Author Topic: Lager Yeast Starter Failure  (Read 642 times)

Offline kpfoleyjr

  • Cellarman
  • **
  • Posts: 30
    • View Profile
Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« on: June 29, 2016, 10:53:37 AM »
I made a starter for a marzen using 2 packets of 17-week old Wyeast 2206.  I made the starter wort using 325g of Briess Pilsen light DME and 1 teaspoon of Wyeast nutrient into 3.5 qts or 3275 ml of water, which came out at a volume of 2.85 liters after boiling and cooling.  I pulled the yeast packs from my refrigerator and brought them to room temperature, and then smacked them.  I have to say that the yeast came from a supplier in Idaho to my Indiana home in June over a three day transit period and arrived warm with a thawed-out freeze pack.   One of the yeast packs did not swell much at all after smacking it, and the other swelled just slightly, with the packs sitting at room temperature for 4 hours after smacking.  I used them anyway.  Before pitching the yeast into the Erlenmeyer flask with the starter wort, I placed the flask with the wort and also the unopened yeast packs into my fermentation chamber/refrigerator with the temperature set to 51°.  I bubbled some oxygen into the wort for about 30 seconds and then pitched the sanitized yeast packets into the starter wort when the temperature of the wort was about 57°, figuring that the mixture would cool to the 51° setting and all would be well.  The plan was to cold crash the starter at about 35° after about 24 hours on the stir plate in the 51° environment, noting that the mixture would have gone through high krauesen, etc.  After waiting a few days for the yeast to settle at the bottom of the flask, on brewing day I would then siphon off the spent wort, add a pint or so of boiled and cooled to 48° water and pitch the slurry into the roughly 5 gallons of boiled and cooled (to the 48° pitching temperature) wort.  The problem was this: the starter never seemed to take off.  No krauesen ever formed at the top of the mixture in the Erlenmeyer flask at all, after 12 hours on the stir plate and even after a few days.  My thoughts are 1) the yeast was not very viable or perhaps was pretty dead after the trip from Idaho, or 2) having done only 1-liter ale starters in the past, I didn’t know how a lager starter would behave, and there was nothing wrong because it’s not supposed to make any kraeusen on top to speak of anyway.  Is there anything wrong with this process, other than it is quite lengthy, or with my expectations of lager starter behavior?  I pretty much followed instructions from the Pickelhaube marzen recipe in the Jan/Feb issue of Zymurgy and used BeerSmith2.  Is there another good lager starter process to use that will work well?  This is my first lager, and my ale starters in the past all came out fine.  I wound up tossing the starter and did not mash the grain; I just stopped there because I ran out of time before having to go out of town.  Which brings up another question - with the grains all crushed at the supplier in early June, and still sitting in my cool basement in vacuum-sealed packs, how long would the grains remain viable so that I could try this again? 

Online Stevie

  • Official Poobah of No Life.
  • *
  • Posts: 6631
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2016, 11:03:32 AM »
First off, paragraphs make reading long posts easier.

Second, have you measured the gravity of the starter wort to see if it has changed? Did you see any bubbles at all?

I always make my starters at room temp and crash. Sometimes krausen doesn't form an a stirplate, and the low temp may have made this even more so.

Offline ynotbrusum

  • Brewmaster General
  • *******
  • Posts: 2571
  • Da mihi sis cerevisiam.
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2016, 11:36:52 AM »
I rarely make starters anymore - I just make smaller batches and step through to get up to 10 gallon batches.  That said, try the "shaken not stirred" method next time - it really gets the most out of starters by pitching at high krausen.

Use the grains as soon as you can - the crushed grains will oxidize (stale) over time.  They should be good for a couple weeks and then degradation will depend on how it is stored/packaged (vacuum sealed in a freezer would be best.

Good luck and get some dry yeast as a backup - 34/70 and S-189 are two to consider.
Hodge Garage Brewing: "Brew with a glad heart!"

Offline kpfoleyjr

  • Cellarman
  • **
  • Posts: 30
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2016, 12:07:10 PM »
First off, paragraphs make reading long posts easier.

Second, have you measured the gravity of the starter wort to see if it has changed? Did you see any bubbles at all?

I always make my starters at room temp and crash. Sometimes krausen doesn't form an a stirplate, and the low temp may have made this even more so.
Sorry - I wrote it in Word with paragraphs and it didn't transfer well.

Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk


Offline kpfoleyjr

  • Cellarman
  • **
  • Posts: 30
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2016, 12:08:34 PM »
First off, paragraphs make reading long posts easier.

Second, have you measured the gravity of the starter wort to see if it has changed? Did you see any bubbles at all?

I always make my starters at room temp and crash. Sometimes krausen doesn't form an a stirplate, and the low temp may have made this even more so.
Didn't check the gravity.  Saw no bubbles.

Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk


Offline brewinhard

  • Official Poobah of No Life.
  • *
  • Posts: 3147
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2016, 12:40:44 PM »
Next time, you might want to try letting your starter ferment at 68-72F.  Remember, you are trying to grow yeast (increasing your biomass), not brew beer.  By fermenting at 52F (or close to that cold), you are really slowing down the yeast's metabolism which slows their growth. So, if you pitch an already small amount of potentially viable yeast into cold starter temperature to ferment, the yeast will struggle to grow appropriately in a normal period of time that you may be used to.

Offline narcout

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1610
  • Los Angeles, CA
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2016, 12:44:07 PM »
After waiting a few days for the yeast to settle at the bottom of the flask, on brewing day I would then siphon off the spent wort, add a pint or so of boiled and cooled to 48° water and pitch the slurry into the roughly 5 gallons of boiled and cooled (to the 48° pitching temperature) wort.

If your plan is to ferment the starter to completion, chill, decant, and pitch the slurry, there isn't any need to add boiled and cooled water.  When you decant, just leave enough liquid behind to suspend the yeast and make it easy to pour out.
Be excellent to each other

Offline Steve Ruch

  • Brewmaster
  • *****
  • Posts: 944
    • View Profile
Re: Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2016, 03:17:26 PM »
Good luck and get some dry yeast as a backup - 34/70 and S-189 are two to consider.

Or just use one of these, I love them both.
I'm going to brew a cider tomorrow with the S-189.
Vancouver, WA

I love to go swimmin'
with hairy old women

Offline kpfoleyjr

  • Cellarman
  • **
  • Posts: 30
    • View Profile
Lager Yeast Starter Failure
« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2016, 06:50:18 PM »
All good advice - thank you very much.  I will do the lager starter at 68-72F next time for sure.


Sent from my iPhone in northwest Indiana using Tapatalk