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Yeast starters are not necessary to brew beer, but if you want to brew better beer, then yeast starters are a must… the only time I can think of that I would tell someone not to do a yeast starter is when their cleaning and sanitation of home brew equipment is not up to par…
So here are some quick instructions on how to make a yeast starter…
100 mg of DME per Liter of Water
Just like brewing beer, you first want to clean and sanitize your equipment and your work area. Assuming you’ve done that, your first step would be to make a wort with a specific gravity of 1.030 and 1.045. This is about half a cup of DME per pint of water or 100 grams of DME per liter of water.
The starter is meant to grow yeast, not to make beer. With that being said, you want to bring your water to a boil and add your DME. You only need to boil this wort for 15 minutes and you don’t have to worry about dropping in any hops.
After your boil, you want to cool down your wort down to yeast pitching temperature and aerate it to introduce oxygen.
Fermenting your starter is not like fermenting your beer. You can leave your starter at around room temperature (about 70 F). Unlike fermenting beer, temperature control is not as important. The most important thing about fermenting your starter is to make sure the yeast become active in the next 12 to 24 hours.
You don’t want to ferment at too high temperatures, but warmer temperatures are better for this. Again, you are not making beer so worrying about ester production or other stuff like that is not necessary here. You are trying to grow yeast and getting yeast active, which will reduce the lag time of your beer fermenting.
How you pitch your yeast starter depends on your preference. There are a couple schools of thought when it comes to pitching your yeast from a starter. Some like to decant the beer and just pitch the yeast slurry, while others just pitch the whole thing. The thought here is that if you ferment your starter warm and it produces esters, those esters will end up in your beer. Esters will probably be produced regardless and they will be removed during the conditioning phase. So if you are trying to brew a clean beer with no esters, then decanting may be a good idea. If you are brewing a fruity beer with a little ester profile, then pitching the whole thing may not be a concern.
Decanting beer is usually better when you crash cool your wort because this makes more yeast flocculate. The only problem with crash cooling your starter is that it makes your yeast go dormant and takes them out of their active stage. So if you are just trying to increase your yeast cell count, this may be an option, but when you are using a yeast starter for advanced brewing techniques, then crash cooling may be the last thing you want to do. I’ve found that fermenting a yeast starter at 68 to 70 °F and pitching about 24 hours later will make yeast flocculate enough to decant beer and pitch it while it’s still active.
How do you use your yeast starters?