Why You Need An Auto Siphon

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Siphoning is one skill that is essential to the home brewer. There aren’t many reasons in a day to day life which would require you to siphon anything so must home brewers will not have ever had a chance to practice it. The problem is, home brewing involves moving lots of liquids around whether it is beer, wine or mead and it is important not to aerate the home brew to get the best results. A piece of kit that is indispensable to racking beer or wine, in my opinion, is an auto syphon, it is one of the most efficient methods of racking beer or wine at the same time as being the easiest and most hygienic.

auto siphon

What Is An Auto Siphon?

An auto siphon is an all over upgrade to a regular siphon hose which might not sound like much but a regular syphon tube has some inherent issues that make it difficult if you are not used to siphoning or starting a siphon.

An auto siphon comprises of a racking cane with a filter, a PVC tube and an outer housing for the racking tube which is vital for starting the siphon automatically. This might not sound like a lot but in practice the auto siphon is a whole lot easier and more efficient than a regular siphon tube and racking cane.

When using an ordinary siphon tube the issues begin in starting the siphon. If you have ever had occasion to siphon fuel before then you may, unfortunately, know that the most common way to start a siphon is by sucking it (if you want to know how to siphon read this). For the home brewer this is probably the worst way you could consider to start a siphon as we want to keep bacteria out of the beer in all cases. Starting the flow is where the auto siphon comes into its own.

The way in which a siphon is able to start a liquid, in our case beer or wine, is to create a vacuum that pulls the liquid from one vessel, down via gravity into a lower vessel. This initial stage of creating a vacuum is handled by the auto siphon with a simple pull on the tube the siphon is housed in. As you do not come into contact at all with the beer this is a much more hygienic way to start a syphon and introduces no air at all.

Using An Auto Siphon

Using an auto siphon is very easy and takes even a complete beginner only one or two practices to get perfect every time. The first thing you will want to do before using the auto siphon is to thoroughly sanitise it inside and out.

1. Position the vessel to siphon from higher than the vessel you are siphoning into. The auto siphon still relies on gravity once you have started the siphon.

2. Lower the sanitised auto siphon into the beer or wine to be siphoned. The rigid end with the racking tube goes into the home brew, carefully, to avoid disturbing the sediment and the PVC hose goes into the empty vessel to be siphoned into.

3. To start the auto siphon you need to pull the inner racking cane upward while holding the outer tube stationary in the beer, this draws beer or wine into the outer tube of the auto siphon.

4. Next push the racking cane back down and the liquid will be drawn into the tube and down into the awaiting vessel. The siphon is not working via gravity and there is nothing else for you to do.

The auto siphon works with a simple pull – push motion. It becomes so intuitive after a few attempts that you will wonder why you ever bothered with a regular siphon at all.

Key Benefits of Using An Auto Siphon

The biggest selling point of the auto siphon is the ease of starting the siphon. Using a regular siphon you have to either pre-fill the siphon or the biggest no no is to suck the hose which is not recommended under any circumstance. The auto siphon take all the bother out of actually starting the siphon so you can concentrate on keeping the beer or wine from splashing into the vessel.

Oxygen is another problem for home brew, you want to minimise oxygen exposure for your beer and wine and the auto siphon removes all possibility for oxygen pickup, all you have to do is make sure the end of the hose is submerged. This is a really key point, for a new home brewer, poorly siphoning a beer can greatly diminish the quality once it all bottled up. Using an auto siphon removes the hassle of siphoning and pretty much anyone will be able to do it perfectly.

If you do not have an auto siphon I thoroughly recommend you get one. Out of all the vast array of home brewing gadgets out there a simple auto siphon has to be on of the best in terms of ease, efficiency and value for money.

Fermenter Heaters: Home Brew Heat Pads & Brew Belts

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Fermenter Heaters

Brewing as the weather cools can pose a few problems depending on where you live. As the weather cools we have to make sure we are still getting a good temperature for yeast to ferment the beer. Ideally, we want to control fermentation temperature as close as possible to the optimum temperature range for the yeast strain we are using. Using the help of fermenter heating devices like brew belts and heat pads it becomes a lot easier to dial in a consistent temperature in the fermenter even when ambient temperatures begin to fall.

Most ale yeast strains require temperatures ranging around 18°C – 23°C depending on the strain. Devices like brew belts and heat pads provide enough heat to keep the fermenter warm but not enough to warm the fermenter too much and distress the yeast.

Home Brew Fermenter Heaters

Heat pads and heat belts are the most economical way to keep you fermenter temperature from dropping too low. Rather than having to heat a whole room you are directly heating the fermenting beer or wine. Both types of device use very little energy and are suitable for both fermenting buckets or carboys and demijohns (although I would urge caution directly heating cold glass).

Heat belts and pads are also fairly inexpensive and with the addition of some other tools can be used to accurately control fermentation temperatures to within a few degrees.

Home Brew Heat Pads


Heat pads or heat trays are designed to sit your fermenter on top of. Heating the fermenter from the bottom and maintaining a constant temperature throughout fermentation.

Power Usage: Most heat pads have heat sources around 30 – 40 watts so are pretty energy efficient, more so than a traditional incandescent light bulb in most cases. This provides a low heat so as not to shock the yeast in the fermenting beer.

Big swings in temperature are not good for yeast health and may cause unwanted flavour compounds to be produced by the yeast. The gentle heat from a heating pad gradually brings up the temperature of the beer and depending on the ambient temperature will maintain it in temperature ranges required for most ale or wine fermentations.

Controlling Fermentation Temperature With A Heat Pad

Most home brew heat pads do not have thermostats which means you will want to monitor the temperature closely throughout fermentation.

The concern is that the fermentation temperature will rise too much and this will put the yeast under stress which will generate undesirable flavours in the finished beer. A few things you may want to consider are:

Placing the fermenter in an area that is fairly stable in temperature (albeit cooler), without large fluctuations in the temperature range.

Enclosing the fermenter in a confined space such as a cupboard will gradually build up heat compared to an open space.

Additional measures like timers or third-party thermostats will give much finer control of fermentation.

Additional Fermenter Heater Temperature Control

With regards to the last point a means of moderating the heat output can be a very good way to ensure the fermenter stays exactly in the range you want. If the heat pad has a tendency to warm the fermentation too much then by cycling the heat pad on and off with something like a timer can greatly aid the degree of control you have.

Another option could be to use a dedicated thermostat controller such as an Inkbird which I have reviewed here. This will cycle the home brew heater according to the current temperature of the beer or wine. This would be the most precise way to control the fermentation temperature with a heat pad or tray.

Home Brew Heat Belts – Brew Belt

Heat belts or Brew Belts are similarly energy efficient like heat pads but are designed to wrap around the fermenter and provide heat along the length of the belt.

Most fermentation brew belts are simply a rubber strip with the heating element inside that has the flexible power cord threaded through. The heat belt is wrapped around the fermenter and the cord pulled tight so it grips around the fermenter at the height you choose (more on this in a moment).

Power Usage: Most fermentation heat belts are pretty efficient, using between 25 – 40 watts in most cases so running for a week or two costs very little.

One benefit of a heat belt is that they tend to be slightly cheaper than heat pads in some areas.

The real difference between brew belts and heat pads are that you position the heat belt up or down the fermenting vessel allowing some degree of temperature control. Generally, it is advised to place the belt lower down the fermenter to provide more heat and higher up the vessel for less heat. Without taking a direct temperature reading of the beer this is quite a tricky thing to get right and I would still be inclined to use some additional controls mentioned above, such as a temperature controller or a timer.

Direct Heat From A Fermenter Heater

The way in which a heating device heats the fermenting beer or wine is another thing to consider.

A heat pad heats from the bottom of the fermenter whereas the heat brew belt is positioned around the side some way up.

The thing to think about here is that the heat pad spreads heat across a large surface area, however, at the bottom of the vessel where all the yeast tends to flocculate toward the end of fermentation. Heating the yeast directly for too long is probably not ideal so you may want to limit the length of time you use a heat pad to just a week to avoid putting too much stress on the mass of yeast.

A brew belt applies heat in a smaller surface area but directly on the fermenting wort or must rather than the yeast which you may or may not be better. I have done no tests on this so you have to decide for yourself which you prefer.

Are Fermenter Heaters Worth It?

I use a brew belt during the cooler months of the year as the room where my fermenter sits is a little colder than the rest of the house. I would find it a struggle to ferment properly without one. I use the fermenter belt with a temperature controller so it cycles on and off and keeps my home brew within a few degrees either side of my target temperature.

In my setup it is indispensable, I have talked before about how important temperature control is so if you find you need some help keeping your home brew at a good temperature range a fermenter heater such as a heat mat or a brew belt may be an inexpensive way to do it.

What Causes A Stuck Fermentation & How To Prevent It Happening

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STUCK Fermentation

One of the most common questions I see from new home brewers is about stuck fermentations. Basically, any beer that fails to completely finish fermenting or reach the desired final gravity, sometimes one that fails to even start fermenting.

The question basically goes something along these lines, “My beers stop fermenting and it’s still at 1.028, what is going on?”.

The gist of it is that you brew the beer, pitch the yeast and one of the following things happen:

The beer stops fermenting before the target final gravity.

Or

The beer starts fermenting sluggishly and stalls or doesn’t really start at all.

These are both technically stuck fermentations however they are not necessarily caused by the same things so there are some important distinctions to make. In this article, we are going to look at some of the possible causes for each type of stuck fermentation and ways to prevent them happening in the first place.

Fermentation That Never Properly Starts

A non starting fermentation is still a stuck fermentation but the reasons why it never starts properly in the first place may be different to a fermentation that stalls toward the end. As you might guess most of the reasons point to the yeast and the factors that affect yeast health so let’s start with the basics and work onward from there.

One thing to point out here is that just because the airlock isn’t bubbling it doesn’t mean the beer isn’t fermenting. The only real way to check the state of a fermentation is with a hydrometer reading.

The Viability and Quality of Yeast

This is the first thing to look at if the fermentation starts sluggishly and then gets stuck or fails to even start. Every package of yeast you buy will have either a production date or a use by date. This information is vital in telling you whether you are pitching healthy, viable yeast cells or simply poor quality and dead yeast cells. If you have had a package of yeast for a while it may be that the viability of cells has dropped too low so there aren’t enough healthy yeast when pitched into your wort to properly start fermentation.

You can read more about yeast viability over here, this can easily be prevented however by making a yeast starter before pitching the yeast. A starter a day before the brewday will tell you whether you have healthy and active yeast before you even make the beer. Check these instructions on making a yeast starter or these on rehydrating dry yeast.

If you have a packet of yeast that’s old or a dud, repitching a new package should start the fermentation as normal.

Temperature Of The Wort

This is the next thing on the checklist if you are having a painfully slow, non starting fermentation or stuck fermentation. If the temperature inside the fermenter is too low it can inhibit the yeast activity. Different strains of yeast work best at differing temperature ranges. If you leave the fermenter in a cold garage it may be too cold for the yeast to become active.

Ideal temperature ranges for most ale yeasts are around 18°C – 21°C, lagers are lower at around 7°C – 14°C. If your beer is sitting in too cold of a spot then it is likely the yeast will be struggling to get going.

Similarly, higher temperatures will have potential to cause problems. If you pitch the yeast whilst the temperature of the wort is still too hot there is the possibility that these higher temperatures will actually kill the yeast, in this case, fermentation will have no chance of even beginning.

If the fermenter is in a spot that is likely to fluctuate in temperature or fall out of the ideal range of the yeast move it to somewhere more suitable. If you think you may have pitched the yeast into too hot a wort you will need to repitch new, healthy yeast.

Lack of Oxygen in the Wort

Yeast cells need oxygen to reproduce. This is why you are advised to aerate the wort as it is going into the fermenter.

Most brewers rely on splashing or movement to aerate the wort as it is poured into the fermenter, this is the simplest way to introduce oxygen needed by the yeast. Other brewers use aeration devices on a drill for example, to whip air into the wort and some even use pure oxygen through an aeration stone.Most brewers can make do with aerating by pouring the wort from a height to get oxygen into solution but as the gravity of a beer rises the additional stresses put on the yeast can mean a lack of oxygen can cause a stuck fermentation as there is not sufficient resources for them to reproduce.

If you skip this simple step of introducing oxygen just prior to pitching yeast it can stall the yeast, increase the lag time before the beer starts fermenting and cause a stuck fermentation. The best practice, in this case, is to aerate the wort and pitch fresh, healthy yeast.

Stuck Fermentations Prior To Hitting Final Gravity

Instances, where the beer has been fermenting normally only for it to stop before you hit the desired target final gravity, can share some of the issues above. There may also be other reasons to consider.

If the beer has been fermenting away for a few days and then slows down to a halt, you check the gravity using a hydrometer and it is higher than you were expecting, what is going on here?

First of all you need to make sure it is actually a stuck fermentation, take hydrometer readings on consecutive days and see if there is actually no movement. If there is no movement you then can confirm it’s a stuck fermentation. Now we can troubleshoot what’s going on.

Is It Possible Fermentation Has Completely Finished?

When you look at a recipe and the target gravity reads 1.012 if it finishes somewhere above this we jump to the conclusion it’s a stuck fermentation when it is entirely possible that the beer just has a higher final gravity than expected. There are a couple of reasons to consider why it may finish higher, the first thing to look at is the yeast attenuation.

Low Attenuating Yeast Strain

The attenuation of a yeast strain is a measurement that tells us what percentage of sugar available to the yeast will be converted to alcohol. A high attenuation will mean more sugar is converted to alcohol than a low attenuating yeast strain.

Use this ABV calculator to work out the percentage attenuation of your beer, you can then compare it to this yeast reference table. It may just be the case that you are using a lower attenuation yeast strain.

Mash Temperatures

One more possible cause of fermentation stopping at a higher than expected gravity can be influenced by mash temperatures. If you mash at a higher temperature than a recipe indicates there will be more long chain sugars and dextrins left in the wort. Yeast will not be able to ferment these more complex sugars and so the fermentation finishes at a higher gravity than you expect.

There isn’t a lot that can be done about this with the exception of introducing enzymes post fermentation. In most cases you will have to settle with the beer how it is.

Overly Flocculant Yeast

This trait is a lot less common and more of an issue in larger scale batches but still can happen at a home brew level, particularly if the fermenter is too cool for example.

All yeast will naturally flocculate to some degree and different yeast strains do so at different levels. Highly flocculant yeast strains will sediment to the bottom of the fermenter quickly post fermentation. If this happens too quickly however before fermentation is complete the result is a stuck fermentation.

As I mentioned this is not common at home brew scales where there is much less pressure on the yeast in a small batch. The simple solution is to rouse the yeast to get it back into suspension by stirring up the wort or to re-pitch fresh yeast.

Stuck Fermentations Are Better Prevented Than Cured

The best way to avoid stuck fermentations of any sort is to concentrate on yeast health and providing the best possible environment for yeast to reproduce and flourish.

In practical terms this means; making a yeast starter, ensuring yeast viability and ensuring the wort has adequate aeration, nutrition and is held at the correct temperature for the yeast strain. If something does go wrong for some reason it will be due to one of the above factors so try to give you yeast no reason to stop halfway through the job.

Brewing Beers With A Quick Turnaround

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Quick To Brew Beers

Is It Possible To Go From Grain To Glass In 10 Days?

Brewing a quick turnaround beer or a “fast” beer is entirely possible and something I have done before in a pinch. Today we will look at some of the factors to take note of brewing a beer quickly.

You have just gone to get a bottle of home brew from the fridge, there are only a couple left. You check the keg you started a few weeks back and there is only a few pints left. Pretty soon you’ll be all out of beer. If you brew fairly regularly then you may have had the experience of getting caught out in a position like this. What you need is a home brew that has a quick turnaround. From grain to glass in as short of a period as possible. You want to get the fridge stocked and a keg filled.

Of course taking your time with each batch of beer is likely to yield the best results in the long term. There are ways, however, of making good beer that don’t require lot’s of time to be ready. It is a case of thinking about the way beer conditions and ages and then building your recipe around this.

How To Brew Quick Turnaround Beers

The length of time it takes for a beer to be ready is variable. A lot of factors can make affect the time from grain to glass. Trying to compress this period to get a beer ready to drink requires a little bit of thought.

There are definitely beer styles that you won’t be able to brew quickly and you can take off the list. High gravity beers and sour beers require a lot of time fermenting and conditioning to be contenders for a quick turnaround beer. The same applies to lagers which take much longer to ferment at low temperatures than ales fermented at warmer temperatures (although commercial brewers even turn lager out quickly).

Now we have excluded a few beer styles it gives us a bit more direction on what we should be looking to brew. A beer that has a low starting gravity will ferment quicker than a high gravity beer and a quick fermenting ale yeast to shorten the time it takes to get to final gravity.

The Importance of Yeast For Brewing Beers Quickly

When brewing any beer the biggest chunk of time from the brewday to getting the beer kegged or bottled is the fermentation and conditioning period. If you can shorten this phase of making the beer then the turnaround will be much quicker.

This fermentation and conditioning phase is all down to the yeast and the environment they have in the wort you produce. Producing a wort that has ideal conditions and pitching the right amount of healthy, viable yeast cells will mean they can ferment the wort and produce less undesirable flavours during the process. Reusing yeast from a previous batch is an ideal way to pitch enough yeast.

Choosing A “Fast” Yeast Strain

Selecting a yeast strain to ferment a beer quickly means you need to look for certain traits. The best strains will likely have the following characteristics:

High attenuation – High attenuation means the yeast will ferment out to a low final gravity and usually in a timely fashion

Highly flocculant – High flocculation will result in the yeast dropping out of suspension quickly so once fermentation is complete the beer clears a lot quicker. Although wheat beer strains are an exception

Tolerates higher fermentation temperatures – If you can ferment a beer warmer, around 22°C for example, the yeast will attenuate out much faster than at 18°C. Optimal ranges for yeast are always listed on the package, at these higher end of these optimal ranges the yeast will ferment quicker without producing undesirable compounds such as higher alcohols and phenols.

Picking yeast strains with these traits will usually result in faster fermenting beers and beers that condition a lot quicker than usual.

Utilising Bold & Strong Flavours

“Fast” brewed beers can suffer from being “green”. In other words, most beers take a little time for the flavours and byproducts created during fermentation to even out and round off. This is why we want to choose a yeast strain that limits the production of byproducts that will affect the taste of the beer.

Conditioning the beer for a period of a few weeks to allow the flavour to round out really isn’t an option if you want to brew a beer quickly and be drinking it in around 10 days. If however we make a lower alcohol, bold flavoured beer any potential undesirable flavours can be overwhelmed so you don’t notice their presence. Clean tasting or subtle beers are usually best avoided for quick to brew beers.

Choosing roasted grains and caramel malts with bags of flavour will fill the palate when you drink it, the same is true of using bold, fruity and citrusy hops. When you fill a beer with flavour any undesirable flavours that are a consequence of short brewing times get disguided.

A Couple of Examples

  • Make a 4% ABV Stout and the dominant flavour you are going to taste straight from the fermenter is toasty, roasty, chocolate and toffee notes. Big bold flavours will always shine.
  • A Session Pale Ale of around 3.8% with bags of hops added at the end of the boil. The main flavour will be these aroma hops even before the beer has been carbonated the flavours fill the mouth
  • A 3.2% Mild although being a really low ABV has complex malt driven flavour. Mild are a definite contender for being one of the best fast to brew beers.
  • A 4.5% wheat beer although it uses simple fairly neutral tasting ingredients has one of the boldest tasting yeast strains. Wheat beers are also hazy by nature so flocculation of the yeast isn’t really a concern.

Packaging & Carbonating Your Beer

A truly quick beer will need to be kegged and force carbonated, a process that will take far less time than bottling and waiting for the beer to carbonate over a week or two. Once the beer is racked into a keg you can add CO2 immediately by either shaking the keg or if you have one using a carbonation stone. This will easily carbonate the beer within 24 hours and you can start pouring straight away.

If you have no other option than to bottle the beer, you will have to wait at least a week to achieve any kind of carbonation. The process can be sped along a little by holding the bottles at around 26°C for 3 – 4 days. This is how many commercial breweries bottle condition beers by using warm rooms. After a few days, you can let the bottles condition at normal temperature and check the carbonation by opening a bottle. Once carbonated the bottles can be chilled and served as and when needed.

Minimum Amount of Equipment For An All Grain Brew

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The Minimum All Grain Brewing Setup

I spent last weekend brewing an all grain beer in the kitchen, using the minimum of equipment and I can tell you, it was the most relaxed brewday I think I ever had. It wasn’t by any means a demanding beer to brew, just a small batch of easy drinking German wheat beer. Rather than spending a day in the shed or outside (it was raining) I brewed in the kitchen on the stove watching the rain run down the window.

All the equipment I used would have fit into a space smaller than the cupboard under your kitchen sink. The batch size was a modest 9 litres, around 18 bottles. The ingredients cost £7.00 for everything, malt, hops and yeast. This has got to be the easiest way to get into all grain brewing, right?

When you first start all grain brewing you follow the advice of buying a 30 litre boiler or brewpot and burner, a mash tun that can hold up to 8 kilos of grain plus 20 litres of water, immersion chillers, sanitary valves and fittings. It’s quite a big barrier of entry and probably the reason why most brewers never start brewing all grain beers from the first batch.

I mentioned this quite recently, brewing can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. I like to try and simplify as much of the brewing process as possible because I find there is less to worry about when making a beer. I don’t want to be rushing around trying to deal with lots of stuff happening at the same time, I prefer to relax and concentrate on making the best beer I can with the minimum steps necessary for that particular type of beer.

Smaller Can Be Better

It’s clear if you want to minimise the amount of equipment you have, or the amount of space you want to dedicate to brewing then you will be limited to making smaller batches. If the amount of space you have is limited, for example, if you live in a small flat/apartment then the setup we will go into below is a great place to start.

The other great thing about smaller batches is you can brew more often without having lots of beer piling up. If you are brewing 20 – 25 litres at a time you are going to have a big surplus of beer if you are brewing more than a few times a month, even if you are giving your beer away. A smaller batch around 8 – 10 litres means you could brew every week and have multiple beer styles ready to drink at all times without having a cases of beer all over the house.

Brewing more often gives you that practice that we all need in order to improve. The more often you do anything the better you get at it. The same principle applies brewing beer, smaller batches more often means you hone your skills and develop your craft. I have written about smaller batches before so check out that article for more of the virtues of small batch beers.

The Basic Brewing Gear You’ll Need

To brew all grain beers you’ll need to have the ability to mash your grains, sparge, boil wort, cool it and ferment the beer. In larger batches it makes sense to have separate vessels and chillers to do these things, and these are largest and costliest pieces of equipment to get started all grain brewing.

Brewing smaller batches means you can get away with a small brewpot of around 12 -15 litres which you will be able to heat on the stove, a mashing bag and a fermenter. This is what I use to make small batch beers and everything fits in a kitchen cupboard. I put the fermenter inside the brew pot and tuck it away.

So, you’ll need the following equipment for small batch all grain brewing:

  • 12 litre Brew Pot
  • 12 litre Fermenter
  • Mashing Bag

You will of course need items like a thermometer, hydrometer and airlock but all these items are inexpensive and take up hardly any space.

Small Batch All Grain Brewing Process

Mashing

Step 1: Put 6 litres of water in your stock pot and begin heating to strike temperature of 72°C. Put your grain bag in the pot and fold the opening over rim of the pot.

Step 2: Ensuring you are at 72°C turn off the heat. Pour the grain into pot and stir thoroughly to ensure there are no dry spots in the grain and everything is well soaked. Take the temperature again it should be around 65°C

Step 3: Put the lid on and leave for an hour. Make a cup of tea, watch TV, read a book all you need to do is maintain the temperature between 62°C and 69°C. Check every now and again and apply heat if necessary.

Step 4: Towards the end of the hour, heat another 6 litres of water to 80°C and put in the fermenting bucket. If you don’t have another pot big enough use a big pan and the kettle and add 4 litres of boiling water to 2 litres of cold water this will give you a temperature around 70-80°C.

Sparging

Sparging

Step 1: After the hour has elapsed carefully lift up the grain bag from the stock pot and allow as much as possible to drain back into the pot. Once you have drained thoroughly without squeezing the bag gently lower the bag into the fermenting bucket full of water. Again tuck the opening around the rim and stir the grains thoroughly again.

Step 2: Leave for 15 minutes.

Step 3: Lift the grain bag once more and allow to drain as much as possible. Put this to one side I would suggest in a bowl to catch any extra drips. Now carefully pour the contents of the fermenting bucket into the stock pot. Begin bringing to the boil slowly.

Boiling

Step 1: Now that it is boiling it’s time to add the hops. Again be careful the hops will add to the foaming so make sure it’s under control before putting them in.

Step 2: Keep boiling for 60 minutes adding hops when indicated on your beer recipe.

Step 4: Remove from the heat and begin cooling. The easiest ways to do this is place the pot in a cold water bath in the sink and replenish the cold water as the heat transfers.

Step 5: This cooling should take 30 or 40 minutes to get to around 20°C. It is now time to pour the beer into your sterilised fermenting bucket. Make sure you’re on the correct temperature ready to pitch the yeast. This will be written on the tube or packet. Pour it straight in the beer.

Step 6: Fit the lid on the fermenting bucket and fit the airlock in the hole with a small amount of water in.

Fermenting

Step 1: Leave for 2 weeks.

Step 2: All activity in the fermenting vessel should have finished. There should be no bubbles emerging from the airlock. If there is still activity then stay patient and wait a few more days.

Step 3: Package or bottle as normal.

The Cheapest & Simplest Way To Start All Grain Brewing

As you can see the process is pretty simple. I find that making small batches like this takes around 3 hours and then however long it takes to let the beer chill for. It’s a lot quicker than brewing 20 litres batches.

The beauty of brewing small batches like this is you can make pretty much any recipe you find. As you are all grain brewing there are no grains you cannot use and you can even do step mashes if you wish because the mash tun can be heated directly.

All you need to do is scale down any recipe you want to brew. This guide will show you how to scale down a recipe and adjust it for your needs.

Brewing Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

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I have been home brewing now in one form or another for around 7-8 years. I have settled into a way of making beer that I can now do on autopilot, it’s a process that I’m happy with and I consistently brew a beer that I enjoy. It wasn’t always like this. When I started I was constantly worrying that I had done something wrong, stressing over technique and being so overly thorough about things that my brew days would be several hours longer than they needed to be.

Information Overload When You Start Brewing

Brewing Complicated

When you first start home brewing everything is a challenge or unknown to a certain extent. I didn’t read a whole lot about brewing beer before I made my first batch. It was an extract beer with a little crystal malt steeped for half an hour and a combination of English Hops thrown in. I didn’t know anything about what malt extract was, what crystal malt was or how either were made (I just found a recipe, got the ingredients and made the beer). It turned out to taste exactly like beer, not particularly spectacular beer but still beer.

Brewing Is Not All About The Details, It’s Also An Art

One thing I find amazing about home brewers is their appetite to learn and understand every single detail about the beer making process. Past the point of being able to brew a beer a lot of information that brewers learn can be pretty technical and scientific and often not really necessary because, after all, you are making beer for yourself, it’s not a commercial brewery.

A lot of the information someone new to homebrewing reads online is over complicated because those already good at home brewing include all the technicalities and data relating to a recipe or brewing process they are talking about. This makes it pretty difficult for someone new to brewing to know where to start

When compared to other home based food production such as bread making you don’t really see so much focus on technical detail and minutiae. I bake my own bread a couple of times a month and I’m sure a lot of other people do as well with not much idea about the scientific principles that are happening. OK, so I know a bit about what the yeast in my bread dough is doing but only because of my beer making background. I’m not entirely sure how gluten works or why steam in the oven affects the crust. I’m also not really that bothered because the bread taste good and the texture is great.

The point I’m trying to make is that for hundreds and hundred of years people knew very little or nothing about things like yeast, enzymes, proteins and the various compounds in beer. All the knowledge that went into making beer was found through trial, error and repeated brewing of beers over many, many years. All of this was often on a commercial scale let a alone on a home brew scale.

Practice Brewing Rather Than Dwelling On The Details

It seems today however people can’t make a beer without performing hundred of calculations using software, home brewers aren’t happy knowing a beer will be blonde, ruby coloured or pitch black we need to know the exact SRM to a decimal point.

Let me give you an example, the first loaf of bread I made turned out more like a brick than a light and fluffy loaf. I did the recipe, again and again, altering the amount of time I spent kneading and the time and temperature I left it to prove. Soon enough I was able to make a loaf that was on par with one from a bakery. All of this was with trial and error

Some of the best beers I’ve made have come from recipes I’ve brewed again and again with minor tweaks until I got it just right. After a few times of brewing the same recipe, I ended up forgetting the technical details about it and started focussing on the beer as a whole. I relied more on handwritten notes from the previous beer and trying out new things and run no additional calculations at all. I made the beer on autopilot and adjusted a few minor things.

Think of beers like traditional farmhouse style beers and how they would have been made hundreds of years ago. They rely mainly on craft and making the best use of what’s available in terms of ingredients with little need to understand the technical processes. The same type of beer is made every year and after all those years it becomes a unique beer all of its own.

I think this is something more home brewers should try and incorporate into their beer making.

Asking a first-time brewer to understand all the enzymatic activities that occur in the mash or various flavour compounds that are found in beer and it soon becomes too much. Give them a recipe though and give them options on malts, hops and flavours and it’s much more of a creative process.

Knowledge Is Good, Practice Is Better

I’m not saying that all this extra understanding is a bad thing, it is most certainly not. It obviously helps a brewer to make more informed decisions and when you understand the principles behind something you ultimately have more control. It is also necessary to progress from those early stages of beer making into more advanced areas and understanding how you can get a beer tasting a certain way.

What if however you didn’t rely so heavily on software, calculators and reference guides and rely more on experience and practice. As I mentioned before home brewers aren’t the same as commercial brewers, there are no financial constraints on the beer a home brewer makes, plus, there is only one person to please.

Take one of your beer recipes you’ve brewed previously and make it again or find a recipe online that has plenty of positive feedback, tweak a few things you think will make the beer better and note it down so you can repeat it next time. It’s this kind of thing that will make your beers truly unique. Inject a bit more art into your brewing and learn a bit about the process through actually brewing.

How To Use Irish Moss, Protafloc and Copper Finings

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Crystal clear beers rely on a few principles when brewing, copper finings such as Irish Moss or Protafloc / Protafloc are one of the aids that can help the home brewer make a bright, clear beer. What are they and how do they work? This is what we are going to look at in this article.

Irish Moss, Protafloc, Copper Finings

Copper Finings To Make A Clear Beer

For hundreds of years, brewers have looked for ways to clarify their beers. It’s only when you brew your own beer do you release it’s not always necessary to do so, however, many people won’t touch a beer unless it’s crystal clear let alone drink it. This is the result of many years of marketing telling us clear is good cloudy is bad. It is usually preferable to brew a beer with the end result being clear because, if you are anything like me, you’ll share your brews with friends who may not know a hazy beer isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t going to taste any different.

Throughout the brewing process, there are many things you can do, or ways to develop your recipes to ensure your beers have a minimal haze. I have written a bit about brewing clear beers here. One of the easiest things you can do that require the least effort is to add copper finings to the wort such as Irish moss or Protafloc towards the end of the boil.

What Is Irish Moss

Irish moss is actually a type of red seaweed called Carrageen. This type of seaweed is very common around the shores of Ireland, hence the name, but also grows around coastlines elsewhere in the North Atlantic.

It has a few properties that make it helpful to both cooks and brewers and has been used as a source of food in the belief it will strengthen and fortify malnourished individuals. It is used in the food industry as a stabiliser and thickener, used a lot in dairy products like yoghurt and ice cream to improve its consistency.

The reason it is so useful to us brewers is that when added to the wort at the end of the boil it helps to clear the beer. It is for this reason we call it a copper fining as it is added to the copper during the boil.

Irish Moss

Copper Finings – Irish Moss / Protafloc / Whirlfloc

Finings are used in a couple of ways, either in the fermented beer to help drop out suspended yeast or in the copper/kettle to clear suspended particles like haze-forming proteins and other debris.

Copper finings like Irish moss and Protafloc are important because help to coagulate these haze forming proteins together which makes them denser and therefore they drop out of suspension. If you don’t remove these haze forming proteins during the brewing process, it becomes difficult to do so after the boil without relying on processes such as filtration or auxiliary finings which is not possible or overkill for most home brewers.

Copper finings work based on the way particles in the beer are charged. At the pH of wort in the copper, around 5.0 – 5.5, the haze forming proteins in suspension are positively charged, at the same time, the Irish moss which is added toward the end of the boil has negatively charged molecules. The effect of this is particles that will induce haze in the beer are attracted together making them heavier and so they flocculate to the bottom of the kettle.

The Differences Between Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc

All three finings Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc work in the same way, there are just some subtle differences.

  • Irish moss is the raw seaweed carrageen or blend of certain types of seaweed. It comes dried and in various sizes from flakes, granules or powder.
  • Protafloc comes in either a tablet or granules and is an extract of carrageenan and other seaweed. As it is an extract it requires a smaller dose by weight as it’s more efficient. Tablets are also easier to divide with a 25 litre batch requiring just half a tablet. It works in exactly the same way as regular Irish moss.
  • Whirlfloc is pretty much exactly the same as Protafloc as far as I can tell although the dosage rate may be fractionally different, as in less than a gram per litre difference. Whirlfloc is sold as tablets and both Protafloc and whirlfloc fizz as they hit the wort to aid their dispersion, this is caused by bicarbonate of soda in the tablet reacting in the wort due to the pH.

Using Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc

All the copper finings mentioned above are added around 10-15 minutes before the end of the boil, added too early and the efficiency of the product will begin to degrade.

Depending on what copper fining you are using you’ll need to adjust the dosage:

  • Irish moss is best rehydrated by just covering with water, the amount needed is around 1.25 – 4 grams per 25 litre batch. As you can see this is going to be quite difficult to measure even with micro scales. It is around a teaspoon full in most cases. Add the rehydrated Irish moss 10 minutes before the end of the boil.
  • Protafloc is used at a lower dosage as it is more efficient. The dose is around 0.3 – 0.5 milligrams per litre or 0.75 grams for a 25 litre batch. Tablets are made in 2 gram sizes so just under half a tablet is fine. Add directly to the wort 10 – 15 minutes before the end of the boil
  • Whirlfloc is pretty similar to Protafloc but used at 1 gram per 25 litre batch, half a tablet in the last 10 – 15 minutes is good.

Install This Chrome Extension To Make Reading Beer Recipes A Whole Lot Easier

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Beer Recipes

When it comes to sitting down and researching a new beer recipe you are working on anything that makes the job simpler and easier has got to be good, right?

It is obviously a lot more fun actually making the beer than doing the groundwork. Before you even go anywhere near an ingredient you need to know the details, the ratios and the calculations that go into the recipe. This all requires a little bit of time researching, looking at other people’s recipes and processes.

This is one of the things I talked about in this article about beer recipe development. One of the easiest way to develop a new recipe is to look at the work of other brewers and replicate the bits you want to take away from a recipe and then add your own ideas.

This involves sitting down looking through a whole load of home brew recipes. The great thing about the home brewing community is the sheer amount of recipes you can find online no matter what you decide you want to brew there will be thousands upon thousands of home brewers who have brewed the same beer and posted the recipe online. Even commercial breweries are sharing their beer recipes.

Converting Weights & Measures

The problem I found with looking at recipes online is the units of measurement. So many of the brewer generated recipes you find are from the US where for some reason they have decided metric units are the devil.

All these recipes will be in pounds, ounces and gallons or quarts and the temperature is in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius.

I’m not saying that if you use anything other than metric units you are doing it wrong. It does make looking at recipes a lot more of a hassle. Trying to work out the percentages of a malt bill that’s written in pounds and ounces is a nightmare. The same goes for volumes of liquid, I have seen recipes where you mash in with so many quarts of liquor. A quart is equal to 1.13652 litres!

To top it all off the temperature on a lot of recipes is measured in Fahrenheit, this is another obstacle to understanding what’s going on in the recipe.

An Extension To Automatically Convert Home Brew Recipes To Your Preferred Measures

The chrome extension I use completely removes all these obstacles and is so convenient I sometimes forget it’s there. I have been using it for around 4 years and probably should’ve mentioned it sooner especially as it will convert all the recipes I have posted here on Home Brew Answers from metric into imperial units. Or any recipes you find online into your preferred unit of mesurement.

The extension is called autoConvert and is available in the Chrome web store for free, with no ads or any other stuff.

Get autoConvert here.

In a nutshell what you do is add it to chrome, specify your preferred units, for me that would be:

  • KG/Gram
  • Litres
  • Celsius

If you are reading this elsewhere, you may want your units to show as Pounds, Gallons, Fl. Ounces and Fahrenheit.

autoConvert

 

Whenever you are viewing a recipe online and the measures are not set to your preferred units, switch the extension on and it will automatically convert everything in the recipe and replace the measures on the actual page.

Here is an example from one of my own recipes here on Home Brew Answers that is converted from metric to lbs, ounces, gallons and Fahrenheit. As you can see it has replaced the metric units on screen with their relevant counterparts (due to formatting it also converted colour in Lovibond to gallons, you win some, you lose some).
Recipe Conversion

It will work as long as the brewer who puts the recipe online has of course detailed the units but the vast majority of people do indeed indicate kg for example or lb. I usually leave the extension off for general browsing and just switch it on when looking at a recipe that needs converting. Just switch on and everything is automatically replaced, no need to reload page.

Convert Recipe

Plus it will also convert currency to your native currency. This isn’t particularly relevant to brewing, it’s just an added bonus.

There we have it, no further explanation is really needed. Download it now, save yourself a tonne of time and give it a try.

Reusing Yeast From One Beer To The Next

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Reusing yeast isn’t a novel idea, in fact, in commercial breweries it’s the norm. A commercial brewery will reuse yeast by cropping the yeast from the top or bottom of a fermenter just after the primary fermentation has finished. The yeast can then be used in the next batch which benefits from large amounts of really viable yeast and a very short lag time before fermentation. In fact there are some breweries that take the concept to the extreme. A brewery in the US cultured yeast from a bug encased in amber and made a beer with it. It’s good to know yeast is hardy enough to survive 45 million years encased in amber, but, what are the practicalities of the home brew reusing yeast.

The example set by commercial breweries shows us home brewers a few important lessons with regards to culturing yeast and reusing yeast from previous batches. Reusing yeast is a great way to cut your brewing costs, especially if you use a lot of liquid yeasts that are more expensive as well as pitching large amounts of healthy, viable yeast. You can reuse the same yeast for around 4 – 5 generations of beer before having to purchase any new yeast so the savings stretch out for quite a while.

Reusing Yeast Slurry

Reusing Yeast

The easiest way to reuse yeast is to brew beers consecutively, one after the other. When you move the beer from a primary to secondary fermenter or to bottles you can see a whole lot of yeast that is still viable to brew with. An easy way of reusing it is to ahead and put another batch of beer on the used yeast slurry, so really you need to brew a beer the same day you rack your original to secondary and siphon the new beer directly onto the yeast cake. All that should be required is a gentle rousing of the yeast by shaking or stirring the fermenter and fermentation should begin quickly.

The only issue with reusing yeast like this really is the huge amount of yeast and trub left after the fermentation of the initial beer. You can sometimes have up to an inch of sediment which includes hop particles and trub in your fermenter after primary fermentation and pitching a new batch on top of it only increase the amount of yeast and trub further. I would only really use this technique for a beer that will be out of primary quickly i.e a lower ABV beer, so as to not cause any off flavours from the excessive amounts of yeast and trub.

Just like pitching too little yeast can have an impact on the quality of a beer, pitching too much yeast can also have an affect on the flavour. This along with the other debris from the previous batch of beer makes reusing yeast in this way a lot less desirable.

Alternatively, this is my preferred method of reusing yeast. After primary fermentation of you starting beer siphon out as usual and leave half an inch of beer in the bottom. Give the fermenter a swirl to get some of the yeast slurry into suspension. You will then be able to pour these into a sanitized jar or container and place a cover on for the first few days, a piece of sanitised foil secured with a rubber band will allow CO2 generated by the yeast to escape. After a few days you can put a lid on but do keep an eye and vent any carbon dioxide that may build up

Storing Yeast Slurry

You will need to keep an eye on these for the first few days and vent the container so no excess of CO2 can build up in the storage containers. You can keep these yeast slurries in the fridge for up to 4 – 5 weeks before reusing. When it comes round to reusing take them out of the fridge the day before to warm to pitching temperature. If you are reusing the yeast after a relatively short time then I usually pitch directly into the new batch. If the yeast has been stored for more than a few weeks you may want to consider making a yeast starter to test the viability and health of the yeast slurry.

To round things up, I will give you a few tips on successfully reusing yeast:

1. Make sure absolutely everything is sanitised. Use a good sanitiser and be through. If wild yeast or bacteria get in then you will ruin a whole batch. This of course is the most important part of making beer. If there is a problem with your sanitation from the previous batch of beer and you are repitching the slurry into your next batch you are in effect inoculating the beer with bacteria that will spoil it.

 

2. Only reuse yeast up to 4- 5 generations. Over time the yeast will begin to alter and fermentation may be affected, this can be something as simple as the behaviour of the yeast will change, it may not attenuate fully or flocculation may change.

 

3. If you are reusing yeast always go from light beers to dark beers, or from low alcohol to high. You don’t want to brew a 8% ABV beer then reuse the yeast for a 3.5% session beer. Ideally you should brew the weaker beer then work the yeast up to brewing a stronger beer reusing the same yeast.

If you are brewing a dark beer like a stout or porter and pitching the yeast into a light beer, it may affect the colour and flavour ever so slightly as if you are doing this just be aware that it may actually be better to wash the yeast before reusing.

 

4. Just to reiterate, keep everything sanitized.

Do I Need To Make A Yeast Starter?

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Making A Yeast Starter

You probably know a thing or two about yeast starters, either you’ve read about them, heard other brewers talk about “making a yeast starter” or you make one before brewing every batch. Home brewers will often profess it’s provided one of the biggest improvements to their beers, but, do you always need to make a yeast starter? That is what we will discuss in this article

Why Make A Yeast Starter?

Yeast is the organism that turns wort into beer or must into wine. Making sure that the condition of the yeast is as good as possible has the knock on effect of producing better beer or wine. To gain the biggest improvements on the fermentation and therefore the biggest improvements in taste you need to make sure you are pitching enough yeast cells and that those cells a viable for fermentation.

These two factors; viability and cell count are the primary concern when you’re pitching yeast. Other factors such as temperature and nutrients are easily controlled, viability and pitching enough yeast to ferment the beer requires a little bit of information about the yeast and some pre-planning before you start brewing.

Yeast Cells and Viability

The number of yeast cells you need for a healthy, vigorous fermentation depends on a few factors such as how much beer you are brewing, whether it’s an ale or lager and the gravity.

All of the yeast available to homebrewers are packaged in quantities suitable for pitching directly into 5 gallons of wort and will ferment the beer, the number of yeast cells in a package, however, starts on the low side, this is fine in most cases because the yeast first phase in the fermenter is to reproduce to ensure there are enough yeast cells available to ferment all the sugars in the wort. However, yeast doesn’t remain stable in the package indefinitely over time the viability of the yeast decreases and the cell count drops meaning the growth phase is stretched out and the fermentation starts poorly.

Yeast viability is a term used to describe the general health of the yeast. As a packet of yeast sits on the shelf in the fridge the number of cells that will be active when pitched in a beer decreases. If the viability drops too much the fermentation will start poorly or in the worst case not at all. Viability is easy enough to check, all packages of yeast have a production date or best before date, the viability of the yeast in the pack decreases over time. Check out the best way to store yeast here.

Liquid yeast has a much shorter shelf life than dried yeast. The shelf life for liquid yeast is 4 months, after the 4 months there will only be between 10% -20% viable yeast cells in the package. This means the vast majority of the cells are already useless.

Dried yeast, on the other hand, has a longer shelf life. The viability is only decreased by around 2% – 4% per month meaning after a year of storage you will still have more than half the yeast cells viable to ferment the beer.

When the viability drops and therefore the number of cells available to ferment the beer, it is then worth considering making a yeast starter to ensure fermentation starts quickly and the yeast ferments the beer with a minimum of off flavours.

Yeast Pitching Rate

The amount of yeast we need to pitch is dependent on a few things, firstly the amount of beer being brewed and also the amount of fermentables in the wort/strength of the beer.

A study by George Fix found that optimum pitching rates for ale were 0.75 billion cells per millilitre per degree plato. This translates to around 180 – 200 billion cells for a 20 litre batch of 5% ABV beer. Lager require a higher pitching rate of roughly double this amount.

Bear in mind this is optimum, which is more applicable to commercial breweries but what it indicates is that the stronger the beer you are making the more yeast you’ll need and the higher/lower the volume of beer the more/fewer yeast cells you’ll need to pitch.

Homebrew pitching rates are usually a little lower and this is not a problem if your cleaning and sanitation practices are up to scratch a cell count of 0.5 billion cells per millilitre per degree plato is fine which translates to around 120 – 140 billion cells for a 20 litre batch of 5% ABV beer

If you are ever unsure about how much yeast you are pitching then check out this calculator which helps you work out how much yeast to pitch for the beer you are brewing

When To Make A Yeast Starter?

Rehydrate dry Yeast

Yeast strains available to homebrewers are usually always formulated to be able to ferment between 19 and 21 litres of beer or around 5 gallons but depending on the age and condition of the yeast you have the number of cells may not be high enough to be optimum for getting fermentation started quickly, again if good sanitation practices are followed this isn’t too much of a problem.

If you are making smaller batches it is, of course, less likely you will need a yeast starter. If you brew larger batches then you should always be making a starter or pitching multiple packages of yeast. The best thing to do would be to use a pitching rate calculator as mentioned above to work out how many cells you need for the beer you are brewing, and how many are in the packet of yeast you are using.

If I am using a dry yeast, I usually don’t bother making a starter. The cell count in dry yeasts is a lot higher than in liquid strains and the dried yeast cells are a lot more stable in storage. My recommendation is to rehydrate the yeast as per the manufacturer’s recommendations and then pitch. If you are using a packet of dry yeast that is close or past it recommended use by date then make a yeast starter to ensure, firstly that the yeast is viable and secondly to increase the cell count before pitching the yeast into the wort.

Liquid yeast available, especially here in the UK is more likely to need a starter. As the yeast has to be shipped from the US in most cases it is usually at least a few weeks old if not more before it even goes on sale here. The viability will have dropped quicker than a dry yeast and so it is usually best practice to make a starter if you’re using a liquid strain.

Making A Yeast Starter

Here is the technique I use to make a yeast starter. I just use a simple jar, some people like to build stir plates and place Erlenmeyer flasks on them but that is not necessary when you are only stepping up a tube or package of yeast once to increase the cell count.

The yeast will naturally want to reproduce, this is exactly what happens when you pitch yeast into the wort. A stir plate is advantageous if you are culturing a very small amount of yeast cells either from commercial bottled beers or slants that have far fewer yeast cells as a stir plate encourages yeast growth far more aggressively by supplying the cells constantly with oxygen.

Things you will need:

  • Glass Jug or Jar
  • Dry Malt Extract
  • Sauce pan and lid
  • Yeast
  • Thermometer
  • Sanitiser
  • Foil

1. Put 4 tablespoons full of dry malt extract into the pan and add 2 pints of water. It is important that not too much dry malt extract is added as when the starter starts to ferment it will produce alcohol. If the levels of alcohol are too high it will become toxic to the yeast cells.

2. Bring the mixture to the boil. Whilst this is happening, make sure your glass container and thermometer are completely sanitised using your preferred sanitiser, this is imperative.

3. After boiling the malt extract and water for around 10 minutes this will also be sterile allow to cool to room temperature with the lid on. It may be a good idea to use a cold water bath for this to get it cool quickly.

4. Pour the malt extract solution (wort effectively) into the sterilised container and check it is at room temperature with a sterilised thermometer.

5. Pitch the yeast. If this is liquid straight from the vial. If dried it should be rehydrated according to the packet instructions.

6. Cover the container with a sterilised piece of foil and shake vigorously to get as much oxygen as possible into the wort. You can shake every so often for the next 24 hours whilst the yeast reproduces.

It may not seem to be doing anything for a while but eventually you will see some signs of activity and a layer of yeast will form at the bottom of the container in a whitish layer.

It is a good idea to do this a couple of days beforehand so you can ensure the maximum amount of yeast cell reproduction. When you are ready to pitch you can swirl the yeast back into suspension and add the whole lot or decant off a proportion of the starter without disturbing the yeast then swirl and pitch to the wort.