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Information on Yeast Starters


Yeast Starters

One of the first upgrades homebrewers choose to make as they progress and begin to gain a better understanding of the brewing process is a yeast starter.
A yeast starter is very basic and typically consists of either a yeast starter package or dried malt extract and an Erlenmeyer flask, stopper and baster. They can also include yeast nutrient such as Fermax.

When used in conjunction with a magnetic stir plate, these components can help propagate liquid yeast to reach a much higher concentration without having to buy multiple packages of yeast, which can be expensive.

At a higher cell concentration, activation will begin more quickly and you will be able to achieve a more complete fermentation making for a higher quality beer. So you are probably asking yourself how you can use a yeast starter, right? Well it is actually very simple.

Making Your Own Yeast Starter First thing to note is to be sure that you prepare the yeast starter at least 24 hours to pitching. So about a day before you plan on brewing.

First, fill a pot of water about halfway and get it to a boil. Then pour a pint of water into the Erlenmeyer flask, place the flask into the boiling pot of water. This is known as the double boiler method and greatly reduces the risk of breakage by avoiding direct contact with the flask and the heat element. An even heat source such as an open flame is a safer bet than an electric heating element, which can have hot spots, but the double boiler method really is your best bet.

Bring the water within the flask to a boil then carefully pour in half a cup of dried malt extract (DME). Be careful as the moisture rising out of the flask via steam can cause the DME to become very sticky. Do your best to pour it in quickly and cleanly while limiting the amount that sticks to the inside of the upper part of the flask. Boil the water and DME mixture for 10 minutes and then remove it from the heat source. Pour in yeast nutrient if you have it and prepare an ice bath.

Place the flask into the ice bath and bring the contents to room temperature. Unlike cooling a full brew pot of wort, chilling the yeast starter will only take a short amount of time. Once you have gotten the contents down to temperature pitch the activated yeast package into the flask. Then place a sanitized airlock into the top of the flask. If you do not have an extra airlock, you can use a sanitized foam stopper. You just want to be sure that CO2 gas can be released without letting outside contaminants in just as you would when fermenting your batch of wort.

Let the flask sit in a cool dark place to patiently await pitching time on brew day. If you really want to ensure that your yeast starter is ready, enlist the help of a magenetic stir plate. A stir plate keeps the mixture moving at all times by spinning a magnetic stir bar within the flask to create a vortex that keeps all contents evenly mixed and suspended.

When you think about it, a yeast starter is essentially like making a mini batch of beer as it contains water, sugar and yeast. By mixing these contents together, you are creating a highly concentrated mini batch of wort that serves as the perfect primer for a larger batch of wort. By the time you pitch the mixture into the wort, the yeast cell count has doubled and has already been activated making the yeast cells ready and eager to consumer the sugars in the wort.

If you are asking what this means for your beer, simply put, a whole lot of good. Once you make the transition to yeast starters, you will probably never go back.