The first home brew shop I walked into in the late ’90s only had two types of generic beer yeast for sale, lager yeast and ale yeast, and both came in the dried form. As if that weren’t bad enough, most packets were out of date (or had no date), so viability was a concern.
Fast forward to today and it’s a tremendously better situation, as home brewers and pro brewers now have access to literally dozens of different yeast strains from many different suppliers, and quality is extremely high. There are also all sorts of new products to help brewers improve efficiency and make better beers.
Beer yeast is a single-celled fungus that metabolizes sugars and produces byproducts such as ethanol, carbon dioxide and various esters and chemicals.
About the time I started home brewing, liquid yeast started to make a greater appearance on the market. It was more expensive than dried yeast and it had to be stored cold, but it fermented beer more thoroughly, it made cleaner beer, and there were more strains available.
Over the years, dried yeast really began to clean up its act, though it still carries the stigma of being less effective than liquid yeast. I’m guilty of feeding into that stigma, as I wouldn’t even consider brewing with dried yeast until just a few years ago. But now I am completely sold on it.
After brewing many batches of beer with dried yeast, I have noticed that my fermentations seem to start just as quickly and run just as vigorously as any liquid yeast I have ever used. Additionally, dried yeast is easier to store (it doesn’t necessarily require refrigeration and it has a longer shelf life than liquid yeast), it ships better (it does not require cold packs), it’s easy to use (it can be easily rehydrated or just sprinkled on the wort), and it’s less expensive than liquid yeast. Whenever I brew high-gravity beers, I often just pitch two packets of dried yeast, which is still less expensive than one pack of liquid yeast.
One negative of dried yeast is that there are not as many strains available, compared to liquid yeast, but that has been changing in recent years, and I foresee more strains becoming available in the future.
A GROWING NUMBER OF YEAST SUPPLIERS
Today there are many yeast suppliers from which to choose. Here are some of them:
Wyeast, located near Hood River, Oregon, offers roughly 40 different ale and lager yeast strains, including Belgian, British, German, American and Irish varieties, plus some specialty strains, including wild yeast blends and bacteria cultures for sour ales and lambics.
Wyeast offers Activator packages that are designed for direct inoculation of 5 gallons of standard gravity wort. The liquid yeast slurry is packaged with a sterile liquid nutrient pouch that, when smacked (hence the nickname “smack packs”), it releases its contents into the yeast slurry and “activates” the package. The available nutrients initiate the culture’s metabolism which in turn generates CO2 and causes swelling of the package. This process will reduce lag times by preparing the yeast for a healthy fermentation prior to inoculation (expansion of the package is an indicator of healthy, viable and vital yeast).