In preparation for our Memorial Day brewing session, I went to MyLHBS to get supplies.
When I arrived, I remembered that they were promoting the new White Labs PurePitch FlexCell containers this weekend with a special price and free tee-shirt or hat. I picked up two packets of the White Labs WLP001 California Ale to mix up a starter for a 10-gallon 1.055 OG batch of IPA.
I’m on the fence about these PurePitch packets. Obviously the old white labs vials were wasteful, and I was told that retailers universally hated dealing with the vials as they were difficult to display, stock and manage mostly due to their shape. Another odd detail I learned was that the vials are really just soda bottle blanks that have not been heat-expanded into their final shape. Still, they were easy to pitch into flasks and could be turned into fun tap handles once cleaned. In general, I preferred them to the Wyeast smack packs, but generally still bought Wyeast since it was fresh and plentiful.
The PurePitch packets are an obvious improvement from an environmental concern, and I suspect retailers will end up liking them even more than Wyeast since they occupy even less shelf space. Ditching the vials is just a smart business move all around.
White Labs claims that their new process will result in absolutely pure yeast grown in the final pitching packaging with no exposure to the environment. From a homebrewer’s perspective, I could care less since I expect any yeast I buy from a commercial outfit to be healthy and viable given proper storage and age. Anything they do on their end to make it easier to achieve is great, but the marketing materials really try to sell this as an innovation for consumers when it isn’t. There is the possibility that these new packets might be viable for longer periods, but again, given proper storage and age this really shouldn’t matter much to homebrewers. Perhaps it will make a difference for retailers if they’re able to maintain inventory for longer periods before instituting sales to clear out expiring stock.
So here are the minor gripes I have:
All the promotional materials still state “No starter is needed!” with the caveat of a 5-gallon batch up to 1.048 SG wort. Good old Mr. Malty sure seems to think that around 177 billion cells would be needed for this amount of wort and the PurePitch packet is capable of delivering only 100 billion. I’m not going to suggest this is intentionally deceptive, but instead is misleading information if we have faith in widely suggested pitching rates. It would be better if they simply stated the expected cell count and not provide official comment on how much homebrewers should and should not be pitching for a given batch. This is a case where it might be smarter to step aside and let retailers and homebrew forums argue pitching rates.
The packets are easier to pour than Wyeast, but not as easy as the old vials for me personally. Scissors need to be sanitized and the packet needs to be wiped down before cutting. While one packet cut just fine with no issues, the other was pressurized somehow and barfed out some yeast when I cut into it. It’s a minor gripe, but I don’t like losing precious yeast cells.
Finally, there’s a significant amount of thick trub-like material in the packets, yet the instructions on the packet do not mention what to do with this at all. Are homebrewers expected to squeeze this putty into their wort? Should it be left behind in the packet? Should it be massaged into suspension before delivery? I feel that if you’re going to stake a claim on how much yeast is appropriate to pitch, you should at least be a little bit more complete on your instructions for use.
Addendum: After buying a second pack, realized that there are instructions on the pack that suggest to mix up the mix well before opening. Guess I should pay more attention next time.
Further, there’s not much information online aside from some FAQs regarding the change in packaging. They really should have some instructional information posted online since these packets are already hitting retailers.
All that said, I like my free tee shirt and hat and I’ve got an active slurry churning away on my stir plate.
Here’s the White Labs promotional video below: