Harvesting Heady: Culturing the Conan Yeast from the Alchemist’s Heady Topper

Heady Topper CansBeing on located on the West Coast, Heady Topper is a beer that we don’t often see out here. And when I say not often, I basically mean NEVER. Anyhow, through some undisclosed sources and the workings of the interwebs, we were able to get our hands on not one, but two cans of Heady Topper.

So to begin the process, we started by enjoying our Heady Topper. Being a West Coast IPA drinker, I have to admit, this beer was far different than the IPAs that I am used to. I think the a lot of the difference came in the fact that it was unfiltered, where as most IPAs that I enjoy are all filtered (Firestone Union Jack, Pliny the Elder, Green Flash West Coast IPA). That aside, the beer was different and interesting. So much so that we decided we’d try to harvest the infamous “Conan” yeast.

Here’s our general procedure leading up to today.

Prior to pouring the beer, we sanitized the rim of the can. After pouring the beers (no, we did not drink it from the can as directed), we left approximately an inch of beer at the bottom of the can (1-2oz), we covered each in sanitized foil and let them sit out at room temperature as we went on with our brew day (we brewed an imperial red ale).

The cans sat out for approximately 8 hours before we finally got around to sanitizing a flask and making a starter. I doubt this is common practice or procedure, but I didn’t let that stop me from trying to harvest and grow the Conan yeast.

We read a few other blogs and forum posts about harvesting Conan yeast prior to starting this experiment, and the recommendations ranged from starters of 150mL up to about 400mL and an OG of 1.015 up to 1.040. We ended up starting on the low end of each of those and created a 200mL starter with an OG of 1.020.

Once the starter was made and cooled, we poured the remnants of the two cans of Heady Topper into the flask and put it on a stir plate. The total volume of the starter between the starter and the beer that we poured in was 400mL.

Conan yeast harvesting - Day 1

Conan yeast harvesting – Day 1

24 Hour Update

After 24 hours on the stir plate, there appeared to be some activity, so we let it continue, 36 hours in it was about the same – still seemed to be producing some CO2 bubbles.

The next step will be to cold crash and decant some of the starter wort off the top. Once that is complete, we’ll add a bit more starter wort at a slightly higher gravity this time. Considering the first starter was so small, we may just create the 400mL starter and pour it on top if the existing one rather than cold crashing and decanting.

36 Hour Update

After 36 hours, the small starter still seemed to be active, so we decided to let it keep going. The activity in the flask appeared to be the same as it had been 12 hours prior, so we so no reason to stop a good thing.

48 Hour Update

A full 2 days after creating the original low gravity starter, it still appeared to be active and going at a good rate. We decided that rather than cold crashing and decanting the used starter wort, we’d just add some new starter wort to the existing flask. We boiled a small batch of wort, 400mL at 1.030 OG, cooled it and added it to the flask. Our new volume inside the flask was approximately 800mL.

60 Hour Update

12 hours after adding additional wort to the starter, we began to see increased activity. There was a solid 1/2″ layer of krausen on top and there seemed to be a large amount of activity.

72 Hour Update

More of the same. Starter looked almost identical to how it appeared 12 hours earlier. Active and going.

84 Hour Update

The stir plate still had a nice vortex going, but the yeast had begun to flocculate. It had begun to clump together and the layer of krausen that had been there 12 hours prior had begun to dissipate. At this point, we decided to put it in the fridge – 3 1/2 days in from creating the initial starter. 30 minutes after putting it into the fridge, there was a very visible layer of yeast that had settled to the bottom of the flask.

Conan yeast harvesting - Day 4

Conan yeast harvesting – Day 4

Day 4 Update

After the 4th day, we pulled the flask out of the fridge and decanted as much as possible. At this point, there was enough yeast in the flask (in our opinion) to make a full 1 liter starter, so that’s what we did. We combined approximately 4 cups of water with 1 cup of DME. Boiled it, cooled it and added it into the flask. Amazing how active the Conan yeast is, it immediately became active and within 1 hour, there was a noticeable layer of krausen on top.

Final Results
After our last step up, we put the yeast into the fridge for a couple days. I would have preferred not to do this, but I didn’t have time to get it transferred into small jars when it had finished fermenting. Before transferring into mason jars, we boiled some water and cooled it in order to be sure that we’d have enough to fill each of the 12 mason jars. After adding the water to the yeast starter, we put it back on the stir plate for about 30 minutes to mix it up and then began transferring it to the mason jars.

So far, we’ve given away 4 of them and plan on keeping 4 for ourselves. That means we have 4 remaining. If you’d like a 4oz container of Heady Topper’s famous Conan Yeast, let us know in the comments below, or hit us up on social media. We’d be happy to share!

Note: This was simply an experiment to see if we could collect and grow yeast from a couple cans of Heady Topper. Though our methods may have been less than typical, we got results that we were happy with.

About Brendan

A self employed e-commerce developer, Brendan co-created PartsLogix. In his "free time", he coaches volleyball, enjoys homebrewing, mountain biking and hacking up golf courses. Connect with him on Google+ or Twitter.