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Pre-making yeast starter and bottling primer.

Two things are absolutely necessary in order to make any alcoholic beverage: A solution of a fermentable sugar in water, and yeast. Yeast eat the fermentable sugar, pee alcohol, and fart carbon dioxide. It’s that simple.

If you don’t have an adequate number of live yeast cells to ferment the wort you’ve so lovingly produced, you’ll have poor results when trying to make beer. One way to make sure that you have a large supply of live healthy yeast is to make a yeast starter a day or two before your brewday.

Yeast can also play a part in carbonating your beer. When you are ready to bottle, if you add a small amount of fermentable sugar to the beer, and then bottle it, the live yeast in your beer will produce (fart) carbon dioxide in the bottle. Since the bottle is tightly sealed, the carbon dioxide dissolves back into solution, producing the tiny bubbles, bright taste and foamy head you associate with beer.

Yeast starter solution and priming solution can be made the same day that you need it, but I like to prepare both in advance, and sterilize the entire batch at once. This allows me to set it aside, have it when I need it, and not worry about another possible source of contamination on brew or bottling day.

Both are easy to prepare if you have the right equipment:

  • A pressure cooker / canner – This is necessary to sterilize the containers and the liquid inside them. By sterilizing everything at 15psi at 250 degrees for at least 20 minutes, you effectively kill any organism that may have been hiding in the solution, or the jar. This includes some types of cysts that can survive ordinary boiling.
  • Canning jars, lids, and rings – I use both pint and quart jars: pints for priming solution and quarts for yeast starter.
  • A scale, while not absolutely necessary, is better. Try to get one that has a “tare” or zeroing option, and can weith up to five pounds. There are a bunch of inexpensive digital scale that can do this.
  • Dextrose powder for priming solution and Extra Light Dried Malt Extract (DME) for yeast starter
  • Good quality water. If your tap water is ok (mine isn’t, too hard and lots of chlorine), use it. Otherwise get some bottled water or Reverse Osmosis (RO) water from one of the kiosks you see at just about every supermarket.

Got everything? Good, let’s get started.

First, make sure that the jars are clean. Now put the jar on your scale, and measure out the appropriate amount of dextrose or DME. I use 4.5oz of dextrose, and about 4oz of DME. Now fill the jars up with water just to the bottom on the jar lip. You need a little bit of headspace, since the liquid in the jars is going to expand when heated. Now place the lids on the jars, and tighten the jar rings down just finger tight, just enough that the jars don’t leak when shook, but not so tight that air can’t escape when heated.

Now put everything in your pressure cooker, add a few inches of water (if you have really hard water like me, you can also add a few tablespoons of vinegar to reduce minerals from caking on the jars), and seal the pressure cooker up. Follow your cooker’s directions, and once you get to 15psi, run the cooker for 15-20 minutes.

At the end of 15-29 minutes, turn off the heat and let the cooker cool naturally. Once the cooker pressure has naturally returned to 0psi, you can open the lid and remove the jars (carefully, they are probably still hot.) Let the jars cool to room temperature, and check the lids; they sould be vacuum sealed to the jar, and should “ring” if tapped lightly with a spoon.

That’s all there is to it. You now have priming solution and yeast starter that will keep indefinitely, and is ready to use when you need it.

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