Dry Yeast vs. Liquid Yeast

I know quite a few brewers who view liquid yeast as the “next step”. Their initial learn-to-brew kit, like many others, probably came with dry yeast of some sort and so, obviously, it is the inferior cost-effective product. This is, fortunately, not the case, and dry yeast is a viable option for many brewers that can produce a beer just as good as liquid yeast. Now, thanks to advancements in drying and packing yeast, brewers don’t need to worry about dry yeast being inferior by default, and can decide to use a liquid or dry yeast by weighing the advantages and disadvantages that each have.

Pros and Cons: Dry Yeast

According to Matthew Kunzman of Mr. Malty, the average amount of cells in a dry yeast package is about 20 billion cells per gram. One of the more popular dry yeast strain US-05 (the Chico strain) comes with 11.5 grams of dry yeast, so approximately 230 billion cells. The first advantage of dry yeast is that one package is typically enough for the average 5 gallon batch, with an Ale pitching rate (.75 million cells per mL of wort per degree plato) and an OG of up to 1.065. Second advantage: Price. Not only do you usually only need one package of yeast, those packages are significantly (almost 50% on average) cheaper than a package of liquid yeast. Buying two packages of the yeast for high volumes of beer (or high gravities) is only slightly more expensive than one package of liquid yeast. Third advantage: No starter necessary. Modern dried yeast is packaged with nutrients, and making a starter out of dry yeast can actually deplete these nutrients. It is recommended to re-hydrate the yeast per the producer’s instructions and then pitch. This certainly conserves time and doesn’t require DME, LME, or grain to make starter. One disadvantage, and in my mind the most significant, is the lack of variation. Not all yeasts survive the drying process, or handle it well, and while the number of dry yeasts available to homebrewers has grown over the last few years, liquid yeast has much more variation. Another disadvantage is the need to continuously purchase packets of yeast. So, yes, as far as price goes the initial purchase of dry yeast is cheaper, but if you are using exclusively dry yeast in your brewing then you’ll need to purchase at least one packet for every brew, and that price quickly overtakes the initial cost of liquid yeast and starters.

Pros and Cons: Liquid Yeast

To me there are two major advantages to using liquid yeast: strain variation and the ability to make a starter. By strain variation, I mean the amount of liquid strains of yeast available is far greater than that of dry yeast. If you’re a brewer who is using liquid yeast, the amount of strains available to you is far greater than if you are only using dry yeast. That alone is a significant advantage in brewing an excellent beer to style. That is not to say the dry yeasts cannot make an excellent beer, they absolutely can, but your options for styles are very limited and even within a specific style dry yeasts may not have the characteristics you’re looking for. Another advantage of liquid yeast is the ability to make a starter. When selecting liquid yeast, the two major suppliers are Wyeast and White Labs, and each new package from either of these labs has roughly 100 billion yeast cells in it. For some brews this may be enough, but for many it will not be. With a typical ale pitching rate of .75 million cells per mL of wort per degree plato, assuming a five gallon batch, any OG over 1.028 would be pitching too little. I’m a big believer in proper pitching rates to make consistently great beer, and while you could buy multiple packages of yeast to increase your pitching amount (2 packages should do it for Ales up to 1.057), I’d rather make a starter to ensure my yeast is healthy, happy, and plentiful.

On the note of starters and proper pitching rates, an advantage of liquid starters is the ability to harvest yeast from the starter (Check out this tutorial on Brulosophy) and re-use it for other batches. When making a starter, the calculator at HomeBrewDad.com includes an “overbuild” function, which allows you to easily calculate producing more yeast than necessary so you can harvest some for future starters saving you money. Which hints at a disadvantage, price. At roughly $7 per package, liquid yeast can easily start to become a pricey part of your brew day. If you don’t make starters and you’re buying multiple packages, it can make up almost ¼ to a ½ of the price of your batch. A second disadvantage, liquid yeast does not remain as viable for as long. While I believe that yeast is viable for far longer than conventional knowledge would suggest, yeast viability does depreciate over time and if you aren’t building a yeast starter then that means you’re under-pitching. Depending on where you’re sourcing for yeast and how long you intend to source it, this is a major factor in selecting yeast. I personally would rather use dry yeast and the proper pitching rate than a liquid yeast and an under-pitch.

Should I Use Dry or Liquid Yeast?

The yeast available to homebrewers has come a long way in a short amount of time, and while there may have initially been some truth to the thought that liquid yeast produced a superior beer, that simply is no longer the case. So the answer is genuinely “Whichever you want”, and there is no need to pick a side one way or the other. Looking to use the Chico strain? No reason not to use US-05 for the average batch! Looking for something a little more specific? You’ll probably lean towards a liquid yeast that fits the profile. Both types of yeast have their advantages and disadvantages, and weighing those while choosing a yeast will help you select the best yeast for your brew.

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