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Wort Canning To Save Time

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One of the most common questions I see asked on HomeBrewTalk is, "How can I shorten my brew day?" Brewing is a relaxing and fun activity (otherwise, why would we do it?), but it can require a significant time commitment. The amount of time required depends on your brewing method and recipe. An all-grain, multi-decoction batch using pilsner malt (with accompanying 90-minute boil) and whirlpool can eat up 6-8 hours of your precious weekend time. Conversely, an extract no-chill brew can be done in just a couple of hours.
One place I've found to be low hanging fruit when it comes to saving time is canning starter wort. When I eventually reached the "making starters" stage of my brewing adventure, I did what many others did: boil some DME, chill it, rack it to a sanitized flask, pitch the yeast, and let it ride a stir plate. This works well, but since my brew days are typically on a weekend, this meant carving out a couple of hours on a Wednesday night to ensure that the yeast was ready. I'd have to repeat this process for each brew. That is, until I heard about canning starter wort.

Preparing Yeast Starter Wort
Now, my pre-brewing Wednesday ritual is much shorter. I grab my flask (usually my 5 liter, to make sure there are no blowouts) and funnel, and pour in a quart or so of StarSan. I swirl it around, and also drop a stir bar and a piece of foil into my StarSan bucket. I dump the StarSan out of the flask, and grab the required number of jars of canned starter wort from my cabinet. I pop the lids (a bottle opener works great!) and dump the wort into the flask. I shake up my vial of (White Labs) yeast, or open the previously-smacked pouch of yeast (Wyeast), and carefully pour it into the flask using the funnel I sanitized earlier. I cover the top with the sanitized foil, give it a good shake for a few seconds, drop in the stir bar, and put it on the stir plate. After a quick cleanup (canning jars into a bucket of hot OxyClean to soak overnight, lids in the garbage), I'm done for the evening.
I'm a big fan of this method, because it greatly shortens my time preparing the yeast starter. It requires some time to can the wort, but you can do this whenever it is convenient for you, rather than having to do it 3 days before brewing. Also, you can prepare enough wort in one evening to last you through several starters.

Equipment Needed To Can Starter Wort
A pressure canner. Note that this is a pressure canner, not a pressure cooker. Pressure canners get up to 15 psi, which is required for food sterilization, whereas pressure cookers generally max out at 12 psi. In order to achieve sterilization temperature (about 250F), 15 psi is necessary. I use a Presto 16-quart model.
Canning jars, lids, and rings. These are available at most hardware, kitchen supply, and department stores. Do not try to re-use the lids, as the sealing compound around the rim that adheres to the jar rims during canning is only good for one use. The jars and rings, on the other hand, are re-usable.
Required Items
  • A stock pot. This is to prepare the wort prior to canning. I use a 12-quart pot.
  • Malt extract. You can use dry or liquid. I prefer dry because it keeps indefinitely.
  • A scale. You need to measure out the malt extract to ensure the proper gravity of the starter wort.
  • A measuring cup. Likewise, you need an accurate way to measure liquid volume to ensure you're preparing starter wort of the proper gravity.
  • A bowl. This is to hold the malt extract while weighing, and adding to the water.
Optional Items
The following are items that will help make the process easier, but are not strictly required:
  • A whisk. This makes it easier to eliminate chunks when preparing starter wort from dry malt extract.
  • Yeast nutrient. This helps the yeast get a good, healthy start.
  • Canning jar tongs. These make it easier to remove the hot jars from the canner.
  • A canning jar funnel. This helps make less of a mess when pouring wort into the jars.
  • White vinegar. The instructions with my canner recommend mixing 3 tbsp of it into the canning bath water to minimize staining while canning.
  • A thermometer. This can help let you know when your wort mixture is warm enough. I just use a simple candy thermometer; it doesn't have to be very accurate.

Yeast Nutrient Helps Promote Healthy Cell Growth
Most sources recommend that starter wort have a gravity of 1.040. According to John Palmer, DME yields between 1.040 and 1.043 points per pound per gallon (PPG). We have to pick one, so I go with 1.040. 1.040 PPG is pretty easy to remember. Just use 1 pound of DME per gallon of wort. But while working in pounds and gallons is convenient when dealing with the weights and volumes of a typical batch of beer, it's not fine-grained enough when dealing with smaller weights and volumes of making starters. What if you have 700 grams of DME? How much water do you use for that? I find it easier to deal with metric units, and my rule of thumb for ratios is pretty easy to remember: I use a ratio of 100 grams of DME per 1 liter of water. That works out to about 36 points per 100 grams per liter, which is a hair low, but will be fine for starter wort and is a really easy ratio to remember.
My pressure canner holds seven 1 liter jars. So I'll make 7.5 liters of starter wort. It's always better to have a little extra than not enough. So that means I'll need 750 grams of DME. I weighed it out on my kitchen scale, and accounting for the weight of the bowl itself, I need the scale to read right around 1 kilogram.

Protect Hands From Burns When Handling Hot Canning Jars
Next, measure out your water, using the 100 grams of DME per 1 liter of water ratio. I needed 7.5 liters of water for my batch, so I measured it out using a plastic pitcher with volume markings, and added it to my pot.
Heat the water up to about 160F, then sprinkle in your DME while stirring or whisking to break up clumps. Next, I add some White Labs Yeast Nutrient, and the recommended dose is 1/2 teaspoon per 5 gallons. So for my 7.5 liters of starter, I just put in 1/4 of a teaspoon. Note that this mixture doesn't have to boil (indeed, if you let it boil, you could have a mess on your hands). The goal here is simply to get everything evenly mixed.

Thoroughly Mix Together DME, Yeast Nutrient And Water
Once you're satisfied that everything is well mixed, pour the starter wort into your canning jars. A canning jar funnel makes this easier, but isn't necessarily required. Fill the jars up to the tops of their shoulders. You may need to let a little foam dissipate before you can do this without them overflowing.
Place the canning lids on the jars, making sure they make a good seal. I like to press down on them and twist a little bit. Finally, screw the canning rings on. Do not tighten these all the way! The purpose of the rings is to simply hold the lids in place, not form an airtight seal. If you tighten the rings too tightly, the steam and air cannot escape as the jars heat up. I tighten the rings down fairly snugly, and then back them off just 1/16th of a turn to ensure air and steam can escape.
Prepare The Canner
My canner's instructions specify pouring 3 liters of water in the canner. If your canner has a rack that sits on the bottom, ensure it is in place. This will keep the jars from making direct contact with the (soon to be VERY hot) bottom surface of the canner. My canner also recommends adding a couple tablespoons of white vinegar to the canning bath water, to prevent staining.
  • Place the jars inside the canner. You may want to use the tongs for this, or some heat-proof gloves, as the jars are likely very hot, depending on the temperature of the starter wort mixture you had just prepared.
  • From here, be sure to always follow your canner's directions. For mine, I place the lid on top and turn it to secure it in place. I heat it on my (electric) stove until the "locking" valve pops up and steam is venting out the relief pipe.
  • After 10 minutes of venting to purge the canner of air, place the pressure regulator on the relief pipe and go watch TV while the pressure builds. Once the pressure gauge reads 15 psi, start a timer for 20 minutes.

The canner must reach and hold 15 psi for 20 minutes in order to completely sterilize the contents.
After 20 minutes has elapsed, turn off the stove and let the canner cool. If you'd like, you can gently slide the canner over to an unused burner to allow it to cool faster. Eventually, once the pressure has dropped back down to zero, the safety lock will drop on the canner's lid, allowing you to remove it. Be careful! Everything is still VERY hot! At this point, I remove the lid, remove the jars (using my tongs), and carefully place them on the counter to continue cooling off. If you have heat-resistant gloves, you can tighten the canning rings to help form a tight seal while the jars finish cooling. Sometimes, the jars will still be boiling a little as you remove them from the canner, so be very careful! Dropping a glass jar of boiling hot sugary wort is a recipe for a trip to the hospital for cuts and burns.

Carefully Place The Lids To Seal The Jars
After a while, you'll hear the lids "pop" inward as the jars cool, creating the seal. Allow the jars to finish cooling completely to ensure the seal is firm. I just leave them on the counter overnight. Once they're completely cool, give the center of each lid a tap with your finger to make sure they're "sucked in." Any jars whose lids flex when you press on them are not properly sealed and will have to be reprocessed with a new lid, discarded, frozen, or used immediately. Remove the rings and store the jars until you need them.
Congratulations! You've canned starter wort! If you were successful, the jars should keep indefinitely, as the canning process will have killed absolutely anything living in the wort.
One Last Point
Do not leave the rings on the jars! The whole point of the design of the jars and lids is so that if for some reason the canning was unsuccessful in killing everything in the contents, and something in there begins multiplying and eating those sugars and producing CO2, the lid will pop off. This serves two valuable purposes: it indicates to you that the particular jar was contaminated and should not be used, but more importantly, it prevents CO2 from building up in the jar and causing it to explode, producing a mess (at best) or an injury (at worst). If you did everything correctly, then the lid sealing compound and the vacuum inside the jars will be more than sufficient to hold the lids in place. Do not leave the rings on the jars.

Wort Canning Jars Completed With Rings Removed
Hopefully, this article has shown you how convenient it can be to have a supply of canned starter wort, and how easy it can be to prepare such a supply of your own.
 
Nice write up, thank you. Why heat the water up in the pot and mix the DME? Is it just to use the heat to make mixing easier? I've only canned wort once, my process was to measure 1 liter starters worth of DME into each 16 oz jar, add cold water to jar, stir. It mixed up fine for me while cold. So now I have 16 oz jars of about 1.080 SG wort, after pouring into the flask I top off to reach 1 liter with bottled water.
[EDIT] Erm, now that I think about it I may have heated my water up in a tea pot before filling the jars... I know I've mixed regular strength starters cold anyway
 
Exactly, I find it easier to get the DME to dissolve without clumping if the water is hot. Doubling up on the gravity to make your batch go farther is a great idea, I'll try that myself next time!
 
Nice write up! Very detailed. I have used this method in the past. It's time to get the canner out and do it again. One thing I might add is that if you don't have Extract readily available you can do a BIAB on the stove just before canning. Target 1.040.
Also, if you are an AG brewer you might consider mashing enough to make a gallon or so extra. Then you can set aside the extra or boil it right there and pull out the extra after the boil has started (before you add hops). You can can that later, or during the boil.
You can even freeze that wort in a large bag and can later if that's convenient. As long as you prevent Botulism before you can, the canning process will sterilize the wort.
The nice thing about this process is that it's easy to make it fit your schedule and it will save time each time you want to make a starter.
 
I have just started doing this after getting a 30 quart all american canner using 4 1/2 gallon jars at 15PSI for 25 min.
I might have to convert to using double strength wort in quart jars though, I could store more that way...
Combined with yeast ranching/freezing this saves a lot of time and money.
 
Great write up. I just canned up a batch last week using this exact method. I also will can leftover wort, diluted down to 1.040.
 
To piggyback off @homercidal, when I've done this in the past, I usually take my 2nd runnings and boil them down to the gravity I want for my starters (I usually shoot from 1.035 area). Then can that wort as you described here. FREE, sanitary, packaged wort!
 
Good article! I've never thought about canning starter wort...makes perfect sense and I already have the equipment. I have onlymade starters a couple of times, but may play with that more in the near future. As to the question about using hot water for mixing the wort, I would do it for two reasons: 1) to help the LME or DME incorporate/dissolve more easily, and 2) adding an already hot product into the canner aids in faster, more even heating in the canning process. It's pretty much standard procedure for any canning process.
 
@Homercidal
Good points. I would do this as a BIAB or like mbbransc describes and use second runnings, or just overbuilt my recipe. I do like the idea of concentrated starter wort, but then i still have to boil some water (or buy ::shudders:: bottled water). So I'll probably do quart jars of second runnings soon.
 
@barnaclebob
I was just thinking about canning a strong wort. Then when you want to make your started, just dilute the wort to get to the appropriate SG. Is that what you would do with the stronger wort?
 
Or, if you dont want to buy a pressure cooker and save a lot of time:
http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/fast-pitch-canned-wort-4-pack
I exclusively use this stuff now. Its totally worth the $5 per 2L starter, especially when you factor your time in.
EDIT: Im not trashing this, it is a great way to make pre-made starter wort. I used to do this all the time. I dont have a lot of free time outside of work and SWMBO, so the fast pitch is a great alternative for me.
 
Very nice indeed!
I finally bought a 5 gal cooler to use as a mash tun and went full blown all-grain to find out that I cannot handle a proper sparge as I cannot do full boils. That put me back to partial mashes or maybe creating one big pot of wort to can so as not to need extract.
Tattler makes reusable canning lids.
*EDIT*
SWMBO wanted me to mention that you must follow their guidelines when using those lids as it's slightly different. There is a bit of a learning curve and so it might do you well to make a practice run or be prepared to redo a few.
 
I don't make starters very often, so one batch might sit for a while. How long could I safely store properly-sealed jars? Also, fridge or (cool, dry, dark) cupboard?
 
I store mine in a plain old cupboard in the basement. They should keep indefinitely. I've personally used wort I'd canned months in advance. No need to refrigerate.
 
I guess I'm alone here in not seeing the benefits of this. Creating a starter takes maybe 15-20 minutes (I mean really, how long could it take to boil 1-2 liters of water and measure DME?).
Seems like a LOT of extra work, time, materials, and storage space to save 5 or 10 minutes here or there.
To each their own though.
 
So, come starter time, if I:
- had a 1.080 1L jar of wort,
- place an unopened 1L bottle of drinking water in StarSan
- Mix together
will this give me a good 2L 1.040 starter?
 
@scm
Yes, and it's what I advocate. You can "pack twice as much starter wort" by preparing it concentrated, then diluting when needed.
I microwave the extra water,let it cool, and pour it in.
 
It might be in the write up but I could not find any mention of how large of a water bath is needed inside of the canner? Do we fill to the top of the jars, less than this or more than this?
 
I don't see how it saves time either. Canning is time consuming. I boil my starters in the flask and stick in the fridge to cool. When cool I pitch my yeast and stick on the stirplate. Taking my good sweet time 15 minutes of work max.
 
Jsamp has a point, but I also see this as a money saver if you are able to pull out an extra gallon or two during a normal brew. A 3lb bag of DME is about $15 at my LHBS. What I'm not understanding is why you would need to pressure can wort. The waterbath method is all that's needed if you start with boiling wort. It's also much more accessible for those of us who don't own a pressure canner, but have many pots of varying size laying around.
 
I've been doing this for about a year and it's really contributed to my enjoyment of the hobby. I mash about 7 pounds of 2 row and make a 5 gallon batch of 1.040 wort. This yields about 20 quarts that will last me 6 months or so. It makes prepping for brew day so much easier just pour it in a flask add the yeast and I'm done. It's also a big money saver over DME. It sounds intimidating but it's really pretty easy.
Msa8967....I fill the water about 3/4 to the top of the jars
 
Great write up!
I've found it's handy to have a couple different sizes (like some quarts and some pints) on hand to make different sized starters. If you need a 1.4L starter, you can open one of each rather than opening two quarts and wasting some.
 
Msa8967: The article mentions that my canner specifies that you add 3 liters of water, but follow your own canner's instructions.
Jsamp: The time saving comes when it's time to actually make the starter. Heating 4 liters to a boil, then cooling it back down, takes me at least an hour on my stove. Opening 4 jars of wort and sanitizing my flask takes me maybe 5 minutes.
 
@JayDubWill
Water bath canning is not a safe way to can wort. The ph of wort is not low enough to protect against botulism. Botulism spores are not killed during boiling temps. The temperature must reach 240 - 250*F @15 psi for at least 15 minutes to be safe. It's not a risk I'd be willing to take.
 
Great article @kombat
Thanks very much for adding such a great resource to the HBT trove of information. Love the detail and great pictures. Makes the process leap off the screen and into one's kitchen.
 
@msa8967
Don't think "water bath" as that's an entirely different method of canning for high acid foods.
Your pressure canner's instructions should indicate the amount of water to add for proper canning operation
 
Great instructions. You might want to include the warnings about water bath / pH that came up in the comments, in case some people try to shortcut.
As others have said, the biggest benefit I see is saving money/resources, by producing all grain starter wort. DME is quite expensive - making a 4L starter with nice pilsner DME costs me about $4, whereas it could cost $1 or less if I made starter wort.
For me, making a starter is so fast, I can't imagine doing a whole extra mash/boil etc just to save a few minutes. It actually adds time for me (and hassle) as then I don't have an automatic way to sanitize the flask/stir bar. It also creates more cleanup. I actually don't use any sanitizer when I make my starters, I just boil in the erlenmeyer, with the stir bar in there, and the foil on top, so everything gets sanitized by heat.
My cleanup then consists of oxi soaking the erlenmeyer and rinsing the stir bar, that's it.
I can see that because you were racking (!!) and sanitizing with sanitizer, there is an appearance of more time savings.
 
I've boiled my wort and then canned using a water bath and never had any issues. I'm rethinking that process now.
I have a hard time imagining that there's botulism spores in my DME but I'm no biologist. Am I really taking that much of a risk using the water bath method given the high pH?
 
@DrWill
Yes, you are. Botulinum can survive boiling at 212, and certainly enjoy the environment in that closed container. If you boil again later, no problem, the boiling will denature the toxin, but if you intend on using that wort without boiling, you need to get it to 250F first.
Water baths are fine for low-pH products. I suppose it's possible to get the wort to a suitably low pH and thus allow a water bath canning. The pH would have to be in the low 4's or lower. I haven't given this much thought until this moment, so I don't have any ideas for you.
 
@passedpawn
Your answer totally makes sense. Am I right in thinking the problem is not that botulinum is present initially, but it will grow in the canned jars of wort? At the risk of derailing the conversation, how does it get into a sealed jar? Would there be any way to detect its presence prior to making use of wort for a starter?
 
@DrWill
Yes, exactly. The bacteria isn't a problem, but the toxin it can create is. That toxin is ONLY created in an oxygen-less environment, so the average cook doesn't need to worry.
Botulinum is everywhere. It's in your lawn, on your shoes. I'd assume it's also on your grain. It floats in the air.
Ever had a loaf of bread get moldy? It's baked at high temps. It gets moldy because bacteria and fungii are everywhere, and they are airborne.
Yes, you're right, the bacteria is not harmful. But the toxin that it creates is. It can be deadly. That toxin requires oxygen-less environment, moderate to high pH, and of course food. Because it requires oxygenless environment, we don't think about it much. But for canners, it's REALLY important.
Can you detect it? Probably not without lab procedures (sterile plates, streak/grow colonies, etc). Even then, it takes some expertise to recognize a colony. It's a LOT easier to just follow procedure. Use a pressure canner, 15psi, and you're good.
 
@LabRatBrewer
I'm not ready to do that. I understand the principle, but I ( and my family ) lift jars by their lids all the time. I don't want somebody accidentally lifting the lid off a jar of canned turkey or whatever. Leaving the ring on eliminates that fear for me.
 
Good article. I haven't done this but have considered it for many years. Some day I'll take the leap.
Thanks for the info.
Well put together.
 
passedpawn: I challenge you to try and pry one of those lids off with your bare hands. :) They're sealed on there TIGHT. I have to use the rounded end of a churchkey bottle opener to pry my lids off. There's no way it would ever just randomly pop off in my hand. Even still, the smarter approach is to lift the jars by their bodies, but I understand you might be fighting a losing battle convincing the rest of your family to change their ways.
 
Do I really need to do the whole canner/pot boiling of jars thing? If I boil the wort and then add to my sanitized jars and put on the lids, shouldn't the cooling of the already pasteurized wort be enough to seal the lids?
 
@A50SNAKE That is for high acidity foods. It is a standard water canner. I use that for fresh salsa canning (onions, tomatoes and peppers are all high in acid contents). It may be fine for a week or two if stored in the fridge, but as stated many times before, the risk of botulism is not something I want to risk.
 
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