Home brewers are always led to believe making a yeast starter is for the advanced brewer. This could not be further from the truth. If anything beginning brewers should start with yeast starters. When you think about it they are nothing more than a small extract brew.
Why make a yeast starter you ask? The list is long but I will hit a few reasons a yeast starter will only better your brew. First off, it will ensure the yeast is alive: no more questions about the viability of the product you just purchased! Yeast starters guarantee an accelerated fermentation. With a fast start to your fermentation, you stop any bacteria from taking over the wort eliminating the chance of an infected batch of beer/wine. Starters allow yeast to multiply - the added yeast cells will help achieve a lower final gravity and avoid stuck fermentations. Making a yeast starter generally allows beer to ferment cooler than suggested by the manufacturer resulting in a cleaner tasting beer.
What will you need to make a yeast starter? Pretty much the same items used in brewing although I have found a 2000ml Erlenmeyer flask will make the job much easier. The items needed will be a new liquid yeast, thermometer, 1/3-1/2 LB of DME (or use 20% more light LME or a Propper Starter) and 1/3-1/2 gallon of water. You will also need a 1/2-1 gallon sanitized container for fermenting. If using the flask, you have your fermenter.
NOTE: If using 1/3LB DME you will use 1/3 Gallon Water - If using 1/2LB DME use 1/2 Gallon Water. You want a starting gravity of 1.040-45.
Now what? Well, this is as basic as you get in the brewing world - outside of Mr. Beer. Bring your water to 170ºF and add your malt extract - if using LME take the pot or flask off the burner to avoid scorching of your malt. Stir well to dissolve and slowly bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes then cool as quickly as possible below 90ºF. I realize this is a bit warm, but we are generating yeast, not beer. Pitch your yeast into the sanitized container along with your wort. Allow to ferment for 12-72 hours before your scheduled brew day. You have done nothing more than make an exaggerated White Labs Vial or Wyeast pack. When ready to pitch, swirl your starter to get all of your yeast in suspension and pour into your chilled wort liquid!
Frequently Asked Questions
Won’t the extra wort effect my OG? No, it really will not. Even if you use 1/2 gallon starters. You started with a 1/2 gallon of starter at 1.044. You are adding this to a 5 gallon batch of brew at 1.060 (for example), this will only drop by 2 points. If this concerns you, please contact us for other alternatives.
What about IBUs? Same as above, but if you want to play with it a bit add a few hop pellets to your starter.
Should I always use starters? I actually do not use starters in my wheat beers or in anything under 1.040. That's why it's called homebrewing, you need to make your own conclusions as to when you need a starter.
Should I use a starter with dry yeast? It's probably less work to just purchase 11 gm packs of dry yeast or two of the 5 gm packs. The dry yeast tends to have enough yeast cells for the average batch of home brew.
I know this is a much larger yeast starter than most of the older books suggest. The older books are missing the fact that both White Labs and Wyeast have increased their yeast cells dramatically in the last few years. The pint size 1.022 starter is being over pitched today with more failures than success. Go big or go home, we want better beer and that's why we need to make a yeast starter.
Adventures in Homebrewing