Make Beer, Not Starters

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In this hobby it doesn't take long to learn the importance of yeast starters for a healthy and vigorous fermentation, and after making several starters & pouring the fermented DME down the drain I have come to the conclusion that this is a waste. I am constantly looking for an excuse to brew up a batch, and who doesn't like a bit more variety in their pipeline? In this article I will address how you can make that starter while also finding an excuse to brew more, increasing the diversity of your pipeline, as well as your chance to experiment and reduce the amount of beer you are pouring down the drain.
I don't know about you, but I don't like to buy DME solely for the purpose of making starters and then pouring it down the drain once it has served it's purpose. After spending some time thinking about this issue, it dawned on me. Why not just make a small batch of beer to bottle and consume instead?
What You will Need
  • 2- 1 gallon glass carboys... 1 for primary and 1 for secondary
  • 1- airlock and stopper for the carboys
  • You can use your normal siphoning equipment, but what the heck I sprung for the mini-auto siphon.
  • Ingredients for a 1- gallon batch of your choice between 1.030 and 1.040 OG
  • (Remember you want to stay in the realm of what your large batch is going to be to avoid crossover flavors, or colors)
  • 1- Liquid yeast culture of your choice

I picked up the carboys, stopper, and airlock for less that $20 at my LHBS.
Okay so before we get started, and I have already touched on some of this, here are some rules and caveats.
  1. You want to keep your "starter beer" close to the same style as the main batch you plan to brew. You probably don't want to brew a starter stout to pitch the cake on an IPA for example. I also wouldn't recommend getting too crazy with the experiments in primary for your "starter beer" for the same reasons. ( That doesn't mean you can't experiment in secondary)
  2. Your "starter beer" should be in the 1.030- 1.040 range to assure you will have healthy yeast to carry out the main event.
  3. Avoid simple sugars in the "starter beer" simple sugars such as sucrose can make the yeast lazy and make it harder for them to ferment the more complex sugars of your main batch.
  4. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time for primary fermentation of your "starter beer" a week or so should be fine... We will rack to a secondary to get access to our yeast.
I recommend using a pitch rate calculator such as to estimate your pitch rate. Remember the "starter beer" is a bonus so don't worry about over pitching the "starter beer". Will over pitching the "starter beer" effect it's flavor? Likely yes, but remember it is a bonus anyway and your main concern is the cell count for your main batch not the ester profile of your bonus 6 pack.
On I put in that I am doing a 1 gallon starter with my method of aeration as none since I am actually making a small batch I don't want to use a stir plate or intermittent shaking since I do not wish to oxidize my beer. According to the calculator my "starter beer" will yield me 177 billion new cells for a total of 273 billion cells to pitch into my main batch plenty for a 5 gallon batch with an OG of almost 1.080.

Since you will be brewing a full beer for your starter you will have a decent amount of trub which may make figuring out a cell count based on volume a bit difficult. If you choose to try for an estimate of your cell count prior to re-pitching you may wish to go to and use the re-pitching from slurry tab to figure out how many ml of slurry you want to pitch.
Alternatively you can use the calculator to figure out how much yeast to pitch into your "starter beer" to end up with the cell count you want for your main batch.
If your main 5 gallon batch had an estimated OG of 1.050 which would require a pitch rate of 175 billion cells, using you can figure out that you can pitch half of your yeast, or 50 billion cells into your 1.040 "starter beer" to end up with an estimated 187 billion cells at the end of fermentation plenty for your main batch, plus you still have half of your original yeast to make a new "starter beer".
About a week before your main batch choose a low gravity recipe (1.030-1.040 OG) in the same realm of what you are brewing as your regular batch, for example if your main batch is an IPA maybe make a simple Pale Ale for your "starter beer". You already know how to brew a batch so I don't need to go into details on that, extract batches will be easier but I find stove top all grain BIAB pretty easy so my "starter beers" are going to be all grain.
Make a 1 gallon batch of your chosen recipe, pitch your calculated amount of yeast, and leave it to ferment, remember you will drink this so you will want to control your fermentation temperature if possible.
*Tip* Fermcap-S is your friend

Like most homebrewers I do not use a secondary for my beer normally, however I will be using one for my "starter beers" for faster access to my yeast. Once primary fermentation has subsided in your small batch cold crash it for 24-48 hours in your fridge just like a normal starer. On the brew day for your main batch you can rack the beer to the other 1 gallon carboy to finish up, once it is off your yeast feel free to try some crazy experiments in secondary with your small batch.
After racking your beer off of the trub in the bottom of the carboy you are left with enough slurry to swirl around and pitch into your main batch just like any other starter.
Making small batch starter is a great way to experiment with ingredients, increase the diversity of your pipeline if only marginally, and most importantly to brew more beer!

Intriguing. I like the idea. With fine filtration into the primary one could avoid much of the trub and help with aeration of the wort as well.
Thanks for the idea. Ive been meaning to experiment with different yeast/hops in one gallon batches and I think I'll be using this technique to do so.
Since I do all-grain brewing, I will sometimes brew and can a 2-3 gallon batch of starter into quart canning jars so it's available when I need it. It's a little more work initially, but cheaper than DME, and ready when I need it. I also mash the grains at 144 for 100% fermentable sugars - no need for dextrines. Thus, it would be a poor choice for doing this.
Still - I've heard of people making a full-size batch of a "small beer" as a starter, and then washing the yeast and using it for a barleywine or other big beer.
It's a fun idea in principle... but your yeast growth is going to be drastically reduced if you aren't stirring, and now, you have to worry about washing the yeast... unless you want to pitch old hopjunk and such into your new beer.
@BierGut This is a great way to experiment with different combos of ingredients it is also great for SMaSH beers to get an idea of how different malts and hops taste.
@homebrewdad I absolutely agree you would get more yeast growth from a traditional starter on a stir plate I don't debate that fact at all, however as long as you account for that you should be fine. I am not saying there is no longer a need for traditional starers at all, if you cannot reach your desired cell count this way, by all means a traditional starter may be the way to go. Also, if stepping up a small amount from bottle dregs or an expired vile of yeast a traditional starter is still the way to go.
I do not wash my yeast & I have not noticed any carry over flavors in the few batches I have done this with, however as I said I try to keep the recipes similar not the exact same, but similar...
My issue is one of time, yes I waste a little DME or "starter fluid" pouring down the drain, but either I can whip up a starter in a short period of time, or if I have a little more time I can make a few gallons of starter and then pressure can it. Then pitching a starter and sticking on the stir plate literally takes minutes. If I have the time to brew a full batch, then I want it to be really good and I care about temp control and all other characteristics.
The idea has merit if your time is more available than DME, but I really don't want to spend well over an hour for a single starter.
The pitching rate calculator gives you what Jamil deemed as optimal but it is waaaaay more then you "need". If you brew something in the 1.030 range with fresh yeast, you can easily do full 5 gal batches. (the yeast companies will tell you they give enough for 5gal of 1.060!) I've been brewing starter beers for at least 3 years now and the only yeasts I've had problems with are the super flocculent ones (wy1968 london esb and wy1469 west yorkshire had weak krausens and lower than expected attenuations). Even 1.5 month old smack packs have been fine
This article has got me interested in 1 gallon biab batches that can be used for starters. Sounds like fun Thanks
But a starter takes 18-24 hours, this takes WAAAAY longer.... for a 6 pack? No thanks. No time for that.
interesting Idea. . . and i agree with both sides of the discussion. I buy "dated" cans of LME at discount and repackage them into small jars and pints. Easy to make a starter by opening a small jar, and when those are gone I redistribute from big jars to small jars.
I disagree with the premise that "most homebrewers don't normally rack to secondary". I find it unusual to not do so, and when I have experimented with this idea, I find my beers may have a vegetal taste. Because I often dry hop, racking is mandatory when using whole hops in the boil and in secondary
keep posting as it makes us all THINK. thanks
This is a good idea. It's similar to a solution that I use: Reducing the initial wort to match the cell count. See here for details:
You could try the yeast calculator at which is ios and android compatible and more up to date
If you wanted to make this "starter/beer" with a proper pitch rate you can think of it like this:
A fully viable pack of yeast has 100 billion yeast cells. If you accept the standard pitch rate of .75mm cells/ml/*P then reversing the math means one pack of yeast has the ability to ferment about 130 gravity units.
So for your starter/beer you could make 3.25 gallon of 1.040 wort (3.25 x 40GU = 130 gravity units), or 2.36 gallons of 1.055 wort (2.36 x 55 = 130).
You'd probably want to stick with lower gravity, lower IBU beers to promote vitality in your final harvest, but I don't see much of a problem in making up to about 5.5% ABV.
Some people will argue you're not getting the same growth as with a stir plate, but who cares? You're going to grow more than enough yeast to ferment future batches.
I do no chill brewing (all grain), so I have 24 hours between when I brew and when I pitch the yeast.
So, I just make an extra 2 quarts during the regular brew session. When its time to transfer after the boil, I just put the 2 quarts in a pot or something before transfering the rest to the conical.
After cleaning, etc... I'll add water to the pot to thin it out to 1.040, do a quick boil to sanitize, cool and dump into a flask, pitch, and stick on the stir plate. By the time the beer has cooled off, the starters ready to roll. It works well for my process.
I often do 1 gal experimental batches with yeast I'm going to use on a "real" brew. I usually get 8-9 12 oz bottles out of a 1 gal batch. I use this method to be able to do SMaSH session beers when I'm not sure what I'm going to get, like a Vienna/Green Bullet brew I did as a starter for a Golden Strong and a future Brett L primary. I do not rinse ("wash") my yeast, and I also save yeast from full sized batches, never have any flavor issues from the reused yeast. This is a nice technique to get you a little more beer and try something you wouldn't have risked 5 gal on.
I did starters until I began kegging. Now it is so easy to just put another 5 gallon keg on tap, my starters are now just 5 gallon all grain batches in the 1040 range. Washing the yeast you get doesn't take any more time than making a starter, and you get some nice drinking beer for your trouble. Also, dry yeast is becoming my friend. You can just get multiple dry packets for what a tube costs and skip the starter thing all together...
I am missing something here...
I make a starter with DME, put on stir plate and wait, pitch all at high krausen, to 9 gallons of wort.
I thought this is a traditional starter.
When do you "pour DME down the drain" with the traditional method?
@flugelizor A lot of people myself included, cold crash their starters & decant the liquid from the top so they are not pouring oxidized starter into their beer
Hmmm, "oxidized starter" ...
Then do you still oxygenate your main batch, or assume all the oxygen is carried over by the sleeping yeast.
Yes, I use oxygen in my main batch, previously I just used a vigorous pour of my wort into the fermenter, & a good shake, but I have recently purchased an oxygen wand kit & I'm very happy with it.
Nice write up. I tend to do this for all my big beers or lagers that use something other than us05 when I have extra time.
I find its a good way to use up or experiment with some of my leftover or old hops and grain . 45 min all grain mash is super easy to do in a 8 quart stock pot
You can also just take 1/2 lb of grain and just do a quick stovetop mash, boil for 10 minutes and then pitch your yeast.
you can also brew Jamil's 60 -/- recipe, which yields 5 gallons from one yeast vial. according to him you have to let it age for a while before it gets good, though
I love this idea. I plan to do this with my oktoberfest I have planned to brew in spring. Being a lager, I figured a 1 gallon batch wouldn't be enough. So I put my recipe into Brewers friend and pulled up their yeast pitch rate calc. What I did was put in the og of my oktoberfest and one sachet of yeast with the lager pitch rate selected. It allows you to choose to make a starter with no agitation which is what I'll be doing because I plan to drink the small batch Marzen I'll be making. To hit my target pitch rate, it recommended a 3 gallon batch which will put me just under 500 billion cells for a 5 gallon batch. Does that sound about right?
I do 15 gallons batches of all grain. I often get an extra gallon or two off the mash tun an hour after sparging to BK as 35 ponds of grain holds a lot of liquid. I save 1 gallon milk jugs, fill them then straight to the freezer. Sometimes I wait for 7 gallons then do an easy 5 gallon "kitchen sink" beer. It's usually IPA + stout = brown ale. Recently I took 5 gallons, boiled down to about 3.0 gallons, hit 1.040-ish, oxygenated, nutriented (?), hopped and pitched a pack of Nottingham. All into my Lowes 4 gallon food grade bucket (excellent smaller primaries btw). I swirled a few times. 4 days later I "washed" a thick cake (I use a hop-spider-like thing so my trub isn't too gummed up). I split that into quarts and pitched a third of each into 6 x 5 gallon batches on a big double brew day. 1 week later after a nice ferment at 68-70* a 1.067 OG racked at 1.014 (1.054 racked at 1.011). All in all a hugely successful and easy way to make a lot of yeast cheaply. I do realize that most people aren't doing 30 gallons days (I rarely do's pretty exhausting...takes about 11 hours start to finish and bottling day is a long one too...heck even racking is several hours of prep and clean-up). I will admit I have never gotten into the pitch rate math though. My intent is to add ideas to this thread...fwiw.