If you will be using liquid yeast to make a higher gravity beer (i.e., over 1.060) , it's imperative that you have as many yeast cells as possible.  We therefore strongly recommend making a yeast starter.  If you will be using dry yeast, there's is less of a need to make a starter, but you should proof it, as described below.

There are a quite a few reasons to make a yeast starter and the benefits will most likely improve any beer that is fermented with one. Let's look at the reasons for making a starter:

  • Increase the yeast cell count.  Starting yeast properly can double, even triple, the yeast cell count.  This greatly reduces the chances of infection while increasing the ability of the yeast to ferment higher gravity beers.
  • Improve yeast vigor.  Making a starter improves the health of a yeast colony and makes it more viable.  Healthy yeast cells ferment faster, produce less undesirable byproducts, are more likely to attenuate or ferment to their full potential and have an improved resistance to alcohol.
  • Shorten the lag time.  A yeast starter provides more healthy yeast cells that are actively reproducing (and fermenting) which can drastically reduce the lag time between pitching the yeast and fermentation starting allowing your beer to be fermented more healthfully and greatly reduces the chance for infection.
  • Reduces the stress on the yeast.  If yeast is under-pitched, the cells can become stressed, which may lead to chemicals that lead to off flavors, poor reproduction (and therefore poor fermentation), as well as poor resistance to other organisms and alcohol... making it less able to fend off infections and less able to ferment in the presence of higher alcohol levels.

You will want 1 quart of starter per 5 gallons of beer.

If you are using liquid yeast, you will need to prep it before you make a starter.

  • For White Labs, remove the yeast from the refrigerator and place in your pocket for approximately a half hour.  Occasionally shake it to ensure it is well mixed.
  • For Wyeast, we recommend smacking the SmackPack the night before making the starter.

When your yeast is ready, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare your equipment. Ideally, you should use an erlenmeyer flask, but a 1/2 gallon or 1 gallon growler or jug works well too. 
    • Sanitize all of your equipment including the growler or jug, funnel, a bung and air lock.
    • If using a growler/jug, have a couple of pints of room temperature, filtered or distilled water ready.
    • Prepare a cold water bath (e.g., sink, cooler, etc.)
  2. Boil water.
    • Erlenmeyer flask: put 700ml of filtered or distilled water into the flask along with 1/2 to 1 cup of dry malt extract, swirl the mixture to ensure it is well combined, and gently put flask directly on high heat until it comes to a boil.
    • Growler/jug: bring a pot with 3/4 quart of water close to a boil.  When the water is close to a boil, add 1/2 to 1 cup of dry malt extract and stir to ensure it is well combined.
  3. Boil wort. 
    • Boil the water/malt extract mixture for 15 minutes. You don't need a raging boil here, just a gentle, constant boil.
  4. Cool the wort. 
    • Erlenmeyer flask:
      • cover the top with aluminum foil.  Warning: The flask will be hot so be sure to use pot holders when handling
      • Cool the wort by placing the flask into a cold water bath for as long as necessary to reduce the temperature to 60° - 80°F range
      • Add / drain water as necessary to keep the container cool.
    • Growler/jug: 
      • Add the room temperature water to the pot of hot wort.  
      • Using your sanitized funnel, transfer the warm wort to the growler/jug. 
      • If the wort is not within the desired temperature range, cool as indicated above for the Erlenmeyer flask
  5. Pitch the yeast. 
    • Carefully pitch the yeast into the wort.
    • Give it a good swirl to ensure it is well mixed.
    • Insert bung and airlock.
  6. Ferment and pitch the starter.
    • Allow your starter to ferment for an absolute minimum of 12 hours before pitching it into your beer, but ideally should allow 24 to 48 hours.
    • You want to pitch the starter after fermenting for a few hours & while it is still visibly active.
    • Before pitching the starter, give it a good swirl to ensure everything within the container is pitched.

Proofing Dry Yeast:

To proof dry yeast all you have to do is collect a cup or so of filtered or distilled water.

Place the water into a sanitized, microwavable container and heat it just long enough to get it in the range of 60° - 80°... this should take less than 30 seconds. When you're sure the water is in the ideal range, pitch the yeast into the container of water and stir it with a sanitized spoon.

Next, cover the container over with a lid or platic wrap. Let the yeast stand for about 10 minutes.

After about 10 minutes the yeast should have "proved" itself... it should be foamy and smell of fresh, yeasty bread...

If it does, pitch it into your fermenter and give the fermenter a good shake to help mix the yeast in.

If the yeast does not proof, give it up to 30 minutes to prove itself... if it still doesn't, we recommend that you get new yeast.