Brewer's Ed

Starters 101: Brettanomyces

It's time to tame the beast

By Lance Shaner

May 5, 2022

There are two scenarios in which you might want to make a Brettanomyces starter:

  1. You’re unsure of the viability of your Brett and want to be sure you’re pitching a live culture 
  2. You’re doing a 100% Brett fermentation beer (Brett can do its thing with alarmingly few cells)

Thus, if you have a fresh pack of Brett and you’re using it for a secondary fermentation, you probably do not need to bother making a starter. BUT, if you’re brewing a 100% Brett beer, you really should ALWAYS do a starter and never direct pitch a pack. 

There are a few reasons to always create a Brett starter. Many providers, Omega Yeast included, package Brett in quantities intended for secondary fermentations. This is not nearly enough for a 100% Brett fermentation.

Another reason is that Brett behaves very differently from Saccharomyces. The lag times before you notice substantial fermentation can be 2 – 4 days, even when you pitch a fresh starter. It is an entirely different species of yeast separated by millions of years of evolution from brewing yeast and you should not expect it to behave like the yeast you’re accustomed to using.


As noted above, it can take several days before you see signs of growth so don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing anything happening after 24 hours. Brett starters take longer, so plan ahead. Once you do start to observe growth with the starter getting cloudier, you may start to see brown, crusty matter accumulating on top. This is normal. 

A fully grown Brett starter will be creamy colored and smell like vinegar, nail polish, and feet — also normal! These flavors are pronounced enough that you may want to cold crash and decant if you’re doing a 100% Brett fermentation. Brettanomyces is very non-flocculent so it can take 24 to 48 hours to crash to the bottom of the flask. If you’re doing a secondary fermentation of a 5‑gallon batch, even 50mL of the starter is more than enough.

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