Dry Yeast vs. Liquid Yeast: Which Is Better for Brewing?

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

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

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.

Imperial Yeast is one to look out for. Their A38 Juice is high on my list of yeasts to try for NEIPAs. Another option is GigaYeast’s double pitch packs.

My Recommendation

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.

One thought on “Dry Yeast vs. Liquid Yeast: Which Is Better for Brewing?

  1. There are so many specialty dry yeast strains available now that I can no longer justify going back to buying liquid yeast anymore. Just look at morebeer.com, there is a dry yeast strain available for almost any beer style.

    Dry yeast costs half as much as liquid yeast, can be re-pitched and cultured like liquid yeast. $3-4 versus $8 is a big difference in price. The last liquid yeast I purchased from White labs had a 3 day lag phase and it was fresh.
    I am not happy with White labs anymore, they used to sell their strains in pitchable tubes that I could open under sterile conditions easily, make glycerol stocks stored at -80 and even streak out. I then kept the tube in the fridge until it expired. I had an unlimited supply.

    Now the stupid tubes suck and it is way to thin. Before, the whole tube was like greek yogurt consistency, now it is more like milk. Having worked with yeast for over 20 years in a lab setting, the counts are about 3-5x lower than when they used pitchable tubes. So you are paying 2x the price for 3-5x less yeast, so the price went up 6-10x. The price of dry yeast went up from $1 to $3-$4, half the price increase.

    Dry yeast performs better, I can use Weihenstephaner dry yeast or beligain wit dry strains, get faster fermentation and less off-flavors for direct pitching.

    Honestly, if the liquid yeast companies don’t adapt to dry yeast, they have a shrinking market ahead. 20 years ago all my brewing buddies used liquid yeast, now, I was the only holdout until my bad experience with white labs. Now, I see no reason to ever go back. Prove me wrong

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