I’ve been lurking around here since June or so without posting much at all. Thanks mainly to this forum, I’m currently making my fifth all-grain batch, and all of my beers thus far have tasted amazing.
My latest is my first high-gravity brew (a suped-up IIPA, OG=1.101), and I wanted to share my experience for anyone who might have worries about first-time HG brewing/starter making.
I made an ESB a while back and used washed yeast (WLP002)for my IIPA starter. When I harvested the yeast, I didn’t know that I should not have waited for the yeast to settle for 20 mins before putting in jars, as WLP002 is extremely flocculant. However, I decided to try using my washed yeast anyway. I made the 2L stirplate starter Thursday, thinking I would brew on Sunday. I thought I could contain it in a 2L flask with caution and a squirt bottle, but I had two messy boilovers before I figured out the squirt bottle was just making things worse. I then let it heat very slowly over a small flame, and it didn’t boil over again. I now know that I should have used a smaller starter and stepped up. Live and learn.
However, come Saturday, I found out that Sunday would be no good; I’d need to brew Saturday. The starter was not looking like cottage cheese yet (as many have described with WLP002), so I was a bit worried. It was fermenting strongly, though. I went to my LHBS and purchased my ingredients, and I picked up a vial of WLP002 to pitch into the starter just to beef it up a bit. I pitched this into the starter around noon after warming it in my pocket for an hour.
The beer making went well; all gravities were nailed, and it cooled to pitching temp in about 20 mins. My starter still hadn’t gotten that clumpy look that I had seen online, so I wasn’t sure if the cell counts would be high enough. The fermentation hadn’t changed much since I pitched the vial, either. As I was pinched for time, I didn’t have the ability to crash cool and decant, so I just poured the entire starter in. This was probably around 7 pm (I dragged my feet as much as possible, hoping the yeast would propagate more).
I left home and came back around 1am to find the airlock bubbling at about two bubbles per second! The next day, the temp was reading 72 rather than the usual 68, so I moved it to the basement, where it soon cooled to exactly 68. A few hours later I went down again, only to find a green airlock surrounded by a mound of hop scum. I counted my blessings, glad the bucket lid hadn’t blown, as I quickly attached a blow-off tube. I went down again an hour or two later and found the lid partially loose from the bucket—the tip of the three-piece airlock had clogged. Counting more blessings, I cut the crossbars off the tip of the airlock before sanitizing and replacing it.
Two days later, there was almost no bubbling. I curiously took a reading and found that my target FG had been reached. That’s a four-day fermentation from a small amount of harvested yeast on a stirplate for about 48 hours plus a tube of yeast (taken out of the fridge 1 hour before pitching) added to that starter for about 7 hours. Oh, and the sample tasted great!
The moral of the story?
Providing the beer doesn't end up infected (and possibly even if it does, though I doubt it will), this goes to show that you can poorly harvest yeast, begin your starter late and boil it over, not step your starter up correctly, pitch the full starter instead of decanting, and have a clogged airlock and a popped-off lid, and still come out with great beer.