Free Range Haggis

Studying, Eating, and Drinking in Scotland

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Growing Brettanomyces Cultures, Let’s Get Inoculated.

The past few days have been pretty intense in the lab. There is lots of prep work that needs to be done: autoclaving different medias to grow cells up on, pouring differential plates for strain analysis, making solutions, etc. A few set backs have pushed my start up date back a little, but now I should be all ready to roll tomorrow.

The assay I’m working with was originally developed for studying premature yeast flocculation, or PYF. This phenomenon causes some yeasts to randomly fall out of solution before primary fermentation is finished causing residual sugars to remain in solution, and possible off-flavor development. Some believe that PYF is caused by a fungal infection which begins in the germination process as a result of excessively high CO2 exposure, but thats another story for a different day. This assay has been subsequently accepted as the standard for comparing yeast fermentability characteristics by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC).

Like I said before I’ll be using a few different yeasts in my project this semester. Wyeast Laboratories in Oregon have graciously provided both a Brettanomyces lambicus and a Brettanomyces bruxellensis strain. In addition, I’ll be using additional B. lambicus and B. bruxellensis strains of my own. Finally as a control I’ll be using an American Ale yeast.


Plating and Propagation:

So far all strains have seemed to grow very well on YPD plates, which use dextrose as a sugar source. For the YPD plates I use in this project, I follow this recipe:

10 g/L Yeast Extract

20 g/L Bacteriological Peptone

20 g/L D-glucose

1.2 % w/v technical agar.


These plates seem to support good, rapid growth of both Brettanomyces and Saccharomyces strains


Shows good development of colonies after 5 days of growth.

Good development of colonies after 5 days of growth at 25 C.


The assay begins with a step up propagation in YPD broth. Initially 3-5 single colonies are removed from the streak plates like those above and are used to inoculate 50 mL of YPD broth in a 125-mL Erlenmeyer flask. This flask is grown on an orbital shaker at 100 rpm at 25 C for 24 hours, at which point the cells are centrifuged, washed, and used to inoculate a two more 250-mL flasks containing 100 mL YPD broth at a cell density of 1.5 million cells/mL. These flasks are again placed in a shaker for another 24 hours. At this point I’ll have enough cells to pitch into my test tubes.


Pulling colonies off of YPD plates for inoculation into propagation media.

Pulling colonies off of YPD plates for inoculation into propagation media.


Some things to consider:

Very little research has been done on primary fermentation of Brettanomyces. I’m hoping to look at the effects of dissolved oxygen, initial pH, growth medium, and propagation time as potential parameters for my growth trials. Brettanomyces is a notoriously slow fermenter, but with any luck maybe I’ll be able to figure out how to coax it along a bit more rapidly while retaining all the funky goodness this yeast brings to the table.




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And So It Begins…. Brettanomyces Fermentation Speed Analysis


This week has been a big one. I was finally able to get out of the library and into the lab to begin experiments for my dissertation. I’ll be working with several Brettanomyces yeasts this summer to determine if their primary fermentation kinetics mirror those of traditional ale and lager strains. My advisor, Dr. Alex Speers, has developed a miniature fermentation assay for determining fermentation speeds and modeling them with a “simple” logistical equation. Because Brettanomyces species are so, well… funky… I’m interested in seeing if they metabolize sugars in the same way that their more traditional counterparts have been shown to do. After the initial experiments are complete I should have enough data to show that they do ferment similarly to ale and lager strains, or if not, I’ll be able to create a new equation to describe the new fermentation model. The second step will be to monitor the change in fermentation as a function of changing pH, sugar polymerization number, available nitrogen, or maybe even the presence of Maillard reaction products.

While attending classes at Heriot-Watt University, I’ve been lucky enough to run the Alpha Project nano-brewery associated with The Hanging Bat Beer Cafe. It has been really helpful to experiment with the different brewing parameters we’re learning about in class and see how they affect the downstream product. In addition to running my own practical experiments in the brewhouse, I’ve also been able to help with food and whisky pairings, and give beer knowledge training sessions to staff and customers. It turns out I like to teach significantly more than I thought I would, it’s fun to turn people on to something you have real passion for.

Anyway, recently I’ve been experimenting with the practical aspects of both primary and secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces yeasts. My classmate, Jonathan Hamilton, and I collaborated on a Saison recipe that used citrusy hops, a shed load of seville orange zest, and was finished with a 16 week secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. It’s going on tap tonight at The Hanging Bat, I can’t wait. The other Brett project I have going at the moment is a 1.072 Belgian Pale Ale. This beer is fermented with a really nice Brettanomyces lambicus strain, that gives it a rich (but still subtle), cherry-pie-like aroma. This beer will be featured in a pairing event featuring 5 beers that I’ve brewed and 5 whiskies from Compass Box blending house. Should be crackin. I’ll keep you posted.

Be on the look out for more Brettanomyces related posts in the next few days!





Seven drams later, still not sure about Chinese White Spirits

The other night my classmates and I had the…ahem…pleasure… of taking part in an asian spirit tasting. This tasting was mainly examples of Chinese White Spirit (CWS), or Baijiu. My classmate, Chen, has connections with Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company (TTL) so he was able to get us a number of different examples to represent the style.

Taiwan has a population of about 24 million people and each year they consume 10 million liters of Chinese White Spirit and 18 million liters of whisky. This small country is the number six export market for Scotch Whisky, behind The United States, France, Singapore, Spain, and Germany. The whisky market in Taiwan is something of an anomaly as the sales are almost an even split between blended and single malt products. This is heavily contrasted with the world market sales that sit in the neighborhood of around 9:1 blended to single malt.

Chinese White Spirit is consumed primarily by the older generations, however, major producers have been aggressively marketing towards younger markets. Traditionally, Chinese White Spirit is a major part of New Year celebrations, business dealings, and family-oriented events.


Chinese White Spirit Production


I found CWS production fascinating. The process is something of a mix between Belgian lambic and traditional whisky fermentations. Several different bacterial species are used during the production including Aspergillus sp., and Lactobacillus sp. as well as several yeast species namely Saccharomyces and Brettanomyces.

 Fermentation begins with the creation of a cake. A wheat cake. This cheese-wheel-looking mass is seeded with Aspergillus oryzae. This breaks down the starch for fermentation by other microbes later on in the process. Second, ground sorghum is cooked to provide additional starch for fermentation. Once cool, the sorghum is mixed with the wheat cake additional yeast and bacterial cultures to create a fermentation “substrate.” This substrate is fermented in open concrete pits for 1-4 weeks at ambient temperature.

Distillation is carried out in a still roughly resembling a stainless steel pressure cooker. Very little, if any, copper seemed to be used in this process. The first portion of distilled liquid, the heads, the main portion of liquid, or hearts, and the final portion of liquid, the tails, are all collected and stored separately. Maturation takes place in 300-400 L clay pots, during which time 5-8% of the spirit evaporates per year. Blending is accomplished by combining hearts with portions of heads and tails to create the desired flavor profile. Age statements are indicative of the age of the heart portion of the spirit.

There are a number of differences in CWS examples depending on the region or origin. Each spirit is described by one of six characteristic flavors: soy-sauce-like, mature-rich, light-fragrant, rice-honey, herbal-rooty, xi-feng (sweet/sour/spicy).

Here are some of my tasting notes:  

Dram #1:


The Original Cellar, 5yo

52% abv

Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company



Nose: Nail Polish, flowers, EARTH

Taste: “this is what the Earth would taste like at 52% abv.”

Finish: smooth


Very interesting first taste of this style. Big nail polish remover aroma, combined with fresh cut flowers, and earthy undertone. For all the abrasive flavors and aromas, this thing finishes butter smooth. Would not have another.


Dram #2:


The Original Cellar, 8yo

52% abv

Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Company



Nose: perfume, very much like single grain Scotch Whisky

Taste: very sweet, viscous, same earthy undertone

Finish: Like butter


This is packaged in a nice looking ceramic bottle. Ceramic is associated with premium quality in the this culture I’m told. On the bottle is a picture of Jade Mountain the highest peak in Taiwan. This is much more drinkable than the first sample. Tasty.


Dram #3:


Mao Tai, 1yo

Mountain Jade

Soy Sauce Style

Unknown abv



Nose: sour apple jolly ranchers, sweet, wow…

Taste: viciously sweet

Finish: cloying


I am told there was no added sugar to this but I’m skeptical. The Mao Tai style is beloved by older generations. 99% of Mao Tai from the original distillery goes directly to the Chinese government, making this a rare experience for us.


Dram #4:


Apex of Jade, 16yo

Fragrant/mature style

52% abv



Nose: somewhere between sour apple (#3) and perfume (#2).

Taste: earthy dirt, peachy, fruity

Finish: smooth


I enjoyed this quite a bit. This is packaged in a clear glass bottle, resembling a premium vodka. The price of this bottle sits at around 190 GBP or 313 USD, however, more intricate ceramic bottles will fetch a price of nearly 800 GBP or 1,320 USD. Would not ever pay that much for this…

 Final Impressions

 Chinese white spirits are markedly different from any western spirit I’ve ever had. Heavily dominated by medicinal, earthy, and sometimes cloyingly sweet flavors, these are not for the feint of heart. Seven drams of 52% alcohol spirit will leave anyone foggy in the morning, but I felt like the highly congeneric nature of these particular drams made me feel especially rough. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around paying 1320 USD for a bottle of this stuff, but would happily sip on a dram if it was presented to me.



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Baked trout with thyme and blue juniper.

Lisa and I were feeling like we needed some fish in our lives the other night. I picked up these Scottish trout fillets from the Tesco down the street to throw in the oven. With a little creativity and some left over ingredients from nights passed, we were able to make something pretty spectacular with little to no effort.

Super easy baked trout:

250 g trout fillets

a handful of fresh thyme sprigs

1.5 Tbsp crushed blue juniper berries

6 slices lemon

salt, pepper, evoo

Assemble all ingredients in an aluminum foil pouch, bake at around 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until the fish becomes flakey and delicious.


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We got a Randall… Welcome to Flavor Country.

The Hanging Bat recently acquired a shiny new Dogfish-Head-made randall the enamel animal. This is a device which runs beer through a bed of fresh hops totally infusing the beer before being dispensed through the draft tap. I’ve worked with models in the past that have had serious foam problems. I can say though, that I was seriously impressed with how well this worked. The randall works with a two chamber set-up: a bed of hops, and a ice-cooled defoaming chamber. 

We had a Day of IPA at The Bat recently. What a better day to unveil our new hop toy? I brewed a 6.25% New Zealand IPA just for the occasion. On the night of the event we pushed the beer through Wakatu and Dr. Rudi hops. Wow, big flavor. Very…wet-hoppy. But pleasant! 


Here it is all ready to dispense:



I can’t wait to get a little weird with it. Strawberry, mint saison? Raspberry vanilla Hefeweizen? Who knows.. no rules. It’s kind of like the Thunder Dome. 

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I’m going, going, back, back to Caley, Caley.

Couldn’t resist the Notorious reference there. It’s been too long since FRH has had an update! So much has been going on lately, I’ve been buried with end of term assignments, “field trips,” and I’ve always gotta eat.

First up: The Caledonian Brewery

The Caley Brewery as it’s affectionately known around here was first established in 1869. The victorian-era brewing kit is still inside. Large 70 barrel direct-fired copper brew kettles equipped with internal calandrias. Very cool.


We stopped by the brewery after class, partly to listen to a presentation from Heineken on Total Product Management but mostly because of the open bar and tell of free meat pies. The tour ended up being my favorite part of the whole evening. Open square fermenters, whole leaf hops, old school cask operations. It was great.


Here’s an open top fermenter. You can see the krausen line where the yeast climbed the walls during the height of fermentation. The darker parallel lines show where the glycol chilling tubes run through the fermenter.


The Caledonian uses whole leaf hops in their operation. Here’s Archie and Theo rubbing some Super Styrian hops. They smelled exactly like watermelon jolly ranchers. So sticky… they turned my hands bright green. After the tour we headed over to The Diggers. A proper old man’s drinking pub. They have a “Summer Whisky Festival” that runs all year round, 35 whiskies that go for 2.50 GBP for 35 mL. Pretty good deal…

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The Most Delicious Sour Beer and Quinoa Salad

This is Lisa’s blog, and another great one to follow!

Athens of the North

Dating a brewer is pretty great — I highly recommend it. Not only do you get to learn about beer types and how they are made, but you also get to taste an expansive range of unique, expensive, and mouthwatering brews with a beer coach right by your side. Isaac has been coaching me in the beauty of beer for almost two years and I can say with confidence that I am his most dedicated and accomplished student.

Last night we went to a small home “tasting” event in Morningside, which, as expected, turned out to be a great opportunity to strengthen my beer knowledge and try many new beers. The highlight of my night was the Caractère Rouge from the Rodenbach Brewery in Roeselare, Belgium. The Rouge is a sour red/brown beer that puts all the other sour beers I’ve tried and slowly sipped into distant memory. This is what a sour…

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