me up to four racks without infections or off flavors. Of course that fourth brew was a dunkel doppelbock and not much could impact that flavor. 11 would be a stretch.

This process may seem crazy, but I've felt the risk of infection was no greater and perhaps even less, than doing a starter in one vessel, then pitching that to a new primary, and saving/rinsing/whatever the yeast to another new vessel, then pitching that to a new primary, etc. Plus for those who are time-stressed, this is a clear win to be able to keep brewing at all.

You can also attempt to clean out the krausen ring but that's a rather dismal affair.
 
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BryanEBIAB

BryanEBIAB

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If I start hallucinating or gain any super powers, I'll report back on this thread (so far, no luck).

To be honest though, the krausen is not so bad. Maybe this "extended continuous use" (tm) method is only appropriate for some recipes/yeasts? I'm using SafLager-23 at 56ºF with D-rest at 66 for a few days then cold crash until the next brew day. Ideally 6+ weeks of lagering but at least a month.

The first time I got up to 6, I thought I picked up on something 'funky'. So with two batches still lagering (#7 and #8) I decided to reset and start fresh. I was pretty worried about what I was going to find in the next 10 gallons of beer but they were actually pretty great and I wish I had kept my streak up! That really emboldened me to keep going.

It does seem to get a fuller body as the reuse goes up. The couple times I've reset, I've been a little disappointed in the first batch as I had gotten used to the fullness.

What's a little krausen shared between batches?
 

Cider Wraith

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It does seem to get a fuller body as the reuse goes up. The couple times I've reset, I've been a little disappointed in the first batch as I had gotten used to the fullness
Yep, outcomes typically improve

In the short time I've participated in this forum I've mentioned my best outcomes have been subsequent batches with additions of new ingredients on top of existing sediment and have never received a comment. I've learned it's just one more thing that's Not To Be Discussed. Oh well. This forum has been helpful but there's an abundance of ideology and questioning prevailing thought is a no-no. I was chatting with a person at a local brewing shop yesterday and we agreed that probably some of the finest beverages consumed were fermented in vessels with crud on the walls. But don't tell that to the folks that believe if you get an odd microbe in a poppet the whole batch has to go to the drain. Lots of opportunities for heretics in this recreation.
 

Cider Wraith

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On an amusing note, regarding the dynamics of the forum, I PM'ed this to an acquaintance here,

"It's like there could be a pinned thread about dragging sticks to which someone could post a drawing of the new invention, the wheel, and yet following posts would continue to be about efforts to improve dragging sticks" 😆
 
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Cider Wraith

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This process may seem crazy, but I've felt the risk of infection was no greater and perhaps even less, than doing a starter in one vessel, then pitching that to a new primary, and saving/rinsing/whatever the yeast to another new vessel, then pitching that to a new primary, etc
That's the way I see it also
 
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BryanEBIAB

BryanEBIAB

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I can understand folks being reluctant, especially in a plastic bucket (thinking about trimming a corny dip tube this weekend). Because it's generally true that cleanliness makes good beer. It's probably a better idea than normal to be careful around a re-used fermenter lest any bugs get caught and find harbor in some crud. But if yeast overwhelmingly out-compete anything that found its way in there (especially if you've got a good size yeast cake), I think your fermenter may even have fewer bugs at the end than the beginning, even if it doesn't look clean. In any case, my results so far are evidence enough for me.

I can also understand if people are reluctant since this "extended continuous use" (tm) is a bit inconsistent. If a consistent product is your goal, that's awesome and this method may not be for you. My goal is to enjoy beer (and enjoy making it) and this way helps achieve both. Inconsistency actually adds to my enjoyment because I also love comparing one batch to the last.

Lastly, I'm making the same SMaSH with each reuse and doing it regularly--about every 2 weeks. Of course, I make other beers now and then (I have a Mexican hot chocolate chipotle stout brewing right now) and do them in the 'normal' single-use way (okay, I'll resuse it but only once). If you can't brew regularly or don't want what's essentially the same beer so often, this again, may not be for you.

Definitely for me though!
 
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BryanEBIAB

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I've got two thoughts on how to handle the ever-growing sediment in a keg. I'm leaning toward option B here:

Option A
The diptube submerged in yeast cake will indeed suck up yeast... but only until it's created a large enough of a divot for itself to pull clear beer. I figure I can set those 'first runnings' aside (in a jar--growler... I dunno yet) until I'm getting clear enough beer coming through and then start the transfer to the serving keg. Perhaps I'll be able to let those first runnings settle in the fridge and add them back in. I'm a little concerned about how big those 'first runnings' may be. Some yeast will surely come along for the ride but will just settle in the serving keg and may make the first pour cloudy but... meh.

Option B
Use a secondary keg as a 'brite tank' before transferring to a serving keg. By this I mean, transfer from the primary to a clean keg to cold crash again. Then transfer to your serving keg and rinse out the 'brite tank' keg of sediment so it's ready to receive a fresh batch. The 'brite tank' keg may need a trimmed diptube too depending on how much yeast gets sucked up from the primary but I'd guess not as much--perhaps a floating dip tube would be ideal here.

I suppose option C is that you can just get floating diptubes for all your serving kegs and then it doesn't matter how much yeast gets pulled in from the primary but that'd get pricey depending on how many kegs you have and transfers seem to be a breeze.
 

Cider Wraith

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I suppose option C is that you can just get floating diptubes for all your serving kegs and then it doesn't matter how much yeast gets pulled in from the primary but that'd get pricey depending on how many kegs you have and transfers seem to be a breeze.
This is a compelling topic
 
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Cider Wraith

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FWIW as mentioned an attempt at scooping sediment out of a corny worked surprising well
 
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BryanEBIAB

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So glass-after-glass being lost. The sediment must be forming a crater who's walls will hold steady for a few hours, but overnight the walls collapse and you're back to the tube submerged in sediment.
That'd be a deal breaker for me too.

I've also experimented with allowing a normal length tube to be submerged under the sediment from three or four batches thinking I'd transfer out the sediment through the liquid port as usual and direct that to a yeast collection bottle until clear emerges. And... it doesn't flow. Tired to do a gravity drain and nothing. Hit the gas port with 3 PSI, nothing. Hit it with 6 PSI, nothing. Took over 10 PSI to begin to move the sediment through the drain line
It might take a lot of PSI but that's exactly what these cornies were meant for. They're engineered to dispense soda syrup--essentially molasses--which is why they can go all the way up to 130psi. The problem here is that if it takes 50psi to push the yeast cake through the poppet, at some point the viscous yeast cake will drop below the dip tube and suddenly *BAM*, there's thinner yeast slurry gushing through! Sounds messy but perhaps that's a solvable problem... I'd have to give it a think (or a go).

Yep, floating dip tubes, sure but I don't know anything about them
Folks that ferment and serve in a single vessel use them. It pulls beer from just below the surface instead of the bottom. So there could be as much sediment as you please at the bottom and you wouldn't encounter it until the keg was finished. You could spoon out and dump/bank what you don't need and you're ready to reuse.
 

hotbeer

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Just curious for when I might desire to try such... but when do you aerate the wort? Prior to putting in the FV and on the yeast cake or do you aerate in the FV and just let the cake get blown apart by the air or O2 and into the wort?

I'm using conicals and carboys for FV's.
 
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BryanEBIAB

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Just curious for when I might desire to try such... but when do you aerate the wort? Prior to putting in the FV and on the yeast cake or do you aerate in the FV and just let the cake get blown apart by the air or O2 and into the wort?

I'm using conicals and carboys for FV's.
I do both. I start aerating when it gets cool enough by recirculating through the lid. I pause oxygenating to whirlpool then pump it fairly aggressively into the fermenter, completely blowing apart the yeast cake.
 

bwible

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And here I thought I was a heretic for going three times......
Yeah thats what I go for - 3 or rarely sometimes 4 with the same yeast. If I’m going to do more than that, I’ll split the yeast into a couple starters.

I brew 3 gallon batches and liquid yeast is somewhat expensive so I always try to get at least a couple uses out of it.

It makes sense - how else would you re-use the yeast? The more you move it around and handle it the greater the chance of infection.

I use a 5 gallon carboy as a fermenter. No spigot. The only things to worry about sanitizing are the racking cane and tube, the piece of hose that goes from my brew kettle ball valve into the fermenter and of course the stopper and airlock.

Like you said, the first batch is pretty much a starter. I plan my brews in advance and I brew weak to strong, light to dark - same way beer judges judge. For example, right now I have a dark mild in the carboy. Thats round 1. I’m planning a British Strong Ale next, then an English Barleywine after that.
 
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BryanEBIAB

BryanEBIAB

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Yeah thats what I go for - 3 or rarely sometimes 4 with the same yeast.

I brew 3 gallon batches and liquid yeast is somewhat expensive so I always try to get a couple uses out of it.

I use a 5 gallon carboy as a fermenter. No spigot. The only things to worry about sanitizing are the racking cane and tube, the piece of hose that goes from my brew kettle ball valve into the fermenter and of course the stopper and airlock.

Like you said, the first batch is pretty much a starter. I plan my brews in advance and I brew weak to strong, light to dark - same way beer judges judge. For example, right now I have a dark mild in the carboy. Thats round 1. I’m planning a British Strong Ale next, then an English Barleywine after that.
I’m curious why you wouldn’t do each batch twice and get 6 uses. Not enough variety or too many generations of yeast?
 

bwible

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I’m curious why you wouldn’t do each batch twice and get 6 uses. Not enough variety or too many generations of yeast?
Sometimes I do the same batch twice, mostly for lagers because they tend to go quicker.

The reason I do 3 gallon batches is I am the only one in my house who drinks the beer. My wife will occassionally have a stout or a dark beer but not often. So I brew 3 gallons at a time, which works out to a case plus a six pack if I bottle. And I have 3 gallon kegs. This way I don’t end up with 10 cases of beer from 5 batches.

I also use an Anvil Foundry 6.5, which has an 8lb grain capacity and I can use that on regular house current without needing 220v.

And yeah, I like variety.
 
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McMullan

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Just curious for when I might desire to try such... but when do you aerate the wort? Prior to putting in the FV and on the yeast cake or do you aerate in the FV and just let the cake get blown apart by the air or O2 and into the wort?

I'm using conicals and carboys for FV's.
I'd recommend a simple inline process between kettle and FV. E.g., a 3-way T piece with aeration stone. That way you're not going to be blasting the yeast directly with O2. And when you pinch a little kettle wort for a starter it's really easy to oxygenate that, too.
 

Red over White

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With all rounders harvesting is super easy. The fermenter dip tubes are cut to fill a 5 gal keg exactly (when filled to 20L at pitch) and leave behind enough beer to swirl up the yeast and almost fill a 2 liter under counterpressure, oxygen free. Tipping the all rounder on its side allows it to get almost everything out. 2 liter bottles lose their ability to keep out oxygen over time, so not a real good long term solution, but a fabulous, convenient small yeast brink for the short-term in the fridge. Cheers

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