How-To: Make a Yeast Starter

A starter can help improve your beer by increasing pitch rate, reducing fermentation lag time, and reducing stress on the yeast. All of these things can reduce or eliminate off flavors and increased ester production that stressed yeast can bring to the table.

I’m planning on brewing this Sunday, I happen to have time, so let’s make a starter shall we?


Required Items:

  • 100g Light DME
  • 1.5L Water (less if your boil-off rate is lower)
  • Starter Vessel (I use an Erlenmeyer Flask but you can use what you’ve got) 
  • Stopper or aluminum foil to cover your vessel
  • Measuring cup(s) – for water and DME if you do not have a scale
  • Sanitizer (in the mini keg)
  • Funnel
  • Liquid yeast vial or packet, depending on your supplier of choice
  • Medium/Large Saucepan with lid
  • Beer (I’m drinking my Lime Wheat)

Helpful Items:

  • Scale for weighing DME
  • Defoamer/Fermcap (boilovers suck)
  • Stir plate
  • Stir bar
  • Timer
  • Towels

Getting Started:


  • Sanitize your things!


  • Measure your water


  • Weigh/Measure your DME


  • Add your DME to the water, mix well, and start heating. Add your Defoamer at this point as well if you’re using it. Defoamer will not completely prevent a boilover (especially during hot break), but it will reduce the chances of one and make it more controllable. 


  • Boil 15 minutes


  • Time’s up and the beer’s gone! Cut the heat and lid your pot.


  • Move to ice water bath and chill until cool. Normal pitching temps (60-70) isn’t necessary since we’re not really worried about flavor, only growth; anything mid-90’s and lower is fine and won’t kill the yeast. I just use my hand rather than a thermometer to judge when it’s low enough.


  • Pour into flask using funnel. If you trust your flask is actual borosilicate glass (Pyrex) you can add the wort hot and chill in the flask. Additionally, if you have a gas stove you can boil directly in the flask. I can’t read Chinese, so I chill in the pan to avoid shattering my flask.


  • Don’t forget your stir bar!


  • Pitch the yeast and fire up the stir plate. If you don’t have a stir plate, just occasionally give the flask a good swirl whenever you can. Increased aeration provided by a stir plate or swirling often boosts cell growth and keeps your yeast healthy and happy.

By Sunday the yeast will have consumed most of the fermentable sugar and be ready to step up to the show and pitch in the big leagues.


The Fruit Beer Experiment

I happen to enjoy a well made fruit beer, especially on a hot day. Last spring I decided to give it a shot. After buying (and tasting) a not inconsiderable amount of singles from a bottle shop for research; the base beer had been determined. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat was my favorite. On its own, 312 is a refreshing, slightly citrusy, light, American wheat. The kicker was really that this beer has no traditional German wheat beer yeast character, or really even much yeast character at all, aside from maybe some mild fruit esters. Researching clone recipes online shows a very simple beer, which again would be perfect for adding fruit to and not having anything clash. Since 312 has a bit of citrus flavor from the Cascade hops, I thought lime would be a fitting addition. I also had seen members of having success with strawberry wheats and blondes. With a head full of hammock filled hopes and dreams, I got brewing.

2013 Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs 9.6 oz American 2-Row
  • 1 lb 10.4 oz Torrified Wheat
  • 4 oz Rice Hulls
  • 1 oz Cascade 6.5% AA {30 min}
  • .5 oz Cascade 6.5% AA {flameout}
  • Lime Zest (5 limes) {flameout}
  • 4 lbs Fresh Strawberries (pureed and sanitized)
  • 2 x White Labs WLP013 London Ale

2013 Targets:

  • OG: 1.043
  • FG: 1.012
  • IBU: 21.8
  • ABV: 4.1

2013 Procedure/Notes:

Mash at 152ºf for 60 minutes, sparge/lauter, and boil for 1 hour adding hops and zest at times noted. Let flameout additions steep for 15 minutes prior to cooling. I split last years batch into two 3 gallon fermenters. 2.5 gallons was just the 312 clone with lime, 2.5 gallons was put on top of the strawberries.

To prepare the strawberries, hull and slice 4 lbs of fresh strawberries to 1 cup of water and bring to 160-180ºf for at least 15 minutes. Blend until pureed.

I definitely learned a few things last year:

  1. Do not add strawberries during primary fermentation without adequate head space in your fermenter. Unless you would like to know what the Ghostbusters 2 sets looked like in person and would like to know what cleaning up pink goo is like.
  2. Adequate head space is more than you think it is.
  3. I’m glad I put my fermenters in a bathtub.
  4. Adding fruit to primary has another downside: the yeast will strip most of the flavor and color out of the beer. I would add the fruit after primary fermentation is mostly complete in the future.

Lime alone works great. The strawberry-lime did not work as well. As mentioned above, it was messy and the end product had little in the way of desirable strawberry color or flavor. Also of note: I used an 80% 2-row/ 20% wheat ratio. Goose Island likely uses less wheat, as this had a more noticeable wheat flavor, even with the lime.

2103 Results:

Note: Targets and Results are Lime only. Strawberries add a considerable amount of fermentable sugar, but can vary in content.

  • OG: 1.046
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.7

Recently I brewed this again:

2014 Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs 9.6 oz American 2-Row
  • 1 lb 10.4 oz Torrified Wheat
  • 6.6 oz Rice Hulls
  • 3/4 Tbsp Ph 5.2 Stabilizer
  • .96 oz Cascade 7.1% AA {30 min}
  • .5 oz Cascade 7.1% AA {flameout}
  • Lime Zest (5 limes) {flameout}
  • 1 Whirlfloc Tablet
  • 2 x White Labs WLP013 London Ale

2014 Targets:

  • OG: 1.043
  • FG: 1.012
  • IBU: 22.9
  • ABV: 4.1

2014 Procedure/Notes:

Brew day 6/15/14 really went off without a hitch, and I plan to post an update next weekend with tasting notes. I went with a similar game plan as last year, aside from 2 changes: no strawberry and in 1 fermenter. 60 minute mash @ 152ºf, 60 minute boil, 15 minute steep after flameout. This was my first mash using 5.2 Stabilizer, so the verdict is still out as to it’s usefulness at this time. Had I planned ahead, a starter would have been a good idea, instead I pitched two vials of yeast to ensure a quick primary. I plan to keg 6/24/14 and serve this 6/28/14 at a crab feast.  Yep, 13 day grain to glass. Ballsy.


Rye Pale Mild (RPM)

I decided my first all-grain should also be my first completely original recipe. Something non-orthodox at that. I’m sure part of  me was thinking “this isn’t a real style, if you screw it up, you can say it was on purpose.” That part of me is a crafty bastard. So came along this mixing of a style I had just started noticing and enjoying thoroughly (Rye Pale Ale), and a style I have never actually had but fell in love with the concept of reading Shut up about Barclay Perkins (English Mild). What came out of the fermenter was a delicious learning experience.


  • 4.5 lb Maris Otter
  • 1 lb Rye Malt
  • .5 lb Carapils
  • .5 lb Crystal 40ºL
  • .25 lb Chocolate Malt 350ºL
  • .25 lb Rice Hulls
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings 5.8% AA {60 mins}
  • .5 oz Fuggles 4.20% AA {15 mins}
  • 1 Whirlfloc Tablet {15 Mins}
  • .5 oz East Kent Goldings 5.8% AA {flameout}
  • .5 oz Fuggles 4.20% AA {flameout}
  • White Labs WLP001 California Ale


  • OG: 1.035
  • FG: 1.007
  • ABV: 3.5%
  • IBU: 27.3


  • OG: 1.036
  • FG: 1.008
  • ABV: 3.7%


Mash at 152º f for 60 minutes, sparge with 5 gallons at 168º f.

Boil for 60 minutes following addition times noted with ingredients.

Ferment at 68º f for two weeks and bottle/keg as you will; aiming for a low-level of carb (2 vols or less)

Notes and Thoughts:

I would have liked a bit more rye character than was present. If brewing now I would go with the relatively recently available CaraRye and Chocolate Rye malts from Weyermann in place of their barley caramel/chocolate counterparts. I would also consider using a less clean yeast, White Labs WLP051 California V/Wyeast 1272 American II to bring some fruit esters to the party.


Double up or quit, double stake or split, THE ACE OF SPADES CDA

Like most things Motorhead; it’s bitter, black, and slightly abrasive. 


  • OG: 1.052
  • FG: 1.013
  • ABV: 5.1
  • IBU: 57.1


  • 8lb Pale LME
  • 1lb Carafa II
  • 1lb Crystal 40°L
  • 1/2lb Crystal 60°L
  • 1oz Centennial 10.0% AA {60 min}
  • 1oz Cascade 5.5% AA {45 min}
  • 1oz Willamette 5.5% AA {15 min}
  • 1oz Cascade 5.5% AA {Flameout}
  • 1oz Cascade 5.5% AA {Dry Hop}
  • Wyeast 1056 American Ale

This was the last extract batch I brewed. This will also be converted to all-grain and brewed again this fall/winter.




Have you calibrated your thermometer lately? Or ever?

As a homebrewer, temperature is important, that’s why we use thermometers in the first place. Here’s how to calibrate an analog instant read type thermometer.

1. Get some ice water. You want to fill your cup with ice and then just use water to fill in the gaps. This should be a reliable 32° constant.


2. Take your first reading. Mine was a couple degrees high.


3. Use a pair of pliers to adjust the nut on the back to read 32°.



And you’re done!


Recipe: Pumpkin Ale v2.0



  • 12 lb American 2-Row
  • 1 lb Crystal 60°L
  • 1 lb Special Roast
  • 5 lb Roasted Pumpkin (cubed)


  • 1 oz Hallertauer 4.1% AA {FWH}
  • 10 lb Roasted Pumpkin (mashed smooth) {60 minutes}
  • 1 Whirlfloc Tablet {15 minutes}
  • 1 oz Hallertauer 4.1% AA {15 minutes}
  • 1 lb D-180 Candi Sugar Syrup {10 minutes}
  • 1.5 Pumpkin Spice {5 minutes}

Yeast: White Labs WLP072 French Ale


  • OG: 1.085
  • FG: 1.018
  • IBU: 17.5
  • ABV: 8.9%


  • OG: 1.062
  • FG: 1.011
  • ABV: 6.7%

This brew day was wrought with failure, but turned out a beer delicious none the less. Just with a far lower efficiency than planned.


If you’ve ever thought to yourself: “I can let go of the drill to refill the grain hopper on the mill; it’ll be okay.” You’re wrong. It won’t be okay. You’ll be sweeping up all of your milled and unmilled grain off the floor. Gravity is faster than you.

Don’t heat your strike water too hot and expect stirring to magically lower it 20°, it won’t. Physics won’t let you.


Thinner body, drier, more complex, darker, higher ABV brew than last year.


A beer with similar gravity and body to last year’s, but definitely darker and more complex. The yeast really brings out the spices as well as provides some of it’s own. The candi sugar brings color as well as dark fruit flavors and complexity.

I believe the high mash temp combined with a loss of at least a pound of grain to garage floor grossness resulted in my lower than planned gravity.


Recipe: Pumpkin Ale v1.0

Once again, most of the procedure is based purely on memory as this was the first beer I brewed at home last October. I seem to have lost the notebook I was using at the time, and did not enter any of the gravity data or notes into BeerSmith.


  • 7.5 lb. Pale/Light LME
  • 10ish lb. Roasted Pie Pumpkin
  • 1 lb. Crystal 60°L
  • 1 lb. Special Roast
  • 1 lb. Brown Sugar
  • 1 oz Hallertauer @ 60 minutes
  • 1 Whirlfloc Tablet @ 15 minutes
  • 1 oz Hallertauer @ 5 minutes
  • 1.5 Tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice @ 5 minutes
  • White Labs WLP 001 – California Ale

Prepare your pumpkins:

I used 4 small-medium pie pumpkins. Remove the top, cut in half, and scrape out all seeds and gut strings. Lay on sheet pans skin side up and roast at 325° for 2.5-3 hours or until squishy. Let cool, scoop flesh from skin into a large bowl, and mash well with a potato masher.


Bring 6ish gallons of water up to 150°. Add mashed pumpkin and steeping grains. Let steep 30 minutes. Warm LME in pot of warm water on stove during the steep.

Remove grain bag, drain, and attempt to remove grains to reuse bag. Discard bag in rage.

Add LME to kettle and bring to a boil.

Add hops, Whirlfloc, and spices according to times listed. Add immersion chiller at 15 minutes.

Chill with immersion chiller. Decide straining the pumpkin out might be a good idea; sanitize pasta strainer.

Place pasta strainer over sanitized fermenter and attempt to pour contents of kettle into said strainer.

Find paper towels to clean up mess from immediately clogged strainer.

Decide the pumpkin can stay in the fermenter. It’ll drop out, right?

Sanitize hands and vial of yeast and pitch into fermenter.

Look at thermometer sticker on side of bucket, realize it’s not registering because it’s above temperature range, freak out because you pitched somewhere between 85-90°.


Check twice daily for two days waiting for yeast activity due to high pitch temperature.

Don’t check on day three, it’ll be fine.

Day 4: clean up mess from clogged airlock and install blowoff tube.

Day 8: reinstall airlock.

Day 12-14: take gravity samples to ensure terminal gravity reached.


Sanitize 2 cases of 1L EZ Cap bottles, a few 12 oz bottles, auto-siphon, siphon hose, bottling bucket, and bottling wand.

Create priming solution of 2 cups water and 4 oz corn sugar. Bring to a boil and let cool.

Add priming solution to bucket and carefully rack beer on top; leaving behind trub, yeast, and a shit ton of beer soaked pumpkin.



Distribute as gifts.