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My Very First Yeast Starter - it Really *is* that Easy

Posted by homebrewdad on 1/18/2012 at 05:36:51 AM

My wife observed today (and not overly happily) that my brewing footprint is growing.  Apparently, it was not enough for me to have a large glass bottle full of clarifying ale in our closet... no, I have added a new, mysterious concoction to the closet floor, as well, in the form of a sanitized tea jug with a small portion of foamy tan liquid in the bottom of it.  This new container is, of course, a yeast starter.
Incidentally, I have learned that the smell I associate so directly with beer is actually the yeast.  Call me a moron for not knowing that, but it's true.  Also, feel free to call me strange for sniffing both the airlock on my existing batch, and the top of my starter jug.  I like the smell, so help me!
Back to the subject at hand...
I have decided to hedge my bets on the next batch of beer - my imperial nut brown ale is supposed to be a high gravity brew (1.081 original gravity, even higher than my Yorkshire ale inadvertantly started at).  Despite the fact that my single tube of yeast (the limited edition Yorkshire Square Brown from White Labs) seemed to do well (even thrive) in my last batch, I want to make sure that I pitch enough yeast to handle this upcoming brew, so I purchased two "smack packs" of it (this recipe called for Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale) - and have made my very first starter from one of them.
I was a little worried about the process, but it couldn't have been simpler.  Last night, I simply boiled about a quarter of a cup of dry malt extract in just over two cups of water (this looked funny in my 24 quart brewpot, but I wanted to be sure that it was perfectly clean), cooled the mixture, then aded my yeast.  Noah (my four year old) had a great time helping me measure, pour, and stir... and also enjoyed tasting the dry malt extract (which is essentially powdered sugar made from grain).  My starter is now happily foaming away; I shake it every time I think about it in an effort to keep exposing it to oxygen (which is bad for beer, but good for the growth stage of yeast). 
Either tomorrow or the next day, when the fermentation process is complete, I'll move my jug to the refridgerator where I'll let it sit until shortly before I brew.  The cold will cause the yeast to fall out of suspension and collect at the bottom of my jug; I'll pour off the liquid "beer" sitting on top of it (the proper terminology for the process, I have learned, is called "decanting"), and I'll toss the more or less pure yeast into my new wort.  There, it should rapidly grow and ferment, leading to a great batch of beer.
I mentioned that I am hedging my bets - I plan to also pitch my second pack of yeast, as is... this should (hopefully) ensure that I end up with plenty of viable yeast cells to handle my fermentation.  I'll add yeast fuel to my wort boil to help it do well; since my first batch did so very well (especially since I apparently underpitched the yeast - meaning that I didn't add as much as I probably should have), I will probaly spend the couple of dollars and buy yeast fuel for every batch  make from now on.
At any rate, I'll start on the imperial nut brown within a few days... don't tell my wife that this means we'll be up to two large bottlles in our closet.  Or that I keep weighing the pros and cons of the next batch after that; after all, once batch #1 (the Yorkshire brown) is safely bottle conditoning, it'll almost be time to move batch #2 (the imperial nut brown) to one of my secondaries.  That means I'll have an empty primary... and that just seems sad.

Tags for this post: yeast, starter, smell, pitch, fermentation, ale

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I wouldn't bother with yeast fuel if you're making starters.

How big are your starters? For anything around the 1-1.5 liter mark, I have it on a stirplate for around 18 hours then pitch the whole thing. The issue with chilling and decanting is that you're putting the yeast to sleep - pitching the whole starter about 18 hours in means active yeast, raring to get at your wort!

posted by Martin on 2/18/2012 at 03:21:41 AM