We are in a great time in homebrewing history where there are a large range of yeast strains available to us all. For the longest time there wasn’t much more available than a standard dry yeast strain that came with extract beer kits. Times have definitely changed though and there is a large supply of different yeast strains easily available.
So to make a list of “common” yeast strains is quite daunting. While dry yeasts have grown substantially, liquid yeast has also drastically changed the course of home brewing. With the newest liquid yeast strains from Wyeast and White Labs, virtually any beer can be produced with great quality from your own home.
Dry Yeast Strains
Although the available strains of dry yeast is quite vast, the most common strains are still Safale US-05 and US-04.
Safale US-05 is a ready to pitch American ale yeast. It creates a clean and crisp flavor with low diacetyl. Diacetyl is an off flavor that is often compared to buttery or toffee flavors. Diacetyl is desired to a degree in many beers but in light beers, and especially in lagers, it can begin to taste unpleasant.
Safale US-04 is an English Ale yeast that hosts fast fermentation and great flocculation. Flocculation in yeast means it settles easily into sediment. Some liquid yeast for example take longer and sometimes attribute to cloudy ales.
If you want to get something a little different, Nottingham Ale Yeast is also a dry yeast that can be used in a vast range of beer styles and has high flocculation. It’s a little different however as it has low levels of fruity and estery aromas that add a touch of complexity to your ale.
These three ale yeasts are all great because they are great at fermenting and produce a crisp, clean tasting ale. They are also quite inexpensive running around $1.99 per packet which will ferment a five gallon batch of wort.
Liquid Yeast Strains
Due to the huge range of options, the choice of liquid yeast is one of the more daunting choices a home brewer can make. There are just so many to choose from that picking the one that will work best in your beer that most new brewers just stick with dry yeasts. At the same time, liquid yeast really opens the doors for those brewers that want to advance through the hobby.
All strains have specific flocculation, attenuation, esters, and temperature requirements. One of my personal favorites is White Labs California Ale Yeast. This yeast is similar to the dry yeasts as it is very clean and it can be used in a large range of beer styles. It also has the ability to accentuate the hop flavors in beers so it is great for IPAs and Double IPAs.
The one downfall of liquid yeast is that it does have a short shelf life compared to dry yeast. Liquid yeast can typically be stored in the fridge safely for up to a year. It is also always recommended to use a yeast starter with liquid yeast. Doing this gives the yeast a head start and ensures it is viable. These yeasts are a bit more expensive ranging between $7 and $15 per vial that will ferment a five gallon batch of beer.
So now you know that the next time you go to make a batch of beer you have an important decision ahead of you. What kind of yeast will you use to ferment your beer? There is an excess of choices and honestly there is no right or wrong choice. The above choices are only a few of the options on the market right now and all will produce a great ale. The best thing to do is chose the style of beer you want to make and then match the style with an available yeast.
If the price of the liquid yeast scares you off at all just remember that all yeast can be washed and reused after fermentation is over. By doing this, you can have a near endless supply of your favorite yeast but we will cover that another time. Until then, happy brewing.