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Starter vs. multiple packets

I have never done a starter but I was just wondering if pitching 2 packets of yeast is as effective as making a starter. Is there a gravity point at which the starter is necessary? Will a starter benefit a lower gravity beer? Is there a case where using a starter can be bad? I have heard the term “overpitching”. Can my starter be too big?

With dry yeast, you don’t need to make a starter. It’s the big advantage of dry yeast, and why I use dry yeast for most beers.

With White Labs liquid yeast, you really should make a starter unless you want to blow the cash on 2-3 packs per 5 gallons. Early on I had many batches turn out like crap because I used just one pack of White Labs and didn’t make a starter. Even a little 1-quart starter is better than nothing, and 2 quarts is even better, for ales. For lagers you need to make 3-4 quarts to get enough yeast in the beer to ferment at cool temperatures in the 40s or 50s.

All of the above assumes 5 gallon batches. If you want to make smaller batches of 2.5-3 gallons or something like that, then a starter becomes less essential, if you pitch the entire pack.

With Wyeast liquid yeast, if the yeast is really fresh, and you smack the pack and it swells within 8 hours, you can get away with not making a starter in my experience (again, for 5 gallons of ale), although a starter would still be better. If the pack takes much longer than 8 hours to swell up, then you really should make a starter because it means your yeast is tired and weak, and you want to get good strong yeast into your beer, not wimpy stuff. And for lagers, you really should make a huge 3-quart starter or more to aid the yeast in fermenting well at cool temperatures. Again, I’ve had big problems when I pitched an old pack of Wyeast that took a couple days to swell up. The LHBS sells it cheap to get rid of it after the expiration date, so be wary of this and if you want to try an old pack, plan on making a yeast starter because in all likelihood it’s really not going to do a very good job even if the old pack swells within 16 hours.

Overall, I figure if you’re going to go through the trouble of brewing 5 gallons of wort, which is worth a good $25-$40 in most cases, it’s well worth the time and cost to make a yeast starter to ensure that you don’t end up pouring the other $25-$40 down the drain! Make your hobby enjoyable, not depressing. For a couple of years, I didn’t brew much because I was not taking good care of my yeast and the beers just were not turning out very well. You can skip that phase and just assume that yeast care is very important, treat it right, pitch good strong starters, and you’ll never get to that depressing phase.


So then it sounds to me that dry yeast is a better option than liquid. Why are liquid yeasts typically more expensive and seemingly thought of as better? So a dry yeast does not NEED a starter, but does a starter carry any benefit?

Dry yeast wasn’t very good in the '80s and '90s when homebrewing was first becoming a thing in the USA. Quality is excellent now in the 21st century, every bit as good as liquid yeast if not better in a lot of cases.

I’ve heard it said that making a starter with dry yeast can actually be a BAD thing. It’s designed to be used without a starter. But… I don’t believe it. Regardless, a starter is not necessary with dry. Just sprinkle it on top. You can rehydrate in plain water, but I don’t think that offers any advantages either really, not in my experience, and I use dry yeast, like, almost all the time, just sprinkling on top, and it turns out great that way.

Now days the problem with dry yeast is limited selection. I use mostly dry yeast and today’s dry yeasts are very good.

Dry Yeast and Pitch Rates

Dry yeast cell counts have been estimated to be @ 20 billion per gram; which would mean an 11 gram dry pack of yeast would contain 220 billion cells. This would be more than enough for an average ale and 2 packs would suffice for a lager.
The problem with this estimate is that yeast manufactures have never claimed this amount in dry yeast packets.
• From the manufacturers:
o Fermentis: > 6B cells/gram for US-05 and S-04.
o Danstar: > 5B cells/gram for Nottingham yeast.
o These numbers sound conservative and do not match with the study referenced above. According to our pitching calculator, with dry yeast, using the mfg’s number of 6B cells/g, to hit a pitch rate of 0.75 (M cells / ml / ° P) for a 5 gallon batch @1.050 would require 3x 11g packs!
The 6 billion cells per gram is more than likely on the low end, but the 20 billion cells per gram seems to be on the high side. It would be safe to say that most ales would benefit from a pitch of 1 ½ to two 11 gram packets and lagers need three to four 11 gram packets. An estimate of 10-14 billion per gram is a relatively safe bet.
The other mistake home brewers often make is to pitch the dry yeast directly into wort without hydrating the yeast prior to pitching. Dry yeast needs to be hydrated to prevent osmotic stress, which can lead to fermentation problems. Remember that the dry yeast is dormant and needs to be “woken up”. Without hydration prior to pitch, the osmotic/sugar shock can cause a 20% to 30% loss in viable cells. Dry yeast should be rehydrated with 80°-90°F, sterile, slightly hard water. The minerals in tap water seem to improve viability.
Direct pitching dry yeast is an option, but the brewer must be aware of the possibility of shocking and stressing the yeast.

Conventional wisdom holds the position that you shouldn’t do a starter with dry yeast, but this stems from a misunderstanding of dry yeast. The advantages of the stored up nutrients are negated when the yeast is grown in a starter. This means dry yeast built up from a starter should be treated as a liquid yeast and aeration is critical to insure proper fermentation. Using this method will produce excellent results.

OK, so when I pitch my yeast, whether dry or liquid, there is a period of time where the yeast is in aerobic fementation. If I am correct, during this time the yeast is mostly going through the process of reproduction and not making alcohol. Once it goes into anaerobic fermentation that is when the alcohol begins to be made. So the amount of cells available for fermentation rapidly increases during that aerobic phase, am I correct? It would seem that the initial pitch would be almost insignificant in comparison to the amount of cells that will be created during that reproduction phase. And the reproduction phase should end when the available oxygen is exhausted. So if I pitch 11 grams (220 billion) or 22 grams (440 billion) wouldn’t it seem that the final number would be the same based on the amount of oxygen in the wort?

It’s a cost effective measure to do a starter versus multiple liquid yeast packs. Another thing you need to understand is dry versus liquid and the flavors you get from that yeast. Don’t use dry just because it’s cheaper, each yeast has it’s flavor profile and beer it’s good for. Can you use US 05 for anything you want, sure you can, but be prepared though for possible flavors you were not expecting or possibly missing as well as dryness or mouthfeel.

Agree with Garrett. I’ve had a hefeweizen fermented with the dry yeast and it tastes nothing like the one done with the liquid, although I don’t know what the ferm temp of the one done with dry was.

I do love working with dry yeast, though, when I know it will give me the flavor I’m looking for.



Think of it this way–
you want a sufficient quantity of yeast in a healthy condition to ferment your beer. Whether you pitch multiple packets, make a starter, or repitch slurry from a previous batch, the most important thing is to have enough healthy yeast to ferment. The differences between how to get there, to a large extent, are personal preference.

see for info and details.

You can overpitch, but it’s really difficult to do. You should be much more concerned about underpitching.

actually, there are not separate phases for yeast. The Crabtree Effect says that in the presence of a >.5% glucose solution, fermentation begins immediately.

Hmm, seems like I still have a lot to learn

The more I know about beer, the more I know I need to know more about beer. Wise words from the great brewer Jethro Gump.

For dry yeast you’re usually good without a starter. I would still rehydrate the yeast though, just to be sure it is ready.

For liquid yeast, I use this site: ... alculator/

You can put in the expected OG of your beer and get a good idea of what kind of starter you’ll need. You can choose between manually swirling the starter or using a stir-plate. You can also even add step ups if you are limited by flask size (i.e. need to make a huge starter but only have a 1L flask).

The problem with liquid yeast is that by the time you get it in the mail, it’s already old! For my Irish Red Ale I made just this weekend, the yeast came in the mail on Friday. The MFG date was the 17th of November! Enter that into the website, and it estimated that instead of 100 billion cells I really only had like 60 billion. For a 1.044 gravity ale, I needed like 171 billion! The calculator did everything for me. I made my 2L starter and in about 8 hours or so fermentation was going just fine in my beer!

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