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First time making a starter.

Hey all! I am new, and still working my methods, but have made a few beers to date (all extract/partial grain).

So yesterday I decided to make a starter for my next extract/partial grain brew. I am making a clone of Sam Adams’ Old Fezziweg I found online. The recipe looks pretty good, but it seems the OG may be a little high so I wanted to make a starter.

The yeast I got was a vial of White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale Yeast. I followed directions on NB to make a 1L starter. I used the kit I bought from the website.

On the video, they do say that you may not see the same activity you’d expect to see from an active 5 gallon wort fermentation, so maybe I am just worrying for nothing. It’s been a little over 12 hours since I pitched the yeast to the starter. And FWIW, everything was sanitized well, the wort was cooled properly, and the yeast had been out of the fridge for about 4 hours to warm back up. I’ve also been swirling quite frequently (except when I slept last night, of course).

Overall, it looks exactly the same as it did when I pitched yesterday. Out of the foam stopper, I can smell a “yeasty” or “beery” aroma, as described in the directions, but I am still concerned. I’m worried because when the yeast arrived in the package from NB, it’s obvious it had been sitting on the truck for a LONG time. The ice pack was quite warm and melted completely, and the yeast vial itself was very warm. I am worried the liquid yeast didn’t survive the trip.

Should I be concerned at all? Could I boil and cool more wort and “bump it up” to see if it works better? If you might not see the “normal” signs of fermentation activity, I am guessing the only way to know if the yeast is still viable would be to pitch it in the brewed batch?

Thanks in advance!

  • Mike

First the viability of the yeast needs to be determined. The expiration date on the vial of White Labs yeast is 4 months after the production date.
How long was the yeast in shipment? Northern Brewer sends out tracking e-mails which include when the shipment was picked up by UPS. Each day of being overly warm could reduce the viability of the yeast by up to 10%. 10% loss is what is expected by a freeze/thaw cycle also.
The size of a starter is dependent on the production date of the yeast for viability, mishandling which will reduce viability, and the estimate OG of the beer. A certain size of starter for this reason will not get the job done in the majority of cases.

This is the yeast calculator I like to use. Makes it easy to do step up starters for yeast which has lowered viability. I use the default pitch rate. … alculator/

Take a look at the calculator and post back with any questions and what you come up with.

Forgot this. If you are noticing a beery aroma your starter is beginning to work. Just like in the fermentor there is a lag time. The more stressed the yeast is, the longer the lag time.

I gotcha. Thanks for the info!

The yeast was picked up on Sep 2nd and arrived at my door the evening of the 5th.

If I am doing the calculation correctly on the link you provided, it seems all I may need to do is step up with another 1L starter.

Based on the recipe, the OG should be around 1.071 so, so it’s pretty high. The yeast expiration was mid December (can’t remember exact date, I think it was the 14th), so I used the MFG date as Aug 14th. Used the default pitch rate as well. It estimated viability at 83%.

When I use this info, it tells me a 1L starter doesn’t create enough yeast cells, so I add step two and do another 1L starter and it goes green for me. Does that sound about right?

Now if this doesn’t consider travel time or warm temps that may have hindered it, should I drop it another 20% or so? If I do that, I will need to step up with a 2L starter now in order to get enough yeast cells. Is that possible/feasible? To go from a 1L starter and step up with a 2L?

My other question would be when should I do the step up? Should I cold crash it, decant, then let it warm up a little and toss the new boiled/cooled 1L starter wort in and repeat fermentation?

Thanks for this link! If I am in fact using it correctly, this will be a massive help in the future :slight_smile:

Allow at least 48 hours for a starter to finish with the shake and swirl method. When doing a starter step up always go larger in volume. The growth rate will be greatly increased. Cold crashing for a couple of days between steps is the best. You will know you won’t be decanting yeast that is still suspended when the starter wort above the yeast is clear.

Go for what looks like an over pitch since the viability of the yeast may be questionable. A 20% reduction in viability, beyond the reduced viability based on the production date, is a very good idea.

With an estimated OG of 1.071 it may be a good idea to look at the high gravity ale pitch rate. I do this for any beer over 1.058.

Sounds great! Thanks again!

I tweaked with the calculations a bit to help me get that extra 20% loss in viability (down to 63%).

That being said, the plan is to continue to swirl for another 24 hours (it’s been 24 now). Then cold crash for about two days then do a 2L step up and go another couple of days. I will do another 2L step up to complete and, according to the website, should have plenty of healthy yeast cells for fermentation.

If always going up in volume is best, should I go from the 1L I have now to a 1.5L then finish with a 2L? Or can I just do a 2L and finish with another 2L?

I’m not looking at the numbers. If a step up starter of the same size will give you enough yeast cells, with a good margin of error, you’re okay.

So, update on this. I bumped up to a 2L yesterday afternoon. Everything went very well! The wort this morning had a nice layer of foam and was bubbling away. It was giving off a good smell too!

When I came home from work, I found a dead fruit fly floating on top! I can’t say for sure how long it was there (although I am sure any contact is bad), but it wasn’t there this morning when I left for work. It must have squeezed through the foam stopper that comes with the NB kit and got to the wort.

Is the starter ruined? It still seems to be happily churning away, although it’s been about 24 hours so it’s a lot slower now than it was earlier. No signs of infection so far from what I can tell. It still smells nice and “beery.” I am tempted to let it go, cold crash it, and taste some of the liquid. If it seems extremely bad, I may just start over.

I had a little bee in my starter once . I used it and made a nice beer. The alcohol will probably take care of that fly. A fruit fly is a hell of a lot better than a house fly.

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