Author Topic: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them  (Read 626 times)

Offline pull

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Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« on: October 16, 2010, 05:02:51 AM »
Ahoy-hoy-

I've got a bit of a situation that I'd like to run by you all.  There's a five gallon batch in the other room that has me worried.  Most threads like this get responses suggesting that the worried party should be patient, etc., but I'm now that worried party and it's no party at all.

The Conundrum:
I brewed six batches of the same recipe six brew days in a row.  I'm an all-grain brewer and my numbers were consistent from day to day leaving me with a gravity, going into each respective primary, of 1.059.  Each batch was treated to its own 650ml starter prepared the day before according to Northern Brewer's freely available .pdf.  Each starter was born of a newly purchased vial of 001 that was allowed to sit out in a kitchen cabinet for several hours to reach room temperature.  Each starter and all of the primaries reside in a small "2nd bedroom" (read: office) in my Brooklyn apartment with a dedicated AC unit ensuring that the room stays at 70 degrees.

Starter #4 didn't have much going when it came time to pitch.  I don't have a stir plate but I had been regularly swirling the contents of the flask as I have done with success in the past.  It smelled fine when it came time to pitch, so believing it to be a mysteriously slow starting starter, I pitched it anyway and went about being patient, etc., for about two and a half days.  When still nary a bubble of telltale CO2 had been seen, I brought out another virgin vial of 001 to warm up and then pitched later afternoon.  The next morning, batch #4 was bubbling along with its siblings.

Starter #6 was familiar in its inactivity so I broke out another vial of 001 when I started brewing that morning (in case my worry wasn't allayed by pitch time).  It wasn't, so I pitched the starter and the room temp vial and figured I was surely safe.  Well, it's now 60 or so hours later and it's calm waters in that carboy.

What's that about?  Is there anything to do?  Does another vial get tossed in, good (presumably) after bad?

One of the exciting things about brewing with a starter has been the diminished lag time between pitching and the fireworks.  I welcomed my first blow-overs and adopted the blow-off tube with the joy unknowable to those who don't brew.  But this... this is maddening as I'm using words like "mysteriously" to explain what should be relatively reliable procedure.

I do apologize if this is old hat to you all but I figured I should ask those with more experience than I.  This particular brew project has got me thinking about all sorts of Brauhaus changes... For example: As someone who has never kegged, would that simplify or complicate life when it comes time to serving these 30 gallons?  But that's a question for another thread.

The six batches are being brewed for an event coming up on 11}11.  I figured I'd brew as many batches as I could ferment to both learn what there is to learn from day-to-day brewing as well as ensure that there would be plenty of beer no matter what might go wrong.

Any advice or anecdotes will be appreciated!

Best to you and your brew-
Pull

Offline a10t2

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2010, 08:59:30 AM »
How old were the vials? Does your LHBS store them properly? Obviously, you had two that contained only a small amount of yeast relative to the others. I've heard that WL is pretty good about replacing bum cultures if you mail in the empty vials, but I've never dealt with them myself.

Anyway, there are two main reasons to make a starter. One is to generate additional yeast and increase the pitching rate, but a 650 mL starter (without a stir plate) won't really grow much. The other is as a viability check, so that you know you have healthy yeast before pitching. So you definitely don't want to pitch a starter that hasn't shown any signs of activity.

I realize that probably isn't a very satisfying answer, but hopefully it well at least let you keep making good beer until you figure out where in the supply chain the yeast is being mishandled.

As far as #6, take a gravity reading and if it hasn't dropped, pitch more yeast. An active starter would be ideal.
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Offline jeffy

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2010, 09:04:23 AM »
I was thinking that by day three you should have had plenty of yeast available from the first batch.  Even more by day 6.  You certainly spent a lot on yeast when you had big starters already going in the earlier fermenters.  Have you ever given any thought to harvesting the yeast from previous batches?
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Offline thirsty

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2010, 09:06:45 AM »
Is 70 degrees a bit warm?

Offline pull

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2010, 10:33:57 AM »
How old were the vials? Does your LHBS store them properly? Obviously, you had two that contained only a small amount of yeast relative to the others. I've heard that WL is pretty good about replacing bum cultures if you mail in the empty vials, but I've never dealt with them myself.

Anyway, there are two main reasons to make a starter. One is to generate additional yeast and increase the pitching rate, but a 650 mL starter (without a stir plate) won't really grow much. The other is as a viability check, so that you know you have healthy yeast before pitching. So you definitely don't want to pitch a starter that hasn't shown any signs of activity.

I realize that probably isn't a very satisfying answer, but hopefully it well at least let you keep making good beer until you figure out where in the supply chain the yeast is being mishandled.

As far as #6, take a gravity reading and if it hasn't dropped, pitch more yeast. An active starter would be ideal.

<a10t2>
Thanks for the quick and reasonable reply, sir.  The vials came from Austin Homebrew Supply, so even though I haven't been to the facility, my guess is that they treat their stuff pretty kindly.  I suppose it could have something to do with the shipping, but I've never had a fermentation lag like this in my long tenure (read: year and a half) of brewing.  The best if used by dates were still a couple off so I figured they should be fine... especially because I treated myself when ordering and got an ice pack for the whole shebang.

The starters were to serve the viability curiosity and also to gain facility making them.  I've hitherto pitched two vials into my batches but was feeling wasteful and newbish doing so.  I guess my follow-up question to your response that you shouldn't pitch a sleepy looking starter is this: Can you hurt a batch by doing so?  Other than the obvious opening to some kind of bug getting in to the game - it's weak wort and apparently weak yeast.  I ask because I was an arts major (in Indiana no less).  Zing!

And the answer is very satisfying because it rings of truth.  Again, I appreciate your time.  I've got another vial of 001 warming up for an afternoon starter cook-off.

My special lady friend was suggesting that I reach out to White Labs.  I have the vials handy but hate shoving off blame onto anyone else when I could be culpable.  Do bad vials and smack packs happen?  I've been thinking of abandoning the vials if only because they're a pain to open due to CO2 and off-gassing, etc.

<jeffy>

You're absolutely right.  I have a crap-tonne of proven yeast at this point but, being a nervous brewer, don't know much about getting in there to harvest.  That's not a very good answer but it's true.  It's a hodgepodge of vessels in that little room, to boot.  The three 6.5 gallon glass carboys have narrow necks that don't make for easy anything as I learned most recently when attempting to dry hop my Black Rebel Indian Ale (looked more like a dry rub with hops all over the outside of the carboy).  I have a couple of 6 gallon better bottles with wider necks and blow-off tubes and then a 6 gallon glass carboy with a similarly narrow neck.  Finally, there's a saison in there keeping watch over the young'uns but her yeast isn't of any help.  If there's a safe way to get some of the good stuff out of the bottom of the happy carboys, my interest is piqued.  I've made some pretty good beers in the past year as well as one or two that weren't so hot, but my skill set is still developing.  For better or for worse, my ego and I frequently default to these classic lyrics: All I know is that I don't know nothin'.

<thirsty>
Is 70 a bit warm?  It seems like the best I can do and is better than when I was brewing and fermenting without any climate control at all.

Thanks, all.  I appreciate the help!

Offline pull

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #5 on: October 16, 2010, 10:48:48 AM »
Of course, I could also rack batch #1 to a five gallon carboy and then transfer the sleeping wort of #6 directly onto the yeast cake.  It's the same recipe and the same numbers... Is this a relatively safe option?  I'd intended to avoid racking these as I keep hearing and reading that racking is the new new in all things evil, but I'd do it if it seems the safe smart option.  Now - for the laugh...


And if the "add image" doesn't work for whatever reason, a photo of my dry rub/hop effort can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xoot/5086473209/
« Last Edit: October 16, 2010, 10:52:06 AM by pull »

Offline svejk

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #6 on: October 16, 2010, 10:49:56 AM »
I have a crap-tonne of proven yeast at this point but, being a nervous brewer, don't know much about getting in there to harvest.

Check this out:

http://www.aleiens.com/video/top-cropping-yeast-from-a

Offline pull

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #7 on: October 16, 2010, 10:56:32 AM »
I have a crap-tonne of proven yeast at this point but, being a nervous brewer, don't know much about getting in there to harvest.

Check this out:

http://www.aleiens.com/video/top-cropping-yeast-from-a

Nice, Svejk!  I might be able to pull this off right now.

Offline jeffy

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2010, 11:42:39 AM »
Of course, I could also rack batch #1 to a five gallon carboy and then transfer the sleeping wort of #6 directly onto the yeast cake.  It's the same recipe and the same numbers... Is this a relatively safe option?  I'd intended to avoid racking these as I keep hearing and reading that racking is the new new in all things evil, but I'd do it if it seems the safe smart option.  Now - for the laugh...


And if the "add image" doesn't work for whatever reason, a photo of my dry rub/hop effort can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xoot/5086473209/

I often transfer to a secondary (or keg) on the next brew day and then put the fresh wort right onto the slurry in the old primary.  So if you don't top crop like the other link, you can easily put batch 6 directly onto the yeast under batch 1.

I love that dry rub photo.  You need to find a better funnel or something.
Jeff Gladish, Tampa (989.3, 175.1 Apparent Rennarian)
Homebrewing since 1990
AHA member since 1991, now a lifetime member
BJCP judge since 1995

Offline a10t2

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Re: Non-Starter Starters and the Primaries That Receive Them
« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2010, 12:41:47 PM »
If you don't want/need to top crop, here's a good visual guide to harvesting yeast: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f163/yeast-washing-illustrated-41768/

As a general rule, if the beers are about the same gravity, the yeast cake from the first will be enough to pitch into 3-4 other beers. I wouldn't pitch on a full cake.
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