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Did I Kill My Yeast?

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Admittedly, I am one of these people who have always under pitched my beers. It is not because I am lazy or don’t desire a quality product. It is just that I have never had a problem with 2 or three smack packs for 20 gallons (ale) and at $7 or $8 a pack, there is most certainly financial reasoning. Never had an issue, great, bright, fully attenuated beer.

After researching the topic, I began to wonder how much I could improve my beer by using a pitching calculator, the correct pitching rate and doing it right. So begins my story and question.

I wanted brew 20 gallons of black lager. I have made the same recipe and used 4 smack packs of 2206 Bavarian with tremendous results in the past but thought to myself, what if I tried pitching with the 1,700,000,000 cells I needed to really pitch this properly. I began with a single smack pack and with nearly 10 lbs of DME and through three steps I finally achieved a yeast population that could tear through 3 lbs of DME at 1.040 in a day no problem. I was excited.

I brewed Sunday night, 1/12/2014. I pumped my wort into the fermenter at 49° F, right where I intended to ferment, closed up the lager house with the mason jar of decanted yeast and allowed everything to rest overnight at 49°. The following morning, I added the yeast and waited with great anticipation for that baby to blow off the tube. Here we are two days later, no airlock activity, no change to the gravity, krausen and a grave feeling that something has gone terribly wrong.

Where the heck did I mess up? The only thing I can think of is when removing the yeast from the carboy, I made a thin paste of One Step and carefully applied it to the top of the carboy and wiped it clean to ensure the transfer to the jar was sterile. Maybe this killed the little bastards? I stored the jar of yeast in the refrigerator, at the front to make sure nothing would freeze and decanted off everything I could for a couple of days. The yeast was the same temp as the wort, my gravity was only 1.050 and here I sit on the verge of buying a smack pack or two to see what I can salvage. I am not going to spend $150 on yeast for a potentially FUBAR batch. What do you guys think happened?

Dave
 

northcal

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If you wiped the one step off (and probably even if you didn't), the yeast should be fine, at least most of them.

Not sure why so slow, but I think it'll kick off soon?

Good luck,
 
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I have exceeded the 100 hour mark, hydrometer has not moved. I have bumped the temperature up to 55° for the past couple of days now. I took a sample in a mason jar to be left out at 68° in hopes of seeing some life. I also hit up the brew store and got another smack pack. I might be able to leave it alone for the night, but if there is not activity by tomorrow morning, I am sending in reinforcements in hopes of salvaging something that might only be palatable as a private reserve. Still absolutely perplexed as to what is going on with this one. That last starter step up was going so crazy, I was afraid to stick my hand near it.
 
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Sure, utilizing http://yeastcalc.com/, I started with one smack pack of 2206 Bavarian and boiled up 2 gallons of DME and water. Let that ferment out, siphoned off the beer and added 3.7 gallons of DME and water. Let that ferment out, siphoned off the beer and added 3 gallons of DME and water. Each step was 1.040 OG and was fermented in a cool basement around 65°. I let the yeast sit after the final step for a week or two. Siphoned off the beer, swirled the yeast and added it to a mason jar. I then refrigerated it for a couple of days and decanted off any of the remaining lager beer fermented at ale temperatures (for obvious reasons).

My wort was 48° going into the fermenter from the boil kettle. I let this jar of yeast sit in the lager house with my fermenter over night at my desired 49° and pitched Monday morning. It should have been roughly 1,647 billion cells and a negligible thermal shock if any at all, added to a relatively average 1.050 wort. Let me know if you see any area where I may have slipped up, but man I thought this was pretty spot on.
 

tankmech

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I had a beer that kicked in on the fifth day, that is when it actually started to ferment. It was a weizen. So don't worry have a home brew.
 

flars

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Sure, utilizing http://yeastcalc.com/, I started with one smack pack of 2206 Bavarian and boiled up 2 gallons of DME and water. Let that ferment out, siphoned off the beer and added 3.7 gallons of DME and water. Let that ferment out, siphoned off the beer and added 3 gallons of DME and water. Each step was 1.040 OG and was fermented in a cool basement around 65°. I let the yeast sit after the final step for a week or two. Siphoned off the beer, swirled the yeast and added it to a mason jar. I then refrigerated it for a couple of days and decanted off any of the remaining lager beer fermented at ale temperatures (for obvious reasons).

My wort was 48° going into the fermenter from the boil kettle. I let this jar of yeast sit in the lager house with my fermenter over night at my desired 49° and pitched Monday morning. It should have been roughly 1,647 billion cells and a negligible thermal shock if any at all, added to a relatively average 1.050 wort. Let me know if you see any area where I may have slipped up, but man I thought this was pretty spot on.
Your numbers look good. If final gravity was reached for each starter step, time was given for the yeast to settle for each step, and the production date of the yeast was correct you should be good to go.

Just looks like more time is needed for the fermentation to begin.
 
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northcal,

Agonizing weekend watching that fermenter do absolutely nothing at all. I added an additional smack pack that I know was viable Friday night and have not seen anything happen yet. Before I added the new smack pack, I took a jar as a sample to see if it would have ever taken off on its own. I will continue to update everyone as time passes.
 

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Can you describe your process to make your yeast in more detail (DME concentration per step)?

I pitched 1.2 trillion into 10G of 1.054 lager about 3 weeks ago and had a 12 hour lag time. I had the same strain take over 40 hours when I pitched half that though.
 
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Looks like the sample jar I took has begun fermenting (at room temp) and I can see much more yeast than originally settled out. I took this sample before adding the new smack pack, so maybe there is hope after all. I am currently out of town, but my girlfriend is listening to the lager house very closely for me. I will be back home Friday and will update at that point with a gravity and visual report from inside the fermenter. And yes, I took a sample of beer with me on a business trip. It’s a brewer thing, bet there are a lot of you that would understand.
 
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Heard the fermenter bubbling away last night over the phone. Never seen such a lag time. I will post again after a little while and will let you know if there was any problem with the flavor.
 

MeBrew2

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Should a lager starter be propagated at lager temps. Was that maybe the reason for the delay?

About to do my starter for first lager next week, very curious.
 

flars

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Should a lager starter be propagated at lager temps. Was that maybe the reason for the delay?

About to do my starter for first lager next week, very curious.
Starters would be made at typical room temperature. You won't need to worry about about the exothermic temperature rise because the wort will be discarded after cold crashing.
Pitch your starter at the wort temperature in your fermentor or just below the wort temperature.
If your starter is super chilled from cold crashing you can slowly warm it up to wort temp by adding a little wort a bit at a time. This will keep the yeast frorm being stressed.
 
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Everything I read making my starter said that you are only growing yeast with the starter, not trying to make a good tasting finished product. Be sure to decant off all beer from your starter and give it a taste and you will understand why temperature is so important for lagers.

As for the pitching temp, I have never had a problem with pitching cold and having the yeast take off. This was certainly a first for me.

You certainly bring up a good point with the starter fermentation temp. Maybe next time I brew a lager, I will throw the starter right in the lager house at the temp I intend to ferment at, and let it go nice and slow. Perhaps I need to oxygenate my wort better. I was definitely adding wort to the frementer slow to get the cool temperature I was after through the counter flow chiller, maybe not enough agitation. There is certainly something to learn here and some more experimentation in my future. I would love to hear how you do it differently and see what results you achieve.
 
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1.040 Friday 1/24 night and bubbling away. 8 day lag time. Craziest timeline I have ever heard of. I will let you know how the final product is.
 
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Well, it has been quite a while since the nightmare I thought I had on my hands remedied itself and I just wanted to follow up an let everyone know that the results are in. The beer is fantastic. I would have never known that there was any lag in the fermentation and as usual in this sport, the worry was for not.

Still pondering the cause, and will see if it happens again next round - but for today, relax and have a brew rings true once again.
 
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