Making a Yeast Starter

In our quest for better beer, one of the small things you can do to turn out a better brew is to make yeast starters for every batch.  The added benefit is that you don’t have to buy yeast as often.

The basic concept is that you take a small of wort, ususally made from dry malt extract, and add a small amount of yeast, which may not be so healthy.  In 24 hours, you get a much larger amount of healthy yeast.

Whether you are starting with a new vial of liquid yeast, or taking it off the top of a fermenting beer, the process is the same.  I choose to buy new vials of liquid yeast and make it last for as many generations as possible.  I make a starter larger than I need (generally 1 quart for 5 gallons), and pour some off for future use.  8 ounces go in a mason jar in the fridge, the other 24 go into my freshly made wort.  I have done this as many as 8 times before buying a new vial of yeast!

If you have brewing software, create a beer using light dry malt extract (DME) with a starting gravity of 1.040.  To grow yeast, we don’t need a high sugar content.  If you don’t have brewing software, you can use 4 ounces per quart.  If you don’t have a scale, just use a cup per quart.

For some reason this time I did 600 milliliters.  Using brewing software, I figured I needed 68 grams of DME.  I overpoured a little, but no big deal.





I find it easier to put the DME into the flask first, so I did just that.  I use a 2 liter flask in case I want to make bigger starters in the future, but you can just as easily use a 1 liter.





I then filled up the flask to the 600 mililiter mark and place it on the stove.  I bring it to a boil and let it go for 5 minutes to sanitize everything.  It’s a good idea to place a hop pellet in the wort, but I didn’t have any laying around this time.





As soon as it is done, I put it in a sink filled with water and cool it down.  You don’t have to get it down to fermentation temps, body temp will be just fine.  We are trying to grow yeast, not make beer.  Within 24 hours, the yeast should have done it’s job and reproduced like crazy, but you can give it more time if you like.  Here’s a picture of my DME starter and a 4th generation sample of California Ale Yeast.





I poured off 8 ounces into a mason jar, and dumped the rest into my beer.  Just a few hours later, it was bubbling away.

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How to read an all grain recipe sheet

For those just getting to all grain brewing, I’m going to go over how to read an all grain recipe sheet.

Here is my recipe for Endless Summer California Pale Ale.  The recipe is in bold, the comments are italicized

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.00 gal <—-Batch size states how much beer should end up with in your fermenter.
Boil Size: 5.72 gal <—-Before you boil the wort, you should have this much in your kettle. After an hour or more boil, some of the water in the wort boils off, and you should end up with the batch size above.
Estimated OG: 1.053 SG <—-This is what your gravity should read once your wort is in the fermenter and at 70 degrees. If it is lower, and you have the correct batch size in your fermenter, your brewhouse efficiency is lower than the figure below. If it’s higher, then your efficiency is higher than the figure I used.
Estimated Color: 9.2 SRM <—-This is a measure of the color of the beer. The higher the number, the darker the beer. A pale ale style should be between 5 and 15 srm according to style guidelines. We have no way to measure this.
Estimated IBU: 45.3 IBU <—-This is a measurement of the bitterness. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer. 45 is on the high end for American style Pale Ales, but that’s how we like it.
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 % <—-Efficiency is a measurement of how much sugars we are able to extract from the grain. This number will vary from system to system. My first all grain brewing system was probably 10% lower, which meant I needed to use more grain for the same amount of alcohol. This number can be calculated by hand, but it is a lot easier using brewing software.
Boil Time: 60 Minutes <—-How long you brew the wort once it reaches a boil.

For this recipe, the base malt is your standard American 2 row. Color and maltiness is achieved from the Crystal 40, and Victory malt gives a hint of toastiness.

On the hops end of the recipe, Centennial provides clean bittering with a distinctive West Coast flavor. Later in the boil, the Cascade give the classic California hop aroma. The last .5 ounce of Cascade is put in when you turn the burner off, which helps prevent the aroma from boiling off.

The California Ale Yeast will bring out the hop flavors. It will also attenuate well, so that you will end up with a slightly drier beer and a bit more alcohol. I find this yeast usually finishes up around 1.009 if I don’t stop the fermentation.

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.00 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 85.71 %
1.00 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 9.52 %
0.50 lb Victory Malt (25.0 SRM) Grain 4.76 %
1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (60 min) Hops 35.6 IBU
1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 9.7 IBU
0.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops -
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) [StartYeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Light Body, Batch Sparge
Mashing at different temperatures can alter the flavor of the beer. For this recipe, we are going to mash at a low temp for a longer time to make a light body beer. We will add our mash water (13.13 quarts) at 161 degrees. When we stir in our grains at room temperature, the mash temp should be right where we want it at 150 degrees. After letting it mash and then lautering, we sparge with 3.7 Gallons of water at 168 degrees. When drain all this to the wort kettle, we should end up with 5.7 gallons. If not, it’s ok to sparge again to get more sugar out of the grain and bring the volume up to where you need it to be.

Total Grain Weight: 10.50 lb
Single Infusion, Light Body, Batch Sparge
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
75 min Mash In Add 13.13 qt of water at 161.4 F 150.0 F
3.7 Gallons Sparge Water at 168.0 F

Endless Summer California Pale Ale Recipe – All Grain

Recipe: Endless Summer California Pale Ale
Brewer: JDub
Style: American Pale Ale
TYPE: All Grain

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 5.72 gal
Estimated OG: 1.053 SG
Estimated Color: 9.2 SRM
Estimated IBU: 45.3 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.00 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 85.71 %
1.00 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 9.52 %
0.50 lb Victory Malt (25.0 SRM) Grain 4.76 %
1.00 oz Centennial [10.00 %] (60 min) Hops 35.6 IBU
1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (15 min) Hops 9.7 IBU
0.50 oz Cascade [5.50 %] (0 min) Hops –
1 Pkgs California Ale (White Labs #WLP001) [StartYeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: Single Infusion, Light Body, Batch Sparge
Total Grain Weight: 10.50 lb
Single Infusion, Light Body, Batch Sparge
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
75 min Mash In Add 13.13 qt of water at 161.4 F 150.0 F

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All Grain Brewing Basics

All grain brewing is the art of making beer from the most basic ingredients, water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. It is the way all commercial beer is made. It is also the way most homebrewers brew if they are in the hobby any length of time.

Essentially, you are creating your own malt extract from malted barley. You have the greatest choice of specialty grains at your disposal because you will now be mashing them to get the sugar out and create sweet wort. Your beer will taste fresher because you will be using fresh grains from your homebrew supplier.

Before you get into all grain brewing, you will need to make some equipment upgrades. Although there are variations out there, there are basically 3 vessels needed for an all grain brewing system. A hot liquor tank, a mash tun, and a boil kettle.

You probably already have a big enough brew kettle to do full wort boils (7.5 gallons or more), but at this stage, it would be helpful if it had a thermometer and ball valve. There are kits available to easily add this, or you can buy an all new kettle with the options already integrated.

A mash lauter tun, or MLT, will hold hot water and grains at a set temperature to extract the sugars out of the malted barley. At the home brew level (5 or 10 gallon batches), the ideal vessel is a beverage cooler. When mashing, you will need to be able to drain the tun of the sweet wort, but leave behind the grains. A ball valve can help you with this, and is easily added to a standard beverage cooler. You will also need something to keep the grains from draining out the ball valve. Screens, manifolds, and false bottoms are all options to accomplish this.

The HLT, or hot liquot tank, is a vessel used simply to hold hot water. At the minimum, the vessel needs to have a ball valve. Most beginning all grain brewers start with a beverage cooler like the mash tun. If you are really tight on cash, a plastic fermenting bucket could even function as a HLT for a few brews. The drawback is that it will lose temperature quickly due to a lack of insulation or ability to reheat the water. Real trick systems automatically heat the water and maintain the temperature until it is needed, but that is a discussion for a seperate article.

The final factor to consider in all grain equipment is how to move hot water and wort around. The two basic types of systems are flat and tiered systems. A flat system has the 3 vessels sitting on a bench and uses pumps mounted underneath the bench to move hot water and wort around. A tiered system takes advantage of gravity to move water and wort around. A pump is nice to have, especially as you get into advanced all grain methods, but it is not necessary. I brewed all grain for at least a year before purchasing my first pump.

My recommendation for an entry into all grain would be to acquire beverage coolers for both the MLT and HLT, and have a brew pot of at least 7.5 gallons. You will need ball valves for all 3 vessels, and a false bottom for the MLT. I acquired all the equipment for my first system for under $200.

Now that we have covered the equipment, the basic steps to an all grain brew are as follows.

Heat water for mash, transfer to MLT.
Stir in grains and let site per recipe (usually 60 minutes).
While mash is sitting, heat sparge water per recipe, transfer to HLT.
Drain some wort from the MLT into a cup and recirculate to the top of the mash. (optional step to clear your wort)
Drain (lauter) MLT into kettle.
Transfer hot water from HLT to MLT for second rinsing of grains (sparging), let sit for 15 minutes.
Drain (lauter) MLT into kettle.
Bring wort to a boil as usual, add hops per recipe.
Cool the wort

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Partial Grain Brewing 101

Partial Mash brewing is a lot like extract brewing. If you have already done an extract batch, you will have all the equipment needed to do a partial grain brew except for a grain bag. This is the next logical step in making beer at home.

To make a partial grain brew, you will need the same ingredients as an extract brew (malt extract, hops, water, and yeast), but you will also be using a small amount of specialty grains to change the color and flavor of your wort. The goal is to make better beer at home, and this small step will help you make a noticeable improvement.

Overview of the steps:
Heat water to 150-160 degrees
Steep specialty grains for 30 minutes
Bring water to a boil
Add malt extract and bittering hops
Boil for 45 minutes
Add finishing hops
Boil for 15 minutes
Cool down fast as possible and transfer to fermenter
Pitch yeast
Ferment for 2 weeks
Carbonate for 2 weeks
Cold Condition

Technically, we will not be mashing these speciality grains, but actually steeping them in water to extract the color and flavor of the grain. Not all types of malt are ideal for this method. You will want to limit steeped speciality grains to the following:

Crystal/Caramal 10 through 120 Lovibond. These malts will add a caramel sweetness and a darker color to your beer. The higher the number, the darker and more caramel flavor will come through.
Special B 220 Lovibond – This is a special Belgian nutty malt which will give a raisin like flavor and nutty hue to your finished beer.
Chocolate Malt 400 Lovibond – Used in brown ales, porters, and stouts, chocolate malte gives a slightly roasty chocolate flavor with a dark red color.
Black Patent Malt 580 Lovibond – This is the darkest malt available. It is used in very small amounts to give a black color.
Roast Barley 550 Lovibond – Gives the distinctive coffe flavor found in Stouts.

The recipe I will be detailing is . This recipe uses pale malt syrup as the base malt, and we will add 1 pound of specialty grains to make it a brown ale. In this recipe, there are 2 types of crystal malts as well as chocolate malt, for a total of 1 pound of specialty grains.

If you prefer an American Brown Ale style, you can substitute Cascade hops for the Goldings, and using American Ale Yeast instead of Nottingham.

Fill your brewpot with water as you would when making an extract batch. This time, instead of getting the water to boil, we are only going to bring it between 150 and 160 degrees. Once you reach that, lower the flame just enough to maintain the temperature. Now place your filled grain bag in your boil kettle. Leave it in the kettle for 30 minutes. When 30 minutes are up, pull the bag out and let the liquid drain into the pot. You are now done with the grains.

Once you have completed the steeping of the grains, you are going to add in extract and hops at a boil just as you would do with an extract recipe. Once the kettle is boiling add in the pale malt and 1 ounce of East Kent Golding hops. Start your timer for 45 minutes, add another 1 ounce of East Kent Golding hops when the time is up. Let it boil for 15 minutes more and shut out the flame. The rest is just like an extract brew, ferment, bottle, enjoy.

TipIf you’re trying a partial mash homebrew for the first time, and want to take an extra step to make better beer, try a full wort boil. Basically you boil all the water that will go into the fermenter at the same time. Instead of starting with 2 or 3 gallons, then topping off the fermenter with cold water, you boil it all together. The drawback is that it will take longer to cool down from a boil, but that will just give you a reason to get a wort chiller! The gain is that you will end up with a better beer, and that’s what this site is all about.

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Down With the Brown – Partial Mash Brown Ale Recipe

Recipe: Down With the Brown
Brewer: J Dub
Style: Northern English Brown Ale
TYPE: Partial Grain

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 5.00 gal
Boil Size: 6.00 gal
Estimated OG: 1.051 SG
Estimated Color: 17.7 SRM
Estimated IBU: 27.0 IBU
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
7.00 lb Pale Liquid Extract (8.0 SRM) Extract 87.50 %
0.50 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 40L (40.0 SRM) Grain 6.25 %
0.25 lb Caramel/Crystal Malt – 80L (80.0 SRM) Grain 3.13 %
0.25 lb Chocolate Malt (350.0 SRM) Grain 3.13 %
1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] (60 min) Hops 18.0 IBU
1.00 oz Goldings, East Kent [5.00 %] (15 min) Hops 8.9 IBU
1 Pkgs Nottingham Yeast (Lallemand #-) Yeast-Ale

Total Grain Weight: 10.00 lb
Steep grains 30 minutes at 150 degrees

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Extract Brewing – Part 2 – Brew Day

Brew day is here! By the end of the day, you will have boiled your wort, chilled it, and added yeast to begin fermentation. Plan on 3 hours or so for your first brew. In the end, you will have 5 gallons of sugary wort ready to be converted to alcohol.

At the minimum you will need:A boil kettle that will hold at least 5 gallons (8 gallons would be preferrable)
Malt extract, in either dry or syrup form
A Hyrdometer
A fermenting bucket or carboy
An air-lock

Let’s Brew
We’re going to be making , the very first recipe I ever made. Start by adding at least 2 gallons of water to your boil kettle, and bring it to a boil. Once the water reaches boiling, turn off the heat and stir in your liquid malt extract and add your first hops, 1 ounce of Willamette. Turn the heat back on enough to maintain a boil. Start your timer for 1 hour.

While your wort is boiling, sanitize your fermenting bucket. I like to mix up my sanitizer according to the directions and apply it with a spray bottle. I end up using a lot less that way.

The first addition of hops will give the beer it’s bitterness, which is needed to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops you add later in the boil, will be boiled less, which brings out more of the hop aroma and less of the bitterness.

For First Timers Brew, your second hop addition (aroma hops) will be with 15 minutes left in the boil. Once 45 minutes have passed (and only 15 left) on your timer, add the second ounce of Wilamette hops. At the end of the hour shut off the heat.

Chill Out!
We now want to cool the boiling wort as quickly as possible to avoid contamination from bacteria and keep the hop aromas from boiling away. Germs thrive below 170 degrees. Anything that comes in contact with the beer below 170 degrees needs to be sanitized.

There are many different ways to cool down your wort. If you’re lucky enough to be brewing with snow on the ground, you can stick the pot in the snow. I’ve even heard of some people using their bathtub. Most people fill the kitchen sink with cold water and stick the whole pot in. You can stir the wort to help it cool faster as well. As the wort cools down, the water will warm up. Once it gets too warm, drain the water in the sink and add more cold water. You can even add ice packs to get the temp even lower.

Once you get the wort below 130 degrees, you can dump it into your fermenter. There will be some hops and protiens from the malt at the bottom of the kettle. To get a clearer beer, try not to let these into your fermenter. If you have a stainless steel strainer that can be sanitized, you can pour the wort through the strainer to help keep the debris out of your fermenter.

Once all your wort is in the fermenter, you will need to top it off with chilled water to bring the temperature down to yeast pitching temperatures. It is a good idea to pre boil the top off water to get rid of any contaminants that could be in the water supply. If the water you add has been chilled in your fridge overnight, the temperature of your wort should be down to 70-80 degrees.

Pitch the yeast!
Once your wort has cooled to the proper temperature range (65-85), you are ready to pitch your yeast. If you are using a dry type yeast, follow the instructions on the package to activate it before adding it to your beer. If you are using a liquid yeast, you can add it directly to your wort. Place the lid on the fermenter, and add the airlock on top. Store the fermenter in a cool dark place, ideally around 65 degrees.

Leave your beer alone for the next 2 weeks, and you will have beer which will be ready to be bottled.

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Extract Brewing – Part 3 – Fermenting

What’s that fermenting in my bucket?During fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar in the wort and produces alcohol and CO2 as a byproduct. This process takes anywhere from 7-14 days to complete.

During the first few days, you should see 2 things. A foam will form at the top of your beer. This foam, called krausen, is the yeast doing it’s work. You will also notice the air lock periodically bubbling. That’s the CO2 leaving the beer as alcohol is made.

After 2 weeks, and if you followed the plan, your beer should be completely fermented. If you have a hydrometer, you can confirm that it’s done by looking for a specific gravity reading around 1.013. The krausen should have dropped to the bottom of the fermenter, and the beer should taste like warm flat beer.

In the next step you will put your beer into bottles to develop carbonation.

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