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Old 02-09-2011, 02:24 AM   #1
HoyaSaxa
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Default Super Slow Start on Lager

So I brewed an Octoberfest on Sunday. I pitched a 2L starter at high krausen (48 hours after pitching Wyeast smack pack). Pitched at 55F, which is as cold as I could get my wort on tap water. The starter was at 68F. Immediately placed fermenter in cold closet at 50F.

It's now been 48 hours with no activity. I wouldn't be concerned if the starter wasn't exploding out of the airlock with activity. Should I be concerned at this point... its the first time I've pitched a lager at fermentation temps instead of 70F. Is this slow start just reflective of pitching at the lower temp? Also, what the real benefit of pitching "cold" vs. at 70F? Less actetyl/fusal alcohols I would assume?

Anyway... I need some moral support here... tell me this is normal!!

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Old 02-09-2011, 03:56 AM   #2
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What do you mean by no activity? Are you saying no bubbles or airlock activity? Lagers can be much less eventful than ales in terms of visible activity. The only real way to tell if nothing is happening take a gravity reading. The only other thing I would point out is that the diff in temperature of your starter to your wort is a little high (13F) - could shock the yeast. But I don't think that's necessarily enough to cause that much lag (assuming you really have no activity).

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Old 02-09-2011, 04:03 AM   #3
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Also, what the real benefit of pitching "cold" vs. at 70F? Less actetyl/fusal alcohols I would assume?
The main idea is to reduce diacetyl. There is some debate on best technique. With the technique of starting cold, like the Narziss method which actually starts at 44F, there is supposedly never a need to do a diacetly rest. Personally I like the start cold method, but it does get blamed for slower starts.
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Old 02-09-2011, 01:55 PM   #4
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What do you mean by no activity? Are you saying no bubbles or airlock activity? Lagers can be much less eventful than ales in terms of visible activity. The only real way to tell if nothing is happening take a gravity reading. The only other thing I would point out is that the diff in temperature of your starter to your wort is a little high (13F) - could shock the yeast. But I don't think that's necessarily enough to cause that much lag (assuming you really have no activity).
What I meant by no activity was no air lock, no krausen, no wort movement, no tiny bubbles moving in solution. I never sample this early, so I haven't taken a gravity measurement.

This morning, two things happened. First, my closet heater (50w light bulb) got tripped last night and the closet got down to 43F... too cold. The wort probably got down to around 46F, yet... a shimmer of hope. This morning, there was evidence of some krausen forming, and some tiny bubbles moving in the wort. A gentle shake showed plenty of CO2 releasing from solution... so it looks like we are a go.

I'm guessing (as you suggested) the temp drop on the starter (68-55F) was just a bit too much. Again, I normally pitch when the wort is around 65F and immediately begin to cool down to fermentation temps over a day or so. Last lager I pitched this way was roaring at 24 hours. Live and learn.
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Old 02-09-2011, 02:39 PM   #5
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A temperature change over 10°F between wort and starter is generally discouraged. Your yeast may have spent some time protecting itself from the cold temperatures and is now starting to get around to fermentation.
46°F isn't the end of the world either. Most lager yeast will work down to 40°. They may be slow as molasses but they'll still be working. However, clean up your temperature control a bit to avoid these swings. Frequently going up and down only stresses the yeast.

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Old 02-09-2011, 02:51 PM   #6
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A temperature change over 10°F between wort and starter is generally discouraged. Your yeast may have spent some time protecting itself from the cold temperatures and is now starting to get around to fermentation.
46°F isn't the end of the world either. Most lager yeast will work down to 40°. They may be slow as molasses but they'll still be working. However, clean up your temperature control a bit to avoid these swings. Frequently going up and down only stresses the yeast.
Easier said than done... I am "winter" lager brewer for a reason... only temp space that can manage that is in my garage. No space, time, or money for a "lagering" fridge, so this is what it is.

That said, with the heat light, and close monitoring, I've generally been able to keep the closet consistently within 1 degree F of 50. Short spikes above or below have occurred, but not enough to dramatically change the temp of the wort.

So if a big temp swing on the yeast is discouraged, then I assume everyone who pitches cold is cold fermenting their starter as well? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a quick and prolific multiplication of the initial colony? Maybe I'll just keep pitching at 65F and chill down to 50F so the yeast don't get upset...
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Old 02-09-2011, 03:35 PM   #7
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Fair enough. You brew with the system you have, not the system you wish you had.

I'm getting a lager starter ready for this weekend. I started with a 1L starter and then fed it into a 6L starter. These were done in the basement around 60-65°F. Once the 6L starter finished, I placed it in the garage (45-50°F) to settle out and to let the yeast go dormant and build reserves. A large drop in this case is fine since I want the yeast to shut down and get stronger.

Creating conditions that favor quick and prolific yeast growth comes at a cost, and usually that is diacetyl precursor & ester production and long-term yeast health. If the yeast will only be used once and a diacetyl rest is done, that's fine. Given a choice, I would prefer slightly slower and lower yeast growth to get a colony of very healthy and strong yeast that I can reuse a couple more times. Either process has pros and cons associated with it.

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Old 02-09-2011, 04:41 PM   #8
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I haven't gotten into starters yet so I pitched 3.5 vials of white labs lager yeast at 48 degrees (both wort and yeast were that temp) and raised it to 52 degrees for fermentation.

It took 5 days before I saw any activity. Now it's been sitting for two weeks with a bubble every 8-10 seconds. Very slow but steady.

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Old 02-09-2011, 07:15 PM   #9
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I only use dry Lager yeast. I pitched 1.7 11g packets Monday night into a Lager and it's going fine @50* as I type this.

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Old 02-09-2011, 11:03 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by HoyaSaxa View Post
So if a big temp swing on the yeast is discouraged, then I assume everyone who pitches cold is cold fermenting their starter as well? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of a quick and prolific multiplication of the initial colony? Maybe I'll just keep pitching at 65F and chill down to 50F so the yeast don't get upset...
Actually, you're not really supposed to ferment the starter cold, even for a lager. You should ferment it at normal (ale) temps, then cool it down to reasonably close to the temp of your wort (within 5 degrees F). And if you're afraid of your starter affecting the taste of your lager, especially if it's a large starter and more delicate lager, then you can decant. Decanting involves cooling, so in that case you may need to warm up the starter before you pitch.
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