↠ Brewing with yeast (how to get a rise out of your beer)

brewing with yeast

The year was 1836 when Baron Charles Cagniard de la Tour, a French engineer and physicist proved that yeast were living organisms, totally changing the paradigm that yeast were not chemical substances.

De La Tour was the first to postulate that yeast was the cause of alcohol and CO2 production.

And ever since then, yeast has been king when it comes to beer.

In this post, we cover a range of brewing matters that involve yeast. First up is the basic question of:

What is yeast?

Yeast is a single cell microorganism and it's actually technically a fungi.

While there are many varieties of yeast, the one's brewers typically use, ale and lager yeasts are members of the family Saccharymyces Cerevisiae.

If you don't use yeast when making beer, you do not get fermentation occurring.

No yeast, no booze.

That said, you don't just 'add yeast' to your beer like you would adding flour to a cake batter. Like most elements of making a good beer, there are all kinds of things that need to go right with the yeast for a beer to be a good drop. 

What is the difference between an ale and lager yeast?

Ales are known as “top fermenting” due to the yeast layer that forms at the top of the fermenter. Lager yeasts are called “bottom fermenting” as, you guessed it, they ferment at the bottom. 

Ale yeasts will best ferment in the range of 10-25 centigrade and produce beers high in esters and often lower in attenuation. These are both distinctive and desired characteristic of ales.  

Lagers ferment in the colder range of range from 7-15C and produce a cleaner beer with lower esters.

Woah Nelly, it's getting hot in here!

Yeast is, as De La Tour proved, a living thing so it needs to be treated right. And the first thing we should talk about is correct brewing temperature.
That’s why pitching your yeast is more than simply adding it to your beer – it needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly.

The short version is if you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur.

For this reason, only add the yeast to the fermenter when you have filled it to the 23 litre mark with a lot of cold water. If you are aiming to get the yeast going at the suggested range, let it warm in the sun a bit. You can take its temperature using a thermometer and you are good to do.

How to re-hydrate your yeast before you pitch it

A handy method that many earnest brewers follow is to hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the yeast a good chance to get started properly before it comes into contact with the sugars.
Rehydrating yeast in a glass

The theory at play is that the concentration of sugars in the wort can mean it is difficult for the yeast to absorb water into its membranes so that they can begin to activate/metabolize and thus commence the fermentation process

Based on that, I imagine that if you have made a high gravity wort that's full of sugar and other fermentables like DME for the yeast to eat, hydration is a good step to take.

In my experience I’ve never had the yeast fail with a simple beer kit but if you are keen to cut the potential problem out, feel free to re-hydrate your yeast. 

The professional way to this is by boiling some water and letting it cool. You can then add your yeast packet (or two!) to the water and let it begin to absorb – you shouldn’t do this too far apart from when it is time to pitch the yeast. You can even add some sugar if you are super keen.

Cover and leave for about 15 minutes and then inspect. It should have begun to smell like you are making bread and 'bubbled' a bit (see the above picture). If so, it’s ready to be pitched.

Once you've added the yeast to the wort, there will likely be some left in the glass - I have a 'waste not want not' kind of view so I add some water to the glass, give it a swirl and add it to the yeast as well.

What is attenuation?

In the context of beer brewing, attenuation is the percentage that measures the conversion of sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the fermentation process.

Well-attenuated beer will have a drier characteristic and have a greater competent of alcohol than a less attenuated beer.

Brewers measure attenuation because it is an indicator of yeast health and because specific attenuation levels are important for certain styles of beer. For example, if a beer does not attenuate to the expected level in fermentation will have more residual sugar and will thus be sweeter and heavier-bodied than planned.

The brewer would then investigate that the yeast was up to the performance level required or that it was used under correct brewing practices (such as appropriate temperature).

The typical values for attenuation percentages are:

  • Low: 72 percent and lower 
  • Medium: 73 to 77 percent 
  • High: 78 percent and upwards

How do I work out my attenuation rate?

You'll need to take readings with your hydrometer to determine your rate of attenuation. You then use this formula:

(original gravity - current gravity) / (original gravity - 1)

This will work out the 'apparent attenuation'. Remember to use your BEDMAS.


So the selection considerations of your yeast should reflect on what kind of beer you wish to brew. If you are making an ale, you'll want to choose a yeast that produces a lower rate of attenuation.

Brewers regularly use the following yeasts with ales

Safale 04, WLP002 English, Danstar Windsor, Wyeast 1099.

For a lager yeast which will cause a higher rate of attenuation, you could try:

Saflager W34, White Lab's WLP925, Bock Lager

Saccharomyces cerevisiae beer yeast cells

Using old yeast can affect the performance of the yeast

Facts are facts, you need enough yeast to get all the sugars and other fermentables in the wort. 

If the yeast in your packet or vial is only half healthy, then you'll need to find that extra 50 percent from somewhere as the amount of yeast in the packet is measured out so the standard 23 liter brew can be properly fermented.

So basically, if you're using old, tired yeast, you might need to compensate for that by using two packets. Which is in effect adding an extra cost to your brew.

Many modern’s brewing recipes take the view that you are pitching fresh yeast and even further, that the yeast has been prepared in nutrient rich yeast starter.

If you 'under pitch' your viable yeast then it's quite likely your yeast will be under pressure to perform and you will get a low rate of attentuation - which this will alter the intended characteristics of the beer you are trying to make.

So, the lesson here, as for most things in life (like hops), fresh is best!

Can I use baking yeast to ferment beer?

Many craft brewers would probably shudder violently at the suggestion of using a yeast that's normally used to make bread.

The truth is, you can baking yeast for brewing, as both yeasts (beer and baking) are different strains of the same species, saccharomyces cerevisiae.

You'd being doing yourself a service to ask 'what is the difference between baker's yeast and brewer's yeast?'

The difference between the two kinds of yeasts lies in the history of their cultivation.

Each has been grown for the attributes they bring to the final product. In the case of beer yeast, the popular strains have been cultivated for hundreds of years to hone their specific attributes being the beer flavor produced, attenuation, and consistency.

Beer yeast will flocculate better than baker's yeast. When brewers yeast nears the end of fermentation, single cells aggregate into clumps of thousands of cells (flocculation), and drop to the bottom of the fermentor, leaving clear beer behind. Baker's yeast is not as flocculant.

Beer yeast that floccuates well will contribute to having clear beer.

A good way to look at the difference is that brewer's yeast was bred to produce more alcohol and less carbon dioxide while baker's yeast was bred to make more CO2 and less alcohol.

So be warned - using a baking yeast in place of a brewing yeast is like driving a Ford and expecting to drive like a Ferrari!

Using a yeast starter to increase the viability of the yeast

For complete fermentation to occur, the yeast cells need to begin to reproduce at an optimum rate. Temperature plays a vital role in the rate at which this can occur. The choice of beer style can run counter to allowing this. We're basically taking lagers here.

If you are brewing a lager, you'll know from above that it best ferments at a temperature range lower than an ale at 7 - 15 centigrade. That cooler temperature can impede the performance of the yeast.

While you could simply add even more yeast, that again costs money, so enter the use of a yeast starter. The idea is to develop a ready culture of yeast that can be used to carry out the fermentation of wort into clean beer.

A properly prepared yeast starter will have enough cells in it to do the required job, meaning the cold temperature should not impede the yeast.

So how do you make a yeast starter?

You follow the sage advice of John Palmer. At the very least, if you are using dry yeast, you should add it to a class of warm water and a little bit of sugar about an hour before you are ready to pitch it into your yeast.

When yeast might need a helping hand at the end of fermentation

As a round of a difficult fermentation draws to an end (temperature variance, over saturated wort), you may need to rouse the yeast convince it to finish the fermentation. If your fermentation is not quite at the desired final gravity and it seems to have stalled then there's a simple trick to do.

Stir the beer few times gently. This will cause the yeast that may the fallen to the bottom, to re-integrate with the wort again and find some new sugars to eat. This trick works best when fermentation is occurring at the higher end of the yeast's operating tolerance.

If you're brewing environment is too cold, you may need to warm the wort and then stir.

Be careful not to aerate your beer or add nutrients if your fermentation is nearly done.

What is the shelf life of yeast?

Dry packet yeast, if stored properly, have a fairly long shelf life. I've seen punter say it will last upwards of a year or even two when stored in the fridge.

Dry yeast certainly loses viability over time so if you are using an older yeast, beer in mind that you might need to account for that by pitching an extra amount.

This is why many brewers would recommend that you do not use the yeast packet that comes with a beer kit as you don't know how long it has been sitting around. That said, I've been using kit yeasts for years and never had a problem. That said (II), when I have used Safale 05 it felt like the batch started fermenting furiously fast from the get go.

Liquid yeast is another story. Results may vary - many liquid yeasts come with the recommendation that they be used within three months date of their first shipping from the manufacturer but they can keep pretty well for 6 months in the fridge.

The better stored the yeast is, the longer it will remain viable

It is very common to use prepare a liquid yeast by way of a yeast starter. Even packets and vials where there are very few viable cells can be revived and multiplied with a well made yeast starter.

The loose rule of thumb then is that dry yeast has a shelf life of 2 years and liquid yeast 6 but you need to try and factor in the decay rate of the yeast.

If in doubt, make test the yeast with some water and sugar or make a starter.

Can I pitch multiple yeast strains?

Yes, you can mix the strains of yeast. You will get a mix of the properties of each yeast which will have an impact on the flavour of the beer. Where large commercial brewers are basically making lagers like Heineken, they are not focused on getting flavor combinations from yeast.

 Craft brewers, who by nature are 'taste explorers', readily seek out new flavors by mixing up their yeast or combinations.

Their quest for flavorful ales, wheat beers, Belgian beers, and strong beers has led them to mix things up.

The mixed yeasts do not compete over each other, they each simply go about fermenting. Given yeast imparts is flavour into the beer in the first 36 hours, each yeast should be added at the same time.

If you are trying to fix an issue of low attenuation by adding more yeast, then by all means you can add more yeast as little flavour will added to the brew at that late stage.

Yeast tolerance to alcohol

You might think it odd given yeast makes alcohol that you have to account for the alcohol produced.
A yeast strain can tolerate only so much of it before it stops working. Over the centuries yeasts have been studied and cultivated and beaten into submission so much so that there a plenty of strains that can handle high solutions of alcohol.

Such yeasts are desired to that they are able to fully ferment what's offered in the wort. There's simply no reason to let a beer be half fermented is there? So chosing a yeast that can handle the ABV of the beer you intend to brew is a no brainer.

Many yeasts do fine in the 3 - 5 per cent range, many Belgian yeasts get found out at 8 percent. A few hardy nuggets can go beyond 10.

 When going beyond 8 per cent, beers need a bit of extra love. Extra nutrients may be required, a high concentration of pitching yeast than normal should be used, the yeast should rousing, and warmer temperatures will help get the yeast ticking over.

If you are keen on brewing very high ABV beer, you'll need to appreciate that such beers may taste quite sweet or they can even become unpalatable.

⇒ How to increase the alcohol content of home brew beer (without becoming a drunk)

Increasing alcohol content of your homebrew beer

How can I increase the alcohol content of my beer?

Did you ever see the movie Men in Black?

It featured the wonderful Vincent D'Onofrio as an alien that loved sugar.

And lots of it.

That's basically the answer on how to increase the alcohol content of your beer.

You add sugar.

And lots of it.

At the surface, that's a very easy thing to do but the reality that it's quite a nuanced thing.

Like baking a cake, straying from the recipe can radically change the body and taste of the cake, and doing that with sugar can produce some changes to your beer that you might not want.

In the beer realm, the phrase 'Alcohol By Volume' is used to measure alcohol content. As in that is, what is the percentage of 'alcohol by volume' of the total beer.

Commonly shortened to ABV, the question becomes how do I raise the ABV of my beer by adding sugars?

What can I add to my beer kit to get a higher ABV?

Here's a basic ingredient list:

Using extra DME  or LME for increased ABV

Some brewers will use extra dry malt extract as their sugar source.

As a rough guide, an extra pound or 1/2 kg of DME or LME on top of your recipe requirements will add an extra half percent to your beer. Doubling that will give you an extra whole percent.


Using a malt extract will more than increase the overall body of the beer, produce a higher finishing gravity or offer a more malty finish.  You might also experience a reduction in hop bitterness.

Adding extra sugars

Using additional sugars such as corn sugar (dextrose), table sugar, and brown sugar will all help to boost and increase the beer's ABV.

These sugars do intend to make a beer taste drier and thin out the body and mouthfeel of the beer.

You may also be able to taste more bitterness in any added hops.

Maple syrup, golden syrup and lollies like jelly beans can also be used but they will all influence the taste of your beer.

Of course, if you've ever tried an 8 percent commercial beer such as King Fisher or Elephant, you may have noted how sweet most of those beers are.

Using these sugars may also lighten the color of your beer.

Using honey to increase the ABV of your beer

Honey is a fine product to use to increase your alcohol content because it is very fermentable and yeasts just love feeding on it.

It will also add a hint of flavor and complexity to the beer. The volume needed is a fair bit - 1 pound of honey will give about a 0.7 percent increase.

It's my personal experience that honey can really dry out the taste of a beer so I would consider using honey more for flavor effect.

Adding too many 'fermentables'

It's a widely recommended practice that no more than 1/3 of your beer's ABV level should be a result of non-malt adjuncts or fermentable sugars. That is to say, don't over saturate your beer with extra sugars!

As an example, if you are making a 6 percent ABV beer then you shouldn't add products that will contribute 2 percent of that total. 

If you are bumping up the additionals, you might also wish to boost up the other elements of your recipe to help balance the beer and keep it more like your intended brew.

yeast cells brewing beer

Placing pressure on the yeast 

A big caution is that the more sugar you put in, the more pressure that you place on the yeast.

The more alcohol that is produced, the slower the rate at which fermentation occurs. You may also feel your beer tastes somewhat sweater. But that could be in your head, I have no idea what goes on in there.

A keen player will consider adding more yeast nutrients to the wort which may give the original yeast a new lease of life and extend fermentation.

Too much alcohol may actually end up killing off the yeast. Some yeasts do handle the presence of alcohol better than others so shop around for those advertised as being tough.

You could also add a second round of yeast to your brew if you were keen. You might want to add the kind of yeast that has a higher alcohol tolerance but the standard Safale yeast will do the trick.

In terms of your beer preparation before you begin primary fermentation, exposing your wort to an appropriate amount of oxygen will help - make sure everything gets a good stir.

If you are over saturating your wort with sugar, you might also want to boost the fermentation rate with a yeast energizer.

Temperature regulation will come into play as well

So, what you've got to think about to raise the alcohol content is that there are a lot of variables that can help you but at the same time, they may also hinder your beer.

If we were to put our 'Science Officer' hat on we would suggest you only make one change at a time from your normal routine and measure your results and make a judgment accordingly.

using a hydrometerFor example - you've made your standard ale brew often enough and you know from using your hydrometer that the alcohol content is usually say 4.5 ABV.

You may wish to add an extra half KG of DME to your brew and see if that raises the ABV to 5 ABV.

If that's the case, you win!

Knowing that method works, you could continually make changes in increments to get that ABV to 5.5 or even higher.

Just remember, the more sugars you put in, the great the chance of hindering the yeast, at which point you would need to consider yeast-based modifications to your recipe and practices.

In summary to increase the alcohol or ABV of your beer you can consider:

Most importantly, remember that brewing is an art and a science and one brews beer for love of beer and not to get consistently hammered on 8 percent haymakers.

Image credit to Martin Garrido via Creative Commons Licence. We don't know if Martin likes the idea of a Mortal Engines movie but we sure do!

How temperature plays a role in homebrewing

best - measuring the temperature of beer with a thermometer

Why do I need to take the temperature when brewing beer?

If you know the story of Goldilicks and the Three Beers, you'll know that she eats the bear's porridge and she fines it:

Too hot

Too cold

And just right!

Which is how the temperature of beer works in determining that beer tastes just right. A beer that is brewed at too high a temperature may produce unwanted fruity flavours (esters) or excessive diacetyl traits.

A beer that's too cold won't even brew at all. And that's just no fun, even for Goldilocks.

So, if you know that the beer you are making needs a certain kind of temperature, how does a brewer work the temperature out?

The classic tool known as a thermometer.

Easy huh?!

But let's cut to the chase. The Etekcity Lasergrip Laser Infrared Thermoeter is the bees knees and well worth a trial.

Pitching Yeast at the correct temperature so you don't kill yeast

'Pitching yeast’ is just homebrewer lingo for adding your yeast to the wort.

Pitching your yeast is more than simply adding it to your beer – it needs to be done at the correct time in the brew so that it can activate properly and begin fermenting. If you pitch your yeast when your brew is too hot (say you’ve just boiled it), you will kill the yeast with the heat and fermentation will not occur.

Hence, brewers should use a thermometer to ensure the correct pitching temperature has been achieved.

The benefits of using a glass thermometer

glass thermometer for home brewing
Many home brewers will be quite familiar with the standard floating glass thermometer that seems to be supplied with some many beer kits (historically at least).

These glass thermometers generally are designed to measure a temperature range of 0-100 Centigrade (32-212 Farenheit). A great benefit of using them is that it is there use is so simple - it can be simply dropped in your pot or mash tun. It will of course float and be able to be read when ever you like.

Another benefit is that glass thermometers are an entirely enclosed system so you should have no issues with their operation and and are rarely inaccurate so you can rely on them

Being glass, they are of course susceptible to breakage more easier than some of the heavy duty temperature measuring devices.

Storing beer at the correct temperature

Generally speaking, it's good practice to store your beer in a warm place. This will encourage secondary fermentation (this is sometimes described as bottle conditioning).

The ideal temperature range is between approx 18 - 25°C for 5 to 7 days.

HOWEVER after that period, you should leave them in a much cooler place with a temperature range between approx 8 - 12°C. Three weeks a good length of time at that temperature range before you crack open a bottle.

Behold, the Bi-Metal Dial Thermometer (and how to use one!)

A step up from a floating unit, a bi-metal dial thermometer is a more robust measuring device which will give you a quick reading when checking the temp of the mash tun. They are some times called kettle thermometers.

These dial thermometers are also fairly easy to calibrate and they need to be as they can become inaccurate easily, especially when brewers use them frequently regularly. Dropping them once or twice certainly does not help so their calibration should be checked often.

The use of the bi-metal thermomter is pretty simple - the have a clip which fastens to the tun or kettle. The 9 inch probe they have extends into the wort to take the measurement. 

A good quality dial thermometer will be welded with a stainless steel housing and corrosion resistant to most chemicals. Like this Tel-Tru 42100909 Model from Amazon!

This is why the cooling process can be so important.

Cold Crash and temperature

When cold crashing beer you want the beer to be really cold so the yeast becomes flocculent and falls to the bottom of the beer.

You don't want to freeze your beer but you want it pretty cold so using a thermometer to measure the coldness of your fridge or unit you are doing the crashing in is pretty smart.

The common recommended range varies from 33 degrees Fahrenheit to 40 degrees F, with 38 degrees F being a fairly popular temperature point. 40 F is about 4.4. Centigrade.

Just remember a 5% ABV beer can start to freeze at 28F.

Now here's the big daddy of getting a read on temperature:

Using Infrared Digital Thermometers when brewing

An infrared thermometer is the bees knees in regards taking the temperature of your brew. You do not dip the unit in the beer wort you use project a laser at an object (such as beer) and the device then measures the temperature based on the infrared reflection.

So basically to use it you just point and shoot it at the surface of the water and it will give you the surface temperature reading. One reviewer on Amazon said "I found it to be quick and accurate for measuring water, the temperature of the pot itself, and external temperatures of fermenters."

So, let me introduce you to the:

infrared scanner to check brew temperatureEtekcity Lasergrip 1080 Non-contact Digital Laser Infrared Thermometer Temperature Gun

Pew ! Pew ! Pew!

  • It features a versatile design: Infrared Technology makes this thermometer handy to use when cooking and barbequing, performing auto maintenance, doing home repairs, and of course brewing beer. Measure all the from -58℉~1022℉/ -50℃~550℃
  • Better accuracy: the distance to spot ratio is 12: 1, meaning the Laser grip 1080 can accurately measure targets at greater distances compared to most other ir thermometers
  • Target quicker: a built in laser gives you the precision to hone in on the exact space you want to measure. 
  • Added function: the LCD screen is backlit, also has an auto-off function to extend the battery life, and features a low battery indicator so you never accidentally run out of juice (battery included, booya!)
We say the real benefit of using this device is that you don't need to get even close to hot water or wort - you can keep your distance.

I've seen it reported by brewers that when working with an all grain mash tun infrared devices can have some trouble. The foaming and grain on top of the mash tun can  interfered with the laser which can give incorrect readings.
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