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> Canning Wort Starters, contributed by flaminio
cj in j
post Dec 10 2005, 10:26 PM
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Canning Wort Starters FAQ
contributed by flaminio

The mantra on the boards is to "always pitch a starter." Well great, but it's kind of a PITA to pull out a pot, measure out DME, boil it, chill it, then finally pitch the yeast. And isn't that DME a little expensive? And isn't the whole process a little messy? Don't I have something better to do on a Wednesday night than stink up the house? Call me cheap and lazy, but there has to be better way. Enter canned wort!

Canning wort is pretty easy and fairly painless. The best part is it makes starters a snap, not to mention cheap. The idea is to fill a bunch of canning jars with unfermented wort, place them in a pressure cooker/canner, then stick them on the shelf in the basement until they're needed. You now have sterile wort with a long shelf life that's ready to use in minutes. Because it's sterile, it doesn't need to be boiled, and because it doesn't need to be boiled, it doesn't need to be chilled. All you have to do is pop the top, pour into your starter container, and then pitch the yeast -- oh, and perhaps oxygenate, if desired. It'd also be a good idea to sterilize the outside lip of the jar with alcohol and/or flame.

Some people make up a whole batch of hopped or unhopped wort just to can it. I use my pressure cooker and can only fit three jars in there, so it's not a real good use of my time to spend the day canning wort three jars at a time. What I do is brew up an extra gallon of wort and then can that. I usually get 3-6 quart jars from my supersized batches. My process is to do the wort boil, fill the fermenter, then fill whatever is left into the jars. While cleaning up from the brew day, I place the jars in the pressure cooker. By time I'm cleaned up, the canned wort is ready to be removed from the cooker and go to the basement.

Process
To can the wort you'll need some Mason jars and fresh lids (lids can't be reused) and a pressure cooker or pressure canner. If you don't have a canning basket, you'll need to place something on the bottom of the pressure cooker. A good substitute is to just place jar rings on the bottom and place the jars on top. If you've got a full pressure canning setup, then you're in business. There's nothing stopping you from making up a double batch of beer, one for drinking, one for starters. My approach is to basically make a few more jars than I'll use for my next starter. If my inventory of canned wort gets full, I just don't can any for a while.

When in the cooker, my process is to lightly tighten the rings just to hold them in place and place them in the cooker. Then fill the cooker with about 3 inches of water. Let it boil for 10 minutes or so with the seal open, then close the seal. Once it reaches pressure, reduce head to maintain pressure, and I let it go 15-20 minutes or so, then kill the heat and let it cool down. This probably equates to 30 minutes of cooking under pressure, so maybe 45 from start to stop. You want to remove the wort and let them cool and when the lids get indented, you got a vacuum seal. After they fully cool overnight, you actually don't need the rings anymore. You can use them for example to place on the bottom of your cooker. If your lids don't seal, then you'll need to pressure cook them again, probably with a different lid. Certainly follow directions of your pressure equipment.

I use quart jars and fill them to 800 ml. There is some hot/cold break usually in the jars. It's not that much, but if you're worried about it, about 100 ml will remain if you decant the wort. When canning, I usually make a note of the gravity on the jars. Ideal gravity for starters is typically about 1.040 and most my beers are around 1.050-1.055. In this case, you can view it as concentrated wort and cut it with distilled water. So 800 ml roughly becomes 1000 ml. Now, just use as many jars as your starter requires!

Special Equipment
-- Pressure Cooker or Canner (I think I have a 6 quart, which barely fits my jars. If buying new, check to make sure jars will fit.)
-- Mason Canning Jars (I got the 1 qt normal mouth jars. Extra lids wouldn't be a bad idea.)
-- Alcohol or torch to sterilize jars on starter day

Super Stout Starter!
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These were collected pre-boil, so they're a little messy, but worked great. I prefer collecting post-boil.
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