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Yeast is probably the greatest fungus among us. Without yeast, we wouldn’t have anything delicious. No bread, no wine, no fermented deliciousness, and certainly no beer. What a nightmare that would be. So it’s no wonder that you’re interested in using only the best kind of yeast for your home-brewed concoctions. That leaves you with two main options: dry yeast or liquid yeast.
But which one is better for brewing beer? Are there any notable differences? Let’s talk about dry yeast vs liquid yeast, so you can make the right decision for your brew.
About Dry Yeast
When you think about yeast, you’re probably going to imagine those little packets of active dry yeast you pick up at the grocery store. Dry yeast is extremely common and more readily available for beginner homebrewers. You often find this kind of yeast in beer kits, too. Open a packet of dry yeast, and you will see tiny tan or white granules.
Common brands for dry yeast include:
- Red Star
Both dry and liquid yeast are composed of living organisms. However, through a drying process, those living organisms are frozen in time and made more shelf stable than liquid yeast.
Pros and Cons of Dry Yeast
There are many advantages to choosing dry yeast:
- High cell count. Most brands of dry yeast contain a higher cell count than liquid yeast and can be used for beers and wines that need a starting gravity of 1.065. You can also pitch more packets to create thicker brews.
- Ready to pitch. Dry yeast doesn’t need additional nutrients, as they come in the packet. All you need to do is open the packet, and it’s ready to pitch.
- Inexpensive. The cost of purchasing dry yeast is lower than liquid yeast. Plus, you can keep dry yeast for longer.
- Long shelf life. Dry yeast can last for 3 years on the shelf and are also temperature-resistant.
Now let’s look at some disadvantages:
- Few strain options. Unlike liquid yeast, there are only a few strains of dry yeast available. The reason is the drying process—most strains can’t survive it. However, technology is bringing more innovative strains to the table.
- Poor quality. While this has been proven false as quality rises with newer technology, some people still shy away from dry yeast because they think the quality to be lower. While the chance for getting an expired packet remains, more manufacturers are using only premium strains for their dry yeast.
Using Dry Yeast When Homebrewing
The best way to use dry yeast is based on the instructions on the packaging. That said, there are usually two ways to utilize dry yeast: sprinkle it directly into the brew or rehydrate it first.
If you want to rehydrate the yeast, you need water heated to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C). Simply wait for the yeast to wake up.
Essentially, either process gives you the same result—setting up yeast for fermentation. The rehydration method does introduce a small risk of contamination, since your yeast sits for a while.
What to Know About Liquid Yeast
For a long while, liquid yeast has been considered the best option for homebrewing. There are numerous options to choose from. When purchasing liquid yeast, you either get a vial or a plastic container. Inside is something called yeast slurry, and the best way to describe it is that it’s gunk. Within that goop are billions of yeast cells, waiting to transform your wort into beer.
Common liquid yeast brands include:
- White Labs
If you’ve been homebrewing for some time, you have most likely heard of these brands. They all make various strains of yeast for beers, wines, ciders, spirits, and even sake.
By the way, if you decide to make a yeast starter out of liquid yeast, you can then convert that into dry yeast. It’s a great way to get the strains you want, dry them out, and keep them for longer. Here’s a video explaining how:
Pros and Cons of Liquid Yeast
Is liquid yeast the fungus for you? Here are some of the benefits of using liquid yeast:
- Fresh and healthy. The main benefit of liquid yeast is that you know it’s a fresh, healthy strain. The yeast is active and ready to chow down on sugar.
- Versatile options. Whatever strain you need, there is a liquid yeast available for it. You can find strains that only pro-brewers use, as well as more traditional or region-specific strains, so you can try more challenging recipes.
Here are some of the cons of liquid yeast:
- Expensive. Liquid yeast can be over twice the cost of dry yeast.
- Not resilient. Unlike dry yeast, liquid yeast doesn’t remain viable in certain temperatures. It must be shipped with an ice pack and placed immediately in the refrigerator when you receive it. Most liquid yeast has a shelf life (in the fridge) of 3 months.
- Low cell count. Because of a low cell count, you’re going to have to make a yeast starter. However, there are some brands that jam-pack over 200 billion yeast cells into their slurry.
Using Liquid Yeast For Brewing Beer
As with dry yeast, there are a few ways you can use your liquid yeast. If you purchase a packet of liquid yeast from a brand that advertises higher than average cell counts, you won’t have to do much more than open a package and dump it into the wort.
But if you get a packet with lower cell counts or need a low starting gravity, then you can use liquid yeast to make a yeast starter.
To sum up the similarities and differences between dry and liquid yeast, here is a video:
Dry Yeast vs Liquid Yeast For Attenuation
So, when you look at the fundamentals, dry and liquid yeast look and function very much the same. There is little difference in quality between the two, and they are both relatively easy to use. At this point, you might decide on one over the other, and that’s okay. But there is something you shouldn’t forget to consider: yeast attenuation.
What is Yeast Attenuation?
Good question! Attenuation is defined as the process of a substance becoming thinner or more scarce. In terms of homebrewing, attenuation is when there is a drop in the brew’s specific gravity—the density of the wort that is relative to water.
Beers with more attenuation are stronger and dryer. This is because the yeast did a phenomenal job at transforming sugar into alcohol. When a beer has less attenuation, you get less alcohol and more sweetness.
Most brewers look at attenuation as a yardstick for success. Most available strains of yeast on the market can achieve between a 65% to 85% attenuation. This means that if your beer achieves a 75% attenuation, about ¾ of the sugar in the wort has been converted into alcohol by the yeast.
Why Does Attenuation Matter?
Here’s the rub: If you want to make a delicious brew that brings you to your knees, you can’t forget about yeast attenuation. This is particularly true for high gravity beers, like a Belgian Tripel, or even crisp recipes, like a refreshing summer ale. If you don’t pay attention to attenuation, dry beers aren’t going to be dry, and sweet beers? Well, they’ll be sugar water.
How does this fit into the dry yeast vs liquid yeast debate? You’ll see in a moment.
Apparent and Real Attenuation
Without making this whole discussion more confusing than it should be, there are two things you need to take to heart: apparent attenuation and real attenuation.
Apparent attenuation is dependent on the final gravity. You take a measurement with a hydrometer, calculate the apparent attenuation, and you get a percentage that tells you how well the dry or liquid yeast you used worked.
Real attenuation is more accurate than apparent attenuation, because it measures the exact amount of fermentable sugar in your brew. The measurement is taken in degrees P, which measures the amount of sugars as a weight percentage.
If the thought of doing arithmetic to brew beer bums you out, don’t worry. There is a handy online calculator that can help you figure out attenuation. And if you accidentally toss out the package your yeast came in, you can check the Homebrew Yeast Strains Chart from BYO.
Optionally, you can do the number-magic using the formulas below:
Calculating Apparent Attenuation
Use the formula: (O-F) / (O-1) = Aa
- O = Original Gravity
- F = Final Gravity
- Aa = Apparent Attenuation
Say the original gravity is 1.050 and the final gravity is 1.015, you insert those values into the formula and get 0.7 or 70% attenuation.
Calculating Real Attenuation
This one requires two calculations to get to the final solution. First, use this formula: 0.188O +0.8192F = Re
- O = Original Gravity in degrees Plato
- F = Final Gravity in degrees Plato
- Re = Real Extract
Many hydrometers or calibrated refractometers measure in degrees Plato already, so you should have that reading available.
Let’s say you have two readings, where the O = 13 degrees P and F = 4 degrees P. Using the formula, you get 0.188(13) + 0.8192(4) = 5.7 degrees Plato.
From there, you take the 5.7 degrees P and plug it into your second equation:
1-(Re/O) = RA
- Re = Real Extract (degrees P)
- O = Original Gravity (degrees P)
- RA = Real Attenuation (Percentage)
That means that 1-(5.7/13) = 0.57 or 57%.
It’s a real mental workout, so if you need a beer while you figure all this out, go for it!
Yeast and Diminished Attenuation
So, looking out our numerical examples above, you will see that one gave us a good attenuation rate of 70% while the other was low, at 57%. If you needed an attenuation of 65% for the brew, that 57% could very well mean a ruined beer. How can you fix this?
It really has nothing to do with choosing dry or liquid yeast but more about the strains of yeast you use and the amount of sugar in the wort. Let’s say you go with a liquid yeast that has less than the optimal amount of cells, and you pour it right into the wort. The wort might have far more sugars than the yeast can handle, and so you end up with a sweeter than average beer.
Yeast also needs optimal conditions to function. Too little yeast means the beer won’t reach the ideal final gravity. Too much yeast, and fermentation burns out too quickly. If the temperature fluctuations, the yeast might die before it finishes its job.
So make sure you’re choosing the right kind of yeast for the beer you’re making. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you are using dry yeast or liquid yeast, so long as the yeast is the correct strain for whatever it is you’re making. There are many varieties out there, so do a little research before you become a mad brewing scientist.
Dry Yeast vs Liquid Yeast—Who Wins?
In terms of attenuation, the whole debate between dry yeast vs liquid yeast is pretty moot. Neither form of yeast helps with attenuation. In other words, what you truly need to consider is what kind of yeast is best for your homebrewing style. What strains of yeast are available, the kind of beer you brew, and personal preference matter here.
But in terms of attenuation, as long as you use the right strain and give the yeast time to work, both dry yeast and liquid yeast perform the same. Just remember to make liquid yeast into a yeast starter!
FAQs About Dry Yeast vs Liquid Yeast
Yes, dry yeast is just as good as liquid yeast. While that may not have been true many years ago, technology has changed—as have standards. These days, dry yeast uses the same cell cultures as liquid yeasts, making them equally pure and just as versatile. You can use either form of yeast in your beer recipe and get incredible results.
Liquid yeast is an easy “set it and forget it” way to brew beer. When you are ready to start making your beer, you shake the vial of liquid yeast, leave it to sit at room temperature for a few hours, and then pitch it. There is no need to make a yeast starter with liquid yeast.
The easiest way to transform liquid yeast into dry yeast is to make a yeast starter. After you have a starter, spread it very thin on a sheet of parchment paper and let it dry out. From there, crumble the yeast, wrap it in a plastic bag, and stick it in the freezer. If you want to reconstitute the yeast, simply give it some flour and water and let the yeast sit for a few days at room temperature. You can repeat this process as often as you wish.
Being that dry yeast is much more durable and has a longer shelf-life than liquid yeast, many commercial breweries are using dry yeast. Many craft breweries and home brewers have started using dry yeast more frequently for the same reason.
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