how to find young red belgian? beer, that is.
February 1, 2007 5:29 PM   Subscribe

i need to find a "fresh" bottle of chimay red, so i can harvest the yeast for a wicked-awesome batch of homebrew. problem is, i'm in d.c...

all the shops i've called tell me that from their inventory systems they're at least 6 months old. i've already chugged through tried to harvest yeast sediment from three bottles, to no avail. they were all well over 6 months old (which can be affirmed via the date-stamp on the cork...which is conveniently located under the metal cage-cap).

the word on the homebrewing street holds that i need something younger than 3 months. is that even possible, from belgium to d.c.? without an understanding of the shipping/distribution network that supplies this crappy city, i need a tip for finding the young stuff. (my strategy thus far has been to ask shop-owners how fast they turn over their inventory. it seems that even the quick-turnover shops are getting product somewhat old). help me, hive mind!

where in the d.c. metro area, or online, can i go for chimay that's 'young in the bottle'?
posted by garfy3 to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe someone could overnight you a bottle of the fresh stuff from belgium. No idea if that's legal or how expensive it would be.
posted by dcjd at 6:11 PM on February 1, 2007

There are a couple of places that have Chimay on tap -- I think Matchbox near Metro Center does. Maybe they can help you out. Also, perhaps a bar like RFD or Rathskeller that moves a lot of beer would have a fresher batch than a store.
posted by cgs06 at 6:20 PM on February 1, 2007

This started out as a question, not an answer, but I've done some googling.

First, I'm curious - surely yeast should survive quite happily in the bottle for 6 months, so how are you resuscitating yours? Is it possible something else is going on (like it's dead before it enters the distribution chain)?

Second, I found this page (search for chimay) which suggests that you may have a straight commercial yeast that's been added for the second fermentation.

Third, from there I jumped here, which says you need Wyeast strain 1214. Wyeast don't sell to end-users as far as I can tell, but their website says they can help you find a supplier in your area.
posted by Leon at 6:21 PM on February 1, 2007

Younger bottles should give you better results, but you should be able to start even a year old bottle. You might need to do a two step starter - first one starter, and then dump that into a new starter - being very careful with sanitation both times.
posted by caddis at 6:29 PM on February 1, 2007

Have you tried The Wine Specialist in Georgetown? Ask for Tim, the resident beer guy. He's impressed me by how willing he's been to place special orders and call me when things come in. And I have no connection with them other than happily buying lots of booze there.
posted by peeedro at 6:54 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: Leon: i've read that there are at least 4 or 5 different strains of yeast in the Chimay, and the issue of culturing from an old bottle is that you'll end up with a batch of yeast consisting only of the longest-living/best-traveling one. so the younger bottle is purported to contain more living organisms of the full array of yeasts. (this may or may not be are so many things in homebrew lore).

caddis: i've done three separate pint-sized starter batches from yeast slurry of different 750ml bottles, all between 6-8 months old. after leaving them for a minimum of 15 days, nothing. it leaves me wondering if the bottles might be over-exposed to temperature extremes or ultraviolet light or something on their journey? no idea, but if i could crack it with an old bottle, that would be a start in the right direction.
posted by garfy3 at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2007

Could one of your shops put you in touch with their distributor? My guess is that the distributor is part of the 6-month time lag, but maybe they'd send you a fresh bottle if the ones they get from Belgium are new enough.

Or maybe a Mefite in Belgium will read this and ship you one!
posted by altcountryman at 7:02 PM on February 1, 2007

Harvesting bottle yeast is a romantic idea. You absolutely should do it, no doubt about it. But honestly, for a Chimay clone, you don't have to. Read Brew Like a Monk. Leon is right by the way - Wyeast 1214 is Chimay.

If you still insist on harvesting your own, I would actually recommend you start with a bottle (or many bottles) of Chimay White instead of Red. It's the same yeast, but the beer is lower in alcohol, so the yeast should have a little more vitality. Make your starter wort with S.G. around 1.040. Use a liberal amount of yeast nutrient and don't forget to aerate (use pure O2 or shake the starter vessel every time you see it). You will want to step this starter up, several times, before you finally get to a pitchable amount.

Are you sure your 15-day pint starters really did nothing? It very well may have started fermenting, but you are starting with such a small amount of yeast that it may have been barely discernable. If you can see even the slightest layer on the bottom, decant the top off, and step it up (with your new batches, not the old ones.. they're probably too old at this point).

Good luck!
posted by jclovebrew at 7:12 PM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

By the way, this place, in DC, seems promising.
posted by jclovebrew at 7:17 PM on February 1, 2007

Garfy: I would think that unlikely, as the strain most suited to the environment would quickly end up dominating. But I know almost nothing about this stuff, so take that with a giant pinch of salt.
posted by Leon at 7:17 PM on February 1, 2007

Best answer: I've used Wyeast 1214, the results are very chimay like. What was most remarkable is how long it took the flavor to mature. It's been a while, but I know I tasted it after what I thought was a good long time, and it still tasted disgustingly banana-y. Can't remember if it improved before I bottled, but when I finally tried it months later, the banana was pretty much gone and it was delightfully spicy.
posted by Good Brain at 7:38 PM on February 1, 2007

I'll be going to Maryland Homebrew this weekend. Lemme know if you want me to pick something up for you.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:54 PM on February 1, 2007

I have harvested yeast out of my own homebrews far older than six months. Perhaps there is something about the Chimay. I have harvest Chimay yeast, but I have no idea of the age. It went quite easily. There are so many great Belgian beers available these days, why not try a different brand. The stock of Chimay in your area may all be somehow ruined for this. How about a nice Duvel?
posted by caddis at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2007

Response by poster: jclovebrew: thanks for the wyeast tip, as well as the chimay white recommendation. i could probably do a better job of dialing in the specific gravity of my starters...that might be a source of the problem (i think they're a little 'thick').

oh, and chevy chase liquors is exactly the place i spoke with a guy about the timing of their inventory, and he laughed at my request to get something less than a few months old. they do seem to have a pretty good turn over rate, but it seems the distribution system (byzantine, at best) only grants them access to older bottles.

leon: i seem to know less than i thought about this stuff. but hey, it's beer! i'm interested to see what happens with a straight bottle-brew just for shits-and-giggles (and quite possibly science).

MrMoonPie: got lost somewhere in columbia trying to find that place a couple weeks ago--and when i finally found it, i was impressed with the volume of key gear they stock. thanks for the quite generous offer, but i think on this round i've committed to a (perhaps foolish) attempt to doctor this clone-brew from the bottle-dregs. if things aren't bubbling in a couple weeks, i might be headed up there myself to pick up some wyeast mysetf!
posted by garfy3 at 8:30 PM on February 1, 2007

Best answer: i think they're a little 'thick

oh, that is big. When the yeast are frail you want weak starters. You always want weaker starters than the real brew, as it promotes stronger yeast, but when the yeast are weak do not overwhelm them with too much food. I would shoot for 1.035. I hope it is that simple, otherwise it looks like a road trip is in your future.
posted by caddis at 9:41 PM on February 1, 2007

Best answer: Brew Like A Monk does indeed say that Wyeast 1214 (and White Labs WLP500) was sourced from Chimay. However, it also cautions that you that "while Wyeast may have kept its 1214 much the same in the twenty years since it was taken from Chimay, Chimay's itself has likely changed."

You'll also need to use a Chimay-like mashing and fermentation regime to get anything like Chimay's house flavour. Ferment at typical ale temps (65oF - 75oC) and you can expect phenolic and fruit characters. However, you'll need to go 75oF - 85oF to get the bubblegum, banana and rose notes associated with Chimay. Brew Like A Monk says that Chimay Red's yeast is pitched at 68oF, and rises to 81-82oF for 4-5 days. The beer is centrifuged, and stored for 3 days at 32oF. It is refermented in the bottle with sugar and the primary strain. Apparently primary fermentation could run away to 93oF before the brewery improved its temperature control.

In case somebody comes here in future looking for commercial equivalents of Belgian yeast strains:

Chimay: Wyeast 1214, White Labs WLP500
Rochefort: Wyeast 1762, White Labs WLP540
Achouffe: Wyeast 3522, White Labs WLP550
Westmalle: Wyeast 3787, White Labs WLP530
Unibroue: Wyeast 3864
Duvel: Wyeast 1388, White Labs WLP570
Corsendonk-Bocq: Wyeast 3538
Orval: White Labs WLP510
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:28 AM on February 2, 2007

Trader Joe's carries Chimay, and I'd be surprised if their stock sits for months.
posted by NortonDC at 5:45 AM on February 2, 2007

Might want to check Corridor Fine Wine in Laurel, MD. Yeah, its a hike for you but they have an excellent beer selection and may have some young Chimay.
posted by nineRED at 5:54 AM on February 2, 2007

Wyeast don't sell to end-users as far as I can tell

Of course they do. As plenty others have alluded to, any homebrew shop has a fine selection of Wyeasts, and most will stock 1214.
posted by norm at 7:05 AM on February 2, 2007

Have you called Lost Dog in Arlington (or maybe it's Falls Church, Northern Virginia confuses me)? They have a small area offering a wide variety of European beers, and I bet their turnover is pretty high (b/c there's never one or two six-packs/bottles of a given beer on the shelf at the same time)
posted by echo0720 at 7:24 AM on February 2, 2007

never MORE THAN one two six packs/bottles...
posted by echo0720 at 7:25 AM on February 2, 2007

Response by poster: caddis: thanks for the starter tip. i think i might try one of the older bottles available using a much "thinner" starter.

obiwanwasabie: excellent run down on the wyeast varieties! i'll probably pick up a 1214 to use as a back up.

thanks all! if all goes well, look back here for a tasting update in a couple months.
posted by garfy3 at 12:36 PM on February 3, 2007

What excellent information in this thread. Obiwanwasabi is particularly awesome.

Just wanted to chime in about Wyeast. I've never used Wyeast 1214, but I've used plenty of their other yeasts and always had tip top results. Really excellent - they are definitely a class act. When I used to brew beer I used to obsess about the other ingredients but after my first few batches I never worried about the Wyeast, I knew it was going to come through.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2007

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