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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…)

Homebrew carbonation problems

11-06-01I’ve brewed three batches of beer since I have been in Lubbock, Tx. Every single one of them has not had proper carbonation and it is starting to drive me nuts. The first two beers, Belgian Dubbel and Belgian Tripel, were both carbonated with carbonation drops. I put the proper amount, according to the packaging, into each bottle, but both are under-carbonated. The sad thing is that these styles of beer are supposed to be highly carbonated. They have nice flavor, just not enough of the bubbles.

For my Pumpkin Ale I went back to my old carbonation method, dry malt extract. It costs more than corn sugar and carbonation drops, and takes a bit longer, but I have always been happy with the results. As of right now it is more carbonated than the Belgian beers, but still not up to snuff.

I have been trying to think of reasons why my beers are not carbonating. I’ll say that I got a bad batch of carbonation drops or the packaging is wrong. The Dubbel is at 6% ABV and the Tripel at 9% ABV. I don’t think there is a problem with the yeast being tried and not fully carbonating. The Pumpkin Ale has its own problems which might be affecting it. Because of the stuck sparge and a few other things it is coming in at an amazing 14.5% ABV. The yeast I used is not known to be highly tolerant, so it could be stressed out or dead, thus the lack of carbonation.

Eventually I will be kegging things, but that is another year or so off. So until then I need to work on my carbonation. I never had a problem back in PA, perhaps the 3000+ feet of altitude change is part of it, I don’t know. My next homebrew is going to be lower ABV so I can get a better idea of what is going on.

2 gallons of badness

As I’ve noted I got my start to homebrewing with Mr. Beer. That got old pretty quick as all of the beers had the same after taste and there wasn’t a ton of useful things you could do with Mr. Beer. I’ve seen people make a ton of different “styles” with Mr. Beer, and I don’t know how they turned out, but to me it seemed like a weak attempt at homebrewing.

So one day during the summer, I decided to upgrade everything and start formulating my own recipies a bit more. I went down to the homebrew shop and bought most of the basic brewing equipment, including two 2 gallon buckets. I talked to the guy at the store and told him I wanted to make a simple American Lager. He loaded me up with yeast, hops, speciality grains, and 4 pounds of dry malt extract (DME). This all for a 2 gallon batch.

I didn’t really have a good sense of what I was doing, but I went for it anyway. I now know better. 4 pounds of DME for 2 gallons of beer is way, way, way too much. I’ll explain later. I did the normal procedure, let it ferment in my basement for 4 weeks, and then bottled it.

A week or so went by for carboniation and then I tried it. The stuff was terrible. The beer was so unbelievely full of alachol that the hyrdometer couldn’t give a reading. There was just too much sugar for such a small batch. Usually, I tend to use about 7-8 pounds of DME for a typical 5 gallon extract brew. I had half of the amount of that for less than half of the total liquid. The flavor was a strong carmel and the smell was just aweful. I do have a bit of the stuff laying around just to see if I could get a real ABV reading on it one of these days. When I do, I will let you know.

The point of this is, understand what you are getting into. Don’t solely rely on other peoples opinions when brewing, do what works for you. I didn’t do enough research and listened to someone who didn’t have as good of an idea of homebrewing as I thought they did. My result was an undrinkable beer. The only positive thing I took away from this was that I had good sanitation and learned some technique.