Distillers vs. Bakers vs. Brewers Yeast

By Bradley Newell

Most of us know that yeast is important: it converts sugar into alcohol, and it adds flavor congeners to the ferment. It’s also the start of the alcohol production process, whether you’re making spirits, beer, or wine. If you don’t have a proper yeast fermentation, you’re not making any kind of adult beverage. But what yeast is the best yeast for distilling? There are several strains or types of yeast. They all have unique metabolisms and may need certain conditions to thrive and digest the sugars to yield different flavors. Let’s dig in.

Types of Yeast

There are many different types of yeast. Most types are varieties of a species of yeast called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, and while they have a lot in common, they can behave very differently from one another. It can seem a little counterintuitive for one species to be so diverse, but a good analogy is to think about the different varieties of apples and how different they can be. All yeasts need similar nutrients, but some can tolerate more heat, some can convert the sugar into alcohol more quickly, and some can handle higher ABV. A major consideration is the amount of nutrients that you pitch in with the yeast and how that can affect the flavor in the ferment. Ideally, all the nutrients will be consumed by the yeast, but there are times when that doesn’t happen or the fermentation process gets stuck and you get an incomplete conversion of sugar to ethanol. This can be catastrophic for beer production, but when you’re making spirits, you have additional processing steps that may or may not remove some of the off-putting flavors. 

Yeast needs to be in its “Goldilocks zone”, where it’s not too hot or too cold for the yeast to do its thing. Too cold and the yeast goes dormant. Too hot, and they’ll be killed off. Most yeast thrives at temperatures above 65°F and below 80°F, but each variety has a different sweet spot. There are some strains of yeast that can survive outside this temperature range, but this is where most varieties are happy. Even if a yeast can technically survive in a temperature range, it doesn’t mean that it’s happy there or that it will provide you with the best flavors. Always make sure to check your supplier’s recommendations on optimal temperatures for the yeast varieties you’re using. 

Distillers Yeast: The Best Yeast for Distilling?

Most distillers yeast is selected to make a high ABV ferment in as short a time as possible. These types of yeast tend to be relatively inexpensive options, and many people claim that they’re the best yeast for distilling. Turbo yeast is a type of distillers yeast that boasts fast fermentation times and high alcohol tolerance all packaged together with a premeasured dose of nutrients. This is a great way to take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation, since everything you need is in one package. Be warned though, if your fermentation doesn’t completely consume the yeast nutrients, then it can leave some unwanted flavors behind. Distillers yeast tends to give a more neutral flavor than some other types of yeast, so it may be worth playing with different varieties to find the best fit for the flavor profile you’re looking for, if you’re looking to make more complex spirits.

Distillers Yeast vs. Bakers Yeast vs. Brewers Yeast: How to Choose

Just like all things craft, there’s more than one way to make a high-quality product. Distillers yeast isn’t the only kind of yeast out there, and different types of yeast offer different characteristics that you may want to take advantage of. Brewers yeast, or wine yeast, tends to add more flavor vs. distillers yeast, and this makes a lot of sense. Beer and wine are enjoyed without the extra separation steps that distilled spirits go through, so the yeast used needs to be able to make a good quality product without adding anything unwanted to the system. Bakers yeast is somewhat similar in that it is selected to provide flavor and not for surviving with higher ABV or fast conversion of alcohol. This means that comparing distillers yeast vs. bakers yeast (or any other kind of yeast) can present the distiller with a tough choice. The yeast selected for the flavor it adds generally doesn’t create as high an ABV, but the higher ABV yeasts can be very neutral or even off-putting in flavor. 

Ultimately, it’s up to the artist to select a color scheme and the distiller to select a preferred variety of yeast. There are pluses and minuses to each type of yeast, so the best yeast for distilling is really the one that works the best for you and your process. Distillers yeast may be perfect for a neutral spirit like vodka, while other kinds of yeast may be better for brandy or whiskey. Whether you prefer distillers yeast vs. bakers yeast or any other variety, making the spirit that you want to make means doing your research and knowing the right conditions and nutrition needed to get the most out of your ferment. That will help you make the best possible product.

> Need help choosing the right equipment for your distillery? Contact the team at StillDragon today.