First time using liquid yeast/making a starter

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by Hoppist, Mar 30, 2018.

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  1. Hoppist

    Hoppist Initiate (0) Mar 5, 2018 Greece

    About to do my second brew, a NEIPA. For this one I got the classic Wyeast London A3 1318 and I am planning to do a starter. The yeast has January 25 date on it, so I guest it should be about 55% viable. This is my first time working with liquid yeast and I want to build a starter. I don't have a stir plate, but I plan to use a blender on the lowest setting. It has a non-stepped speed controller, so I can run it on a very low speed, lower than "1" in most blenders, thus I think that if I succeed sanitizing it, then I should be fine. What pitch rate do you think I should go for, considering I am most likely going to build a 20L (5gal) 1.06 wort for it to ferment? I would like a slight underpitch to create some more intense fruity ester profile. My starter will be (unless someone proposed something better) 1L with 100g extra light DME. Should I leave it in the starter for 2 days, or will 1 suffice?
  2. Prep8611

    Prep8611 Disciple (300) Aug 22, 2014 New Jersey

    I wouldn't use a blender. Just swirl the flask or mason jar every time you walk by it.
  3. GormBrewhouse

    GormBrewhouse Zealot (529) Jun 24, 2015 Vermont

    Prep has it right, a good swirl several times a day will do, but, if you really want to mechanize buy a stir plate. I use the swirl method.
    JackHorzempa and Prep8611 like this.
  4. NorCalKid

    NorCalKid Initiate (0) Jan 10, 2018 California

    YouTube; how to build a computer fan stir plate. Cheap and easy. That way you don’t make a smoothie out of yeast.
    GormBrewhouse likes this.
  5. PortLargo

    PortLargo Zealot (509) Oct 19, 2012 Florida

    You're guessing here. For better results use a yeast calculator . . . this is my favorite: (use the default setting for pitch rate)
    Your variables are age, OG, volume, and method of aeration which sounds complicated but the calc makes it easy. All the answers to pitch rate and starter FAQs are in these two articles:
    The yeast will tell you when they are finished. When you shake and get no off-gassing (foam), the little guys are no longer exhaling, they are finished. If shaking expect 24'ish hours but it may take a little longer . . . again, they will tell you. No harm in letting it go an extra half-day.

    Blenders are for margaritas, you want an Erlenmeyer flask or almost as good is an old spaghetti sauce jar. Shake it a lot (see articles above) and you'll be just fine.
    Ditch the idea of slightly-underpitching-for-increased-yeast-esters . . . after you've down a dozen or so brews that's something to work on.
    billandsuz likes this.
  6. billandsuz

    billandsuz Devotee (498) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    Yeast in a blender is certainly going to bring very, very bad beer karma. And it is not needed or helpful.
    But really, just the thought of it is making my wort sour. Don't put yeast in a blender.

    Was a time when stir plates were a great homebrew hack made with $20 in parts and a fine Sunday afternoon with the soldering iron. Now you can get a great gadget delivered in 2 days for about $30, so consider buying one.

    minderbender and Prep8611 like this.
  7. lostmicrobiologist

    lostmicrobiologist Initiate (0) Jun 12, 2018

    Hey, great choice of yeast for the beer! It should turn out nicely. Although, I would have to agree with everyone on not using a blender for your starter. Even if it may be a very low speed, there are so many nooks and crannies for bacteria and wild yeast to settle into that no sanitizer will be able to reach. The recommended pitch rate for ale yeast will be 0.75 million cells/milliliter of wort/degrees Plato--that's your standard pitch rate on all the calculators. I would suggest buying the liquid yeast smack packs/vials if you're going to do 5 gallons. They're perfectly ready to go, no starter needed, and you can save your yeast for re-pitching! If you maintain sanitary practices when handling the yeast, you shouldn't have to buy new yeast for a while--making your initial investment worth it.

    If you do need a starter for whatever reason, I would recommend testing the gravity of your DME starter as you make it. Dissolve the powder in warm water and keep checking the gravity until you are around 8 Plato. That will be the best gravity for a starter to not stress out your yeast, while still feeding them what they need. Just make sure you bring the DME starter to a boil and completely cool to room temperature before you add your yeast. You always want your yeast and liquid to be almost the exact same temperature.

    How did your brew turn out? What hops did you end up adding??
    Push_the_limits likes this.
  8. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poo-Bah (2,003) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    Without getting into a big discussion about recommended/"standard" pitch rates, I do have to point out that if (as you suggest) the OP wanted a 0.75 rate for his 5 gallons of 1.060 wort, a single pack from Wyeast or White Labs wouldn't get him there without a starter.

    Some people may measure the gravity of their starters. Previously, I would have guessed nobody does, but since you recommend it, I guess there's at least one. But as long as you know the sugar content of the DME (the PPG is not really a secret for any brand that I've seen), it's not hard to figure out how much to use.

    And, thinking about this... how do you test your starter gravity? Keep pulling samples after each DME addition? (And keep correcting for temperature?) Because a flask or pot with a liter or two of water isn't going to float a hydrometer.
    frozyn, PortLargo and billandsuz like this.
  9. billandsuz

    billandsuz Devotee (498) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    Yeah, I think most people weigh 100 grams and add 1 liter. Plus a bit more to make up for the boil off.
    Though in practice it does not really matter all that much imo.
    Personally, I really really try to keep brewing simple wherever possible.
  10. lostmicrobiologist

    lostmicrobiologist Initiate (0) Jun 12, 2018

    Good point! The pitch rate for the calculators is a rough estimation of a direct pitch. It would theoretically be 100 billion cells (or so) short for the pitch. However, the smack packs involve an activation system that allows for a direct pitch into about 5 gallons of wort. Once the bag swells with CO2, the yeast are hungry and ready to eat. It's a quick way to get your fermentation started.

    There's no real need to know exactly what your gravity is for your DME starter unless you want to be sure that you are not over-stressing your yeast with too high of a starting gravity. I know a lot of people who simply determine the correct gravity by color of the starter (density of the DME in the water). That's a pretty good way to do it, I think. But if you simply create a starter to use as an experimental standard to determine your gravity based on the amount of DME you're adding, you'll know exactly what you have. Controlling the parameters of your brewing means you have nearly 100% repeatable methods--and that's great! But, again, most of homebrewing is done because it's creative and fun, so these extra steps are not a requirement.

    Great points!
  11. VikeMan

    VikeMan Poo-Bah (2,003) Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania

    The real purpose of the "activation system" is to prove that there are viable yeast in the package. It may reduce lag time (compared to direct pitching without breaking the pouch), but it doesn't increase cell count significantly (if at all). But if you believe that less, but already "activated" cells, are a substitute for (your) ideal ("unactivated" cell) pitch rate, go for it. But a different number of new cells are going to be propagated in the beer wort, so the beer will be different. Whether it will be better, worse, or just as good is subjective.

    Wyeast knows that most brewers, particularly new brewers, can't be bothered with calculating pitch rates and starters. So they have considerably dumbed the process down. Does pitching a 6 month old pack into a 1.060 wort give you the same pitch rate as a brand new pack into a 1.040 wort? Not even close. But Wyeast knows that both will result in beer. (And this is before even thinking about different ideal pitch rates for different styles/strains.)
  12. lostmicrobiologist

    lostmicrobiologist Initiate (0) Jun 12, 2018

    I was just suggesting a more straighforward way to inoculate the wort for fermentation--that's all. I know that the Wyeast system works and they send out quality product. If we're talking about simplicity and ease of practice, using smack packs are a great way to go. And if you want to use them in a starter to double the cell count, yielding the calculated number of cells needed, that that's great too! It's an extra step, but it's not difficult at all. Activated cells in the smack pack don't make up for the cell deficit, but they're definitely going to do a great job and get to work quickly. You really know your stuff! :smiley:
  13. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,429) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Below is from the Mr. Malty FAQ:

    “Q: How much yeast or how big a starter do I need?

    You should always know how much yeast you need to pitch for a given batch of beer.

    According to both White Labs and Wyeast, a White Labs Pitchable Yeast vial and a Wyeast ACTIVATORTM 125 XL Smack Pack both contain an average of 100 billion cells and are enough to pitch directly into 5 US gallons (18.9 liters) of an ale wort at 1.048 SG (12°P). This is a pitching rate of 5.3 million cells per milliliter, which is close to the pitching rate many professional breweries begin with when starting a new pitch of ale yeast. This rate works well because the health and vitality of fresh laboratory cultured yeast are superior to yeast harvested from normal fermentation. Both companies also concur that higher gravity worts, especially once they exceed a specific gravity of 1.060 (15°P), larger wort volumes, and lager fermentations all require higher pitching rates (or a starter) for optimum results.

    You might have heard that when using yeast harvested from a previous fermentation, the optimal pitching rate for ales is 6 to 10 million cells/ml and 10 to 15 million cells/ml for lagers. That is a generally accepted ballpark, but it doesn't take into account the starting gravity of the wort. Higher gravity worts require more yeast and lower gravity worts require less. You want to pitch around 1 million cells of viable yeast, for every milliliter of wort, for every degree Plato. A little less for an ale, a little more for a lager. In his book, An Analysis of Brewing Techniques, George Fix states that you need to pitch 0.75 million cells per milliliter for an ale and 1.5 million cells per milliliter for a lager. While these rates are for repitching yeast harvested from fermentation, I have found that they work well for both repitching yeast and when using laboratory cultured yeast that has been subjected to less than optimal conditions since leaving the manufacturer.

    Here is the simple math to calculate the number of cells needed. For an ale, you want to pitch around 0.75 million cells of viable yeast, for every milliliter of wort, for every degree Plato.

    (0.75 million) X (milliliters of wort) X (degrees Plato of the wort)
    There are about 3785 milliliters in a gallon. There are about 20,000 milliliters in 5.25 US gallons.
    One degree Plato is close to 1.004 of specific gravity (SG). Just divide the decimal portion of the SG by 4 to get the approximate degrees Plato (e.g., 1.060 is 15°P).
    The proper amount of yeast for 5.25 US gallons of 1.060 wort is around 225 billion cells if you are pitching 0.75 million per milliliter.
    (750,000) X (20,000) X (15) = 225,000,000,000

    Another way to put it, you need about 3 3/4 billion cells for each point of OG when pitching into a little over 5 gallons (20 liters) of wort. Double that number for a lager.

    With each vial or pack having around 100 billion cells, you would need two vials or packs (approximately 200 billion cells) to get close to that rate, if you didn't want to make a starter.

    In general, a two liter starter doubles the amount of yeast in a single vial or pack. For the above example, you would only need one package of yeast if you made a two liter starter. To make it easier to figure out how much yeast you'll get out of a starter, Wyeast created a calculator that estimates the amount of growth from a given starter size. Wyeast plans to have their Wyeast Pitch Rate Calculator available for customers soon at

    You might ask why not pitch as much yeast as possible? There is also an upper limit to how much yeast you should add. Logsdon says, "I try to stay within 20% of my ideal pitch rate and I prefer to slightly under pitch rather than over pitch. This causes more cell growth, more esters, and better yeast health. Over pitching causes other problems with beer flavor, such as a lack of esters. Changes in the flavor profile are noticeable when the pitch rates are as little as 20% over the recommended amount."

    An easy way to determine how much yeast you need is to use for a given batch of beer is the free Pitching Rate CalculatorTM at The calculator can determine the proper amount of yeast for your batch and how big a starter you need to grow that yeast.”

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