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Old 05-08-2012, 03:02 PM   #1
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Default Yeast Starter - How do I know its working?

If I make a yeast starter and am using a stir plate, is there any way I can tell how well the starter worked?

Right now, if I poured in a vial of dead yeast, I'm not sure I would know the difference. I've done a couple of starters so far and it looks like I have more yeast than I started with, but I can't tell for sure. I could measure the volume of the yeast after the starter but I don't want to do that for fear of contamination.

With a 1.2 liter starter and 1.036 OG starter wort, should I expect to see double the yeast? Triple?

They do smell like beer fermenting, so I assume something is working. I just don't know how well.

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Old 05-08-2012, 03:39 PM   #2
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A yeast starter is just like a little mini brew. The yeast eat the available sugars, give off alcohol and CO2 as byproduct, and reproduce/replicate.

In the starter, you should notice some activity like the yeast colonies moving around/floating up and down, maybe some CO2 bubbles and the associated sulphur smell, the amount of sediment/yeast should increase, and the gravity of the solution should go down - All the same things that happen in a larger wort volume.

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Old 05-08-2012, 03:42 PM   #3
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Activity in a starter really only means one thing and one thing only.

It doesn't matter one blip in your fermenter or your starter flask if the airlock bubbles or not (if you are using an airlock and not tinfoil if you are using tinfoil, you aren't getting bubbling anyway,) or if you see a krauzen.

In fact starter fermentation are some of the fastest or slowest but most importantly, the most boring fermentations out there. Usually it's done withing a few hours of yeast pitch...usually overnight when we are sleeping, and the starter looks like nothing ever happened...except for the little band at the bottom. Or it can take awhile...but either way there's often no "activity" whatsoever....

I usually run my stirplate for the first 24 hours, then shut it down, if you are spinning your starter it is really hard to get a krausen to form anyway, since it's all spinning, and there's often a head of foam on it from the movement.


All that really matters is that creamy band o yeast at the bottom.





This is a chilled sample so it's flocculated, but even with an unchilled sample you should see a band of yeast at the bottom. Here's an unchilled version



Same thing, a band.

As it is I've only ever seen two or three krausens actually on my starter (one blew off a bunch of krausen and knocked the tinfoil off the flask,) and the evidence of one on the flask at the "waterline" once. But I've never not had a starter take off.

Look for the yeast at the bottom, don't worry what it looks like on top.

If you have yeast on the bottom....that's all you really need.

If it looks anything like that, your are ready to either feed it again, or use it.

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Old 05-08-2012, 05:42 PM   #4
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Yeast at the bottom doesn't mean it actually reproduced though. I think the op wants a more obvious sign that it worked. It is a bit hard to tell if it reproduced after a feeding, even after its chilled and dormant. One thing I notice is, if its a fresh vial, and has viable yeast, theres a ring of bubbles around the top while the stir plate is on. If you turn the stir plate off, you can see the co2 rising. On vials that were completely dead, I never noticed bubbles at all. I have an expired vial of 002 I just put on the stir plate an hour ago. In a couple of hours I should start to see some bubbles of co2 forming. If I don't, and a refractometer sample hasn't budged, i'll probably just toss it.

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Old 05-08-2012, 05:47 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by mikeysab View Post
Yeast at the bottom doesn't mean it actually reproduced though.
Yes it does, when the yeast finishes if it's not being whipped around on a stirplate, it tends to flocculate. And you see it.

Sorry, but I've never noticed co2 bubbles in any of my starters, on a stirplate or otherwise.

To me that's another one of those risky "signs of fermentation" that doesn't always happen to all brewers. And therefore is a lot less risky then looking for a band of sediment on the bottom of the vessel.
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Old 05-08-2012, 06:38 PM   #6
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Yeast at the bottom doesn't mean it actually reproduced though. I think the op wants a more obvious sign that it worked. It is a bit hard to tell if it reproduced after a feeding, even after its chilled and dormant.
Yes, that's what I'm looking for. Some (preferrably easy) way to tell that the goal was accomplished.

Right now I'm just blindly calculating the yeast starter size (using Mr. Malty) and assuming the yeast viability based on the date. For all I know the vendor I bought it from could have left it on the dash of their car for a week... or more realistically UPS could have left the package in the top of a package truck all weekend out in the sun. The cold pack on this last vial wasn't a bit cold when I got it.

If I took a gravity reading of the wort after 36 hours on the stir plate, and it is around 1.012, give or take, could I assume things went pretty well?
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Old 05-08-2012, 06:52 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Revvy View Post
In fact starter fermentation are some of the fastest or slowest but most importantly, the most boring fermentations out there.
I agree with you. And sometimes, the most vigorous: Occasionally I get one that goes a bit crazy, like this:



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Old 05-08-2012, 07:20 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Revvy

Yes it does, when the yeast finishes if it's not being whipped around on a stirplate, it tends to flocculate. And you see it.

Sorry, but I've never noticed co2 bubbles in any of my starters, on a stirplate or otherwise.

To me that's another one of those risky "signs of fermentation" that doesn't always happen to all brewers. And therefore is a lot less risky then looking for a band of sediment on the bottom of the vessel.
Well, if you take a vial of yeast and pour it into a liquid and let it sit on the counter, you'll notice a band of yeast on the bottom. Does that mean it reproduced? Sure, if you make a starter, then after awhile, it'll start to look actiive, then fflocc out when the food is gone,but I could pour yeast into water and get a band of yeast on the bottom.

I use a 2 qt mason jar for starters. If I make a one liter starter, let it finish, then cold crash it, I wouldn't be able to tell if it worked by looking at the yeast band on the botttom.

You could always use a refractometer or hydrometer to tell if it did anything.
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Old 05-08-2012, 08:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
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I use a 2 qt mason jar for starters. If I make a one liter starter, let it finish, then cold crash it, I wouldn't be able to tell if it worked by looking at the yeast band on the botttom.
That's what I was just thinking (because I'm preparing to do a starter with washed/harvested yeast). I have a large band of yeast in the mason jar, so when I do the starter, even if that yeast is dead and doesn't do anything, wouldn't it still all eventually settle back to the bottom?
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Old 05-08-2012, 09:26 PM   #10
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Everything will eventually settle to the bottom. If its healthy yeast, it'll eat the sugar, float around, then settle. If its all dead yeast, it'll just settle out. If its on a stir plate, its hard to tell if its doing anything. Like Revvy said, looking for signs of fermentation isn't reliable. You could see no signs, but that doesn't mean it didn't work

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