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Old 10-17-2008, 05:05 AM   #1
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Default Is a starter necessary?

i know this question has been answered before. is it necessary to create a starter for white labs or wyeast liquid yeasts? i know alot of people talk about doing it but both of their websites say it is not required. i don't really wanna make a starter if i don't have to. what could happen if i don't?


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Old 10-17-2008, 05:31 AM   #2
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Are starters absolutely necessary? no.
Will your beer benefit from healthy fermentation because you used a starter? yes.

Using a starter means higher cell counts which leads to a more efficient fermentation and consequently a better beer.

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Old 10-17-2008, 05:33 AM   #3
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I'm not the absolute yeast-starter authority, but my research has led me to believe that you will get some benefit from making and using a starter. But I don't think you absolutely HAVE to make one. You're probably going to get a ton of replies from brewers who say they never make one and their beer is A-OK. Other will swear by the starter...

My understanding is that making a starter gives your yeasts more of a "fighting chance" by allowing them to multiply to a really healthy level of numbers before they are added to your wort. They are going to multiply either way, but by making a starter they don't have to waste time multiplying in the wort. If they can be allowed to get straight to fermenting then other trace amounts of bacteria (or other badies) won't have a chance to multiply and gain a solid hold within your wort. Just like sending more soldiers into battle gives them a better shot at taking the hill, your yeasts will benifit from already having greater numbers.

The other reason a starter is good is that it gives you a chance to test that the yeasts are beer-worthy before you pitch. Granted, it doesn't happen often...but if you pitch a bad batch of yeast then you won't know it for a while. Then your wort is sitting while you scramble to get another batch of yeasts in there before it's too late (unless you had the forethought to buy two batches of yeast). By making a starter, you remove all doubt.

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Old 10-17-2008, 06:10 AM   #4
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Old 10-18-2008, 02:02 AM   #5
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Also by making a starter, you can save some of the yeast and make another starter for your next batch.
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Old 10-18-2008, 02:06 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by yusky2 View Post
i know this question has been answered before. is it necessary to create a starter for white labs or wyeast liquid yeasts? i know alot of people talk about doing it but both of their websites say it is not required. i don't really wanna make a starter if i don't have to. what could happen if i don't?

There is no blanket answer.

It really depends on what you're brewing. The bigger the beer, the more benefit to a starter. My rule is anything 1.045 and below...no starter required.

If you don't want to mess with a starter (I rarely do), just bring it to room temp a few hours before and pitch it. You'll add about 6-8 hours to ferment time...but no degradation will occur.
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Old 10-18-2008, 03:27 AM   #7
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I'm not going to lie....I get lazy and skip the starter on occassion, but I do feel guilty when I do.
I've broken it down with a microscope and some calculations. Even those fantastic White Labs vials that I use religiously don't have the amount of yeast cells you really need to do a five gallon batch of beer justice. You would need four of those vials to get the appropriate amount of yeast cells. It's twice as bad with those powder yeast packets.
Can you make good beer without a yeast starter? Sure, but for a little more effort, you are increasing productivity in your yeast and ensuring the right product for your beer.
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Old 10-18-2008, 03:36 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Calvinfan1 View Post
It's twice as bad with those powder yeast packets.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that a pack of dry yeast has way more cells than liquid yeast. A starter is not normally used with dry yeast for this reason.
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Old 10-18-2008, 12:06 PM   #9
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As others have opined, yes and no. Check this to bear me out.

The rule of thumb is a certain number of active yeast cells per point of gravity per milliliter of wort. There are many reasons for this, as there are a number of flaws yeast can cause in the finished beer based on over- or under-pitching. Attention must be paid to how long the yeast has been sitting around - an old culture will have severely compromised viability. Also, attention must be paid to how the culture has been stored - temperature extremes are as bad as age. Call me a pessimist, but I always assume my yeast has been abused, just in case it has been!

Let's get practical.

A 1.050 wort requires ~185 billion active yeast cells for proper inoculation.

Dry: An 11g packet of dry yeast contains more than that number, so that doesn't need a starter; just rehydrate according to the instructions on the packet and pitch. Dry yeast is nowhere near as susceptible to temperature extremes as liquid cultures, and can be stored longer before viability becomes an issue.

White Labs: A vial of White Labs yeast contains, optimally, 140 billion cells. Unfortunately, that number is no longer reliable once the yeast is packed for shipment. Once it's shipped to the homebrew store, it's been shipped once - potentially exposing it to temperature extremes. Check the manufacture date on the package carefully. Significantly, the numbers, even when the culture is new, still require a starter for proper pitching. Thus, it's wise to always make a starter for beers over OG 1.037 when using White Labs yeasts, or buy two vials.

Wyeast: The "Activator" packs contain, according to Wyeast, "a minimum of 100 billion cells". What they really say is that each package contains 1.2 x 109 cells/ml. (That's 1.2 billion, by the by). No matter how you slice it, even the Activator pack is insufficient to inoculate a wort stronger than 1.026. The Propogator pack is even worse, with ~25 billion cells in a pristine pack. Thus, it's always wise to make a starter with Wyeast packages also or double-pitch.

Look - I'm not trying to scare you. I'm just giving you the numbers. Of course the manufacturers' websites are going to tell you what you read; do you really think they'd do otherwise? But the numbers are the numbers.

Keep in mind that many brewers experience excellent results from simply using the packages of liquid yeast, regardless of what the numbers say. They pitch the packet and RDWHAHB. Maybe that'll work for you. I'm a little too OCD for that! If you don't want or are ill-equipped to make starters, don't despair! Just keep pitching as best you can. Oh, and make good beer!


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Old 10-18-2008, 12:20 PM   #10
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Another site that has great information on starters is MB Raines, Ph.D. - Guide to Yeast Culturing for Homebrewers - Maltose Falcons Home Brewing Society (Los Angeles Homebrewing)


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