Brewing Techniques: Making a Yeast Starter
The more I learn about brewing, the more I realize I have a long way to go. There are endless amounts of techniques and practices that can improve your brewing. Each one can be complicated or cost you some money, so you need to add these techniques slowly, one at a time and bit by bit.
One of the most important factors in brewing is the fermentation, and the most common problems with fermentation are either a non-stable or incorrect temperature, and insufficient or unhealthy yeast being pitched.
Wyeast and White Labs have both done something to help us with the latter – they both offer their yeast strands pre-packaged with yeast nutrient. I use the Wyeast ‘Smack Packs’ which you smack a few hours before use, releasing nutrients into the liquid yeast. After you smack it, you leave it at room temperature and the package swells up, showing that the yeast has propagated and become active. This helps brewers but still does not guarantee healthy yeast or enough of it.
For almost all beer, especially higher gravity (stronger) beer, I have started to make a yeast starter a couple days before brewing. This involves creating a little mini batch of beer at low gravity and pitching your yeast into that batch. The yeast will quickly eat up all of the sugars and ferment the beer, propagating from ~100 billion somewhat healthy cells into ~250+ billion active and very healthy cells. After 1-2 days, while the yeast is still working away and being active, you pitch the entire flask into your big batch of beer and you can notice it start to ferment much more quickly and vigorously than without a starter.
This technique alone can really bring your beer to the next level. The next step is getting a stir plate which constantly stirs and aerates the starter, creating superior cell growth and health.
I have learned a lot of other techniques during my brewing but so far this one is probably the most important.