You are browsing through the local home brewing store. You want to pick out a beer ingredient kit to brew, and you want it to be something good and tasty. Maybe a porter, or maybe an IPA. All of the beers that you look at, though, say “Yeast Starter Recommended” on the label. What does that mean?
What is a Yeast Starter?
A yeast starter is a way of building up a strong culture of yeast ahead of brewing your beer so that if it is a stronger beer with more sugars to ferment the yeast will be able to handle it without being overwhelmed. In short, to make a yeast starter you brew a mini-batch of wort using just plain malt and add your yeast to it for an extended period of time. The yeast activates and starts fermenting that mini-batch but it also starts multiplying and becoming stronger.
What Do You Need for a Yeast Starter?
You honestly do not need much equipment to make a yeast starter. I have seen it done with nothing but a one-gallon pot, although the process is much easier and more sanitary if you use a pyrex Erlenmeyer flask like this one. Why? These flasks are temperature-resistant, so you can boil wort in them and then place them directly in an ice bath to cool without worry about glass shattering. They also have narrow necks so it is easier to prevent contamination in them. Finally, it is easy to set up these flasks with a stir plate to enhance the yeast activity.
The flasks come in several sizes, from 1 liter to 5 liters, but most of the time all you really need is a 1 liter flask. The larger flasks will be better for brewing very strong beers. Any home brewing supply store should at least have the Erlenmeyer flasks available, and most will also have stir plates available.
How Do You Make a Yeast Starter?
There are several steps to the yeast starter, but they are pretty simple. It can be done in about twenty minutes. Here is a video that I like from Beer Geek Nation that explains the process well:
That is all there is to it. Yeast starters are pretty simple and do not require very much equipment, but they go a long way in improving the quality of home brewed beer.
Have you used a yeast starter before? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments below!