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It is generally advised to leave a yeast starter for at least 24 hours to get optimal yeast growth.

If I only have a few hours, is there any point making a starter from my liquid yeast pack?

Is there any harm done by doing a very short starter, or do I just get a lower cell count than a starter left for the optimal duration?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A short starter is fine. I often have starters that begin stirring when I start the brewday, so they're only going for 8-10 hours max. With appropriate handling, the risk of contamination can be mitigated and reduced to be negligible.

Due to the small amount of wort, lag time with a vial of yeast is at most a couple of hours (assuming a fresh vial.) Yeast cells bud every 3-8 hours depending upon strain, so you can expect at least a doubling in population, typically more, plus this gets the yeast active, reducing the lag time in primary.

Of course, it's ideal to let the starter run for 24h, but even a third of that is better than no starter at all.

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You can always start your yeast, brew the same day and then pitch the 24hr starter the next day. As long as your sanitation is good your wort will be plenty stable in the fermentor for 24 hours.

I routinely let me lager worts sit in the fermentation fridge over night at the intended pitching temp. Then I pitch the yeast the next day.

I don't think there is any value in doing a 6 hour starter. So my answer is to brew and be careful with sanitation then pitch the next day after you get a 24 hr starter rolling.

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You and mdma usually are in closer proximity than this. If 6 hours isn't worth it (I agree), how about 10 hours on a stir plate? –  Dale Jan 13 '13 at 0:42
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I prefer to give my starters four or five days. Fermentation is usually done in 24 or 48 hours, but I like to cold-crash the starter so that the yeast falls to the bottom. That way, I can decant the beer off the yeast, and pitch just the yeast. If you only give your starter 24 hours, you're forced to pitch the whole starter into your wort. Not a big deal, I suppose but I prefer to pitch just the yeast.

If you can't let your starter ferment for 24 hours, I'd suggest you skip it entirely. Every time you move your yeast from one place to another, you increase the risk of contamination. If you only have a few hours for your starter, it's unlikely to affect your yeast's cell count, and there's some small risk of infection from the procedure. So you're better off to just pitch directly from the smack pack.

You'll almost certainly be under pitching, unless your beer has a low starting gravity and the yeast is very fresh. You can mitigate the effects of under pitching by oxygenating the wort.

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