The Best Yeast For Distilling Tequila and Mezcal (Explained!)

With more than 1500 varieties of yeast available to choose from, knowing the right type to choose when making tequila can be baffling. And, because any type of yeast can be used, there is the wrong option. It all depends on your taste, preference, and budget.

However, some yeast types perform better than others. Agave syrup is difficult to ferment because it’s almost entirely fructose and contains very few nutrients for the yeast. Similar to fermenting honey, or high fructose corn syrup – agave sugars are actually harder to ferment than a basic sugar wash.

Agave washes typically perform better using fructophilic yeast. Therefore, we recommend the following yeasts when trying to make the perfect whiskey at home:

  1. Cheap Option – Lalvin EC1118 Champagne Yeast
  2. Good All Round Tequila Yeast #1 –  DistilaMax® LS
  3. Best Tequila Yeast #1 –  DistilaMax® TQ
  4. Best Tequila Yeast #2 –  SafTeq Blue

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

Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces bayanus (10 Packs)
DistilaMax® LS Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
DistilaMax® TQ Fructophilic Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
SafTeq Blue- Tequila Yeast 500 g Pack
Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces bayanus (10 Packs)
DistilaMax® LS Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
DistilaMax® TQ Fructophilic Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
SafTeq Blue- Tequila Yeast 500 g Pack
Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces bayanus (10 Packs)
Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces bayanus (10 Packs)
DistilaMax® LS Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
DistilaMax® LS Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
DistilaMax® TQ Fructophilic Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
DistilaMax® TQ Fructophilic Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
SafTeq Blue- Tequila Yeast 500 g Pack
SafTeq Blue- Tequila Yeast 500 g Pack

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.

Why is fermenting agave so difficult?

The first thing you’ll hear when you embark on the tequila-making journey is just how hard it is to make the wash. Working with agave is messy, and extracting its sugars is hard work. But once this is all done all your hard work may all be in vain as getting this mixture to ferment properly is almost impossible!

The problem:

Agave nectar is typically 80% fructose. Remember: table sugar or sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

The high concentration of fructose in agave juice has been associated with reduced ethanol tolerance of commercial yeasts used for tequila production and low fermentation yields.

Yeast isolates have been screened to identify strains tolerant to high fructose and to ethanol. This resulted in being able to select only the strongest and most resilient yeast strains.

Agave nectar is also nutrient-poor, and even contains compounds that are toxic to some yeast strains.

This is why we need to be extra careful that we choose the right yeast for the job!

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
  • Tollerance to fructose
  • 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?

Tequila and mezcal 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 complex alcohols and esters.

  • Esters – such as ethyl hexanoate
  • Alcohols – like such as 2-phenyl ethanol and isoamyl alcohol

There are many factors to consider when selecting the suitable yeast for your needs, and it is impossible to provide a guide that suits every situation.

Temperature

How you adjust the fermentation temperature of the yeast determines the turnaround time for the fermentation process. This is because certain types of yeast will need to be kept at a higher temperature. Moreover, this is the best way to ensure that they can complete the fermentation process in the shortest amount of time.

Cost

When selecting yeast, you must consider the cost of a batch. In most cases, ensure that you choose the right type of yeast if you are hoping to produce a batch of alcohol that will actually taste good.

Brand reputation

Always go for quality yeast from a trusted brand. Furthermore, this will ensure that the yeast strain will be in high demand, which will help the fermentation process go more smoothly.

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 won’t make it through the distillation.

Cheap Option: Lalvin EC1118 (General Purpose Champagne Yeast)

The key is finding a yeast that has a high fructose tolerance, as most general-purpose yeasts won’t survive the duration of fermentation. Fortunately, a general-purpose champagne yeast actually has a high fructose tolerance since grapes also contain high levels of fructose.

Lalvin EC1118, Saccharomyces cerevisia is commonly referred to as a general-purpose Champagne yeast. This is an all-purpose yeast strain suitable for both red and white wines. High alcohol tolerance and very temperature tolerant. A good choice for the new winemaker, cider maker, ginger beer, and mead maker, but also for the tequila maker.

We do recommend you don’t use this on 100% agave washes. Instead, dilute the wash with some sugar wash to bring the fructose levels down.

Pros:

  • Cheap and readily available in most brew shops.
  • Wide temperature tolerance
  • Good fructose tolerance for a non-tequila-specific yeast.

Cons:

  • Not designed for tequila / mezcal flavor congeners.
  • Other options have better fructose tolerance
  • Not designed for high ABV washes.
Lalvin EC-1118 Saccharomyces bayanus (10 Packs)
  • 10x Sachets
  • EC-1118 is perfect for all wines, including sparkling & mead
  • Not dependant on Grape Nutrient so perfect for Fruit Wines
  • High alcohol tolerance up to 18% ABV
  • 5g Sachet Makes 4.5L-23L

Good All Round #1: DistilaMax® LS (Fructose / Brandy Yeast)

This is probably the best all-round tequila yeast we’ve found. It’s been designed for high fructose washes which means it can be used for brandy, schnapps, and other fruit distillates as well. If you are looking to make a variety of styles, then this is the yeast for you.

DistilaMax® LS is a fructophilic yeast recommended for use in the production of tequila, mezcal, and fruit brandies. It produces a broad spectrum of flavor congeners well suited to these types of spirits.

Pros:

  • Designed to withstand harsh conditions of agave nectar.
  • Wide temperature tolerance
  • Displays a good alcohol tolerance of up to 15% v/v.
  • Selected especially for its ability to ferment fructose in high stress conditions.
  • Works well on a wide pH range.
  • Good temperature tolerance and a short lag phase which limits the development of wild microorganisms.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.
DistilaMax® LS Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
  • Displays a wide range of temperatures for fermentation including low temperatures.
  • Demonstrates a short lag phase which helps to compete against contaminant bacteria.
  • Has a fast fermentation rate in a wide pH range.
  • High alcohol tolerance up to 18%.

Best Tequila Yeast #1: DistilaMax® TQ (Tequila Yeast)

DistilaMax TQ active dry yeast is a selected strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae selected for use in the production of tequila, mezcal and fruit brandies. It displays aromatic profiles which are well-suited for tequila and mezcal such as increasing complexity and fruity characters.

Fermentis SafTeq Blue yeast: A saccharomyces cerevisiae specifically selected to ferment blue agave for the production of tequila. This will work great whether you want to ferment 1–% agave, or supplement with other sugars.

Its excellent performance in this environment is due to the ability to tolerate toxic substances such as furfural, normally present in agave juice. It has also increased tolerance to osmotic pressure and alcohol and can work in conditions of extreme temperatures.

Recommended minimum dosage:
DistilaMax TQ should be pitched at roughly 1g/gal in an average fermentation. However, if your fermentation is stressful, high gravity, or lacking in nutrition, you should look to pitch at 1.5g/gal + to allow for efficient fermentation.

Recommended fermentation temperature

32°C (89.6°F)

It can withstand a wider temperature range between 25C and 33C. Better still, it is well known of an alcohol tolerance of about 15%.

Pros:

  • Designed to withstand harsh conditions of agave nectar.
  • Wide temperature tolerance
  • Produces a spirit with a broad general tequila flavor profile
  • Displays a good alcohol tolerance of up to 15% v/v.
  • Selected especially for its ability to ferment fructose in high stress conditions.
  • Works well on a wide pH range.
  • Good temperature tolerance and a short lag phase which limits the development of wild microorganisms.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.
DistilaMax® TQ Fructophilic Yeast for Fruit and Agave Fermentation
  • Selected especially for its ability to ferment glucose and fructose in high stress conditions.
  • Works well on a wide pH range.
  • Good temperature tolerance and a short lag phase which limits the development of wild microorganisms.

Best Tequila Yeast #1: SafTeq Blue (Blue Agave Yeast)

Fermentis SafTeq Blue yeast is a purpose-built saccharomyces cerevisiae specifically selected to ferment blue agave for the production of tequila. This will work great whether you want to ferment 100% agave or supplement with other sugars.

Its excellent performance in this environment is due to the ability to tolerate toxic substances such as furfural, normally present in agave juice. It has also increased tolerance to osmotic pressure and alcohol and can work in conditions of extreme temperatures.

Recommended minimum dosage rate 0.5 g/L. Recommended fermentation temperature: 32°C (89.6°F) 500-gram pack

Pros:

  • Designed to withstand harsh conditions of agave nectar.
  • Wide temperature tolerance
  • High ABV tolerance.
  • Lower pitch volume than the DistilaMax varieties

Cons:

  • Most expensive of our 3 options.
  • Only available in 500gram pouches.
SafTeq Blue- Tequila Yeast 500 g Pack
  • Yeast for the production of tequila- 500 gram pack

FAQs

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 Tequila?

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, however tequila yeast like to run a bit hotter. Check the yeast packet, but we typically go around 32deg C.

Running too cold may slow down the fermentation to the point where it may stall or not reach the desired attenuation.

#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.

Tequila and Mezcal is notorious for stuck ferments where the yeast dies before converting all the sugars, and this can result in attenuation as low as 50%.

If you run into this problem, make sure your temperature is correct, the wash is sufficiently aerated, and consider adding additional yeast nutrients to help sustain the yeast.

#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 tequila or mezcal. 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 cognigers.

#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.

TypeUnrefrigeratedRefrigeratedFrozen
Dry12 months24 months2 years+
LiquidUse Immediately6 monthsNot Possible

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