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Starter vs. Smack pack and facing reality

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Boerderij_Kabouter

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Hello all,

I have not made a starter for any of my beers. I always use the activator or "Smack Packs" from Wyeast and have never had a problem with this method. What are the advantages to using a starter over these activator packs?

I am getting fermentations starting in ~3-5 hours and have never had a beer "not work".

I realize that the nerdiness factor is great and I like that, but my time is at a premium and I just don't know if using starters is worth it.

Thanks,
A curious Kabouter
 

rdwj

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The activator packs are a starter, so you're all set. If you use White Labs, the smaller packs or want to do larger batches, a starter becomes more important.
 

FlyGuy

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When using the Wyeast Activator packs for 5 gal batches (or smaller), starters become increasingly important in two situations: when brewing higher gravity beers that require a higher volume of yeast, and when the Activator pack isn't fresh (i.e., many of the yeast cells are no longer viable). If you have fresh yeast and you are brewing a typical gravity (or lighter) brew, they usually work fine without a starter. Otherwise, starters are highly recommended to bring up the yeast count of live, healthy yeast cells.
 

Joker

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I have never used a smack pack. What is the price difference between smack pack to vial of yeast?
 
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Boerderij_Kabouter

Boerderij_Kabouter

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Ahhhh... That would be a situation where it makes sense. Also, for someone doing a 10g batch size (like me) I could probably make a starter out of one pack that could ferment 10g, right? For easy reference a typical starter for 10g would be ~2L right?

This could be an easy way to save some $$ if nothing else. Right now I buy 2 Activator packs.

At what gravity would you consider a starter an advantage? 1.060, 1.070, ...?
 

anderj

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age old question; What is more valuable time or money? You can save 7 bucks a batch by washing your yeast and waking them up with a stater. Takes .5 hour a few days before you brew.
 

cheezydemon

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Correct me if I am wrong, but a smack pack is not more yeast than a vial, and is not enough to make a starter unneccesary.

A starter is never necessary. You will almost always get a fuly fermented beer without one, the difference is in the quality of your finished beer.

You are one up since you are using liquid yeast, but a starter takes no time and can be an enjoyable task.

It should also be noted that the yeast cake from a subsequent batch is a great source for 2-3 starters.
 

Scimmia

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cheezydemon said:
Correct me if I am wrong, but a smack pack is not more yeast than a vial, and is not enough to make a starter unneccesary.

A starter is never necessary. You will almost always get a fuly fermented beer without one, the difference is in the quality of your finished beer.
Bingo. An Activator or a vial only contain about half the number of cells you'd want for an "ideal" pitching rate in an average gravity beer. This is why almost everyone here recommends a starter EVERY TIME when you're using liquid yeast.

rdwj, Activator "Smack Packs" are NOT a starter. Wyeast has said that you get no cell reproduction with it, it only gets the yeast active.

Joker, smack packs are from Wyeast, vials are from White Labs. Prices are pretty much the same between the 2.
 

FlyGuy

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I don't think that starters are ALWAYS required. For beers of gravity up to 1.050, 100 billion cells of viable yeast is sufficient to achieve a good fermentation with appropriate attenuation and no off-flavours. The Wyeast smack packs are indeed a mini-starter -- it is just that the amount of food and nutrients is less than one would typically use to make a proper starter. So whether or not you consider it a starter is a semantic issue that is entirely dependent on what volume you consider constitutes a starter.

I agree that for beers above 1.050 (@ 5 gal) a starter is recommended, and for beers above 1.070 they are a necessity. But I have made lower gravity beers without a starter, and I have done smaller (e.g., 3 gal) batches of higher gravity brews without a starter as well. The key is knowing whether your yeast is fresh enough to pitch and how many viable yeast cells you will need to get the job done properly.
 

Scimmia

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FlyGuy said:
I don't think that starters are ALWAYS required. For beers of gravity up to 1.050, 100 billion cells of viable yeast is sufficient to achieve a good fermentation with appropriate attenuation and no off-flavours. The Wyeast smack packs are indeed a mini-starter -- it is just that the amount of food and nutrients is less than one would typically use to make a proper starter. So whether or not you consider it a starter is a semantic issue that is entirely dependent on what volume you consider constitutes a starter.
I didn't say that it was always required, I said that it was always recommended. As cheezydemon said, 100 billion cells may do it, but it's just not "ideal". It would be considered seriously under pitching in a commercial setting from what I've read.

As far as semantics, I don't think so. If you're not getting any yeast cell growth, can you really call it a starter?
 

McKBrew

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Unless using dry yeast, I always make a starter no matter what. Even though I know I should RDWHAHB, I would rather see my fermentation start in a few hours instead of waiting a day or more.

To me it's worth the piece of mind.
 

FlyGuy

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I guess the real point is that there are circumstances when there is no advantage to doing a starter. In fact, if you made a big starter you could do more harm than good.

For example, let's say you are making an English Mild Ale or an Ordinary Bitter, and the gravity is less than 1.040. You also have a really fresh pack of an English yeast you want to pitch.

There is plenty of viable yeast in one fresh Wyeast pouch to ferment out that batch fully and ideally. (An excellent reference to confirm this was mentioned above: the Pitching Rate Calculator at mrmalty.com). Making a starter won't benefit this beer much. In fact, if you propagate too much yeast there is a slight possibility that you over-pitch and the characteristic fruity ester profile from that English yeast will be lost.

My point is that sometimes making a starter won't be beneficial, so the extra work, time, cost, and slightly increased risk of infection can't be justified. I am certainly not arguing against starters in general, I just don't think they should be an automatic step for ALL beers -- let the recipe and the yeast type dictate.
 

Kevin Dean

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I always makes starters because I bank and harvest yeast. :) That said, if a single pack of yeast is enough to hit your ideal pitch rate for the gravity and size of your beer, you don't need a starter. In most cases, it isn't but you'll still make beer so it's all a matter of what you actually hope to gain from doing anything.

Proper pitching rates make better beer. :)
 

CBBaron

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Wyeast smack packs are not starters only nutrients and a yeast proof. There is not enough food to start reproduction, which is the whole point of a starter.

Activator packs and WhiteLabs tubes have similar yeast numbers and similar prices. Some places may sell one or the other for considerably less but that is uncommon. Wyeast Propagator packs are considerably smaller and cheaper.

There are a few cases where a starter is not generally recommended with a smack pack but only a few. Usually at least a 1quart starter is recommended and often a 2qt starter is better. The starter ensures sufficient yeast for optimal fermentation, gives you confidence that your yeast is viable and can make up for packs that are less fresh. mrmalty.com is an excellent reference although I often underpitch according to the calculator I still use it as a basis for what is ideal. Pitching the proper amount of yeast will ensure a quick fermentation, that is complete and cleaner than one done with yeast that is stressed.

Craig
 

Chello

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apparently there is mixed feelings of this... so heres the conclusion i have come up with.

Keep doing what your doing until a problem arises.
 

McKBrew

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Chello said:
apparently there is mixed feelings of this... so heres the conclusion i have come up with.

Keep doing what your doing until a problem arises.
That's probably the best answer.
 

SuperiorBrew

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Even if you are having no problems with out a starter why not do one with a starter and see if you good beer gets even better.
Don't forget that the age of the smack pack or vial makes a big difference in wether you need to make a starter or not.
I always do a starter with liquid yeasts and I always rehydrate my dry. Its half the fun of it, like having an appetizer before the meal.

Again, MrMalty is a must read.
 

SW Brewer

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So, what amounts of water and DME do you guys use to make a typical starter? Most of my beers are in excess of 1.060, and I generally use two cups of water and one cup of DME.
 

SuperiorBrew

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As a ballpark measurement, use about 6 ounces (by weight) of DME to 2 quarts of water. If you're working in metric, it couldn't be easier.
Use a 10 to 1 ratio. Add 1 gram of DME for every 10 ml of final volume. (If you're making a 2 liter of starter add 200 grams of DME to the flask, then fill the flask with water until you have 2 liters total.)

MrMalty
 

Funkenjaeger

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SuperiorBrew said:
As a ballpark measurement, use about 6 ounces (by weight) of DME to 2 quarts of water. If you're working in metric, it couldn't be easier.
Use a 10 to 1 ratio.
A pretty easy rule of thumb for imperial is 1oz DME per cup of water, which mixes about 20% stronger than the metric ratio you give. It's exactly the same ratio as pounds/gallon, so the PPPG rating for your extract applies directly - so you'll get about a 1.045 wort with DME. It's also easy to 'guesstimate' and undershoot the DME to put you down nearer the 1.035-1.040 range for your starter, while still only having to memorize the simple ratio. I think your 6oz/8cup ratio (75% of the 1oz/cup ratio) is probably preferable, if a little less convenient to remember.
 

SuperiorBrew

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When making starter wort, keep the starting gravity between 1.030 and 1.040. You do not want to make a high gravity starter to grow yeast.
 
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