Area breweries like Bluejacket, Pen Druid, and Wheatland Spring know this, which is why they’ve set up coolships, large horizontal tanks semi-exposed to the elements, to harvest that sweet, sweet free yeast. So can you.
How to kick Big Yeast to the curb
- Get a jar or pitcher or vase or anything big enough to hold two cups of flour and two cups of water. Whole wheat is better for catching yeast, but no matter, white should work, too. Add a cup of flour and a cup of water to your vessel and stir.
- Put a paper towel over the top and hold that towel in place with a rubber band. Lucky enough to have a balcony or yard and want to put it outside? Go for it. But worry not, there’s ambient yeast in your kitchen, too, and it’ll find that mixture and start to innoculate.
- You have a new pet! You’ll have to “feed” that starter by adding a little bit more flour and water each day. Maybe a ¼ cup’s worth of each and give it another stir.
- Between days three and five you should see some bubbling. That’s wild yeast and bacterias “eating” the flour and pooping out carbon dioxide, just like in beer.
Congrats, you’ve just made a sourdough starter!
Wanna get real fancy? Maybe you have a bottle-conditioned beer in your fridge. The bottom of that bottle has yeast in it. Check the beer label or look it up online to see if you’ve got one. Belgian and Belgian-stye ales are often bottle-conditioned, and so is Port City’s entire portfolio. Skip the wild inoculation and dump the beer dregs into the flour and water mixture. Or do both, and have yourself an even more mixed fermentation starter.
When you get tired of feeding this beast, do what I do with my pets and put it in the fridge (note: do not put your cat in the fridge, but if you have a pet tuatara, go for it). You’ve just “cold crashed” the yeast. You’re practically a home-brewer now! And just like a home-brewer, you won’t shut the fuck up about what you just made. You created life from nothing, you monster! (Technically, you are the doctor and the yeast is your monster, pedants.)
Those guezes and lambics you love so much, they have terroir, a sense of place thanks to the mixture of yeasts and bacteria floating about the Pajottenland and the Senne River Valley, and so does your sourdough starter, only in this case the sense of place is your galley kitchen in Petworth or fourth-floor balcony in Arlington. Which is fine, since you can’t go anywhere else anyway. Ahhh, the taste of the old country!
From there, the world is your yeasty proverbial oyster. Follow whatever recipes you want. Bread? Waffles? Pancakes? All three? Why fucking not, you’ve got nowhere to go.