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01/15/08 04:55 AM  
Large starters and oxidation
From what I've read it seems to be the consensus to decant large starters and just pitch the yeast. The issue being that a starter is heavily oxidized from all the shaking and will put off flavors in your brew. However, I have pitched fairly large starters liquid and all with no ill effects, but they were high gravity ales with vigorous fermentation's. I guess my question is it best to decant a large starter or go ahead an pitch the whole thing?
Dave I
01/15/08 10:04 AM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
<<I guess my question is it best to decant a large starter or go ahead an pitch the whole thing?>>

I would say decant. Two reasons.

First, the starter is oxidized (although, I am not sure if the active fermentation cleans that up or if once it is oxidized it is ruined forever). Why risk it?

Second, the starter beer will undoubtedly contribute to the flavor of your beer. That could end up being a huge deal, especially if you dump a gallon or two of starter beer that really dilutes your high gravity beer, potentially adds extract tang to your delicate all-grain Pilsner, or otherwise undoes some of the finite calculating you have done to make the beer turn out with very specific attributes (flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, color, gravity range, attenuation, ABV%, etc.).

If you ARE going to use your starter, just treat it like a normal beer (only oxidize before fermentation begins, keep at normal temps for style, etc.) and maybe use a similar recipe, anything to keep it at least close to the beer of which you are trying to make five gallons (or ten gallons, or whatever). In that case, I do not see it being a problem.

This is going to be less of an issue with a Barley Wine, Imperial Stout, or IPA will mask flaws, but might make for a better beer if you take the X-factor of the starter beer out of the equation. But for the Pilsner I currently have in primary, I made a three-gallon starter, fermented it in a plastic bucket, and dumped the starter beer (all three-gallons) so I could siphon the Pilsner an the yeast cake left behind; the three gallons of starter beer would have probably dramatically changed, if not ruined, what I was going for with the Pilsner.

I would say try it both ways and see what works for you. There are people who go both ways, although usually with huge starters people tend dump the starter beer and use just the yeast. Typically, they chill the starter beer so the yeast drops out of suspension and then leave just enough liquid in there so the slurry does not stick to the bottom of your starter like peanut butter and then dump just the yeast and as little of the starter beer as possible.


01/15/08 10:24 AM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
You say you've pitched fairly large starters with no ill effects. The only practical way I can think of, to really determine whether this is true, is the following. All it really takes is to sanitize one extra carboy.

1. make a starter and let it sit until all the yeast is at the bottom

2. brew, and then split your fresh wort into two carboys

3. pour half the starter liquid into one carboy

4. then either

- decant the rest of the starter liquid, then split the yeast between the two carboys (being fairly careful to split it equally), or

- throw the yeast away and pitch a pack of dry yeast in each half-batch (probably better for consistency)

Unless someone is willing to do that, all we have is speculation. Like Dave, I speculate that decanting will improve some beers significantly.

Sean White
01/15/08 03:37 PM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
It seems to me that as long as the starter is not too big, and if it has been aerated as a normal wort would be, you are probably at a very low risk of oxidized flavors in your finished beer, because the oxidative metabolism of the yeast would reabsorb the small amount of oxidation picked up in the pouring of the starter. Just pour carefully.

Also - the incorporation of the actual starter wort can be "worked into" a recipe, for instance if you are doing a normal-gravity beer, make an unhopped starter of the same gravity, and then slightly adjust your IBU's to make up for the unhopped starter.

One other potential problem to consider is DMS. If you boil your starter and cool it in a sealed container, you are at the biggest risk for DMS production, which would almost definitely be detectable in the finished beer.

01/15/08 03:48 PM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
Just remember that your wort that you want to ferment needs lots of oxygen for the yeast to propagate and devour the sugar. So basically pitching oxygenated starter into an oxygenated fresh wort will only improve the oxygen content to help kick off fermentation. Stop worrying!!!
Jim Denier
01/16/08 10:51 AM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
I've been pitching oxygenated 2-liter starters (liquid and yeast) into 10-gal batches for years, w/ no ill effects. Now, I wouldn't toss a large (1-gallon) starter into a small lager batch for fear of messing with the final flavor, gravity, etc.
01/16/08 01:27 PM  
Re: Large starters and oxidation
Jim, do you ferment in a 10+ gallon fermenter, or in two smaller fermenters?

If the latter, you're 99% of the way to the experiment I mentioned... maybe you could try it sometime?

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