Necessity of yeast starter? - Home Brew Forums
Register Now For Free!

Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Fermentation & Yeast > Necessity of yeast starter?

Thread Tools
Old 03-30-2011, 09:49 PM   #1
Mar 2011
Arlington, VA
Posts: 9

My next brew is a big old belgian dubbel, and the recipe that I'm tailoring suggests Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey. Many of the comments I've read on here suggest using yeast starters when brewing high gravity beers - which makes sense - but I was recently told that the belgian abbey doesn't require it.

Do you all suggest using a starter for the belgian abbey?

Reply With Quote
Old 03-30-2011, 09:53 PM   #2
Golddiggie's Avatar
Dec 2010
Posts: 11,995
Liked 497 Times on 431 Posts

Even a modest OG brew can benefit from a starter. You don't need to make a huge one though. Use the Mr. Malty site to figure out how much of a starter you should use, and go from there.
Hopping Tango Brewery

跟猴子比丟屎 ・ Gun HOE-tze bee DIO-se

On Tap: Caramel Ale, Mocha Porter II, MO SMaSH IPA
Waiting/Carbonating: 12.5% Wee Honey II, 8.9% Old Ale, English Brown Ale, Lickah ESB, Mocha Porter II
K2: Epic mead
K3: TripSix
On Deck: Caramel Ale
Mead [bottled]:Oaked Wildflower Traditional, Mocha Madness, Blackberry Melomel, maple wine

Reply With Quote
Old 03-30-2011, 10:22 PM   #3
Jul 2010
Posts: 438
Liked 2 Times on 2 Posts

If you're sticking to the BJCP guidelines for gravity/alcohol content you'll need a starter. Some people will tell you you don't because Belgian yeasts need to be underpitched to bring out their characteristics, but they'd be wrong. Aim for the low side of whatever Mr. Malty tells you and the beer will be great.

Reply With Quote
Old 03-30-2011, 10:24 PM   #4
Editor-in-Chief, Zymurgy magazine
QuaffableQuips's Avatar
Sep 2009
Fort Collins, Colorado
Posts: 397
Liked 28 Times on 23 Posts

Originally Posted by indigi View Post
if you're sticking to the bjcp guidelines for gravity/alcohol content you'll need a starter. Some people will tell you you don't because belgian yeasts need to be underpitched to bring out their characteristics, but they'd be wrong. Aim for the low side of whatever mr. Malty tells you and the beer will be great.

Dave Carpenter
Editor-in-Chief, Zymurgy
American Homebrewers Association

Reply With Quote
Old 03-30-2011, 10:56 PM   #5
Oct 2010
Osceola, Iowa
Posts: 1,421
Liked 25 Times on 18 Posts

indigi is right, underpitching actually doesn't help much flavor wise. Ommengang tried it both ways and went with the higher pitch rate because it led to fewer problems with fermentation. Make a starter for nearly everything and your beer will thank you.

Reply With Quote
Old 03-30-2011, 10:59 PM   #6
Aug 2008
Roanoke, VA
Posts: 347
Liked 3 Times on 3 Posts

Starters are definitely your friend. Just learn to make them and use them always! Pitching the proper amount of yeast is a HUGE part of making a great beer!
Primary 1: Winter Tropics Pale Ale
Primary 2: Appy IPA
Primary 3: Truly Triple Hopped IPA

Secondary 1: Air
Secondary 2: Air

Bottled: Edworts IPA, Nierra Sevada, Stork Blue Celebration Ale
On Deck: Maroon Effect Amber, Blonde, IPA, APA

Reply With Quote
Old 03-31-2011, 01:21 AM   #7
Aug 2009
Charlottesville, VA
Posts: 2,174
Liked 44 Times on 40 Posts

Proper pitch rate is independent of yeast strain. Definitely make a starter.

Reply With Quote
Old 03-31-2011, 01:22 AM   #8
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
Revvy's Avatar
Dec 2007
"Detroitish" Michigan
Posts: 40,937
Liked 3212 Times on 1896 Posts

It's really a good idea to make starters when using ANY liguid yeast for all beers above 1.020 OG...

The biggest reason I suggest folks make a starter is if you make one you'll have peace of mind. It's especially important if you have questionable situation happenning with your yeast, like not being sure the yeast arrived healthy.

And you won't be starting an "is my yeast dead" thread in a couple of days.

Making a starter first insures that your yeast is still alive and viable before you dump it in your beer. You will be less likely to start one of those "is my yeast dead?" threads that are on here every day.

You will also ensure that you have enough yeast usually the tubes and smack packs are a lot less yeast that you really should use for healthy fermentation.

Making a starter also usually means your beer will take off sooner, because the first thing that the little buggers do in the presence of wort (whether in a flask or in a fermenter) is have an orgy to reproduce enough cells to do the job...So it won't take such a long time in the fermenter since they started doing it in the flask.

Additionally it is better for the yeast to consume and reproduce incrementally rather than just dumping them into the fermenter...The yeast will be less stressed out than if you just dump them in.

Stressed out yeast can lead to a lot of off flavors...maybe even (though rare) the dreaded autolysis....Or the curse of 1.030....getting a stuck fermentation because the yeast have bit the dust.

So making a starter proves your yeast is still healthy, allows you to grow enough yeast to do the job, cuts down on lag time, and ensures that you will not get off flavors or stuck ferementations from stressed out yeast.

Also has to do with the actual pitch rates of the smack packs and tubes, and has to do with the data that Jamil Z has on his mr malty website.

I'll quote some of it, but really you should look at the stuff there;

Ales & Lagers

The general consensus on pitching rates is that you want to pitch around 1 million cells of viable yeast, for every milliliter of wort, for every degree plato. A little less for an ale, a little more for a lager. George Fix states about 1.5 million for a lager and 0.75 million for an ale in his book, An Analysis of Brewing Techniques. Other literature cites a slightly higher amount. I'm going with Fix's numbers and that is what the pitching calculator uses.
The Math

If you're curious, here is the simple math to calculate the number of cells needed. For an ale, you want to pitch around 0.75 million cells of viable yeast (0.75 million for an ale, 1.5 million for a lager), for every milliliter of wort, for every degree plato.

(0.75 million) X (milliliters of wort) X (degrees Plato of the wort)

* There is about 3785 milliliters in a gallon. There are about 20,000 milliliters in 5.25 gallons.

* A degree Plato is about 1.004 of original gravity. Just divide the OG by 4 to get Plato (e.g., 1.048 is 12 degrees Plato).

So, for a 1.048 wort pitching into 5.25 gallons you need about 180 billion cells.

(750,000) X (20,000) X (12) = 180,000,000,000

As an easy to remember rough estimate, you need about 15 billion cells for each degree Plato or about 4 billion cells for each point of OG when pitching into a little over 5 gallons of wort. If you want a quick way of doing a back of the envelope estimate, that is really close to 0.75 billion cells for each point of gravity per gallon of wort. Double that to 1.5 billion for a lager.
Pitching From Tubes, Packs, or Dry Yeast

Both White Labs and Wyeast make fantastic products and you can't go wrong with either one. There are differences between their strains and each brand has pluses and minuses yet neither is better than the other across the board. Use the brand your local homebrew shop carries, if you need a way to decide.

A White Labs tube has between 70 and 120 billion cells of 100% viable yeast, depending on the yeast strain. Some cells are much larger than others and there are more or less per ml based on size. (The information on the White Labs web site stating 30 to 50 billion cells is out of date.) We can just assume there are around 100 billion very healthy yeast. You would need 2 tubes if you were pitching directly into 5.5 gallons of 1.048 wort to get the proper cell counts.

A Wyeast Activator pack (the really big ones) and the pitchable tubes have an average of 100 billion cells of 100% viable yeast. The smaller packs are around 15-18 billion cells. You would need 2 of the large packs if you were pitching directly into 5.5 gallons of 1.048 wort to get the proper cell counts. For the small packs, you'd need eleven of them!

But to make it easier he has a great pitch rate calculator

And according to his numbers on his calculator, really any beer above 1.020, you should be making a starter for.

Me personally when I use liquid yeast I just make a starter. I may not be as anal as some brewers and makes sure that I have the exact cellcount for whatever gravity beer I am making, but I do make one for the above reasons I mentioned, namely peace of mid, and a reduction in lag time.

Seriously, that's one way to insure you have clean tasting beer, not to stress out or underpitch your yeast. You may find the "bothering" to make a starter will make even the less than best kit beer come out tasting great.

Like my snazzy new avatar? Get Sons of Zymurgy swag, here, and brew with the best.

Revvy's one of the cool reverends. He has a Harley and a t-shirt that says on the back "If you can read this, the bitch was Raptured. - Madman

I gotta tell ya, just between us girls, that Revvy is HOT. Very tall, gorgeous grey hair and a terrific smile. He's very good looking in person, with a charismatic personality... he drives like a ****ing maniac! - YooperBrew

Reply With Quote
Old 03-31-2011, 01:50 AM   #9
Feb 2011
San Diego, CA
Posts: 55
Liked 1 Times on 1 Posts

I know that making starters is the right thing to do, but I've only done it a limited amount of times and it hasn't helped much of anything. Most of the "stuck fermentations" I had when first starting out probably had a lot more to do with stupidly high mash temps than pitch rate.

After batch 3 I had it under control. After doing side-by-side comparisons I can actually tell you that I prefer underpitching with Belgian-style brews. Why?

Temp control and fermentation longevity. I did an experiment with 10 gallon batches of different recipes for each yeast, separated into 5gal carboys, one carboy got the yeast after a starter, and one with a straight smack pack. What I found was that the yeasts with starters would finish my fermentation very quickly. I didn't like this because I like to crank up the ferm temp by 2F every day for around 10 days with Belgians to get a more complex ester profile. Both beers would ultimately finish at the same grav, but the one with the starter didn't have the same strength of "funk" as the underpitched beer. I attribute this solely to quick ferm times w/o the benefit of gradual temp increases. Yeasts tested: 1214, 1388, 3944, 3942, 3711, and the Belgian Saison (can't remember #). Each test came out with the same results. This was ESPECIALLY apparent with the Belgian Saison strain.

I'm sure I will get a flogging for being an idiot; but so be it. This method produces the best results for me.

Reply With Quote
Thread Tools

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Can you add more starter wort to an existing yeast starter? vast_reaction Fermentation & Yeast 10 10-07-2011 03:15 AM
Yeast Starter: Pitch the whole shebang, or just the yeast cake? Tad_Porter Fermentation & Yeast 3 11-29-2010 03:57 AM
Can i wash yeast from a starter of High Fluccuating yeast? GLoBaLReBeL Fermentation & Yeast 4 06-03-2010 12:00 AM
Mixing dry yeast with liquid yeast starter, ok or no? Reelale Fermentation & Yeast 6 04-29-2010 01:58 PM
Yeast starter - White Labs yeast KenDawg19 Fermentation & Yeast 6 11-16-2009 04:04 AM

Forum Jump