Mazers are a pretty adventurous bunch, but this article steps it up a notch. Here, I show you how to isolate your own house yeast from honey. Why? If the yeast survived pure honey, then logic dictates it will probably do well making mead. You also have bragging rights that you have a true mead yeast (unlike the wine yeast some companies sell as mead yeast...and still performs miserably).
This is definitely a trial and error process. Don't be surprised if it takes a few rounds to get a decent yeast!
1. Honey - The more fresh and raw, the better your chances. You can also mix multiple honeys to improve your chances of getting a viable yeast.
2. Jar with a lid - Mason jars are great for this.
3. Bottled spring water
4. Metal Flame loop - Amazon
5. Malt Extract Agar Plates - Amazon
6. Torch - Home improvement store
7. Fermaid O or K - www.morewinemaking.com
Making the Honey Bug
1. To a jar add the following:
-1/5 cup of honey from raw, fresh honey or a mixture of various honeys you have on hand.
-4/5 cup spring water
2. Mix until the honey is it solution completely. Loosely place the lid on top and store in a dark place. Swirl occasionally.
3. Wait for it to clear. This can take 2 days or a month. You will likely see filamentous fungi (mold) growing on top. This is normal. Do not throw it out no matter how nasty it looks!
4. Once clear, observe the bottom for a fluffy layer of yeast. If present, move to the next step. If there is no yeast or it hasn't cleared in a month, start over with a different honey or mixture of honeys. Your honey likely doesn't have viable yeast. If you are really into wild ferments, you can pitch at this stage for a batch of wild mead!
Single Yeast Isolation
1. Use the torch to get your flame loop red hot (use the lowest setting your torch can sustain to avoid destroying your loop). Pull the top mat of fungi to the side. Flame your loop again. Use the loop to get a small amount of yeast off the bottom.
2. Streak the multi-strain yeast mixture on a Malt Extract Agar plate using the four quadrant streak method (Instructions here).
3. Store plate at room temperature 24-48 hours. After, store in the refrigerator.
4. Yeast will appear as small white round colonies. You will likely see other contaminating microorganism such as fuzzy-looking filamentous fungi.
5. Pick one well isolated yeast colony and restreak on a new plate. Repeat until you only see one type of colony on the entire plate.
Honey Yeast Isolate Testing
1. Inoculate a small starter to test the characteristics of your new yeast as follows:
-1/5 cup honey
-4/5 cup spring water
-1/2 tsp Fermaid O or K
-1 colony of your honey yeast isolate. Use the pre-flamed, pre-cooled loop for this.
2. After a week, taste for any extremely off flavors. Some yeast are naturally unsuitable and produce rancid flavors. Others are spot on. I even have one yeast that smells like honey on the plate!
3. If the characteristics are good, inoculate a larger batch. If not, start over.
4. Bank the yeast in a yeast bank for long term storage (See Yeast Bank article).