Saturday, August 9, 2014

"Real" Wort Starters

Edit: The below post was made in ignorance of several facts. I have revised what I plan to do. I am leaving the below post here because the thought process and the overall plan has not changed. The method of storage is the primary change due to new (to me) knowledge.

This morning (8/9) over on /r/homebrewing I noticed a post about a "Real Wort Starter," and I decided this blog post needed to happen. I know this isn't my own unique idea by any means and others have done it before, but this also isn't something that I've seen articulated particularly well anywhere before.

This is something I think that doesn't really get mentioned very much because the common method of just using DME for a starter is so simple. And it is simple, don't get me wrong. But it is still an additional thing to do, and if you plan ahead isn't necessary!

Not necessary eh? Not necessary. I'll explain.

My next brew will be the very last one I use a DME starter for. Why? Because I plan to brew a Saison that if I end up at 4 gallons instead of 5, won't hurt my feelings. Let me elaborate.

I am going to brew a big Saison (well, 1.070ish most likely, maybe bigger) and draw off the second runnings into 32oz mason jars. Measure gravity. If it's close enough to 1.040, good enough for me. I can always dilute down slightly after the fact, and my second runnings aren't likely to be a lot lower than 1.040 with the grist I'm planning.

For this, I plan to do 2x 32oz jars, which should be enough for two brews. Or one big one. Why? Because this allows for larger than a 1L starter if I want to, or two 1L starters if I'm too lazy to harvest more on my next batch. I will then continue drawing off as needed to ensure my supply of starter wort stays at adequate levels for future brews.

Edit: This will be my first (small) batch as I am able to pressure can two jars with my current equipment. A larger canner will be required for future large harvesting of starter wort, but worthwhile imo.

But wait, the wort might ferment! This isn't safe!

Yes, I had thought of this as well. Putting the wort into jars immediately after the mash probably isn't the best plan if you just seal it up and hope for the best. There are a few options here. First is the way I'm going to go, which is to pasteurize in my dishwasher (it has a sanitize setting on it and has pasteurized soda in the past with zero issues). The other alternative is to simply freeze it. Or pasteurize and then freeze if you want. I may or may not freeze either way, but I will certainly pasteurize.

Edit:  Thanks to /u/testingapril and /u/professorheartcraft
The only safe way to do this is going to be pressure canning. No problem for me. I'll be doing this, as it is easily done inexpensively for me.

Testingapril mentioned botulism. I was not previously aware that this was a thing, and today I learned. While it may not actually happen in a way that is dangerous to me, I don't think it's worthwhile to forego canning simply because I need to get a canner. It's useful for other things too, so why not? I was previously resistant to the idea, but I can't justify it if there is any actual risk.

But wait, THERES MORE!

More?! Yes. More. The number one thing that people whine about is needing to worry about boilovers from adding DME. I simply won't boil. Why would I want to boil starter wort, when its already been pasteurized anyway? Simply add to the flask at room temperature, add yeast and start spinning. No muss no fuss.


Most of the starter beer will simply be decanted prior to pitching, so frankly I'm not concerned about that. If someone can point me to actual science that states what I'm doing will destroy my beer, I will of course reconsider. I could simply pull the wort off towards the end of the boil, that would work as well. But I do not believe this will actually be necessary. Time will tell, and if I taste a problem I will certainly look to this as a potential culprit. But again, I do not see this as being an issue.

Below is my story of my first real wort starter, and part of my inspiration for my current proposed process above. Could have made this its own post, but I think it fits well here too:

On 8/3 I brewed what will likely be an interesting beer, and this is when I first made a "real" wort starter.

The recipe:
6lbs 2row
4lbs pilsner
3lbs rye
1lb C40

.5oz Galena @60

WLP300 stressed to produce banana esters.

The problem. I had originally planned on only having the 6lbs 2row, 3lbs rye and 1lb C40 for this brew. The 4lbs of pilsner malt added at the last second pushed the OG from ~1.050 to what wound up being 1.070. Volume from 5 to 6 gallons as well, so it could have been an even higher gravity.

Now above when I say "WLP300 stressed to produce banana esters," what I mean is a 20% underpitch, a warmer fermentation temperature, and hoping for the best. I plan to modify this recipe further towards my final goal of a banana bread beer, but in the meantime I'm experimenting to see what happens when I do X vs. Y, basically.

So. You see my problem, yes? I had originally planned on a ~1.050 OG 20% underpitch which happily enough came in at a .5L starter. Hooray!

But if I did a .5L starter into 1.070 wort, I'm looking at a ~40% underpitch. Little more than I'm comfortable with, frankly. So. What to do?


Finish my mashing and sparging, pop the kettle onto the stove and let it boil for a few minutes. Draw off boiled wort, dilute to starter temps and build up the starter overnight! I can just pitch in the morning, won't hurt anything.

Long story short, that worked awesomely and that beer is currently fermenting away like crazy. Glad I used a blowoff, though at 6 instead of 5 gallons and 1.070 instead of 1.050, if you don't use a blowoff I think you've got some mental deficiency going on.

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