Best Yeast for Making and Distilling Rum (Explained!)


With more than 1500 varieties of yeast available to choose from, knowing the right type to use when making rum can be baffling. And, because any type of yeast can be used, there is no wrong option. It all depends on your taste, preference, and budget.

However, some yeast types perform better than others. Rum is first and foremost about flavor, so we need to ensure that fermentation adds and enhances the right flavors in the wash. We want a yeast that results in the right phenolic compounds, aldehydes, and esters that give rum it’s quintessential taste, while also finding a strain capable of fully fermenting the high fructose sugar cane.

We recommend the following yeasts when trying to make the perfect rum at home:

  1. Best cheap yeast #1 –  Bakers Yeast
  2. Best cheap yeast #2 –  Lalvin ICV-K1 (V1116)
  3. Best Rum Yeast #1 –  DistilaMax RM (Sugarcane Rum Yeast)
  4. Best Rum Yeast #2 –  DistilaMax CN (Sugarcane Molasses Rum Yeast)
  5. Best for flavor – DistilaMax XP (High Temperature Whiskey Yeast)

Read on as we explain why we chose these, and what to look for when deciding for yourself what yeast to use.

Best Value #1
Red Star Active Dry Yeast, Value Size 1 Pack (2 Pound Ea)
Best Value #2
Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 Active Dry Wine Yeast - Pack of 12 - North Mountain Supply Fresh Yeast
Best Overall
DistilaMax® RM Yeast for Rum and Cane Juice Spirits
Runner Up
DistilaMax® CN Yeast for Rum and other Sugar-Cane based spirits
Best Multipurpose
500 g Fermentis SafSpirit USW-6
Red Star Active Dry Yeast, Value Size 1 Pack (2 Pound Ea)
Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 Active Dry Wine Yeast - Pack of 12 - North Mountain Supply Fresh Yeast
DistilaMax® RM Yeast for Rum and Cane Juice Spirits
DistilaMax® CN Yeast for Rum and other Sugar-Cane based spirits
500 g Fermentis SafSpirit USW-6
Best Value #1
Red Star Active Dry Yeast, Value Size 1 Pack (2 Pound Ea)
Red Star Active Dry Yeast, Value Size 1 Pack (2 Pound Ea)
Best Value #2
Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 Active Dry Wine Yeast - Pack of 12 - North Mountain Supply Fresh Yeast
Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 Active Dry Wine Yeast - Pack of 12 - North Mountain Supply Fresh Yeast
Best Overall
DistilaMax® RM Yeast for Rum and Cane Juice Spirits
DistilaMax® RM Yeast for Rum and Cane Juice Spirits
Runner Up
DistilaMax® CN Yeast for Rum and other Sugar-Cane based spirits
DistilaMax® CN Yeast for Rum and other Sugar-Cane based spirits
Best Multipurpose
500 g Fermentis SafSpirit USW-6
500 g Fermentis SafSpirit USW-6

What is yeast?

Yeast is a single-celled organism used in baking and brewing because of its fermentation and leavening properties. Yeast is tiny living fungi microorganisms that occur naturally, and it is common in soil, plants and sugary mediums like flower nectar and fruits. Yeast has been used in cooking and manufacturing for years. It is one of the main ingredients in baking bread and manufacturing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. There are various species, and the one you use depends on the final product that you want.


What to look for in Yeast?

In every distillation process, the yeast plays a fundamental role in bringing out the kind of product you want. Yeast is the one that is responsible for converting sugar into alcohol by allowing fermentation to take place.

#1. What content of alcohol are you aiming to get and what flavor?

#2. What sugar type are you using in the distillation process? i.e. Molasses, Dextrose, starch converted to grain, or Glucose Syrup.

#3. What temperature level are you using in the fermentation process?

That process is the one that determines the aroma and the color of the distilled product. It also affects the taste of your distilled spirit, and therefore you will have to choose the spirit depending on the kind of product you want. But your distilling yeast must have the following attributes:

  • High ethanol yield
  • Rapid fermentation of variable sugars
  • Able to produce the correct balance of flavor
  • Be tolerant to ethanol, heat and high sugar concentration
  • High storage viability
  • Non-flocculent chemicals

What about flavor compounds?

Whiskey is all about flavor, and some of these flavors are created during the fermentation phase of the process. The most important flavors introduced during fermentation are phenols and esters.

Phenols:

Phenol, cresols, xylenol and guaiacol are amongst the most important phenolic compounds in whiskey

Esters:

These include isoamyl acetate, an ester with a banana-like aroma. The most abundant ester in the ‘heart’ is commonly ethyl hexanoate, which has an aroma described as apple-like.

What ABV and Attenuation to Aim for?

In brewing, attenuation is the conversion of sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is the rough fermentation process. For example, if you have 50% attenuation, it means that out of the products you are using for the production of beer, 50% has been converted into alcohol. The greater the attenuation, the more the amount of sugar converted to alcohol. Also, the alcohol concentration in the final product is higher. Therefore, when you have a more attenuated beer, it will be drier than the others and have more alcohol concentration than the less attenuated beer made from the same wort.

Attenuation is much dependent on your yeast, your wort, the temperature of fermentation, and oxygenation of the wort. Ordinarily, you’ll measure original gravity (OG) and estimate a percentage of apparent attenuation, which allows for the estimation of Final Gravity (FG).

Typically for distilling we are only interested in high attenuation yeasts, as any residual sugars that are left in the fermentation wont make it through the distillation.

Best Value Rum Yeast #1: Bakers Yeast

Using bread yeast (or baker’s yeast) ridiculously cheap, and actually a really good option for us rum makers.  

Though it can struggle with the high ABV levels, with the right nutrients you’ll be able to get a good run from any off-the-shelf  bread yeast.

Unfortunately, baker’s yeast isn’t intended for rum making, there’s very little information available about the flavor profiles.

Generally, baker’s yeast won’t handle high alcohol concentrations, and to avid stressing the yeast we recommend keeping you mash below ~10% ABV.

Pros:

  • Cheap: Bakers yeast can be bought in bulk. This means you can pitch large amounts without breaking the bank. We use this one from amazon which is only $7 for a 500gram pouch.

Cons:

  • Low alcohol tolerance. Generally it will be very hard to get a final ferment to above ~12% ABV as this type of yeast isn’t designed to handle high alcohol concentrations. I space is an issue, and you prefer higher ABV washes, then you may be better using one of the following yeasts.
  • Designed for wheat rather that barley.
  • Flavor congener profile is not studied/available. Trial and error required to know what you’ll get from each brand.
Sale
Red Star Active Dry Yeast, Value Size 1 Pack (2 Pound Ea)
  • Active Dry Yeast
  • Keep in a Cool Dry Place
  • For Optimum Results, Refrigerate After Opening
  • Product of Mexico
  • 32 ounce

Best Value Rum Yeast #2: Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 (Wine Yeast)

Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 is a proven strain for the fermentation of ice wines, rosés and reds. Though designed for the wine industry, it has a superior ability to convert the notoriously tricky long chains and high fructose content of cane sugar molasses.

Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 was initially isolated in 1972 by Pierre Barre of the INRA Montpellier. When fermented at low temperatures (below 16°C) and with the right addition of nutrients, Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 is one of the most floral ester-producing yeasts (isoamyl acetate, hexyl acetate, phenyl ethyl acetate). These esters bring fresh, floral aromas to neutral varieties or high-yield grapes. Among the high ester producers, Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 is the most resistant to difficult fermentation conditions such as low turbidity, low temperature, and low fatty acid content.

Pros:

  • Readily available. V1116 is commonly available in most good homebrew shops.
  • Convenient packaging. This yeast comes in both large 500gram bags, and small 5gram homebrew size pouches.
  • Displays a good alcohol tolerance of up to 15% v/v.
  • Designed for high fructose sugar cane.
  • French influence means this yeast is well suited to Rhum Agricole.
  • High production of esters.

Cons:

  • May not fully attenuate with high fructose cane sugar or molasses.
  • Not explicitly designed for rum.
  • Not as strong flavor congeners as other specific rum yeast.
Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 Active Dry Wine Yeast - Pack of 12 - North Mountain Supply Fresh Yeast
  • Sold by North Mountain Supply (Seller: Quality Quick Ship) - Guaranteed Fresh!
  • We will provide free replacements and troubleshooting if for any reason the yeast does not activate before the expiration date
  • Lalvin ICV K1-V1116 was initially isolated in 1972 by Pierre Barre of the INRA Montpellier.
  • It is one of the most floral ester-producing yeasts.

Best Overall Rum Yeast: DistilaMax RM (Sugarcane Rum Yeast)

This is probably the best all round rum yeast we’ve found. It’s been designed for sugarcane rum and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to flavor. If you are looking to buy one yeast that you can have 100% faith in, then this is the one to get.

DistilaMax® RM is recommended for the production of rum and other cane juice-based spirits.  It displays intense tropical fruity aromas and complexity and was selected in a tropical region by the INRA (France) in partnership with Lallemand.

It can withstand a wider temperature range between 25°C – 36°C. Better still, it is well known of a alcohol tolerance of about 15% and a wide pH range of 3.3- 5.3.

Pros:

  • High concentration of all key flavor compounds including; Isoamyl acetate, Ethyl octanoate, Ethyl decanoate, Phenyl-2-ethanol, Ethyl hexanoate, and Isoamyl alcohols.
  • Displays a good alcohol tolerance of up to 15% v/v.
  • Designed for high fructose sugar cane.
  • French influence means this yeast is well suited to Rhum Agricole.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.
DistilaMax® RM Yeast for Rum and Cane Juice Spirits
  • Isolated in a tropical region, it demonstrates high temperature tolerance and works well from 26°C.
  • Provides an excellent congener profile and aromatic complexity.

Runner Up: DistilaMax CN (Sugarcane Molasses Rum Yeast)

DistilaMax CN is specifically designed for the fermentation of sugarcane molasses.

DistilaMax® CN is recommended in the production of all aromatic and complex types of rums and rhum agricole due to its ability to work well on fresh sugar cane-juice and on cane molasses.  It shows good tolerance to osmotic stress and performs well in adverse conditions.

It can withstand a wider temperature range between 25°C – 38°C. Better still, it is well known of a alcohol tolerance of about 15% and a wide pH range of 3.4- 5.3.

Pros:

  • The natural choice for the best Bourbon distillers and other American whiskey producers
  • Very good and delicate profile of congeners
  • Performs well in all kinds of grains or blends of grains
  • Despite its popularity for US whiskies, it is another good option for grain distilled beverages aged in barrels

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.
DistilaMax® CN Yeast for Rum and other Sugar-Cane based spirits
  • DistilaMax CN works well on fresh sugar cane-juice and cane molasses.
  • It is recommended in the production of all types of aromatic and complex rums and rhum agricole.
  • DistilaMax CN shows good tolerance to osmotic stress.
  • It performs well in adverse conditions at high temperatures up to 40°C and a pH range of 3.4 - 5.3.

Best Multipurpose Rum Yeast: SafSpirit C-70

Ok, we hear you. Buying a specific yeast for every different spirit you want to make is a bit of a commitment, so what about a yeast that can be used for a variety of products? The SafSpirit C-70 is a yeast that can be easily used for rum, tequila, mezcal, and even neutral sugar washes.

C-70 is a robust, multipurpose strain and one of the most popular within distillers. Produces very high quality alcohol from all kinds of substrates, with subtle congeners. Used extensively in the Caribbean and Central America for producing good quality potable alcohol and rums from sugar cane juice or molasses. Very good performance in agave juice (mezcals and tequila). Good option for low and medium gravity grain mash fermentation.

Pros:

  • The natural choice for the best Bourbon distillers and other American whiskey producers
  • Very good and delicate profile of congeners
  • Performs well in all kinds of grains or blends of grains
  • Despite its popularity for US whiskies, it is another good option for grain distilled beverages aged in barrels

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.

Frequently Asked Questions:

We realize this is a complex topic, and one fraught with subjectivity and personal preference.

Here are some of the most common questions and answers we get, so you can decide for yourself which yeast is right for your needs.

#1. What temperature conditions do you use in fermenting Whiskey?

Depending on the type of yeast that you are using you will be required to do your fermentation in different temperatures to achieve the best results – so read the guidance from your yeast manufacturer.

As a rule of thumb, yeasts will best operate anywhere between 18 and 25 degrees Celsius. Running hotter than this may start producing off flavors, and running too cold may slow down the fermentation to the point where it may stall or not reach the desired attenuation.

For whiskey, some of these ‘off-flavor’ esters and phenols may be desirable, so running hot may be a good way to add flavor to your product.

#2. What is a good level of yeast attenuation?

Attenuation means how much of the available sugar will the yeast successfully convert into alcohol.

A low attenuating yeast will leave behind residual sugar and sweetness in the final product, while a high attenuating yeast will make a dryer and higher alcohol ferment.

As a general rule for making whiskey, we would look for a high attenuating yeast as this means that we can use all the available sugar and improve the efficiency of our distillery.

#3. What is the speed of fermentation?

Different yeast has different speeds of fermentation. One with a higher speed will allow you to maximize the capacity of your distillery.

However, fermenting too fast can start to stress the yeast and introduce off flavors.

Generally, a healthy whiskey wash should take around a week to complete the majority of the fermentation and then another week to fully attenuate and clean up. Some commercial yeasts have been designed to operate quicker than this under controlled conditions, so read the manufactures guidance.

#4. What kind of flavor does it offer you?

Before settling on any yeast brand, we need to consider what flavors the yeast will introduce to our product. For example, the flavors made by a Belgian Ale yeast will be wildly different from a Champagne yeast.

This is a really important consideration for making rums and whiskeys. DistilaMax offer flavour profile diagrams to indicate the characteristics of the yeast, while other manufactures will have similar information written in the product datasheet.

Whiskey is high in phenolic compounds and esters, both of which are produced during fermentation, so pick a yeast that will enhance these if that’s the flavor you’re going for.

#5. What level of pH is required?

The level of pH will always limit the growth of microorganisms and lactic acid during fermentation. So you should always be aware of the level of pH required.

Your yeast manufacturer will specify the optimal pH range for that specific yeast strain, which is typically between 3.5 and 5.5.

A well-designed mash should hit this number without you having to do anything, but it always pay to check. You can lower the pH with citric acid or lactic acid if outside the range.

#6 Can I Use Turbo Yeast ?

You can use whatever yeast you like, but we’d recommend avoiding turbo yeast if you can.

Turbo yeast is just a regular yeast strain selected primarily for its high alcohol tolerance. It’s then packaged with a bunch of chemicals and nutrients (think yeast steroids) to make the yeast work as fast and as hard as possible.

Unfortunately, that means turbo yeast also produces:

  • More fusel oils
  • More ethyl acetate
  • More dead yeast cells
  • Many undesired flavor congeners.

#7 What is the difference between liquid yeast and dried yeast? Which is better?

Dry yeast is cheap, convenient, and highly capable of producing great fermentations. It has a shelf life of up to 3 years and is more tolerant than liquid yeast of warm storage or shipping conditions. It also doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge until use.

However, not all yeast strains can be dried. This means that only a few of the most robust yeast varieties become dried and packaged for your use.

That’s why liquid yeast exist – to give us the choice between over a thousand successfully cultivated yeast varieties – all available on catalogue order. Sure, the price is higher, shipping is a pain, and it needs to be refrigerated until use, but this might be worth it for that special flavor property you are after!

We recommend using dried yeast for distilling. Why? There is enough variety between dried yeast to offer you a good variety for most things you’ll want to make. Factor in the lower price, convenience, and ease of storage and we don’t think it’s worth paying the extra for a liquid variant.

#8 Is it Ok to store Yeast in the freezer?

Yes, freezing dried yeast is fine and will extent the shelf life somewhat. However, you can’t freeze liquid yeast as the freezing of water will rupture the yeast cells, effectively killing them.

Here a rough guide to shelf life’s for both dry and liquid yeast. In general, dried yeast will last the longest and ideally should be stored as cold as possible.

Type Unrefrigerated Refrigerated Frozen
Dry 12 months 24 months 2 years+
Liquid Use Immediately 6 months Not Possible

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