How To Make a Yeast Starter Without DME (The Best Alternatives)

Do you need dried malt extract (DME) to make a yeast starter? Making a yeast starter without DME is possible, and it may be easier than you think.

There are four common alternatives to using dry malt extract (DME) when making a homebrew yeast starter. The easiest way to make a yeast starter without DME is to purchase a canned yeast starter based on liquid malt extract (LME) but you can also make extra wort, make a small wort, or use second runnings from another batch of beer.

Read on to learn the best alternatives to using DME in a yeast starter and how you can create one for your next brew.

Do You Need DME for a Yeast Starter?

Most brewers agree that a yeast starter is needed to get the best performance from liquid yeast when brewing. More active yeast creates a higher ABV (alcohol by volume) and removes off-flavors that can be caused by underpitching.

Starters are typically made with DME, but they can be made without it.

Depending on how much time, experience, and effort you’re willing to invest, at least one of the methods mentioned below will work for you.

Making a Yeast Starter Without DME

The best alternatives to using DME when making a yeast starter are: 

  • Make Extra Wort 
  • Make a Small Wort
  • Second Runnings
  • Canned Starter (LME)

Make Extra Wort

If you plan ahead, it’s possible to have a yeast starter on hand in case you run out of DME at an inopportune time. Simply make an extra gallon of wort on your next brew day and use it as a yeast starter for a future batch. 

When making extra wort, be sure to increase the ingredients in your recipe accordingly so that you don’t dilute your beer. After the boil, pull off the extra gallon of wort, pressure can it in quart canning jars and store it in a cool dark place.

Full instructions for canning wort can be found here

Alternatively, pour the cooled wort into resealable plastic bags leaving room at the top for the liquid to expand, and store them in the freezer. Please note that the frozen starter will need to be thawed and boiled before use to avoid contamination.

Make a Small Wort

Making a small wort for a yeast starter includes mashing, lautering, and sparging grains in small quantities. This process can take 2 – 3 hours to complete. It can also be prepared ahead and stored as indicated above for future use.

The simplest method for making a small wort is the Brew in a Bag (BIAB) technique. It uses minimal equipment, ensures fewer grain particles in the wort, and lessens cleanup time. Use your brewing software to create a small recipe and manipulate the grain amounts to give a resulting specific gravity of 1.040 or so.

Check out an example recipe with the BIAB instructions here

Second Runnings

Another method to use if you’re making a big beer is to keep your second runnings to use as a yeast starter for a future batch.

After collecting enough wort for your big beer after the boil, the specific gravity of the runnings should still be high enough to produce a starter for a lower gravity beer. Just run another gallon of strike water through the grains a few times to loosen the remaining sugars, check the specific gravity to make sure it’s around 1.030, and boil.

Canned Starter

A convenient method of making a starter without DME is to use a canned starter. Canned starters are liquid malt extract (LME) and are normally diluted with water when used. There are several brands on the market and they can be purchased at your local brew store or online. 

Canned yeast starter doesn’t need to be boiled and there’s no powdery mess like with DME. It’s quick, easy, and requires minimal equipment. It also has a long shelf life when stored at normal room temperatures. Just dilute with distilled water, shake and put on a stir plate for 24 hours.

The full instructions for making it can be found here.

While convenient, the canned yeast starter is more expensive to use. Most brands run between $12 – 15 for a four-pack. It also should be used all at once as it’s unclear how long it can be stored in the refrigerator and remain potent enough to use. A canned yeast starter is still a convenient option to keep in your pantry to have available when you need a quick solution.