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Brett starter may have failed...read on...

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by atomeyes, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    i was set to brew with a friend of mine. made a 2 litre brett lambicus starter w/2 vials of WLP's lambicus. Within 2 days, i had airlock activity in the starter, which is cool, but i usually like my brett starters to go 2 weeks.
    my friend delayed the brew, and, so by week 2, i decided to add more 1.040 wort to my starter. there was some airlock activity, but nothing overly insane. after 3-4 days, i cold crashed it for 2 days, took off some of the top liquid and kept the rest and swirrled into a slurry.

    i pitched this into my brew on Dec 26 at 10 PM. so, 2.5 days later (which, i know isn't much), there is pretty much zero airlock activity. some tiny bubbles, but zero perculation. but the top of the wort is getting the beginnings of a pellicle (which looks kind of like a white oil slick or ink blot).

    my worry: i let the starter go too long before pitching and i have SOME viable yeast but i have a low count.
    flavour-wise, should i care that i possibly underpitched brett? eventually, the starter will kick up the jams, right? the only reason why i'm nervous is i've had great luck with all-brett starters when i've used Brett claussenii. fermentation was visible within 15 hours.

    so, some thoughts. and talk me out of pitching another vial of brett lambicus into my wort (which is a porter)
  2. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    I'm confused about the first two weeks. Did you let it play out during the delay?

    What's you're concern? That it will be too Brett'y?

    I'd let it play out. It's not like you damaged the Brett. I'm pretty sure that Chad Yakobson (or was it Gordon Strong) lets his Brett sit at room temp.
  3. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    let it play out? yeah. it fermented for 2 weeks.
    just comparing it to sacc. i wouldn't let a sacc starter sit out for 2 weeks. since the starter had some sacc-like activity, i'm a little nervous. not worried that it will be too bretty, since it is a brett-primary fermentation and that's my goal. worried that i'll be making the brett work too hard and may get off flavours, or worried that i won't have as fast of a fermentation as i would have with a stronger starter.
  4. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    I assumed that you took a gravity reading and it's still high. So I was saying that I'd let the fermentation go and not pitch more yeast. Can you use a wine thief and get a taste?

    When I have time I'll listen to Chad's presentation on Brett at NHC. I'm very sure that he doesn't cold storage his Brett.
  5. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    it is coming up to the 72 hr mark. i know, i know, i am panicking early. it was more the lag time between creating the starter and pitching into the wort that has me worried.
  6. oregone

    oregone Savant (385) Oregon Jul 2, 2008

    Ive had apparently slow starts on all brett, even with lager size yeast pitches. All turned out great and finished on normal sach time frame. The thing is, there are many different experiences out there.
    Im sure youll be fine though. If the brett is 'struggling' you may end up with more aroma and/or flavor. But given its the primary yeast, it shouldnt be crazy funky. Itll get more of that slowly later.
  7. NiceFly

    NiceFly Savant (430) Tajikistan Dec 22, 2011

    Why do you have an airlock on the starter?
  8. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    it is a 1 gallon jug. how else would you keep it sanitary? i mean, i could put the screw cap on, but why not an airlock?
  9. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    i have a pellicle (1 mm high. sigh...) but fermentation's not nearly as rapid as i want it to be. hoping it will pick up in a few days.
  10. NiceFly

    NiceFly Savant (430) Tajikistan Dec 22, 2011

    You will get a better yield and healthier yeast from your starter if the yeast have oxygen. Just put some foil over the opening.
    oldp0rt and jamescain like this.
  11. As NiceFly mentions using aluminum foil over the top of the bottle is ‘better’ since it permits oxygen (air) to diffuse into the starter bottle.

    I have made many, many starters where I used an airlock. That is not the optimum method but those starters turned out just fine. I used the airlock method since that was what was mentioned in the book How to Brew. I now just use aluminum foil.

  12. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    but it is brett.
    it doesn't need aeration/oxygen
  13. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poobah (1,030) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009 Beer Trader

    Even for propagation? That's news to me, but I'm no Brett expert.
  14. NiceFly

    NiceFly Savant (430) Tajikistan Dec 22, 2011

    News to me too.
  15. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    first 2 beer i brewed that were all-brett. 1st one had starter with no aeration. second one had minimal. first wort was no aerations. second had a medium amount.
    both fermented like mad.


    and if it was aerobic (or fully aerobic), how would it ferment well as a secondary yeast?
  16. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poobah (1,030) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009 Beer Trader

    I really don't know, but since you're asking, my guess would be it's because propagation (reproduction) and fermentation are different modes, just as they are for Sacch yeasts. I'd be interested to hear what OldSock has to say about this.
  17. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    i'm no microbiologist, but fermentation's a biproduct of it eating sugar. reproduction is a biproduct of the availability of sugar.
    reproduction requires oxygen (which is why i think stirplates are used for starters). fermentation does not require oxygen, but i think that the yeast count is still growing when fermentation's taking place, no? it is just making use of the available oxygen.
  18. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poobah (1,030) Pennsylvania Jul 12, 2009 Beer Trader

    They are separate activities. We usually think of the reproduction phase as happening first, followed by fermentation. But that's a simplification, and there can be some overlap timewise. But (for Sacch yeasts at least), reproduction requires oxygen (to build sterols/cell walls). The next phase, fermentation, does not.
  19. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    i've seen stirplates for all starters. of course, we know that we don't need a stir plate even for sacc starters. oxygenating or occasional shaking will help but, again, aren't mandatory.
  20. It certainly was not my intent to state that stir plates are mandatory.

    Jason chose to utilize a stir plate to propagate his Brett strains. I presume that he did this since he was of the opinion that introduction of oxygen (air) was beneficial in growing Brett yeast cells. He provided yeast cell count values in his blog.

  21. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    so 1 week after pitching, i have a 1/2 to 1 inch pizza-dough-like krauzen. nice and white with a few awesome bubbles.
    so yeah, some pre-mature worrying on my part. i'm just used to brett starters resulting in visible fermentation within 24 hrs.
  22. For future reference, I think the cold crashing may have been your problem. Chad Yakobson, from the brettanomices project and Crooked stave brewery said in one talk (links to videos of that talk can be found in embrace the funk) that brett really dislike low temperatures and that tends to die when exposed to cold temperetures. My guess is when you cold crash it you killed a good amount of it so then you really underpitched and ergo the long lag time. I had a starter of brett clausenni i kind off forgot about for like two or three month in my closet at 70 F. after that time I pitched some new wort and pick up right a way. Last friday i brewed with that starter, had a nice krausen after 48 hrs.
  23. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    good to know.
    i've been told by 1-2 brett people in my city that you cold crash large starters to skim off the unwanted wort. i think that this was the 1st time i've done the cold crash.
    someone also tut-tutted me for not feeding the starter after 2 weeks. i'd like to have that discussion with Chad or someone, since i wonder out loud how long you can go without having to feed brett to keep the cell count sustained.
  24. phattysbox

    phattysbox Initiate (0) New York Apr 18, 2008

    Hi All!

    So since species within Brettanomyces are yeast, and are in the same class as Saccharomyces, they require "essentially" the same nutrients as brewing yeast. In other words, they are budding yeast the predominantly use oxygen to grow and reproduce. Under anaerobic conditions it undergoes fermentation just like brewing yeast, although ti obviously produces a different set of metabolites. And like brewing yeast, it also is susceptible to the Custer effect - it will ferment in the presence of high glucose and oxygen.

    What this basically means - treat Brett as you would regular brewing yeast but be aware of the different metabolites produced (acetic acid and other funky stuff).

    So any starter that is made for two weeks is WAY too long in my opinion. By then all nutrients and substrate has been used up and the yeast are dying. The only source of food for cells that are surviving are from dying ones. Moreover, glycerol reserves become critically low since they are focused on surviving.

    The best time to pitch a starter, whether it is Brett or Sacch, is in exponential phase - which is usually 12-20 hours after the starter has begun. However, for homebrewers this stinks because no one wants to pitch 5 liters of starter wort into their beer. Cold crashing becomes a good compromise. However for Chad's work, I assume he continuous cultures of Brett needed for his beer. I disagree with the statement above that cold crashing kills Brett. Actually, keeping a starter going to two weeks is more detrimental since the cold slows metabolic activity and puts the yeast in a dormant state.

    Keep in mind that the point of a starter is to create biomass, which is stir plates are the best way to go. Reproduction works best in the presence of continuous oxygen.

    To the OP:

    Primary fermentation with Brett produces very little in the way of classic "Brett character" in my experience. What you get is a really complex ester flavor profile.


    There is some funky character, but IMHO, the funk really comes out with age and time. Interestingly, my Brett starters always come out extremely funky and wild. I have a feeling this is due to the availability of oxygen.


    NiceFly likes this.
  25. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    Here's a slide from Chad's presentation. It's 8 days (for max cell count) at 82*F. He has observed three stages of growth.

    It not clear what his recommendation to HB'ers for storage is. But if there is a delay and one is worried about viability you can feed yeast without propagation. I always feed all (not the blended sours) yeasts about a pint of non-aerated wort before I pitch.

  26. Agreed with the rest, Brett benefits from aeration during growth. 1-2 weeks is fine, Brett is pretty tough to kill, not much worry about the population dropping significantly if you leave it for a week after growth is over. For awhile I kept a Brett culutre at room temperature, feeding it every few months, never had an issue.
  27. jamescain

    jamescain Advocate (695) Texas Jul 14, 2009 Beer Trader

    Brett still needs oxygen to ferment, although it can still ferment with low amounts of oxygen. In order to create a large healthy starter you need to give it lots of oxygen. When doing 100% brett beers treat the yeast as if its normal sacc yeast. The only difference would be maybe a little extra time for fermentation and pitch at lager numbers.

    When I pitch my brett (for 100% beers) I don't do any extra aeration of the wort but I will aerate the starters to propagate the number of cells.
  28. jamescain

    jamescain Advocate (695) Texas Jul 14, 2009 Beer Trader

    I would definitely have to agree with this statement. I would also like to add, and this is coming from Gabe Fletcher, truly funky brett aromas tend to start showing up after the brett has fermented under pressure. I'm not sure if this is coming from the added pressure of if it comes from time and the brett feeding off of the dying cells. Maybe something for you to look into?
  29. warchez

    warchez Savant (300) Massachusetts Oct 19, 2004

    Glycerol or glycogen?
  30. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    I assume glycogen.

    Isn't Glycerol what yeast make - well not Brett and that's why we use spelt, rye, etc
    OldSock likes this.
  31. phattysbox

    phattysbox Initiate (0) New York Apr 18, 2008

    Ooopss - glycogen.

    This is what happens when you work with a chemical for an extended period of time ;)
  32. phattysbox

    phattysbox Initiate (0) New York Apr 18, 2008

    Yup - I have talked to many professional brewers that have commented that pressure does play into the funk character.

    Actually, anything that stresses Brett will increase the wildness, at least from what I hear. This includes underpitching (one prominent brewer has mentioned as low as .2 million cells/ml wort/ degree Plato), high fermentation temps, vessel design, and pressure.
  33. A few questions/comments concerning: “Actually, anything that stresses Brett will increase the wildness …”

    You mention “high fermentation temps” as a stress. It has always been my understanding that ‘regular’ yeast actually prefers to grow/ferment at high temperatures; as homebrewers we ferment our beers cooler than the yeast’s preferred temperatures since we don’t like the off-flavors (from a beer perspective) that can get created at high temperatures. Does Brett not like high temperatures like ‘regular’ yeast likes high temperatures?

    I have only brewed with Brett twice, using the Wyeast 3789 blend (a ‘regular’ Belgian Ale yeast and Brett). In both of those batches the beers turned out very funky. Would conducting a primary fermentation with ‘regular’ and Brett yeasts be considered stressful to the Brett? What in particular is the stressing ‘agent’ for this case?

  34. phattysbox

    phattysbox Initiate (0) New York Apr 18, 2008

    I meant that to be a blanket statement of what I've heard, from professional brewers and from second hand sources. I won't name any names but the overarching theme was that stress plays a role in Brett character. What this specifically is, I'm not sure. But pressure from the fermentation vessel itself could be one. To speculate on your question though - I think it is *possible*. This would occur if the regular brewing yeast is more active than the Brett and competes better. This would stress the Brett leaving less resources in the wort. The is all speculation so don't take my word for gold here.

    But think about it - many sources of stress produces off flavors with Saccharomyces, why couldn't the same be true for Brett? Moreover, what if we happen to covet those off-flavors as "wild funky character"? Again - speculation and fun to think about.
  35. yinzer

    yinzer Savant (395) Pennsylvania Nov 24, 2006

    No, I think that you're correct. 100% primary normal fermentation gives the clean, pineapple, clove (strain dependent though) and the off-flavors are the ones that's is normally associated w/Brett.

    But I did underpitch WLP 644 and it was clean.
  36. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    so how would one apply pressure when brewing at home?
  37. Bottle conditioning is a great way to boost Brett character. I know Gabe from Anchorage told me that his beers rarely have much Brett character before they go into bottles. I've had great luck pitching Brett at bottling, but that is risky in terms of over-carbonation.
  38. atomeyes

    atomeyes Savant (395) Ontario (Canada) Jul 13, 2011 Beer Trader

    so then the next question:
    if brett is the primary yeast, should temperature matter?
    i'm currently fermenting in my basement. ambient temp is probably 65 F.
    i know it isn't much of a difference, but what if i bumped it up to 70 F?
    or what if i heat coiled it and let it ferment in the 80s?
  39. Just like brewer’s yeast, it’s highly strain dependent. Around 70 F (actual beer temperature) is usually a safe idea. However, I really liked White Labs’ Brett C up in the low 80s, very fruity-peach. On the other hand the same treatment with Wyeast Brett A gave me a beer that smelled like burnt rubber bands.