How to Store Grain, Hops, and Yeast
You did a bulk buy with friends, but you were a little more ambitious than you actually have time to brew, or maybe you had the time set aside and now you do not. Maybe you really found an awesome deal? When times present themselves, I always advise to bulk buy. This is an excellent way to save money in the long run. Re-harvesting yeast, growing your own hops, and bulk buying grain are all fantastic ways to keep costs low while still brewing high quality beers. But what do you do with all of the ingredients once you have them? Will they stay fresh on their own? How do you store them to maximize the amount of time you will have in between each brew? How long do the ingredients last when stored properly? Let’s take a look at each ingredient individually to see how exactly to store them, and the amount of time you can expect them to store for.
In my opinion, grain is pretty simple to store. You need a storage device and a cool/dry location to place it. A container that can keep bugs, air, light, and moisture out would be recommended. Now everything else depends on what you want. Do you want the best possible solution? An air-tight container would be ideal. Dog food containers (the expensive air-tight ones) work really well for grain storage. I have found two containers that I personally like to use. I use either the Rubbermaid style bins (I get mine from Home Depot) or you can split your grain into several 5-gallon buckets. I found that lots of places that use any type of “icing” such as donut shops, bakeries, etc. have plenty of these that they will give to you if you call and ask. You can buy a “Gamma” lid for them for a relatively cheap price. Those lids are what make those buckets “air-tight”. They are nice and easy, and basically create a 5 gallon bucket lid with a rubber seal. I always go with either the 1 or 2 grade plastic buckets. That means it is either grade 1 - PET plastic or grade 2 - HDPE, neither of which are permeable to air (think PET carboy here if you have ever used one.) Any of the other plastic grades 3+ can leak air into the bucket. You can tell which grade of plastic it is by looking at the recycle symbol stamped into the bucket. Inside of the stamp it will have a number that indicates the type of material used. The ideal temperatures for grain storage are between 50 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and un-milled grain stored under these conditions is usually good for a year.
Malt Extracts (Dry, and Liquid Syrup)
Extracts are easily stored at home as well. Liquid Malt Extract should stay in the container in which it came in, and needs to be stored in a cool/dry place between 50 – 70 degrees. This is the same as bulk grain. Liquid Malt Extract will last up to 2 years in the unopened container. If you did a bulk buy, and have cracked the seal then it will only last up to 3 months. It can start growing mold and getting funky around that time, so use it up! Finally, Dry Malt Extract can last around a year in the original container. The container just needs to be air-tight sealed and away from light sources. Same 50 – 70 degree temperature ranges apply.
Hops were the biggest challenge for me. I found that there are two ways to keep hops as fresh as possible. By placing them in a plastic bag or container with as little air as possible, and then storing them in the freezer. The colder the freezer, the better! I have one of those awesome Food Savers, which works wonders. Depending on the hop variety, quantity, if they are fresh or pellets, and how full my freezer is currently; that is how I know which method to employ. First method is simple and quick. Firstly, pull out a Food Saver bag, plop the hops in the bag, suck the air out and then throw them in the freezer. Method number two is a little more expensive. When using home grown hops I tend to pull out a mason jar, gently place the hops in the jar, and use the air-removing attachment for mason jars. Then I place the jar in the freezer. The advantage to the second method is, before they freeze completely, they are not going to get squished by other items in the freezer that someone else in your household may toss on top of them. Hops will last this way for 1-2+ years in the freezer.
Yeast is fairly simple. Leave it in the fridge. If you are re-harvesting your own yeast then you just have to make sure that it is in a sanitary container and kept cold until it is ready to be thrown into a starter. Keep in mind that yeast looses viability over time, so be sure to use a yeast calculator to determine how many viable cells you have left before you pitch.