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Yeast starter for Lager?

Hello all. I am about to embark on my first attempt at making an AG lager, an Oktoberfest. My question is should I make a yeast starter or not? I personally have never used one and so far so good. I have experimented with Wyeast Smacks, White Labs tubes and even dry yeast. Never once have I done a yeast starter. I see everywhere that you all swear by yeast starters so it does intrigue me to find out if I should use one on this lager or not. My LHBS says no need to but it certainly won’t hurt anything if I do. I have all the patience in the world when fermenting and conditioning so time is of absolutely no essence to me. Let me know some general thoughts please and thank you all in advance.

A starter will generally produce a better beer but if you’re happy with your current results then why change. Lagers need about twice the amount of yeast as Ales so keep that in mind. If you haven’t used this website (
) it’s a good reference. Cheers!!!

From what I’ve read and my limited experience with Lagers, pitching the correct amount of yeast and temp control are most important. Without making a starter you will need to pitch multiple yeast packs. As hamiltont said, check out Mr. Malty.

For an Oktoberfest or Märzen, you’ll need 5 vials/smackpacks of yeast or 2 packs of dry yeast if you don’t make a starter. Because they’re such big lagers, you’re going to need a huge starter! With 1 vial/smackpack, you’ll need to cook up nearly 2 gallons for the starter. Personally, I’d make a Helles and reuse the yeast cake for the Oktoberfest.

Ok so if I decide to go with a starter, never having done one can I get some help on a proper procedure?

There are a lot of ways to make a yeast starter. Try a google search for how to make a yeast starter for beer and see what method best fits you. One thing I should add is you will need to step up your starter at least once for your lager. A step up is a second starter made from the first starter when it’s done fermenting, and is usually twice the size. You’ll need about a gallon starter in the end. Cheers!!!

The best advice you can get is at

Mr. Malty is complicated when it comes to stepping up yeast starters. You’re going to want to give yourself plenty of time for the starters, 10 days or so. First, make up 2 liters of starter wort with 2L of water and 200g of light DME. Pitch the yeast once it cools to around 90F. Leave it at room temperature and shake it every time you walk by to keep the yeast in suspension and in contact with the sugar. When it’s finished, around day 3, put it in the fridge for 2 days. On day 6, make some more starter wort, this time with 4L water and 400g DME. Pour off the liquid from your first starter and pitch the new yeast into the cooled wort. Shake every time you walk by. Put it in the fridge on day 8-9 and cool for 2 days. Brew your beer and when it comes pitching time, pour off the liquid (this is called decanting) and pitch the yeast into your full batch of wort. Be sure that the yeast and the wort are roughly the same temp, around 45F-55*F.

You’re going to need 600g light DME, a 2L vessel and a 4L vessel.
This is a short version of making/stepping up yeast starter. Be sanitary and patient. If the yeast is still working on the starter wort, don’t rush it. Let is completely ferment before cooling it.

I am also about to get into making lagers this winter. I use a stir plate for starters.

According to, a 1.058 OG lager would require a 1.51L starter. Would I need to step up to that size from a .75L or can I make a 1.5L starter in one shot? What is the volume breakpoint where you need to start doing multi-step starters?

With all due respect, and mostly because I am not the smartest tool in the shed, isn’t 4 litres about a gallon or so? If so I believe this is asking me to make 1 1/2 gallons of yeast starter and put it in the beer. If true wouldn’t that up my 5 gallon sitting batch to 6 1/2? Wouldn’t that throw a few things off? I assume not but I am trying to understand all this.

Not exactly. Before pitching the starter into the wort, you cold crash it for a day or two. The yeast will all settle at the bottom. At pitching time, you throw away the starter wort and pitch only the yeast into your lager wort. Hope that makes sense.

If you use a stir plate, then you can get enough yeast with a much smaller starter. You can get one for as little as $42 at A 2L flask is about $25.

Why would I cold crash before pitching yeast? That makes zero sense to me. And what starter wort? I am 100% confused by this statement.

+2 Codemunki is right. Pour off the liquid and pitch just the yeast and using a stir plate will get you higher yields from your starter.

The purpose for stepping up a starter is because you don’t want to stress the yeast by putting too few of them into a lot of sugary wort. 100B yeast cells in a 4L starter is about as high as I’d go. Also, a 1.058 lager with a stir plate requires a 4L starter with 1 smackpack, with 2 smackpacks you could make it 1.5L.

Cold crashing the starter will get the yeast to go dormant and settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour off the spent liquid before pitching the yeast. The only thing you are adding to your 5gallon batch is the yeast. Decant as much of the starter liquid as possible.

Yeah…I noticed that after I posted. I guess I’d have to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if it is better for me to use 2 smack packs and less DME/time or 1 smack pack and more DME/time. I"m lazy, so I’m more inclined to go with the former. :slight_smile:

Ok I think this is starting to make a little sense. Let me see if I have it somewhat right now. Make a smaller starter. Shake it, cool it, etc. Then make a bigger starter. Same procedure - shake it, cool it, etc. but pour off just the liquid from starter #1 and then dump remaining yeast into starter #2. Make beer. Chill. Pour off liquid from remaining starter and dump yeast into beer. Correct?

The biggest benefit would be if you harvested and reused it for 5 generations. Then you $15 of yeast would make you 31 batches of lager beer!

I think you’re getting it.

Make 2L starter (#1)
Ferment (while shaking as much as possible)
Cool it
Make 4L starter (#2)
Pour off liquid from #1
Add yeast to #2
Ferment (shaking…)
Cool it
Make BEER!
Pour off liquid from #2
Add yeast to BEER!!!

Unfortunately, I don’t brew nearly often enough to get those kinds of economies of scale. I’ll probably only brew 2-3 batches of lager over the winter and 4-6 ales. I might make 12-16 batches total in a year.

Ok this makes total sense now. Thank you. Also how does one “harvest”?

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