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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > General Techniques > Lager Starters - Best practices ??
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:42 PM   #1
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Default Lager Starters - Best practices ??

Does anyone have any strong opinions about the best way of creating and pitching a starter specifically for a lager?

When creating a starter, it sounds like a lot of people say that they propogate the starter at 70 degrees F (or room temp).

I can understand this if they are pitching into 65 degree wort. But the best way to avoid esters in a lager is to pitch at fermentation temp. Pitching a 70 degree starter into a 48 degree or even 55 degree wort seems as though it would certainly shock the yeast and delay the start of fermentation. Also, if the yeast in the starter propagated at 70 degrees, they would have adapted to a 70 degree environment, not a 55 degree one.

Another question regards the best time at which to pitch. Some people say that they let the yeast complete fermentation in the starter, then cold crash, and then just pitch the yeast slurry. Again, this seems like you would be adding yeast that are going to be less than vigorous and unadapted to the environment in which they are going to be pitched.

So, the best starter would seem to be one at full krausen, since this would be a stage at which the number of yeast cells is high, they have built up sufficient reserves during respiration, and are actively multiplying. And it would seem that you would have to pitch the entire contents of the starter, because, given the nature of lager yeast, a lot of them would be sitting at the bottom of the starter.

Anyone have some thoughts on these different methods?

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Old 02-17-2009, 11:28 PM   #2
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The two schools of thought among homebrewers are:

1. Ferment at room temp, cold crash (at least TWO nights before... it takes longer for lager yeast to drop out than ales when cold crashing), and decant off the unhopped beer before pitching. That way, most of the esters (etc.) produced from the warm ferment will be dumped down the drain with the starter beer and not into your lager.

2. Ferment the starter cold (~50s°F). Then the choice is yours... to cold-crash and dump the starter beer, or just pitch the whole thing (at high-krausen or fully fermented)... or maybe go half and half or whatever (so you're not dumping a whole gallon of unhopped starter beer into 5 gallons of your lager.)

Those are pretty much the two sides of it and some do something in between. For number one, the only suspicion I have is: once the yeast get used to fermenting warm, will there be a readjustment to ferment colder? And in this readjustment, will they produce flavor-active compounds (esters, diacetyl, phenols, etc.)? Or, because they are used to fermenting warm and producing flavor-active compounds at those warmer temps (lager yeasts will do that), will they continue to produce some of those compounds in your main ferment and result in off-flavors in the final beer?

If either of those 2 scenarios has merit, it's better to ferment cold. I'm not sure either way. At any rate, make a big starter (preferrably stepped up) plenty enough ahead of time (7-10 days isn't uncommon).

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Old 02-18-2009, 09:04 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by menschmaschine View Post
The two schools of thought among homebrewers are:

1. Ferment at room temp, cold crash (at least TWO nights before... it takes longer for lager yeast to drop out than ales when cold crashing), and decant off the unhopped beer before pitching. That way, most of the esters (etc.) produced from the warm ferment will be dumped down the drain with the starter beer and not into your lager.

2. Ferment the starter cold (~50s°F). Then the choice is yours... to cold-crash and dump the starter beer, or just pitch the whole thing (at high-krausen or fully fermented)... or maybe go half and half or whatever (so you're not dumping a whole gallon of unhopped starter beer into 5 gallons of your lager.)

Those are pretty much the two sides of it and some do something in between. For number one, the only suspicion I have is: once the yeast get used to fermenting warm, will there be a readjustment to ferment colder? And in this readjustment, will they produce flavor-active compounds (esters, diacetyl, phenols, etc.)? Or, because they are used to fermenting warm and producing flavor-active compounds at those warmer temps (lager yeasts will do that), will they continue to produce some of those compounds in your main ferment and result in off-flavors in the final beer?

If either of those 2 scenarios has merit, it's better to ferment cold. I'm not sure either way. At any rate, make a big starter (preferrably stepped up) plenty enough ahead of time (7-10 days isn't uncommon).
I've been investigating that problem, and I see that most brewers agree, that you can make lager starter at room temperatures (example: Brew Strong podcast about starters). But then you should definitely decant it.
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Old 02-18-2009, 12:56 PM   #4
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This is something I've been researching a little bit lately. From Kaiser's Fermenting Lagers page

Quote:
Temperature: As much as there is debate about warm pitching vs. cold pitching there is debate about the propagation temperature for lager yeast. Microbiologists will tell you that yeast (lager and ale) should be propagated at 75 *F (25 *C) because that is the temperature at which they will grow best. Brewers however generally agree that yeast should be propagated at or slightly above primary fermentation temperature because the yeast should not get used to living and performing at higher temperatures than the primary fermentation temperature. Some home brewers report that yeast grown at temperatures above room temperature (80+ *F) tends to loose their flocculation characteristic which makes it harder for the yeast to drop out at the end of fermentation. Growing yeast at primary fermentation temperatures also avoids shocking the yeast when pitched because its temperature is already close to pitching temperature. The yeast propagation guidelines from the yeast bank Weihenstephan also suggest that the last stages of propagation are done close to fermentation temperatures.
And from Mr. Malty's http://Fourteen Essential Questions ...Yeast Starters
Quote:
Q: Does a starter need to be kept at the same temperature as it is going to ferment the batch of beer later?

No, but there are practical limits to how high or low you can go.

Warmer starters (up to 98°F, 37°C) equal more rapid yeast growth, but using these very high propagation temperatures negatively affects the viability and stability of the resulting yeast. Very rapid growth or excessive growth can result in weaker cell membranes due to lower unsaturated fatty acid concentrations. Lager yeasts tend to be especially sensitive to high temperatures.

The cooler you ferment the starter (down to the planned fermentation temperature for the main batch) the slower the yeast growth, but the yeast can be healthier than yeast coming from a high temperature starter.

Keep starters between 65°F (18°C) and 75°F (24°C). A temperature around the low 70s (72°F, 22°C) strikes the best balance for the propagation of yeasts. Lager yeast starters can be kept a few degrees cooler and ale yeasts can be kept a few degrees warmer, but this temperature strikes a good balance of yeast health and efficient propagation for both types of yeast.

If you are going to pitch the starter at high krauesen, it is best to keep the starter within 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3°C) of the wort temperature of the main batch. Pitching a very warm, active starter into cold wort can stun the yeasts and with lager yeasts this can cause a higher incidence of petite mutants, which can negatively affect attenuation, flocculation, and increase hydrogen sulfide production.

You can add small amounts of cool wort to the starter over time, to bring the temperature down gradually, but it is really better to keep everything closer to fermentation temperatures from the beginning. Any time yeast sense a big drop in temperature, they slow down and drop out.
FWIW, I pitched my last lager cool (~60o F then immediately put it in a 52o F fridge) and it was only a 1 qt. starter from a White Labs vial but I kept the starter at ~60o F. It took off pretty quickly and attenuated well. I need a bigger jar so I can make bigger starters though. I'm not paying $25 for a 2L jar though, I'd rather buy a $5 gallon jar of Dill pickles and just dump the pickles (I'll eat a few).
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Old 02-18-2009, 01:15 PM   #5
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I generally do the ferment cold method and still decant the spent wort before pitching. I make a gallon starter at least a week ahead of brewday unless I'm using dry yeast.

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Old 02-18-2009, 02:11 PM   #6
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I just did this on Monday's Vienna double decoction brew. I made a starter in 1 gallon of wort 4 days before and put it into a 50F room. The day before I brewed I bought it out to 55F because it was going slow. Pitched it at 55F into wort at 55F. The next day it was cranking at 50F!! I was pleased. I feel both ways work. I drank a Helles this week from Warrior(on this forum) and he makes RT starters and pitches at RT. He then puts into a 50F freezer to ferment at 50F. It was delicious. If your 50F starter goes off like gang busters then do that, if not warm it a little.

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Old 02-18-2009, 03:57 PM   #7
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I grow my lager starters warm (usualy 1,5L on stir plate). When it is done fermenting, I put it in the fridge, in the brew day I decant and I wake the yeast with fresh wort from boil kettle (properly cooled), and I leave it overnight in the fridge, next morning I pitch active starter in ~46F wort. So far works like charm, I see foam on the surface after 24h at most

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Old 02-18-2009, 08:19 PM   #8
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I just made a lager myself, only my second try. This time I made a small starter on Saturday, about a pint from WLP840. Then early Monday I stepped it up to 3qt based on my questions here, and let this ferment at around 70F.

Last night I made my batch and cooled it to 56 between the ice bath and the very cold top off water from the tap. I had also placed the starter outside to cool for a few hours, temps were around 40F. I decanted a good portion of the starter wort off, leaving just enough to loosen the yeast off the bottom and poured it into the new brew. I didn't get done until after midnight. I left it in the cold spot where the full carboy with sanitizer read 48F that day. At 6:30am I already had bubbling, and the temp was 52. I'm optimistic about this one. My last lager I pitched warm and it didn't turn out very good, very estery.

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Old 02-20-2009, 08:45 PM   #9
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So I set my WLP830 on the stir plate Tuesday night in the back bedroom where I have the door closed and the vent closed as well. The room is flucuating between 50-58 degrees.

I finally saw some foam this morning, 2.5 days later. This is on a stir plate too, I guess I never thought it would be that slow. Well hopefully it is finished by the time I go to bed so I can crash cool it overnight and use it tomorrow.

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