Making a yeast starter is one of the best and easiest ways to improve the quality of your homebrew. Many beginner homebrewers skip this step and often consider it as more work than it is worth.
A typical brew day is already longer than it needs to be so why add more tasks to the process? A stir plate can help to minimize the work that you have to do to make a yeast starter while optimizing the effectiveness of your yeast during fermentation.
What is a Stir Plate?
A stir plate, simply speaking, is a magnetic device that is used for stirring liquids. The device spins a small cylinder at various speeds and is ideal for continuous stirring for long periods.
The device has an electromagnet at its base and a stir bar that goes into your flask. Once activated, the electromagnet at the base causes the stir bar to spin, thus stirring your liquid without any manual intervention.
The stir plate is used for making yeast starter in homebrewing.
Why You Need a Stir Plate
You are hardly a chemist, so why do you need a stir plate? After all, you don’t need to take a chemistry class to learn how to stir some yeast into the wort.
Liquid yeast typically does not have sufficient viable cells to achieve the pitching rate needed for successful fermentation. Low pitching rates could cause your beer to be infected or have a final brew with a higher gravity than you anticipated. Additionally, low pitch rates could cause off-flavors as a result of excess byproducts such as sulfur compounds, diacetyl, fusel alcohols, and esters during fermentation.
A stir plate helps to stir the yeast starter consistently and for long periods. This allows oxygen to aerate the wort which is essential for yeast propagation. Furthermore, the stir plate keeps the yeast in suspension which allows it to infuse crucial nutrients needed for a healthy fermentation.
Although many homebrewers have had decent results by stirring the yeast starter manually, a stir plate could increase your cell count by up to 10 times!
What to Look for in a Stir Plate
So which is the best stir plate for your homebrewing setup? There are endless options on the market so narrowing it down to the best option can feel like an impossible task.
There are a few factors that the best stir plates for homebrewing share in common and that you can use to make your final selection.
Each stir plate is rated for the volume of liquid that the unit can stir effectively. The maximum volumes you need for your stirrer entirely depends on how much beer your brew at once but try to go for a larger capacity than you need for when you scale up your production.
Ideally, you should buy your stir plate once and forget about it. Many of these units can last a lifetime with proper use and maintenance. At the very least, go for 1000ml capacity.
Generally speaking, the faster you can get your yeast starter to spin the better. A speed control dial or digital speed adjustment will help you reach the stirring power you need for effective fermentation.
This feature will also help you to adjust the stirring speed depending on the volume of liquid you need to mix. Additionally, a speed adjustment feature helps you to experiment with various speeds and achieve repeatable results once you hit the sweet spot.
The surface dimensions will affect the size of the beaker or container you can use with your magnetic stirrer. This is definitely something to consider especially if you make big batches of beer at once. The ideal situation is to have all the yeast starter you need ready in one go for consistent results.
It is always a good idea that you know what is going on with your stirrer while the process continues. A digital display will let you know the stirring speed and any other information that you might need to optimize your process now and in the future.
At the very least, you need an indicator light that lets you know the equipment is on and running.
A busy schedule may affect how much time you can set aside for brewing. Any automation you can get will help you to fit in more activity within a shorter time.
A timer helps you pre-set when you want the equipment to turn on and frees up your time for other crucial tasks. Some stir plates have timers that you can pre-set to turn on up to 48 hours in advance.
Best Stir Plates for Homebrewing Review
We have reviewed the 3 best stir plates for homebrewers for your convenience. We used the same considerations mentioned above when creating this section.
1. Northern Brewer Maelstorm Stir Plate
- The first industrial-grade programmable stir plate designed specifically for yeast starters
- Five distinct speeds, from 480-1440 RPM, to accommodate yeast starters up to 5 gallons
- Scheduling function for up to 48 hours
The Northern Brewer Maelstorm Stir Plate is a high-end stir plate for the serious homebrewer who doesn’t spare any cost to get the best that homebrewing equipment has to offer.
This is an industrial-style stir plate that holds up to 5 gallons of your yeast starter. Industrial stir plates aren’t typically programmable but Northern Brewer makes the claim that this is the first programmable industrial stir plate.
You can choose from 5 different speeds ranging from 480 rpm to 1440 rpm and powerful magnets to give you all the stirring power you need for an effective fermentation. The scheduling function also lets you pre-set the starting time by up to 48 hours in advance.
This magnetic stirrer is perfect for the seasoned homebrewer who makes no concessions on the quality of his brewing equipment.
2. INTLLAB Magnetic Stir Plate with Stir Bar
- ✔ HIGH QUALITY - resistant 316 stainless steel top plate
- ✔ POWERFUL - up to 3000ml capacity, ideal for home brew yeast starters
- ✔ EASY USE - stepless adjustable stirring speed, speed regulation up to 3000 rpm
Don’t worry if you don’t have the budget for an industrial stir plate. The INTLLAB is a compact little magnetic stir plate with no frills but still gets the job done right every time.
This device features a durable 316 stainless steel plate that doesn’t rust or stain and is easy to clean when you have the occasional spills and accidents. The simple stirrer is deceptively powerful with a maximum output of 3000 rpm to get a decent vortex going for maximum aeration.
The device has a maximum capacity of 0.8 gallons so it is good for making small batches and the perfect entry-level option for the budding homebrewer.
3. Stir Starter – Magnetic Yeast Starter Plate
- This stir plate helps you culture higher cell counts of healthy yeast for quicker fermentations
- Includes stir plate and power Cord, magnetic stir bar, Keeper magnet, instructions and warranty
- Constant stirring increases yeast growth and creates healthier yeast for Fermentation of your wort
The Stir Starter – Magnetic Yeast Starter Plate is a great compromise between the high-end Northern Brewer Maelstorm and the budget INTLLAB.
This model is specifically designed for homebrewing rather than the multipurpose laboratory stir plates that many homebrewers repurpose for brewing.
This Star Starter has a 12 VDC stir motor combined with dual knife button magnets to provide decent stirring power. Many cheaper stir plates with high rpm are known for throwing the stir bar at high speed. This particular model has relatively limited RPM which doesn’t seem impressive on paper but ensures that you can use it at maximum speed with no problems.
The keeper magnet included with the purchase is a nice touch and locks in the stir bar so you don’t pitch it into your fermenter along with the yeast!
This stirrer is a great option for beginner to intermediate homebrewers looking for a functional unit at the lowest possible price.
You can now get a stir plate that fits your budget and yield volume. Give your arm a break and rest assured that you will be able to recreate the perfect yeast starter every time!