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How do I make a yeast starter?

There are several things that you can do to help your beer turn out better, but one of the easiest things you can do is make a yeast starter. What is a yeast starter exactly? Well a yeast starter is a “mini” batch of beer that you make in order to allow your yeast to reproduce and become active. This allows you to pitch active and healthy yeast directly into your beer instead of yeast that have been dormant for a long time. By doing this, you cut down on your lag time between when the yeast first enters the wort and the time that it begins to eat the sugars. This limits the chances of other critters who like beer to get a head start. It can also allow you to ferment fuller and cleaner. You can read more about this from Mr. Malty along with information of proper pitching rates.

For my yeast start I use a 1:4 ratio of dry malt extract to water. I generally use 1/2 cup of dried malt extract and two cups of water. From there I boil it for 15 minutes and then cool it quickly. You can put a tiny amount of hops in or leave it without hops. In either case, your sanitation needs to be stellar. Remember these yeast are going to go in your final beer. I use a growler with an screw on cap and an airlock to pour my wort into (once properly cleaned and sanitized). From there I pitch my yeast in and give it 2-4 days to ferment. Make sure you plan your brew days ahead if you are going to do this. You should wind up with something that looks similar to the image below:

A quick recap

  • 1/2 cup of DME
  • 2 cups of water
  • Boil for 15 minutes
  • Cool quickly and place into (sanitized!)  growler
  • Aerate your wort
  • Pitch yeast into wort
  • Seal container with airlock
  • Give 2-4 days and then pitch into brew day wort (more…)

Belgian Tripel update

08-09-02The Belgian Tripel is fermenting away and is my most active fermentation to date. Most of my brews go crazy for a day and a half and then the bubble subside and the yeast start working on all of the tough sugars left. The Tripel on the other hand, has been bubbling like crazy for the past two days and shows no signs of stopping.

What I generally do with my brews is take a clear bottle and put a small sample of wort into it. I then seal it up with a rubble stopper and airlock. Of course all of this is sanitized. I do this for two reasons, the first of which being that I can see what is going on in the fermenter on a small scale because it is all based off of the same wort and yeast in the larger fermenter. The second is that I don’t have to waste wort getting samples out and don’t have to risk contamination in doing so. My refractomer only requires a few drops of wort, so it does not make sense to open up the whole thing to get a little bit out. You can read more about my “mini fermenter” here.

08-09-01

When I first put the wort in the mini fermenter I noticed some seperation happening towards the bottom. I believe that it was the wheat malt dropping out and some of the reminents from the hop pellets. When I check the mini fermenter today there was no sediment at the bottom. There was a very active fermentation going on, almost violent. I was and still am thrilled that the fermentation seems to getting along so well with my concerns about the yeast. As of this morning, the fermentation seems to have peeked and the bubbles as coming to a slow (but the violence happening in the bottle is the same). I still haven’t taken any gravity readings yet but that should be coming along soon. I want to wait for all of the activity on the top to subside before doing so. I’ll update in a few days on the progress of the beer.

Mini fermenter

09-03-20-01So I finally got tired of opening my buckets to take hydrometer reader (actually I use a refractormeter). I got smart and made a mini fermenter to show me what is going on in the real fermeter. The main reason I would do this is becasue I don’t want to rely on airlock activity to be a measure of my fermentation progress. I want to take gravity readings.

The first step in making on of these things is the equipment. You need a bottle, preferably clear, a drilled stopper, and an airlock. You sanitize everything the same as you would you fermenter. When your wort is put into your fermenter and combined with yeast, you take a small sample (only a few ounces) and put it into the bottle. Now you have a mini batch taken from your larger one. It is the exact same thing, and if you keep it in the same storage, it should produce the same results.

Why would you want to do this. If you are working with a plastic bucket or a carboy, it can be a pain to keep reaching into your fermenting beer to grab a sample. You run the risk of infection every time you touch it. Also, you take from the main fermenter, you can’t put your sample back into the beer. Making a small version you don’t have to worry about wasting any beer as you can use the same sample over and over since you will never be drinking it.

Another nice thing is that you can visually see what is going on; if you are not using carboy this can be a real advantage. There are a few problems with this method however. The biggest being that a small sample of liquid reacts much quicker to temperature changes then a large sample of liquid. This can increase or decrease your actual fermentation process. I think getting gravity readings this way is a good way to go and you can leave your beer alone while still knowing what’s going on inside.

SB Birthday Beer

09-02-16-01One of my dear friends is turning 21 soon and she asked if I could make a homemade beer for her. Naturally I was thrilled that someone other than my roommate and I wanted to drink my beer, so I accepted the challenge. She is a big tea freak and wanted some tea flavor in the beer. I decided that a wheat beer would be ideal for a tea flavored beer. Wheat beers carry a lot of complex flavors that I thought would compliment the beer nicely.

I made a trip out to my homebrew store last week and got all of the necessary supplies. Below is a list of everything I picked up:

  • 3 pounds American 2-Row Pale malt
  • 3 pounds Wheat malt
  • 1 pound 60 Crystal malt
  • 1 oz Saaz hops (3.6%)
  • 1 tube liquid American Hefeweizen Ale yeast

I know that most wheat beers generally have a 50% wheat grain bill, but I wanted to make this an amber colored wheat beer and the homebrew store was running a bit low on wheat malt. This is supposed to make about 4 gallons worth of beer. I started my mash trying to get the grains to 110 degrees for 15 minutes, then 125 degrees for 15 minutes, and then finally 153 degrees for 45 minutes. All of these different temperatures are an attempt to release different characteristics from the wheat.

I boiled for the normal 60 with a half ounce of the Saaz going for the full boil and the other half ounce going for the last 15. I took the beer off the burner and put two teabags into wort leaving them there for only a minute or so. the  Everything went well and I cooled down the wort and pitched the yeast. The next day I took a look at my airlock and bubbles were firing away.

09-02-17-02I was unsure of the tea she wanted to use when I got my supplies. The day before brew day she gave me Chi Tea. I’m not a big tea guy so I made up a cup and found it to be very gingery. Not something I would put with a wheat beer with hefeweizen yeast. That’s the reason for such a short time in wort. I think the Chi would of gone great with a winter warmer type beer as the flavors are those I typically taste in a winter beer. At first glance I achieved an effieceny of 75% from my batch sparge and we are looking at an ABV of 4.3%. I’m pretty happy with that and I’m looking forward to trying this beer as it ages through and finally is ready to drink out of a bottle on her birthday in March.