Are pitching rates similar or different for “wild” type cultures (Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces, Pediococcus, etc.) to that of typical ale yeast?
Pitching rates for wild yeast and bacteria are really all over the place.
Brettanomyces species can be used in place of Saccharomyces species for the primary fermentation of wort into beer. Brettanomyces has become a very popular “wild” yeast in certain brewing circles and imparts an interesting aroma and flavor to a wide range of beer styles. When used as the primary yeast strain the flavor contribution is more up front and immediate compared to when Brett is added to beer during aging, where the aroma notes develop slowly over time.
If you are looking for numbers, the range in pitching rate varies from about 250,000 cells/mL to over 10 million cells/mL, depending on how the yeast is going to be used. If you want to use Brett for the first time, I would use it after primary fermentation is complete and add for bottle conditioning. This yeast is a “super-attenuator” and ferments sugars that ale and lager yeast cannot. This means that these beers have the potential to be bottle bombs. Heavy bottles, like champagne bottles, are recommended. Pitch with about 1 million cells per mL to give your beer a good shot of developing the aroma that is expected.
Bacteria, such as Lactobacillus species and Pediococcus species are completely different, for two big reasons. The first thing separating these bugs from yeast is that they are sensitive to hop acids, and in some cases alcohol strength. This means that souring beers that are highly hopped and high in alcohol can be a real challenge. Even moderately hopped beers can give lactic acid bacteria the cold shoulder and will not turn sour. This is really frustrating when you are intentionally trying to do something that many brewers curse when it happens on its own. I have been in that boat!
The other thing about these bacteria that set them apart from yeast is that it does not take many cells to affect change. A few hundred cells/mL in the proper setting can grow into a population large enough to have obvious flavor contributions. In comparison to yeast cell densities, bacterial densities are usually much lower. A lager beer that has been thoroughly spoiled by lactic acid bacteria may have only 5,000 cells/mL of the culprit. The interesting thing about bacteria is that they can grow very well by feeding on amino acids associated with autolyzed yeast cells, especially in anaerobic environments. This means that the bottom of a beer tank is a pretty ideal propagation container for bacteria, and beers often sour when held for prolonged time periods with yeast present.
The take home message here is that the answer to your question depends on what you want to accomplish by adding these sorts of organisms and how quickly you want results. Most beers produced with these types of cultures are not produced overnight and it is very important to be patient.
What is the best way to move my beer from primary fermenter to secondary without oxidizing or spoiling the beer in anyway without using carbon dioxide?
Grant (Grants Gluten-free Homebrew)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia
Fortunately for homebrewers there are convenient ways to move beer around without ruining your homebrewed suds with the ill effects associated with oxygen.
As you mention in your question, one handy method to help reduce oxygen pick-up during racking is by using carbon dioxide as a blanketing gas. While this method is handy, it does require you to actually have bottled carbon dioxide laying around for use. (I will assume that suggesting other blanketing gases like argon and nitrogen are not of interest to you, so I won’t discuss them here.)
The best way in general terms to limit oxygen pick-up during racking and bottling is to fill the beer from the bottom of the container and then to limit the amount of headspace in the container by matching your container size to the amount of beer you have on hand. Using a solid racking tube to deliver beer to the bottom of the container being filled is a simple and reliable method to control turbulence during filling. Once the beer has been racked it is helpful if some carbon dioxide gas is produced by yeast because this will help scrub the headspace of oxygen. Racking with some residual extract is the best way to help this process happen.
Another important consideration is the oxygen barrier properties of the secondary fermenter. While it is acceptable to ferment beer in plastic containers, I would avoid aging beer in a plastic secondary because ordinary plastics allow oxygen to travel across the container wall and into your beer. Not the ideal situation.
The challenge of oxygen pickup pops up again when it is time to move your beer from the secondary to the final container. If the container is a keg you can fill the keg from the bottom using the tube in the keg for filling. But most homebrewers who keg have carbon dioxide containers, and I am guessing that you don’t have this set up. This means that you are most likely bottle conditioning your homebrew and need to rack your beer from the secondary to a bottling bucket, and then into your bottles. This is the step in the brewing process where real damage from oxygen often occurs.
The first challenge is to move the beer from the secondary to the bottling bucket. Unlike the transfer from the primary where some fermentation is happening, the beer at the end of secondary is done fermenting. My advice is to keep the time investment to a minimum. Start by preparing your priming solution and pouring into the bottling bucket, then, fill your bottling bucket with beer using your racking tube and quickly bottle. At home this is the method to use when you do not have pressurized containers.
Commercial brewers do things a bit differently. Even brewers who bottle condition fill their bottles with some level of carbonation in the beer. This allows the beer to be foamed or “fobbed” before the bottle is capped. Fobbing pushes air from the headspace and is a very effective method used to reduce the oxygen content of bottled beer. In order to do this the beer must be stored in a pressurized vessel, such as a keg during storage so that some level of carbon dioxide remains in the beer.
You ask a question with a short and simple answer. The fact is that without using carbon dioxide as a blanket gas and pressurized storage containers for secondary fermentation and/or bottling containers it is difficult to really control oxidation.