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Starter Wort

Here is a curious thing.  I made a batch of Witte on Friday night.  It was sort of a last minute thing, so I didn’t make a starter the night before.  My plan was to make a starter while I was brewing the beer, let the starter go over night, then pitch the next day. Pitching late would also let me leave the wort I made in the fermentation fridge overnight to continue to chill down to pitching temps.  The ground water here is about 60F so it really takes some time to get an immersion chiller to carry the wort down to 65-68F, which is where I like to pitch.

As I was cleaning up at 1AM after the session, I realized I still hadn’t made a starter.  So I had to chose and stay up later and make a starter wort, or just pitch the yeast and hope for the best.  But as I was draining the kettle into my fermentor I realized I was going to have plenty of wort left over.  So I grabbed my sanitized starter flask and drew a liter of the wort into it.

Conventional starter wisdom advises against this.  First of all, most starter wisdom suggests your starter shouldn’t be above 1.040.  My wort was 1.053.  Second, your starters shouldn’t contain hops.  My wort had a 35IBU bitterness rating.  To top all that off the wort also had a couple ounces of orange peel and some coriander in it.  Definitely not things you typically seen added to starter wort.  Despite these “detriments” I broke from conventional wisdom and said SCREW IT.  I pitched my yeast into that 1L, put it on the stir plate and went to bed.

The next morning the wort was creamier in color suggesting good yeast growth had happened.  There was even foam on top of the starter, which I never see with normal 1.040 wort on a stir plate… so clearly the yeast were chugging along.  I pitched the whole slurry into the awaiting beer around 11AM.  By 9PM, the beer was starting to chug along.I haven’t tasted the beer yet, but so far things are progressing along normally.

What have I learned here?  I am wondering if I shouldn’t just save my DME dollars and be doing this normally for most starters.  I wonder what the real harm is in using the same beer wort for my starter and pitching the next day. (Hold your concerns over the wort getting infected overnight for a different conversation.)   If the beer comes out great I’ll definitely make my starter this way again, to collect more data.  But it was very easy and cost effective.Only time will tell.



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  1. Jack

    I’m sure you likely include How To Brew in “conventional wisdom,” but I’d like to point you (and your readers) to this chapter:


    In layman’s terms, by starting your yeast in your wort the yeast adjust themselves differently than if you’d started them in DME. You will probably end up with a somewhat different flavor profile. It likely will still be great beer and you won’t notice, but if you did a controlled, side by side experiment, splitting the batch in two, fermenting half with wort-started yeast and the other half with DME-started yeast, you might find the two beers taste somewhat different.

  2. I would think starting them in the actual wort would be better for them. I never make starters, but I like this idea.

  3. Jack:
    Thanks for the insights and the comment.
    However that chapter does not speak to starter chemistry. He is talking about what happens after pitching into the primary beer. Palmer doesn’t mention here anything about hop oils or OG as it relates to the initial starter culture. This is one of the problems I have with Palmers work, he gives good info most of the time, but when you step back and look at it from a bigger picture you wonder what’s the application here??? I think Palmer is often quoted, but never fully understood. I get what he’s saying, but he isn’t saying anything in the para graph that makes me think doing what I did was bad. In fact his entry makes it seems like a better way to do it. Becuase in my wort there is presumably more nutrients and FAN than in 1040 starter wort alone. And he mentions adaptations during the initial phase, so wouldn’t you want the yeast adapting to the same wort. This is the debate I refer to, spurned on by quoting “conventional” wisdom that seemingly falls short of actually addressing the real question.

    I think the side by sides are the necessary part of weeding out the pros and cons of using your actual wort as starter wort.

  4. JW


    Another thought – instead of pulling 1-2L of wort at the end of your brew day (for your starter), you could also pull the 1-2L at the end of your mash before the boil (assuming you are doing AG). Just pull the 1-2L into a kitchen pot, boil it for 10-15 minutes, chill and you are ready to go. By doing this (although there are a couple more steps), you will get unhopped wort which will be lower gravity. For me, I always seem to run out of DME when I go to make a starter, so this option has appeal.

    Just a thought.


  5. JW:
    Actually I hadn’t thought of that actually. I do do all grain.
    You could even take it a step further and dilute that wort to 1.040 before you even boil it. This is a good idea and maybe a little cheaper than using DME.

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