A small flask of freshly rehydrated dry yeast.

Liquid yeast: why do I even bother?

The rising costs of ingredients is not just something professional brewers are struggling with, homebrewers also notice the price increases. And ironically, the ingredient that is the smallest by weight is often the most expensive one: yeast.

When I started homebrewing over 10 years ago, dry yeasts were still considered kind of inferior, with a relatively small choice in yeast strains compared to nowadays, they were thought of as sub-standards products because cold chains weren’t considered as crucial as with liquid yeast, and there was a general association with “that homebrew flavour”, probably also because of improper storage.

Liquid yeast on the other hand was thought to be the gold standard, with a large variety in strains, all with their own unique, interesting flavours and aromas that would give homebrewers a key ingredient to push their beer from lackluster to amazing.

It’s March 2024, and I spent €11.49 on a pack of liquid yeast, allegedly the Pilsner Urquell “D” strain, for which I had to create a starter using malt extract to multiply its cell count and improve its vitality. What really happened though was that the yeast was dead, completely dead, and I only noticed it when the starter did not elicit any fermentation activity whatsoever after more than 24 hours on the stir plate.

Instead, I had to resort to my backup plan and rehydrated and pitched two sachets of W-34/70, probably the most widespread bottom-fermenting yeast strain these days. Full disclosure: I got these two sachets for free from a friend who in turn had gotten them at BrauBeviale last December, but if I had had to buy it myself, it would have cost me €9.98. Not much cheaper, but a lot less hassle, because that W-34/70 was rehydrated and noticeably very active in less than 40 minutes, and after pitching it got past the lag phase in something like 24 to 32 hours (no signs of CO2 production at 24 hours, but happily burping away at 32 hours after the pitch).

Now why do I even bother? In the last 5 years of homebrewing, I’ve been mostly brewing bottom-fermented beers, I tried out a number of dry yeast strains, and they were good, with maybe one exception that I found a bit too fruity (and that is a common criticism). Thinking back about all the different bottom-fermenting liquid yeast strains that I used, there was only one that really stood out, and that was Wyeast 2001 (allegedly the Pilsner Urquell “H” strain) due to its very prominent diacetyl note (perfect for a Pilsner Urquell clone). All the others produced beers where the yeast character was just a standard neutral, bottom-fermented flavour, i.e. not much at all.

Every time I picked a specific yeast strain, I chose it for some expected specific flavour element, or “authenticity”, because clearly, a Czech style requires a Czech yeast strain, no? Really, actually, no. One thing I learned in the last few years was that there is so little difference in the yeast strains, you just won’t taste the difference. My Czech Dark Lager, probably the best beer I ever brewed, was fermented with harvested yeast from a German industrial brewery in its 2022 version, and with Fermentis S-189 in its 2023 version, both of them decidedly not Czech yeast strains, and yet both batches tasted exactly like a Czech beer.

So why should I bother about liquid yeast? I probably shouldn’t. The dry yeast strains I’ve had the most success with were Fermentis W-34/70 (a yeast strain is basically an industry standard in its own right, given how ubiquitous it is), Fermentis S-189 (I couldn’t even describe the differences of it to W-34/70, because they absolutely miniscule), and LalBrew Diamond (again, very similar to the others). Fermentis S-23 is also popular, but I found it a bit too fruity, so not exactly my favourite.

With that many similarities, it all boils down to personal preference and maybe price. At my homebrew store of choice, an 11g sachet of LalBrew Diamond costs €4.14, while 11.5g sachets of Fermentis S-189, W-34/70 and S-23 are sold for €4.83, 4.99 and €4.49, respectively. In my experience, two sachets are usually enough for a 20 liter batch of normal-strength beer.

After the frustrating experience with liquid yeast last weekend, I decided for myself that I simply won’t bother with it anymore. Should I ever have the urge of using a pack of liquid yeast, you will definitely hear about it here.

5 thoughts on “Liquid yeast: why do I even bother?”

  1. I have, by and large, given up on liquid yeast as well – kind of ironic to say that as the Vienna Lager I am kegging today was fermented with Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager, though only a single smack pack and no starter, I never bother with starters.

    In my top fermented beers I routinely use Safale S-04 regardless of style, other than when I was making a faux lager in the summer where I wanted a really clean ferment and didn’t have temperature control and I’d use Safale US-05.

    The kellerbier I brewed earlier this year was fermented with two packets of 34/70, just tipped into the fermenter without rehydration, and it performed perfectly.

    Now that I have temperature control for cool fermentation and lagering, this summer will see me using a lot more of 34/70 as I work on mastering decoction mashing…

  2. I had an almost identical experience (and rant) a couple of weeks ago. Wyeast 2278 and no activity at all in the starter. I even postponed my brewday from Saturday to Sunday and it was still completely dead another 24 hours later.
    Lesson learned: always have plenty W-34/70 in the fridge!

    1. the rising costs of liquid yeast is indeed a problem. Paying so much money for dead yeast strains is a no go. I’ve never understood, why many home brewers think dry yeast isn’t that good. Used dry yeast from Day 1 as a home brewer.

      In your opinion “you just won’t taste the difference” using different liquid strains. Don’t think so. In “vienna lager” you recommend WLP820 for an old style Vienna Lager. And you’re 100% right. It became my favorite yeast strain and a different beer, if you ferment it with the W34/70. The Andechser yeast produces a much more malty taste in the beer than the Augustiner yeast…etc.
      After the frustrating experience with liquid yeast I would choice the dry yeast as well. The main point I Prüfer dry yeast over the liquid one is the extended shelf life of dry yeast. When you don’t brew that often dry yeast is the way to go.

      1. You are right, I oversimplified things a bit for the sake of a good rant. WLP820 indeed makes a difference, mainly due to its poor attenuation. I did try the WLP833 (supposedly the Ayinger strain) a few years ago, and didn’t get any specific or unique character from it. That’s what I meant to say: if it requires a very conscious, careful tasting to discern any differences between strains, while any noticeable unique yeast character could be easily covered up by a single specialty malt or even too much bitterness depending on the style, then there is little to no practical difference between strains.

  3. Of course, the poor attenuation is the main reason for the different taste. Like most Copenhagen strains with higher attenuation than the rest. But for many strains you are right. As you wrote, dry hop your beer or use specialty malt and there will be no big difference left. You probably know this article https://braumagazin.de/article/ende-der-neutralitaet/ For me, the W34/70 is no option anymore. But nowadays there are enough other dry yeast strains to choice from. But nothing beats our Schwechat Vienna lager from the book, made of Hana Vienna malt, decoction and the WLP820. Best beer I ever brewed.

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