After posting my beer making process to the Homebrew forums someone suggested that I look into yeast starters to ensure that I was getting enough yeast to ferment the wort. A sign of low yeast is a slow start and from my last beer I certainly saw that with the fermentation not starting for 2-3 days.
After looking to this a bit more it turns out that I haven’t had enough yeast for most of my beers (low pitch count). With my discovery being around Christmas time some of my wish list items were a 2000mL Ehrlenmeyer flask and a stir plate. You can do starters without these, but the flask makes the heating and cooling pretty simple and the stir plate pretty much ensures that you only need one step for most beers.
Well I got the flask to use for my first yeast starter, but the stir plate is on back order. For the beer I was making the OG is supposed to be 1.080 and according to the yeast calculators online I needed two steps. The first step could fit in the flask, but the second step needed 4.5L which is too much for my flask. I had a huge boil over here and it made quite the mess. In the end though my yeast starter went great and caked out nice.
For the second step I wanted to avoid the boil over and after reading several forums there is some stuff called Fermcap-S which is an anti-foaming agent. I went to the local home brew store and got a small bottle. With just a few drops of this stuff I had no risk of a boil over. This stuff is a must have. Well since the second step wouldn’t fit in my flask I got some of the new cooled wort and put it into the flask (after pouring out the liquid from the first step). I then shook it around real to break up the yeast cake and poured the whole thing into the cooled wort. After a good amount of mixing I poured the contents into two containers, the flask and a emtpy bottle. I followed the same steps and ended up with a really nice yeast cake in both.
When I used the starter for my beer I took some of the wort and gave each a good shake then pour the contents into the wort. After just a few hours the yeast was fermenting and it did it so vigorously that I got a block air lock and a big mess in the fermentation chamber. I had a good amount of foam on top of the wort when I packed it all up so hopefully with a bit more care I can avoid the air lock blockage, but my yeast starter sure worked great. Next time I hope to have the stir plate in hand to see how much easier (one less step) things go. If you are curious about the steps to make a starter I’ve written my process on a fixed page so that I can keep refining it.