Author Topic: Pitch rates...something doesn't make sense to me...can someone shed some light?  (Read 2765 times)

Offline Silicon

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I'm getting ready to start batch #14. I've made mostly dark ales, a few lagers, even a 13% tripel. Every batch used a single Wyeast smack pack and every batch came out fine, e.g. no "stuck" batches.

Today, I've been reading up on pitch rates and reading how the world is going to stop spinning if I don't up my yeast count to the equivalent of 5 or 6 yeast packs.*

So just how "required" are these pitch rates? Am I missing something here?  I mean, if 13 batches came out perfect with only 1 yeast pack each, how important is it to jump it up to 5 or 6?  I really must be missing something, I guess.

Thoughts?

* Based on my Marzen recipe

Offline BOB357

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You make a few confusing statements. You say that all of you brews have come out "fine", and define that as having no stuck batches. What do you mean by stuck batches? Also, you say that batch #13 came out "perfect". How do you define perfect and what was batch 13? When you say that you're using one Smack Pack, you don't say whether you're direct pitching it or making a starter.

 Specific information in your post will net some good information here.

To answer your question directly, but generically, proper pitching rates are "required" for a proper fermentation. A proper fermentation by itself will not make a great beer, but will often turn a good beer into a great beer.
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Online Oginme

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First of all, the world will not stop spinning if you don't make a starter and pitch according to recommended pitching rates.  You will make beer even with a low pitch rate.  As Bob357 stated, it may not be the best beer possible out of that wort, but it will be beer. 

It really comes down to what you want as a brewer.  My own goals is to make a batch of beer which meets my expectations in a manner which I can reproduce that batch very closely if I liked the way it came out.  Part of this is careful managing of my process including establishing a reliable pitch rate of yeast in order to attain the best chance at repeating conditions during fermentation which I know I can duplicate.  Not everyone has the same priorities and it took me making a batch of beer which it then took me several repeated attempts to reach the same quality, flavor, and aromatic sensations as the first time I brewed that recipe. 

I also know several brewers who do not care about being able to repeat a recipe and enjoy the discovery of making a new beer every time they brew, even if it is the same recipe.
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Offline Silicon

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(Answering both...)
What I mean is that, so far, my batches have all been excellent tasting, just the right amount of sweetness vs bitterness. This indicates (to me) that the yeast converted the sugars at expected concentrations, also indicated by my FG calculations.  I figure, if the wort fermented too slowly or for too long, I'd get too many esters or it'd be too sweet (respectively). Since neither has ever occurred, I conclude that my experiments have been reasonable successes.

BUT, if my batches are merely "good", maybe learning to pitch with optimal yeast cell counts would yield "great" beer.  I'm kinda new to all this, but constantly reading & listening, always learning.

I'm happy experimenting, but I like to improve each recipe until I feel that I've perfected it, and then I move on to another recipe. Sometimes, I revisit old recipes when I have something new to try. For example, I made a Marzen using--for me--plain vanilla methods; then this last Xmas, I repeated the batch, only I boiled the wort for an extra 30 minutes, producing the 1800's Marzen color* I was looking for, plus an improved mouth feel.

* A dark amber with a slight reddish tint.

Offline bobo1898

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BOB and Oginme pretty much hit it.

When I started, I was pitching a single smack packs. I did this for several years and I thought my beer was fine. And I wasn't entering competitions or anything. I was making it for me. However, there was a massive drop off, if I ever measured up to any commercial beers (not that I should have been comparing). And there are a lot of factors as to why.

I decided to try making starters to ensure proper pitch rates and I started to notice a significant difference in the beer quality from recipes that I brewed regularly. Once I felt comfortable enough, I graduated to checking on the pH of the mash to understand what was going on with the grain bill and my tap water. Eventually, I got my water tested and not long after I started using salts to ensure proper pH.

I don't know if my beer is great, but if you compared what I was doing before to what I have now, there is a noticeable difference. And to me, it's night and day.

I'm not saying you need to do all of these things, but there are many factors for the final result of the beer. It's really what you want out of your beer. As art is subjective, so is beer? I don't know. I started this to see what it was like and I've fallen down the Brewing Rabbit Hole.

My point is, proper pitch rates will definitely improve the beer, at the very least.
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Offline dtapke

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I gotta ask, whats the quantity of beer you're brewing in a batch?

secondly, if you like experimenting so much, why haven't you brewed two batches with the same recipe, and one batch with a pitch rate of 1.5m and another batch with a pitch rate of .25m?

one of my first brewing experiments 10+ years ago was brewing a 5g batch of a hefeweizen, then pitching it to 5 different yeasts in 5 different 1 gallon containers.

I've also done experimenting with altering temperature of yeast. same yeast at different temperatures can create vastly different beers

and the same yeast pitched at different quantities can also create totally different tasting beers, not to mention taking 2-3X longer or 1/2 the time etc.

if your fermentation struggles to take off because of an underpitch, that's more time that the wort can become infected with any number of other bacteria or yeasts.
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Offline Silicon

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I don't know if my beer is great, but if you compared what I was doing before to what I have now, there is a noticeable difference. And to me, it's night and day.

...

My point is, proper pitch rates will definitely improve the beer, at the very least.
That's what I'm starting to think, exactly. What I've made so far, even my friends like it better than store bought. Maybe to a purist, it's not "perfect", but like you say, it's probably like art...very subjective. I notice the same thing with growing my own vegetables...they always taste better than store bought. Do they truly? Maybe not, but my mind is saying so, and who am I to argue with myself? lol  Point is, just because my prior batches have seemed "omg great" to me, scientifically speaking, I'm sure those batches have, in reality, been just so-so, and my mind is convincing me that they're superior (when they probably aren't).

And dtapke: I've tried plastic brew tanks (glorified buckets, really) and both glass and plastic carboys. I've also altered my recipes in various ways to see what changes work best for me. I haven't done enough batches yet to form a lot of opinions, but I'm working on it. I've learned the basics, now I'm tackling things more scientifically, 1 at a time, starting with yeast. :)

So, moving forward... If I learn how to nurture yeast before Brew Day so I can start with the proper amount of yeast, I expect my quality will be an order of magnitude better. And I imagine consistency will improve, too. :)

So I've been doing tons of reading in blogs & forums and everything is starting to gel, but I feel there's still tons to learn. This weekend, I'm staring some experiments with growing yeast, mostly following advice from other people, but also following some of my own hunches. It'll be fun. There'll be some flops, but I don't mind...mistakes are just learning opportunities. And people like you guys--here and elsewhere--have collectively been wonderful at filling in the blanks concerning all that I've read so far. (I'm ordering the book on yeast next week, too.) As I learn, I'll be back here asking for advice on overcoming my mistakes, have no doubt.

Offline dtapke

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Yeast and ACCURATE fermentation temperature control are two of the biggest factors in producing quality beer imo.

Again I'll ask, What size batches are you brewing? if you're brewing 1g batches i doubt that making starters is terribly essential (you may even be over-pitching!), but 5g batches will certainly see benefit from it.
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Offline Ayuir

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Silicon,
I'm liking the initial response from Bobo1898...good beer vs great beer. Also what dtapke says about temperature control. I think you're on the right track with an approach of changing of variable at a time in order to track the changes with the single variable change. That's the science part of the art and science of brewing. The art part is realizing that wort really wants to be beer, and yeast really wants to make beer. As you learn to make the yeast happiest for a particular recipe (wort), you can learn the changes to make to create (to your tongue) a great beer vs a good beer. Sometimes if you don't pitch enough you'll get a good beer, but the yeast has to spend so much time reproducing to get to all the sugar that 1) the yeast may get stressed with the job and throw some off flavors or 2) the beer may sit on the trub som long that it picks up some off flavors (none of which may be enough for you to say your beer wasn't good). But with a better pitching rate or a starter (getting your cell count up to where it may be with a higher pitching rate), your yeast gets the job done faster and with less stress, possibly changing that beer from good to great.

Offline dtapke

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Silicon,
I'm liking the initial response from Bobo1898...good beer vs great beer. Also what dtapke says about temperature control. I think you're on the right track with an approach of changing of variable at a time in order to track the changes with the single variable change. That's the science part of the art and science of brewing. The art part is realizing that wort really wants to be beer, and yeast really wants to make beer. As you learn to make the yeast happiest for a particular recipe (wort), you can learn the changes to make to create (to your tongue) a great beer vs a good beer. Sometimes if you don't pitch enough you'll get a good beer, but the yeast has to spend so much time reproducing to get to all the sugar that 1) the yeast may get stressed with the job and throw some off flavors or 2) the beer may sit on the trub som long that it picks up some off flavors (none of which may be enough for you to say your beer wasn't good). But with a better pitching rate or a starter (getting your cell count up to where it may be with a higher pitching rate), your yeast gets the job done faster and with less stress, possibly changing that beer from good to great.

Yeast actually really doesn't want to make beer... otherwise you're right on ;)
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Offline Silicon

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Yeast and ACCURATE fermentation temperature control are two of the biggest factors in producing quality beer imo.

Again I'll ask, What size batches are you brewing? if you're brewing 1g batches i doubt that making starters is terribly essential (you may even be over-pitching!), but 5g batches will certainly see benefit from it.
5 & 6 gallon batches, so I'll definitely benefit from learning pitch rates. Still reading, still learning, but it's making more sense hearing from y'all. Thx!

Offline Silicon

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Silicon,
I'm liking the initial response from Bobo1898...good beer vs great beer. Also what dtapke says about temperature control. I think you're on the right track with an approach of changing of variable at a time in order to track the changes with the single variable change. That's the science part of the art and science of brewing. The art part is realizing that wort really wants to be beer, and yeast really wants to make beer. As you learn to make the yeast happiest for a particular recipe (wort), you can learn the changes to make to create (to your tongue) a great beer vs a good beer. Sometimes if you don't pitch enough you'll get a good beer, but the yeast has to spend so much time reproducing to get to all the sugar that 1) the yeast may get stressed with the job and throw some off flavors or 2) the beer may sit on the trub som long that it picks up some off flavors (none of which may be enough for you to say your beer wasn't good). But with a better pitching rate or a starter (getting your cell count up to where it may be with a higher pitching rate), your yeast gets the job done faster and with less stress, possibly changing that beer from good to great.
Yes! That's exactly how I see it! 1 part science, 1 part art, 1 part horse sense = recipe for success. I'm an indie game programmer, and that's exactly that same recipe, and same as pretty much everything I do. I love learning, experimenting, and learning from my mistakes, so it is with brewing. I've found it's easy to brew good beer, but I won't be satisfied until I'm consistently making the best beer I can. (It's how I've perfected my breads and marinara sauce, I've just moved on to perfecting beer, now.)

BTW, dtapke, what do you mean by yeast not wanting to make beer? Do you mean that yeast doesn't care? I'm kinda thinking that beer is simply a side-effect of assisting a bunch of yeasties stuff themselves with a bunch of sugar, eh?

Offline Silicon

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Anyway, to close this chapter, I've been doing tons of reading. Some of it still doesn't make sense (like Wyeast's pitch calculator), but it's sorta coming together, cross-referencing all the sites and everyone's tips. I just got some new ingredients, a stir plate & e-flask, so now to produce my 1st yeast starter recipe and see how this new Marzen batch goes. :)

Many thanks to y'all, I really appreciate lending a hand. I love learning and you guys are truly a great help.

Offline dtapke

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I'll see if i can find the excerpt from the "yeast" book in the brewers series about yeast not really wanting to make alcohol. I can't think of the specifics of it off the top of my head

as far as pitching rates go, everyone has a different idea of what is "ideal" and how to get there. The only way you can really determine anything is by your own personal preference and performing actual cell counts. Any calculator is only going to give you an approximation. I can make a 3L starter on one stir plate, and another with the same yeast on another stir plate, have one a bit warmer, or one a bit different plato, or one even spinning at a faster/slower rate and get slightly different cell counts.

It's certainly a bit of a "best guess" sort of game, but most calcs (i use brewers friend when i do use a calc) are semi accurate. They'll certainly get you close to the range you want to be, especially if using fresh yeast. however really the only way to KNOW your pitch is to count, and most folks aren't gonna drop 3-500 to do this. Also, the only way to KNOW if pitching your Marzen at .5m/ml/P vs. 1m/ml/P vs. 2m/ml/P is to brew it, and try them all ;) because some yeast stresses create flavors that you may find enjoyable.

lots of folks intentionally under pitch for reason X and lots of folks over pitch for reason Y.
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Offline Silicon

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I'll see if i can find the excerpt from the "yeast" book in the brewers series about yeast not really wanting to make alcohol. I can't think of the specifics of it off the top of my head
Maybe because alcohol is poisonous to yeast in higher concentrations?

lots of folks intentionally under pitch for reason X and lots of folks over pitch for reason Y.
I'm pretty much a middle-of-the-road guy...variances in either direction tend to cancel-out over time. :D

I think I'm aiming for 2 or 3 general processes, depending on which beers I make...basically, a set of 3 starting points for any other beers. My ales are Scottish and Altbier, lagers are Marzen, Schwarzbier, and Bock. I even tried a tripel for my birthday, once, but I won't do that again w/o getting good with yeast starters, lol...the yeast was nearly half my cost. (A 13.5% lager was a bit enlightening, too...certainly didn't smell or taste that strong, though, but it'll sure make a democrat out of a republican, oh yeah...)

 

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