Wrong Yeast? Time to Experiment!

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Sometimes I actively plan out homebrewing experiments. There will be some aspect of the hobby that I'd like to figure out and I will take the time to design a test with the intent of learning something. Then, there are times where an opportunity for an experiment comes up due to a mistake on my part. It's not my preferred method, but it does give me a chance to make a positive out of a negative.
My latest experiment came about because I ordered the wrong yeast strain for a Belgian Witbier. I purchased a Belgian wheat strain, which is a fine product I'm sure, but I wanted to use the specific witbier strain that Wyeast provides to homebrewers. Instead of buying another smack pack from my local homebrew shop, I decided to use this erroneous purchase as a reason to jump into trying to culture commercial yeast strains.
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I hadn't tried to do this before and there are plenty of risks involved, but I don't let things like the fear of failure get in the way of a good home brewing experiment.
The first thing I had to do was to find and purchase some commercial examples of Belgian witbiers that are bottle conditioned. I read that some brewers uses a different yeast strain to carbonate their beer in the bottle so I started to do some research into which ones would be good to use and used their fermentation strain at bottling or at least, didn't report that they used a different one.
When I think about witbiers, the first one that comes to mind is Hoegaarden but he chatter that I found online about it made me decide to avoid that brand entirely. Some people noted that Hoegaarden pasteurized its beer before it's shipped to stores so it wouldn't be a good choice for culturing, although others claimed they had great success harvesting and using yeast. Because there wasn't a clear answer, I choose to avoid it.
Instead, I picked these three beers.
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Foret Blanche from Brasserie Dupont
Blanche de Chambly from Unibroue
White Ale from Allagash
Instead of buying one beer, I decided to hedge my bets and buy three. I felt with three, I would have success with at least one of them. These beers were ones that my craft beer store had handy. I guess I could have searched far and wide for the best witbiers, but I got the best available.
Just one bottle was needed from the first two breweries. I bought a four pack of the Allagash White so that I would have enough of it to get a good culture started.
After buying the beer, my fellow brew dude Mike cracked them open and enjoyed just enough of the beer and left enough in the bottom of the bottles to use for yeast starters later. I topped all the bottles with some aluminum foil and prepped to boil a simple wort.
The formula for the starter wort consists of dry malt extract (DME), water, and a little bit of yeast nutrient. For a one liter starter, use 100 grams of DME and enough water to bring the total volume to one liter. After adding a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient, boil the water and DME mixture for fifteen minutes. Since this experiment had three separate components so I made a three liter starter. After the boil was over, I chilled the wort to room temperature and divided it up equally into three clean and sanitized half-gallon glass jugs. Once the wort was in the jugs, I sprayed the outside of the bottles with a sanitizer solution and then poured each different beer's contents into its own jug. To aerate the wort, I shook each jub to introduce oxygen and continued to swirl them up on the regular basis throughout the fermentation time.
I stored the jugs in a closet to keep them away from light and after a few days, I started to see some signs of fermentation.
Well, two out of the three jugs showed foaming or krausen, signifying that the yeast was fermenting the wort I introduced to them. The only one that didn't show any overt fermentation signs was the Foret Blanche, the only native Belgian beer.
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So now all three jugs are sitting in my beer fridge so I can get the yeast to settle out and at this time I haven't decided if I am going to use just one or two of the yeast starter in my witbier. The day before I brew, I will decant some of the starter "beer" of the top of the yeast and have a taste to get a sense if they are worth pitching. The day before brew day will give me a change to go to the store to buy a proper strain if necessary.
Overall, this experiment was fun and from what I can tell was mostly successful. I think you can also have success at home culturing yeast from commercial beers by following the steps I provided above.
Brew on!
John "The Brew Dude" Krochune
John Kochune is one of the Brew Dudes and a new contributor here on HomeBrewTalk.com. Click here to read more from John and Mike, The Brew Dudes!
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FiddlersGreen87

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Great article. Something I am definitely interested in trying in the future with some specific beers in mind. I may hit you up with some questions when I do. Thanks
 

rmyurick

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I did this with some Westvleteren yeast from a bottle of the 8 I brought back maybe 20 years ago. Worked well, but a couple of the bottles exploded after about a year. So I put the remaining ones in the refrigerator.
Nowadays, we have the Wyeast 3787 available, so I probably wouldn't try it again.
 
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