Ask Mr. Wizard

Q&A Recap with Mr Wizard Ashton Lewis


Since it’s inception 20 years ago, Ashton Lewis has been answering your homebrew questions in the “Mr. Wizard” column and been reviewing all of the content as the Technical Editor of Brew Your Own magazine. Ashton is also the Master Brewer at Springfield Brewing Company (where his beers have taken home numerous medals in the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival, and other competitions) and Brewery Product Manager for Paul Mueller Company in Springfield, Missouri. He holds a BS in food science from Virginia Tech and a MS in food/brewing science from UC-Davis. Ashton is the author of The Homebrewer’s Answer Book, a collection of hundreds of questions and answers from his “Mr. Wizard” column, and yet he still hasn’t tired of giving his time to help homebrewers hone their craft.
Josh Jayne: Do you do a longer primary fermentation for lagers than you would for ales?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Lager fermentations are usually much cooler than ale fermentations and take longer. “Normal” gravity brews (1048-1060) usually finish in about 5-7 days.

Keiran Jones: I’m making a saison and I am using The “saison blend” strain from the yeast bay. Can i add a vile of Brett to this also? or should Brett be used on its own?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Unless you have brewed many batches of saison and looking to add a little something extra to a great recipe, I would hold off on adding Brett to your saison. I have had some great brett saisons and like the idea. I tend to be fairly methodical and believe it is best to work on one thing at a time. Trying too many things at once is sometimes very confusing when attempting to tweak a recipe.

Brian Jameson: Do you know of a good estimation to use for cell count of a yeast slant? I realize there will be many factors. I’m just curious say from approx. 30ml of growth medium if you know of a good number to throw into a yeast calculator as a starting point. Thanks!

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: When yeast is grown in a slurry the cell density is usually 100-150 million cells per ml (assuming no continuous aeration, which can lead to densities up to 300 million cells per ml). I hope this helps!

Tyson Ormonde: Okay… I’m brewing a Barley Wine (in carboy for about 5 months now) going to let it sit for at least 6/8 months. And a sour (not in carboy yet) going to let it sit for at least 1 year. My question is when bottling do I have to add bottling yeast for one or the other or both? If you do use bottling yeast what kind? And when would you start having to apply bottling yeast (at what month.) the last thing I want after all that time and effort is flat beer.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Any beer that has undergone extended aging should receive some fresh yeast if you want the beer to carbonate by bottle conditioning. The conditioning yeast, with the exception of Brett, usually contribute no new flavor so the choice of strain typically is not based on flavor. Some brewers prefer powdery strains that are easily roused from the bottom. And others prefer strains that stick to the bottom of the bottle. The latter type can flake off when the bottle is poured and look funky!

Ignacio Delafuente: Is it better to use the whole starter at hi krausen or to cold crash decant your starter?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: The method with the highest success rate is pitching at high krausen. Chilling and decanting removes unwanted propagation beer, but it can lead to sluggish starts compared to pitching at high krausen.

Thomas Ball: Doing extract IPAs, using 2 vials of 001. Advantages of doing a starter or just dumping @ room temp. Is there?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: The main advantage to doing a starter is that the yeast are active and ready to ferment when pitched. Adding two vials is good for pitching enough cells and if the vials are pretty fresh the lag time between fermentation and pitching can be short. But if the vials are getting a bit of age on them it can help to use a starter.

Alex Escamilla: Hi Ashton Lewis, Do you think there is a bubble in the craft industry and is it going to burst soon? There has been so much growth in the last several year, I’d love to get your opinion.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I wish I knew the answer to that question! I don’t believe that the love for great beer is going to bust anytime soon. I do believe that some small brewers will fail as businesses and that consolidation in the market will continue as larger companies buy smaller companies. But these things are always going to happen in a mature business climate, and that really is what is happening to craft brewing. It is still incredibly vibrant and fun, but things are definitely maturing.

Alex Escamilla: Totally agree, we’ll always love great beer! Some of us will always love making great beer. I’m just worried about all the smaller breweries opening real close to each other in the same areas. It’ll be interesting to see where it all goes. Thanks!

John Harris: Hello Ashton, I’m thinking of making a “twisted tea.” Any thoughts on what type of yeast would be good? Thank you.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I suppose it depends on the flavor profile you want to create. My first thought is something really clean like WLP001 / Wyeast 1056. I can also imagine a really nice twisted tea fermented with a fruity weizen or wit strain, especially if you garnish with fruit.

John Harris: I hadn’t thought about the last two. Those sound like great ideas. Thank you

Chad Nixon: Should I filter when I transfer to reduce sediment in my bottles?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Filtration at home is not the first thing I would consider doing to reduce sediment in bottled beer. The easiest thing to do (if you can do this) is to move your carboy to a refrigerator for 1-2 weeks after primary is complete to let gravity do its thing. If you are using powdery yeast (not flocculant) try using a fining agent. There are some products on the market today that are really effective and easy to use, for example BioFine.

Betsy Parks: Hi Ashton Lewis – how was your trip to Craft Brew Conference in Portland this year? Did you come across anything interesting that homebrewers could relate to? Any trends or talks or debates?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Betsy, The CBC was crazy this year with nearly 12,000 attendees!! The meeting format was changed to allow exhibitors at the tradeshow more time. This meant that I was tied to the Paul Mueller Company booth the entire show and did not see a single talk. The only time I left my booth to attend a talk was when it was time for me to talk! So I have no clue about all of the cool stuff that was happening!

Nathan Hoskins: Oxygen absorbing caps. I can’t find any science behind them. How does something “absorb” O2? Do they actually work and where’s the evidence?

Mike Shapcott: Zapata developed these crown caps some years ago. It was proved that they would keep beer fresher for many more months than standard crowns. This development was the result of development of a new component by Dr. Frederick Teumac VP of Research at Zapata Industries

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Not 100% sure what the crown liners contain, but do know they work. Plenty of data and anecdotal evidence shows that these special liners reduce oxygen ingress and help to scrub oxygen from the headspace. Two common chemistries used to give polymers oxygen-scavenging properties are the inclusion of iron or ascorbic acid in the polymer mix. These compounds bind oxygen, and that’s basically how they work.

M Iggy H Unt: Are similar results obtained mashing lower and using a given yeast to obtain say a beer ending at 1010 compared to by mashing high and then overpitching to make a drier beer? I ask because its often the case I want a particular result but then realise i am running low on a given yeast strain.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I cannot think of a brewery that attempts to control finish gravity by adjusting yeast pitching rate. Mashing control is really the way to do that. Cheers!

Ignacio Magos: I’ve been doing lots of small batches (1 and 2.5 gallons), would you recommend yeast starters for those? Or would using one vial/smack pack of yeast be okay?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Depends on why you are doing small batches. If they are experimental beers where yeast is NOT the variable, making a starter and splitting across several small batches is a good way of minimizing variability due to yeast. If you are making a larger batch of wort and splitting it to check out different yeast strains, I would not suggest make small starters because they simply are not required for your batch size.

Jeff Lindholm: For some one wanting to start from ground zero. Is there a good, complete kit you would recommend for purchase?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: It’s been about 28 years since I was in your shoes! The first kit I purchased was Mount Mellick Irish Stout I suggest that you begin by visiting your local homebrew store and getting to know the people and asking for some advice from the store. There are lots of great options today, many of which are blended at the store. The one thing I would recommend above any particular kit is some fresh yeast! When I first began homebrewing things were different and obtaining fresh yeast was not a given. Starting with fresh yeast is the single most important ingredient pointer. And starting out with clean equipment is the most important technique to master.

Jim Hyler: Having an issue with stalling fermentation in my all grain kits. ABV never hits the mark

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: A few possibilities come to mind. The first is that you are mashing too hot, too thin, or both, Basically, the wort is less fermentable than the recipe assumes. The other possibility that pops to mind is something in the fermentation has gone awry. Low pitching rate is a very common problem and could be the cause. Low aeration is another common problem that could explain this. A less likely cause is insufficient nutrients. The only reason this is less likely is that the two things above are so common with homebrewing that you must eliminate the possibilities of these issues. But poor nutrient level is more common than some would think. Yeast nutrients containing zinc can really help with fermentation vigor. You could also be fermenting too cool, but this is truly an unusual problem to encounter at home. I hope this helps!

Aztec Moose What do you think of all these new flavors add to beer and what’s the craziest beer you have made?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: In general I love the creativity of brewers and find many of the new ideas to be really interesting. I must confess that some of these beers don’t seem very drinkable to me, but are certainly fun and interesting to sample. I am not a crazy sort of brewer and cannot really point to the craziest beer I have formulated. We are celebrating our 17th year of operation at Springfield Brewing Company and recently released Signet 17. This anniversary beer is an Imperial Stout with part aged in a stainless barrel with raisins and black currants and another part aged in a used rum barrel. The raisins and black currants add a dimension that is very reminiscent of red zinfandel wine. Not crazy, but pretty tasty!

James Newman: How do you feel about the 2.5 gallon all grain kits being sold ?? I always felt a minimum of 5 gallons if not 10 was better

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: It all depends on why people homebrew. Some folks what to brew more variety and not end up with too much beer. “Too much beer” is not in some brewers vocabularies. These brewers figure it takes the same amount of time to brew 10 gallons as it does 5 gallons. And of course these folks are the same ones who end up brewing 20 gallon batches!! One size does not fit all in this hobby.

James Newman: And just a follow up…..what about the no boil kits being sold with hop pellets and no boil required. This goes against all I’ve read in my 20+ years of home brewing.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I think this is another creative development intended to address the needs of the market. I have never used this sort of kit and cannot comment on the details. I do know that there have been no boil kits on the market for over 20 years that have allowed a lot of brewers a good way of getting into brewing.

Ken Benoit: 2L starter for a 5g batch. Decant or dump whole thing in?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Depends on the yeast. If the strain has strong flocculation properties, decanting is pretty easy and is something that I would want to do. If the yeast does not settle you should pitch the whole starter. This is a good reason to pay attention to the composition of the starter wort.

Brandon Ricker: An all-Brettanomyces IIPA, what would be a good cell count to pitch for a healthy fermentation

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: For an all Brett beer you should use a pitching rate similar to “normal” yeast types. Assuming your IIPA has an OG of 1064/16P, shoot for 16 million cells per ml.

Daniel Walker: I have 5 gal of IPA fermenting, currently on day 11 in a conical fermenter. 1.086 was the starting gravity. I was expecting to finish at ~1.010 but it has been stuck at 1.020 for 3 days and has noticeable diacetyl. I originally pitched a very healthy dose of US-05 that was harvested from a previous 1.050 pale ale. Should I pitch more yeast to bring down gravity and clean up diacetyl? Will more time in the fermenter accomplish this if left alone?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I would give it a few more days and see what happens. If you really think your batch is stuck, adding more yeast is a good way to help it finish, and to clean up your butter! One of the real benefits of krausening is helping to drive down the FG and cleaning up “green” flavors.

Devon Rollins: Hi Ashton, What are your thoughts on cold steeping dark roasted malts vs mashing? What are your experiences with using darker roasted malts 350-500l range vs 200-350l range? I have read that the paler malts produce more ash and less chocolate.

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: I am not sold on the cold steeping because hot steeping is more effective in extracting color and flavor, and to me the flavor of roasted malts is desirable (when used appropriately). I am sold on the method in general, though. Roasted malts and barley are very brittle (known as friable by the malt folk). These friable ingredients have a way of shattering when milled and can cause problems with wort separation. At Springfield Brewing Company we use a mash mixer and pump our mash to a lauter tun for wort separation. When we add roasted grains, we choose to add them to the top of the mash after the lauter tun has been filled and this great helps with wort separation. If you want to extract color and little flavor, I can understand trying a cold steep.

Devon Rollins: Right on! Thanks Mr. Wizard!


A.j. Marisca: What is best way to mash out with an igloo cooler mash tun? Would additional mash out volumes be considered part of the sparge?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Hmmm. Using a burner under the cooler could cause a problem! If you want to mash out, do so by adding very hot water and stirring during the addition. This should be considered as part of the sparge volume….See More

A.j. Marisca: I typically batch sparge. Is mash out even necessary?

Brett Begani: Same question. When batch sparging, is there any reason to raise the first runnings to mash out temps?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: Most brewers using the infusion mash method do not mash out. Dr. Michael Lewis,my mentor and graduate professor at UC Davis, is fond of challenging the idea of infusion mashing. He likes to describe a scenario where a brewer in a small brewery mashes in, wipes the sweat from his brow, enjoys a cup of coffee and immediately begins wort collection. Add up the time and we are probably about 20 minutes into the mash. His point is that mashing continues in the kettle during wort collection since the enzymes in the kettle are not denatured until the wort is heated. The truth is that malt these days is very enzyme rich and for some styles of beer the content is really higher than needed. This makes brewing dry beers easier than beers with more residual extract. Mashing out is an effective way of stopping enzyme activity. For many styles, not mashing out is just fine!

Brett Begani: What are the pros/cons of a simmer versus a vigorous boil?

ashton facebook Ashton Lewis: The traditional view on wort boiling is to rock and roll. This helps with DMS removal, hop utilization, break formation and wort concentration. Simmering is simply less effective at doing all of these things. In the last 20 years or so, more emphasis has been placed on reducing energy consumption in the brewhouse and decreasing the effects of thermal stress during wort boiling (this can lead to flavor and foam stability issues). Here is a more detailed answer that may shed more light in your question