Liquid Yeast Vs. Dry Yeast: Which Is Better?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions by customers to us at Escarpment Labs. So we think it is important to explain the differences between liquid yeast versus dry yeast to help guide you toward the right choice.  
So, what is the difference between liquid yeast and dry yeast?  

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Selection: Many yeasts either can't be dried successfully, or are too niche to be produced in massive dry yeast facilities. This means that many interesting yeasts are not available in dry format. Liquid yeast production is more flexible, scaleable, and accommodates a wider range of yeast strains.

Advantage: Liquid Yeast.

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Value: If you're not repitching, dry yeast is better value. However, it only takes a few generations of repitching for liquid yeast to pay off, and liquid yeast tends to repitch better. Learn more about repitching here! 

Advantage: Neither (depends on repitching). 

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Flavour: Dry yeasts tend to be slightly more neutral than their liquid yeast equivalents.

Advantage: Liquid Yeast. 

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Ease of Use: Both can be very easy to use if it is a high quality yeast source and fresh. Sometimes dry yeast requires rehydration, and sometimes liquid yeast requires a starter.

Advantage: Dry Yeast (due to shelf stability). 

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Nutrient Requirements: Dry yeasts often have sterols built in, reducing the need for oxygen. Liquid yeasts often need specific amounts of oxygen. Both have the same micronutrient/FAN requirements.

Advantage: Dry Yeast. 

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Pitch Rate: Liquid yeast offers a precise pitch rate while dry yeast is more of a "you get however much survived the drying process". This makes calculating pitch rates a bit easier for liquid yeasts.

Advantage: Liquid Yeast. 

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Fermentation Speed: Both dry and liquid yeasts can be used for a successful fermentation with short lag time and achieving final gravity within 1 week. However we find that the same strain in liquid format will lag slightly less and finish slightly faster than in dry format.

Advantage: Liquid Yeast. 

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Freshness and Shelf Life: Dry yeast has a longer shelf life but liquid yeast is on average fresher when you get it. However, liquid yeast has a shorter shelf life and needs to be used faster. Many brewers keep both on hand for this reason, with dry yeast acting as a "rescue pitch" for emergencies.


Advantage: Neither. 

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Quality Control & Repitching: Liquid yeast usually has a more sensitive threshold for detection of contaminants. Brewers usually get more generations out of liquid yeast pitches. 

Advantage: Liquid Yeast. 

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Shipping: Liquid yeast requires cold express shipping with ice packs. Dry yeast is more tolerant of temperature swings, so it can tolerate slower and less temperature controlled conditions.

Advantage: Dry Yeast. 
 

Curious to learn more and dive into the details? Read on below! 


Value 

Let's assume a brewer is making 10 hL of beer (approx 8 bbl). Based on manufacturer recommendations, a fresh liquid yeast pitch will cost approximately $420 CAD. A dry yeast pitch assuming the same pitch rate as liquid would be 2x500g bricks for most strains. This would cost between $125-$420 depending on dry yeast manufacturer and product. The table below shows the cost per brew based on repitching of liquid yeast. It is clear that repitching liquid yeast offers the best value to the brewer. 


Liquid Yeast Cost Per Batch (Assuming 10hL batch)

Number of Generations/Brews Cost Per Batch
1 $504
2 $252
3 $168
4 $126
5 $100.80
6 $84
10 $50.40


This analysis puts the break-even point for liquid vs. dry yeast at somewhere between 2-3 reuses. Not sure how to repitch? We will help you!

To calculate yeast costs for your own brewery, you just need to divide the up front yeast cost by the number of generations you repitch. If you're able to repitch even a handful of generations, liquid yeast can be a better value than dry yeast. 

Liquid yeast can be stored for up to 3 weeks without issue, and some strains can go longer. However, we acknowledge that some strains aren't used frequently enough in the brewery to be repitched, in which case dry yeast can make sense. 

 

Pitch Rate 

Simply put, you will get a more precise pitch rate with liquid yeast. Most liquid yeast manufacturers target a specific pitch rate for all outgoing orders, and may adjust pitch rates based on strain and category. For example, our pitch rates vary between 7-15 million cells/mL depending on strain. Since it is liquid yeast, we can use liquid to adjust the density and ensure the same cell count with every packaging run or custom order. 

With dry yeast, the viable cell count is more of a "you get what you get" situation. This is because the same amount of dry yeast is always getting packaged (e.g. into 11g or 500g units) even if different strains have different viability or cell density. This can mean that some products are lower cell density (e.g. 7 billion cells/g) and some are higher cell density (we've seen as high as 20 billion cells/g for dry yeast).

This means that some 500g bricks of dry yeast may contain 10 trillion cells while others contain 3.5 trillion cells, although it tends to be consistent within the same strain from batch to batch. This isn't a bad thing but it's important to keep in mind that some strains might require doubling up on dry yeast packs to achieve the equivalent pitch rate as liquid yeast.
 

Freshness and Shelf Life 

Dry yeast has a longer shelf life than liquid yeast, which makes it easier to keep in reserve for emergency brews. In contrast, liquid yeast has a shorter shelf life which means that most liquid yeast is fresher than dry yeast. When used fresh, liquid yeast can show performance benefits over dry yeast. 

 

Quality and Repitching 

One of the key benefits of liquid yeast is that it can be repitched (reused), often for many generations. This is due to a combination of excellent viability and a high standard for quality control. Our liquid yeast products are screened for contaminants at a level of 1 cell in 10^7 (100000000) yeast cells using agar plating and qPCR. At best for dry yeast, we've seen a threshold of 1 contaminant cell in 10^6 yeast cells (10x lower) and most dry yeast products have a standard of 1 contaminant cell in 10^5 yeast cells (100x lower). 

The viability standard for dry yeast and liquid yeast is also quite different. We set our viability target for liquid yeast at >95% viability, with many batches leaving the door at >99%. For dry yeast, we've seen ranges anywhere from 40-90% viability with most products around 60-70% viability. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the dead yeast can provide nutrients for the viable yeast. However, this can impact the pitch rate of dry yeast. 

This doesn't mean that dry yeast is bad or contaminated, it just means we need to have different expectations when using it. We recommend not repitching or reducing the number of generations when using dry yeast in order to ensure reproducible results and avoid any risk of contamination in the brewery. This is in contrast to liquid yeast, where we've seen brewers regularly get to 10+ generations on liquid yeast without any performance variability or contamination. 

 

Will Escarpment Labs ever have dry yeast options? 

We are not staunchly anti-dry yeast. Dry yeast has many use cases including as a "rescue pitch", as an option for one-offs when liquid yeast is too expensive, and can ship further and wider without worries about customs and perishability. As such we're open to exploring our options ;-) 

One of the limitations is that many strains that are available as liquid yeast are not very compatible with the drying process. As an example, lager yeasts and some English ale yeasts are quite tricky to dry with a high viability. However there are also some easier options such as Norwegian Kveik which is traditionally maintained by drying. 

In fact, we even experimented with drying our Hornindal Kveik strain using a semi-traditional method, and made it available to brewers in the MBAA District Ontario Iron Brewer competition, where beers fermented with the dry Hornindal took the #1 and #2 spots in the judging.

Are you STILL curious to learn more? Check out our Knowledge Base which contains tons of useful yeast information from our experts.