New to Home Brewing? What You Need to Know About Beer Yeast

What You Need to Know About Beer YeastWithout beer yeast, your brew isn’t beer, it is an emulsion of junk. Yeast, very literally, makes your beer come alive! I thought this was interesting as my son and son-in-law have both had their hand in the brewing process of beer.

Even those just starting out in the world of homebrewing know it is a passion shared by many. With so many people on the amateur side working to perfect their own vintages, there’s more than a little information to comb through.

Understanding the simplicity and intricacies of yeast starts with the basics and goes on from there. If you want to develop in your mug the taste you have in your mind, you gotta start somewhere.

Read on to learn what yeast does, where it comes from, and how it relates to the taste and the all-important alcohol content of your forthcoming signature brews.

Beer Yeast Basics

When it comes to making tasty beverages with that something extra, humans have come up with a variety of techniques.

Distilling uses heat and condensation to separate the ingredients and pull out alcohol.

Fermentation uses the power of yeasts or bacteria to eat up the sugars and burp out the longer alcohol molecules.

While both methods of alcohol production have been done for many years, with a whole variety of results, fermentation took longer to understand.

These days, we have a good idea what different types of yeast will do, where they come from, and how to put them to work. Selecting the best yeast for your brew requires you to understand the five factors of fermentation.

It also helps to know in which direction a yeast operates. We’ll start with these two broad categories.

Ferment Types

Yeast either floats to the top or settles to the bottom of the wort. The reason they do this comes from the qualities of the microorganisms themselves.

Top Ferment

These yeats rise through the wort in an attempt to escape from the rest of the liquid. The tiny critters making up these yeasts are known as hydrophobic yeasts.

The process of rising to the top creates a thicker head and a more effervescent brew.

You use top-fermenting yeasts (aka ale yeasts) to make lighter fruity beers. Brewing works best at warmer temperatures and open fermenters.

These include the persuasions of:

  • Wheat Beers
  • Stouts
  • Porters
  • Ales

Bottom Ferment

These yeasts obey typical hydrological sorting and settle to the bottom.

The settling creates darker flavors which hold heavier notes. Brewing temperatures for bottom-fermenting yeats varies more than their hydrophobic cousins.

These include:

  • Bocks
  • Pilsners
  • Lagers
  • American Malts


Within the broad concept of taste also lurks the subtle profiles of smell and mouthfeel.

Outside of the sometimes trumped up for show world of wine tasting, beer flavors rely heavily on an understanding of how smell influences taste.

Flavors in the wort, as well as those added and subtracted through your maturation, don’t always come out strongly. many flavors hover, lurk, or slide without a certain appreciation in the palette or yeast to bring them to the forefront.

To get a robust flavor requires selecting the right yeast strains. Though, to start with, avoiding the wrong ones will suffice.

These days, you handily find supporters like California ale yeast that endeavor to categories their yeasts to provide a starter or aid a flavor profile.


Beer brewing yeast lives and dies at different temperatures, much like any other organism.

If you don’t provide enough heat, they don’t have enough energy to grow, divide, eat, and thrive to get your flavor profile into place and your alcohol content up to snuff.

Too much heat and they boil alive before they can get any other work done. The heat will also fry your wort and leave you looking like you failed at making whiskey instead of bad beer.

Yeasts have a temperature range listed on the packaging. These listings indicate optimal ranges.

The keyword being optimal. You can use them outside of those ranges and still end up with beer. Terrible, stomach-lurching, obviously wrong beer.

Alcohol Survival

Ever seen a black and white western serial? Remember everyone’s favorite character of the sodden doctor? Constantly swigging at their stash as they also use it liberality as a disinfectant and anesthetic?

Despite the overuse of the trope, the underlying principle remains: alcohol kills microbes. Yeast is a microbe.

If you shoot for too high of alcohol content (up to about 15% maximum) you risk killing off the yeast. To keep your flavors and texture in the right range, you need to make certain your yeast can handle itself like a barfly, not a fraternity pledge.


Speaking of bulking up the alcohol concentration, the attenuation needs to be adequate to reach the goal.

Attenuation represents the available sugars that yeast can gorge itself on to produce byproducts.

Yeasts eat sugar at different rates and like sugar to differing degrees. Your choice of yeast in the attenuation effects the flavor and the amount of material you will have to filter before cellaring.

The more sugar you add, the darker the resulting brew.


The final characteristic of yeast is their parting gift to you and your bottling efforts. Since yeasts are microbes, there isn’t a straightforward way to remove them when you’re done with them.

Seeming to know this, yeasts conveniently clump together in a process called flocculation. Like every other key factor in this guide, you want to choose a yeast that clumps at the right time in the process.

Flocculation that happens too early leaves you with all the yeast clumped and resting without doing any work. Too late means spoiling your perfectly compiled brew to go south while you try to filter for nothing.

Early flocculation provides a sweeter flavor. Later flocculation, therefore, leads to bitter flavors.

It Lives!

Beer yeast does a lot of thankless work to give you the power to create your very own nectar of the gods. You can be thankful that there are so many different yeast strains in existence (with more being cultivated).

No matter the flavor, octane, and head you crave, a beer yeast is out there waiting to get to work for you.
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