When I first started homebrewing I was under the impression that dry yeast was inferior to liquid yeast. Why? I have no idea. I think it had something to do with the fact that I was a better brewer in general when I switched over to using liquid yeasts, so my association with better beer pointed to liquid form. That being said, dry yeast tends to carry a stigma about it since it used to be an inferior product. Dry yeast has come a long way in the past several years and also has more options than it used to.
Dry yeast can in fact produce just as good of a final product as liquid yeast. Depending on your needs and the style of beer you’re brewing, one option may make more sense than the other. There are some advantages and disadvantages to each form, so I will dive into those details at a high level below.
Dry yeast is much more durable than liquid yeast. It has a longer shelf life (some up to 3 years) and doesn’t require refrigeration. Dry yeast ships easier without the need for ice packs, reducing the risk of decreased viability due to travel. An 11-gram packet of dry yeast is packaged with nutrients and contains double the cell count as a typical pack of liquid yeast. This makes it a much more affordable option, especially for higher gravity batches.
Because of the higher cell count in dry yeast (200 billion dry vs 100 billion liquid), it doesn’t require a yeast starter and can be pitched directly into wort with no prep or fuss. What’s the catch? Dry least is limited to a smaller variety of stains, meaning specialty strains used in a lot of commercial beers are most likely found in liquid form only. I would say this is the biggest drawback and why I usually opt for liquid yeast.
Dry yeast can also be more easily blended for creating unique profiles. Liquid yeast is much harder to measure and probably won’t be as repeatable if you get killer results.
Liquid yeast requires some additional steps and storage requirements but is available in a much wider variety of styles. This is why liquid yeast is the preferred choice for commercial breweries. This will give you the ability to try to clone or match commercial styles as most are readily available to homebrewers. Wyeast smack packs are a great way of testing yeast viability before pitching and can also give you a little bit of a head start on fermentation.
Liquid yeast on the other hand is a more sensitive product as it has a shorter shelf life (about 3 months) and must be kept cold to remain fresh and viable. Most liquid yeast packs max out at 100 billion cells per package, meaning they usually require a yeast starter to increase the cell count before pitching wort with an OG 1.060 or higher. Underpitching should only be left to highly experienced brewers, so I always err on the side of making a yeast starter.
The alternative to a yeast starter is to pitch two packets of liquid yeast, but this is not sustainable and will get pricey real fast.
Direct Pitch Liquid Yeast
There are a few liquid yeast providers on the market that pack 200 billion cells into a single pouch (a two-pack or dry yeast equivalent), meaning you can direct pitch right into your wort without the need of a starter. They are more affordable than pitching two standard liquid pouches and come with the same ease of using dry yeast.
If you’re new to homebrewing, dry yeast is the best way to start. It will eliminate extra variables and will give you a better chance of a strong fermentation with less room for error. If you have a batch of beer that’s well suited for an available dry strand, I’d stick with it. If you want to match a commercial style or would like more diverse choices, look to liquid yeast.