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I have noticed that the smackpacks say on the package that the package is meant for a 5 gal. batch and that you should pour the pack directly into the wort.

On the otherhand - nearly everyone tells me to always make a starter.

Is this just because making a starter never hurts or does the package contain wrong instructions?

I would have guessed that the yeast producers would tell you on the package if you should need some extra steps to get a good product.

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Great question. I was about to ask something similar around using 2 liquid yeast packs when the packet seems to indicate that one would be sufficient. –  Mark McDonald Aug 19 '12 at 11:48
    
If the additional expense isn't a problem then using two packs is ideal - no starter equipment needed and you get the required cell count out of the box, and the best viability and vitality. –  mdma Feb 22 '13 at 17:08

1 Answer 1

up vote 19 down vote accepted

The recommended cell count for ales is 0.75 to 1 million cells per milliliter per degree plato (ca. 4 gravity points.)

For 5 gallons (~18.9L) of typical strength beer of 1.048, that's about 12 plato, so you'll need

1 million x 18900 x 12 = 226.8 billion cells.

According to wyeast, the smackpack contains at least 100 billion cells, which is half of what is needed. Similarly, the white labs vials contain 75-150 billion cells.

On the White Labs site, they mention using a starter to achieve the pitching rates above:

Homebrewers who enjoy yeast culturing: If a starter is made from a fresh vial, one vial can be added directly to a 2 liter starter, which in 2 days will grow to approximately 240 billion cells, to achieve a pitching rate in 5 gallons of of 1 million cells/ml/degree Plato (with a 12 Plato beer).

So, why do they say a starter isn't needed? The producers are trying to strike a balance between cost (how much yeast you get) and convenience, and also reflect that some people like it to be easy, while others are aiming for the best they can get.

You can make good beer by direct pitching, although you'll typically get lower attenuation and more esters, unless you regulate the temperature. For many, that may be fine, and easily outweigh the inconvenience of making a starter. For others, getting the absolute best out of the yeast is the priority, and making a starter just adds to the fun of brewing.

See Also

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just a follow-up to the answer above, does adequate or slightly excessive pitching also ensure a TIMELY/quicker fermentation? If one were to under-pitch for example, but regulate the temperature of US-05 at 62 degrees, wouldn't it take longer and produce few esters? –  Pietro Aug 17 '12 at 12:21
6  
Yes, underpitched brews typically take longer, not least because the lag phase is longer, and also because it requires longer conditioning to clean up. Here's a great experiement comparing effects of pitching rates: seanterrill.com/2010/05/09/yeast-pitching-rate-results –  mdma Aug 17 '12 at 15:18

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