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Old 01-31-2011, 03:15 PM   #1
funky_brewster
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Default Did I need a starter for 35ml vial of WL380?

Hey folks,

After a very smooth and seemingly successful brew day yesterday, I may have have goofed on the most critical step: not having enough yeast to do my bidding!

I brewed a partial-mash weissbier (3# 2-row pilsner, 1# dark munich, 1/4# melanoiden with 3.3# wheat LME added during boil) and hit the gravity right at the style's top end, 1.052.

We pitched the room temp'd vial directly into the wort at 75* and gave it a good oxidizing ride for 6-7 minutes. I fear my mistake was not making a starter because this morning (10 hours after pitching), there was zero airlock activity. I know that's not the best metric, but makes me wonder.

This was the first time using the vial of liquid yeast and I didn't think about my other experience with liquid yeast (smack-packs) where there's a nutrient pack built in.

My question is, if I've still got no airlock activity when I get home tonight (approx 20 hours after pitching), what's the best thing to do? Grab another vial (at $8 a pop, that kinda sucks) and culture a starter?

Thanks for any suggestions!

-Funky

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Old 01-31-2011, 03:44 PM   #2
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Where are you reading that you should see activity after 10 hours? No disrespect intended, but that's kind of crazy

Bubbles don't mean jack. That is your gospel.

For future, I would consider a starter for a 1.052, though it's not like you'll have failed fermentation without one. A starter will probably just buy you a slightly cleaner fermentation profile.

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Old 01-31-2011, 03:53 PM   #3
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No disrespect taken! Just that in my experience with other yeast pitches (smack packs and rehydrated dry), airlock activity usually starts up by the next morning. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the yeast is taking its time given the lack of a jump start.

I hear you that the airlock a lousy tool for confirming fermentation. I don't want to be peeking in to take a reading (besides the fact that I'm not a fan of obsessive gravity readings), but is there any other way to validate there's no real problem?

Thanks for the feedback!
-Funky

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Old 01-31-2011, 03:59 PM   #4
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No disrespect taken! Just that in my experience with other yeast pitches (smack packs and rehydrated dry), airlock activity usually starts up by the next morning. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the yeast is taking its time given the lack of a jump start.

I hear you that the airlock a lousy tool for confirming fermentation. I don't want to be peeking in to take a reading (besides the fact that I'm not a fan of obsessive gravity readings), but is there any other way to validate there's no real problem?

Thanks for the feedback!
-Funky
At this point, no. At least not without a haemocytometer and a microscope.

Fermentation is weird. Sometimes it starts up quickly, sometimes not. Underpitching slightly like you did makes a longer lag time likely. Bubbles and krausen are reassuring, of course, but you can have great fermentation without them (and you can have terrible fermentation with them). If you have zero visual evidence by 72 hours, pull a hydrometer sample. Before that, there's really not much you can do except screw up your beer by over reacting

10 hours is well, well within the range of normal start times, as is 20 hours.
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Old 01-31-2011, 04:27 PM   #5
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If you have zero visual evidence by 72 hours, pull a hydrometer sample. Before that, there's really not much you can do except screw up your beer by over reacting
This is most appreciated and sage advice. I'll keep a passive eye on things for a few days and not overthink it.
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Old 01-31-2011, 04:45 PM   #6
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I've used WLP380 about 5 times and each time fermentation activity was apparent within 24-36 hours. Though I now use starters with this yeast, my very first batch of homebrew was an extract wheat using WLP380, and even then I had vigorous activity within 36 hours. In fact, if I were you I'd switch out the airlock for a blowoff tube; if you don't you'll probably have a mess to clean up in day or so.

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Old 01-31-2011, 04:56 PM   #7
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I've used WLP380 about 5 times and each time fermentation activity was apparent within 24-36 hours.
So in your first batches, you didn't use a started and just pitched directly from the vial at room temp? If so, that's comforting to know it didn't prevent a proper fermentation.


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In fact, if I were you I'd switch out the airlock for a blowoff tube; if you don't you'll probably have a mess to clean up in day or so.
This is actually exactly what I was thinking and realized I should have setup in the event that it gets vigorous. I haven't used many aggressive strains but expect this one to be just that. We've got it at a very comfy 72* and given the high OG, the 1.5 "gallons" of headspace in the bucket might not be enough.

Thanks for the solid advice!
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Old 01-31-2011, 05:00 PM   #8
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Your beer will be fine, but in the future there is but one piece of advice I can offer. If you ever ask "Do I need a starter?" then the answer is, without fail, yes. You need to get viable cell count up, and a starter accomplishes that for you. The only time I don't make starters is when I use yeast out of a primary fermentation, since it is essentially a five gallon starter.

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Old 02-04-2011, 03:06 PM   #9
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Here's an update after 5 days in the primary without starting yeast:

I took a peek this morning to see if it looked like anything happened, and was surprised to see the remnants of activity at the top of the bucket. This pic makes it look a little more grayish/blueish than it actually is.


About two days into fermenting, there was a STRONG sulfur/rotten egg smell coming out of the airlock. It was nice to find out (from the Brewing TV episode on Open Fermentation) this is normal for fermenting hefeweizens.

Not expecting much in the way of gravity drop, I was shocked to see it had dropped to just a shade under 1.020. The OG was right at the top end for the style (1.052) but if this finishes here, it'll be high for the style (max is 1.014) but expected since the yeast probably struggled the whole time.


This beer actually has a nice enough opening, but not much in the way of clove or other spiciness (makes sense given the lack of yeast cells to begin with). The real bummer is the finish, which gets quite bitter. This most likely can be attributed to my flaking on the flameout time by 15 mins. The hop schedule ended up as 1.25oz Hallertau @ 75 min, .75oz Hallertau @ 30 min. Lesson learned on how much impact that can have.

I never once saw a blup of a bubble in the airlock, which is a first for me! I'm thinking now there wasn't a good seal on the lid, since this is my backup primary fermenter that I don't use often. But I'm glad I heeded the advice of wise HBTers and didn't fudge with it.

My plan is to take a couple more readings to be sure the yeast is done, then keg it and forget it for at least a month. Hopefully that will mellow out the finishing bitterness.

Should I give the bucket a slow swirl or stir, to try and revitalize some yeast that's fallen out? Or better to be happy with what I got and not mess?

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Old 02-04-2011, 03:23 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by funky_brewster View Post
Should I give the bucket a slow swirl or stir, to try and revitalize some yeast that's fallen out? Or better to be happy with what I got and not mess?
Quote:
Originally Posted by funky_brewster View Post
But I'm glad I heeded the advice of wise HBTers and didn't fudge with it..


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