Yeast, without it we wouldn’t have beer, wine cider, and many of our other favorite fermented drinks and foods. But when picking ingredients for your brew day, do you go for liquid or dry yeast?
What are the differences and which one’s best for you today?
I’m going to help you make the right choice for your next brew. I’m Trent Musho, and this is the Bru Sho. Let’s talk dry versus liquid yeast.
Yeast is not only responsible for the conversion of sugar to alcohol, it also plays a major impact on flavor. When you’re writing on a recipe, it’s vital to pick the right yeast for the style of beer or wine you’re trying to make.
When you’re standing in a Homebrew store and looking at the yeast fridge, it can be a bit intimidating. And one of the first questions you might have is;
- What’s the difference between dry and liquid yeast?
- Does one make better beer are dry yeast only for beginners?
- Do I need to buy a bunch of these or just one?
If you’ve ever had a similar thought and looked on a forum, you might get some conflicting answers because truthfully, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to dry vs liquid yeast.
So today I’m going to go over the difference between the two, there pros and cons, how to use them and give some insight into which one might be right for you. Now let’s get into it.
First, let’s talk dry yeast. Dry yeast is more common for a new brewer because they’re often included in a beginner wine or beer kit. Typically dry yeast is sold in small individual packets, but it can also be sold in bulk. The yeast itself looks like miniature, tan, white pellets. If you’ve ever baked bread, you probably have seen something similar.
Yeast is a living organism, but through the drying process, companies are able to freeze them in time and make a shelf stable product that can last for years.
Some common brands are:
- Fermentis, which is from France. They make a few select strains. Some common ones are they’re SAF ale, SAF, lager, or SAF ciders.
- Lallemand from Canada make ales, lagers as well as kveik, sour, and they even have a line of wine yeasts called Lalvin.
- Red Star from Milwaukee is most known for their bread yeast, but they also make wine yeast.
Some pros and cons to dry yeast
Pros. Generally speaking, they have a higher cell count. In most cases, each packet has enough cells for a beer or wine with a starting gravity of about 1.065. And for stronger brews, you can always pitch more packets.
Dry yeast comes with nutrients in the package, which makes it ready to pitch. You don’t need a yeast starter to bring the yeast to light.
Dry yeast is inexpensive. Not only do you need less packets then liquid it also in general costs less than liquid yeast. It has a longer shelf life. As I mentioned before, the packets are shelf stable for up to three years and they’re temperature resistant and durable. Dry yeast can handle extreme heat and cold temperatures better than liquid yeast.
Some cons; there’s not as many strain options. This is because a lot of yeast strains do not survive the drying process. That’s why many of the dry yeast companies have their select few strains and that’s it.
But thankfully, some of these companies mentioned are helping to close the gap with new innovative methods and strains of yeast being discovered.
And lastly, some say the quality is not as good, or at least that was always the old tale, maybe because starter Homebrew kits used to have a super old packet strapped to the can of liquid extract. But nowadays yeast producers are selecting premium cells for consumers to use.
How to use dry yeast
Depending on which brand of yeast you use they’ll have different recommendations for how to use their yeast. But for the most part, there are two methods; rehydrate or sprinkle it in.
Rehydrating takes a few extra steps of adding the dry yeast into 90 degrees water and allowing the yeast to take in the water and come to life. Just sprinkling in is as easy as opening the packet and dumping it into your fermenter.
They both do the same thing. They get the yeast end and they get things fermenting. So I usually just go for the sprinkl in method since it’s easier and less risk for contamination, but do whatever you want. Just remember to sanitize your package and scissors before opening it up.
Now let’s look at liquid yeast. For years, liquid yeast was seen as the premier option for home brewers since it’s fresh and there’s way more options. Liquid yeast is typically sold in a plastic packet container or sometimes a vile.
The yeast itself looks just like you would see at the bottom of your fermenter a tan brown color and a goopy consistency called a yeast slurry. This slurry is filled with active live yeast cells.
And while you can’t see the individual use clumps, like in dry form, the slurry is filled with billions of cells.
Some common brands are:
- Wyeast from Oregon. They’re known for their smack packs, which are a smaller bag inside of the package that have the nutrients and when you smash it, it combines the nutrients with the yeast to start fermentation. They make wine, cider, beer, spirits, and sake.
- White labs from San Diego over there, pure pitch yeast packs, which used to be sold in vials and are now in packets. Each package is said to have 100 billion cells and they have one of the largest selections of yeast strains.
- Omega from Chicago are known for the creative branding and beautiful label art as well as a unique strains, including various kviek strains, as well as some characteristics specific strains like Bonanza and sundae.
- And Imperial also from Oregon known for their pitch right poutches that contain 200 billion cells per package, which has the highest cell count of any of these companies. They also have a good variety of strains.
Some pros and cons to liquid yeast
Pro’s; liquid yeast is fresh, healthy yeast. The packets have live active yeast in them that are chomping at the bit to get to work. There’s seemingly endless options, including seasonal, specific strains that you won’t find in dry form and access to strains that pro-brewers use.
So if you’re trying to make a clone or replicate a specific regional style, you can get the same yeast pros use.
Cons. The cost can be a lot more sometimes twice the price, if not more than dry yeast. Liquid yeast is unstable in extreme temperature ranges, which can greatly impact the viability and healthy cell count of your yeast.
And also means if you’re buying online, you need to ensure they send an ice pack to keep the yeast in a cool temperature range, and then putting in your fridge immediately to keep it healthy.
Generally, there’s a lower cell count, which means you usually need to make a yeast starter or you’ll need multiple packs in order for me anything over about 1.028, which also means you need to spend a little more to get what you need for healthy fermentation.
And lastly, Homebrew store sometimes have old ones in stock. So if you’re not paying attention, you can get an old package. And that could mean your cell count is lower than advertised and less than ideal for fermenting with. So always check the dates on the package.
How do you use liquid yeast?
If you splurged for one of the more expensive brands that tells a larger cell count than for most average brews, you can just open the package and dump it in.
But for the brands that have smaller cell counts like white labs, for example, or you have a larger starting gravity, then you need to make a yeast starter to prop up the yeast and increase the overall cell count.
As always, I recommend consulting a yeast calculator to determine how big of a starter you need to make. So which should you choose?
Choose dry over liquid when the price is a concern, you can always buy a ton of dry and keep it in stock. When you want to have some on hand for any brew day tomorrow or three years down the road.
And when you don’t feel like making a yeast starter, choose liquid over dry. When you need a specific strain not available in store, or if you already make starters, then might as well go fresh. I like to use both.
And I think every brewer should feel comfortable with using both because in the end, there’s really no difference in quality. Both liquid and dry yeast these days are made with quality in mind first, and they both will produce exceptional beer.
The old myth that dry yeast doesn’t make great beer. It’s just wrong. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Here’s how I look at it. I like to keep my favorite base ale, lager and whine yeast stocked up and dry for them. For example, Safale USO 5. It’s a great clean fermenting alias that can work in dozens of styles.
So whether I feel like whippin up an IPA, pale ale, wheat ale, or whatever, I can just toss in the dry yeast and not have to worry.
It allows for some improvisation and flexibility in my brew days. Then when I’m trying to replicate a specific style or unique brew that needs a characteristic from the yeast that I can’t find in my base dry selections, I go to liquid and I’ll search out the one needed for that brew, but that’s just me.
And everyone’s different. I love to know what’s your strategy when it comes to selecting yeast? Let me know in the comments that way we can all learn.
There are so many strains of yeast out there. So I challenge each of you to go out and use a yeast strain you’ve never used before. Especially if you only use dry or you only use liquid, change it up, try something new and experiment.
For me, I need to push myself to experiment more with liquids. The options are endless, and I need to dive in and try some new yeast. I hope you learned something today and now have a better understanding about the differences between the types of yeast. And if you enjoyed this video, be sure to give it a like, so I know you’re into these types of vids. Thanks for watching and happy brewing.
Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.