Dry Yeast VS. Liquid Yeast in Beer Brewing

Without yeast, 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 the liquid or dry yeast? What are the differences and which one is best for you? Today we’re going to help you make the right choice for your next brew.

Yeast is not only responsible for the conversion of sugar to alcohol. It also plays a major part in flavor. When youre writing a recipe it’s vital to pick the right yeast for the style of beer youre trying to make. When youre 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? Is 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 versus liquid yeast. Today we are going to go over the difference between the two. Their pros and cons. How to use them and give some insight into which one might be right for you

If you are interested in more information on yeast starters check our Yeast Starter: How & Why we do them.

Dry Yeast

Dry yeast is more common for a new brewer because they’re often included in a beginner 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 yeast.

A bowl and a metal spoon filled with dry yeast and dry yeast scattered around the table.
Credit: https://shop.kingarthurbaking.com/items/saf-gold-instant-yeast-16-oz

The pros and cons of dry yeast

Pros of dry yeast

  • Generally speaking, they have a higher cell count. In most cases, each packet has enough cells for a beer with a starting gravity of 1.065. 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 yeast to life.
  • Dry yeast is inexpensive. Not only do you need fewer packets than liquid, but it also in general costs less.
  • It has a longer shelf life. The packets are shelf-stable for up to 3 years.
  • They are temperature-resistant and durable. Dry yeast can handle extreme heat and cold temperatures better than liquid yeast.
Two mugs of beer with foam on top on a table with wheat and couple of hop flowers.
Credit: https://homebrewanswers.com/yeast-nutrient-use/#:~:text=Yeast%20nutrients%20are%20added%20to,vitamins%20to%20form%20new%20cells.

Cons of dry yeast

  • There are not as many strain options. This is because a lot of yeast strains don’t 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.
  • Some say the quality is not as good or at least that was always the old tale. Maybe because starter homebrewing kits used to have a super old packet strapped to the can of liquid extract. But now yeast producers are selecting premium cells for consumers to use.

How to use dry yeast

Depending on which brand of yeast you use theyll have different recommendations on how to use their yeast. For the most part there are two methods.

  • Rehydrating takes a few extra steps of adding the dry yeast into 90 F water and allowing the yeast to take in the water and come to life
  • 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 in and they get things fermenting.

Liquid Yeast

Pouring liquid yeast from a glass vial into a glass bowl.
Credit. http://castlerockhomebrew.com/tag/use-a-yeast-starter-with-liquid-yeast-for-best-results/

For years liquid yeast was seen as a premium option for homebrewers. It’s fresh and there are way more options. Liquid yeast is typically sold in a plastic packet container or sometimes a vial. The yeast itself looks just as you would see at the bottom of your fermenter. Tan brown color and a goopy consistency called a yeast slurry. This slurry is filled with active live yeast cells.

While you can’t see the individual used clumps like in dry form the slurry is filled with billions of cells.

The pros and cons of liquid yeast

Pros of liquid yeast

  • Liquid yeast is fresh healthy yeast. The packets have live active yeast in them that are feeding on the bit to get to work.
  • There are seemingly endless options including seasonal specific strains that you won’t find in dry form.
Five glasses of beer with different colors and flavros.
Credit: https://www.allrecipes.com/article/how-to-brew-beer/

Cons of liquid yeast

  • 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. It means you usually need to make a yeast starter or you’ll need multiple packs in order to ferment anything above 1.028.
  • Homebrew stores sometimes have old ones in stock. So if youre not paying attention you can get an old package. That could mean that your cell count is lower than advertised and less than ideal for fermenting. Always check the dates on the package.
  • For most average brews you can just open the package and dump it in. For the brands that have smaller cell counts or you have a larger starting gravity then you need to make a yeast starter.

The Conclusion

You can always buy a ton of dry yeast and keep it in stock when you want to have some on hand for any brew day. 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.

We like to use both and we think every brewer should feel comfortable with using both. In the end, there’s really no difference. In quality both liquid and dry yeast, these days are made with quality in mind first. They both will produce exceptional beer. The old myth that dry yeast doesn’t make great beer is just wrong. So don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Cheers.

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