Q: At what point do I pitch the starter into the wort?
A great deal of discussion rages over this topic. Should the starter be fermented completely, the spent liquid decanted, and the yeast pitched or should the entire starter be pitched when at the height of activity?
Most yeast experts say that when propagating yeast, moving at high krausen is optimal. The time of high krauesen can range anywhere from a few hours to twenty-four or more. It depends on the amount of yeast added to the starter wort, yeast health, temperature, and several other factors.
Doss says a starter made from an XL pack of yeast into 2 liters of wort will reach its maximum cell density within 12-18 hours. If youre starting with a very small amount of yeast in a large starter, it can take 24 hours or more to reach maximum cell densities. For the average starter, let's just say that the bulk of the yeast growth is done by 12-18 hours.
I like to pitch starters while they're still very active and as soon as the bulk of reproduction is finished, usually within 12 to 18 hours. This is really convenient, because I can make a starter the morning of the brew day or the night before and it is ready to go by the time the batch of wort is ready.
Of course, if you have a large starter volume in relation to your batch of beer or a starter that was continuously aerated, then you probably dont want to pitch the entire starter into your wort. Adding a large starter or a heavily oxidized starter to your wort can alter the flavor of the finished beer.
If youre going to pitch only the yeast from the starter, make sure the starter attenuates fully before decanting the spent wort. The yeast rebuild their glycogen reserve at the end of fermentation and it is this glycogen that they use when preparing to ferment a new batch of beer. Separating the spent wort from the yeast too early also selectively discards the less flocculent, higher attenuating individuals in your yeast population. You may end up with a pitch of yeast that wont attenuate the beer fully. Allow the fermentation to go complete cycle, chill, decant the beer and pitch just the yeast.
In short, use the whole starter 12-18 hours after pitching the yeast into the starter wort OR let it ferment out over a couple of days, chill it, decant most of the starter wort and pitch just the yeast portion of the starter.