With more than 1500 varieties of yeast available to choose from, knowing the right type to use in distilling vodka can be baffling. And, because any type of yeast can be used, there is no bad or good option. It all depends on your taste, preference, and budget.
However, some yeast types perform better than others. Vodka is generally regarded as a neutral spirit, so we want to minimize any off-flavors in the final product.
In addition, different yeast strains have different levels of resilience to alcohol. Vodka making is usually all about efficiency – we want to get as much ABV out of our wash as possible. Therefore, it’s important to understand that some yeasts won’t survive and fermentation will halt at a higher alcohol levels.
We recommend the following yeasts when trying to make a good neutral vodka at home:
- Best cheap yeast – Bakers Yeast
- Best all round #1 – Safspirit C-70
- Best all round #2 – Distilamax HT
- Best for flavor – Distilamax MW
Read on as we explain why we chose these, and what to look for when deciding for yourself what yeast to use.
What to look for in yeast?
Choosing the appropriate type of yeast is quite easy when you have an idea of your desired outcome. And for that case, here are three simple questions that you may need to ask yourself before selecting your yeast.
#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?
Of course, selecting the best yeast is always dependent on the wash you’ll use in producing your spirit. Some strains are best suited to grain-based washes while others are ideal with fruit or sugar. It is always vital to make up your mind about your desired outcome results before opting for the right yeast strain and wash composition accordingly.
We’re going to assume for making vodka that you are using some type of sugar wash, such as the famous Birdwatchers, TFFV, or one of our sugar wash recipes here.
What ABV and attenuation to aim for
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.
In terms of a final alcohol percentage, it makes sense to get as much alcohol in as possible as this lets us improve the economy of our process. i.e. we use less space in the fermenter, less power in the still, and faster stripping runs, to get the same amount of final product.
The only caveat is if we push the yeast too hard that off-flavors are produced.
Therefore, we reccomned sticking to the upper limit of the manufactures ABV recommendations, while maintaining the specified fermentation temperatures
Our Top 4 Yeast Recommendations For Making Vodka
Best Cheap Yeast: Bakers Yeast
Using bread yeast (or baker’s yeast) is a perfectly valid option for making vodka washes.
- 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.
- Designed for wheat. Many distillers like to get a ‘bready’ note into their final spirit.
- 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. If space is an issue, and you prefer higher ABV washes, then you may be better using one of the commercial distiller’s yeast as outlined below.
- This is active dry yeast, and is ideally used in temperatures between 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit
- Active Dry Yeast is designed for yeast-leavened bread and dough
- Active Dry Yeast from one of the most popular brands worldwide
- Ingredients: yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae), sorbitan monostearate
- Net weight: 32 oz (2 pounds), 908 grams
Best All Around #1: Safspirit C-70
You can always consider the Safspirit C-70 brand whenever you are looking for a good all-round yeast to distill your vodka. This is usually preferred by most distillers since it is affordable and has a multifunctional strain. That aside, this yeast is well known as the best and high-quality alcohol from all kinds of substrates available. It can reach up to 18 percent alcohol with a neutral profile of spirit.
In addition, it becomes the best recommendation for high gravity fermentations. So, if you do not want your budget strained, you can always consider this option and get the best yeast.
From their website:
“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 (mezcal and tequila). A good option for low and medium gravity grain mash fermentation.”
- Neutral Flavor Profile.
- High alcohol tolerance
- Good attenuation
- Good multipurpose yeast
- Only available in 500gram pouches.
Best All-Round #2: Distilamax HT (Our Overall Winner!)
If you are looking forward to a big flavored yeast for distilling vodka, it is wise trying out this one by Distilamax HT. It has delivered a neutral spirit with a greater taste. This is because it is usually characterized by a higher sugar concentration. Additionally, it is suitable for producing higher yields even within a shorter time.
“DistilaMax HT is recommended for use in the production of Vodka, neutral spirits and light flavoured beverages, due to its low production of higher alcohols, aldehydes and esters.”
Even better, if you prefer brewing at home then it becomes the best option whatsoever. Ideally, it usually ferments at temperatures of up to 37C. Fermentations can as well take place without any temperature controls. Unlike Distilamax LS, this brand has a lower alcohol concentration of about 16%.
- Specifically designed for neutral spirits
- High Temperature, ferments clean up till 37 degrees Celsius
- Can ferment up to 18% ABV.
- Only available in 500gram pouches.
- Selected for its resistance to high fermentation temperatures.
- Shows good tolerance to high-gravity mash and high alcohol concentrations.
- Ferments well at temperatures up to 37°C (98°F).
- Will continue to actively ferment at alcohol concentrations about 16% by volume.
Best For Flavor: Distilamax MW
For a safe neutral/vodka yeast, any of the options above will work great… but safe is boring right?
No neutral spirit is truly neutral, and a little bit of the wash’s flavor will creep through. Take grey goose vodka for example, which exhibits a lovely nutty/bready flavor on the finish.
So we reckon why not pick a yeast that will give you a little extra on the taste buds.
DistilaMax MV was originally selected for its ability to ferment maltose, maltotriose and other sugars of malted barley feedstock.
If you include some malt, or wheat in your sugar wash, then this yeast will leverage off that and add that flavor plus some.
It can withstand a wider temperature range between 25C and 33C. Better still, it is well known of a alcohol tolerance of about 15%.
- Can ferment up to 15% ABV
- Rich in fruity and spicy notes
- Only available in 500gram pouches.
- Selected for its ability to ferment maltose, maltotriose & other sugars of malted barley feedstock.
- Produces a spirit with a highly acceptable flavor profile, as adjudged by Malt Whisky Manufacturers.
- Displays a good alcohol tolerance of up to 15% v/v.
- Displays a congener profile suited to Malt Whiskys.
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 vodka?
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.
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.
#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 vodka, we would look for a high attenuating yeast as this means that we can use all the available sugar.
#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.
Fortunately, for vodka making we use a reflux still which will help remove any bad flavors. As long as we choose a good clean fermenting yeast we can run our ferments quite fast without too much concern.
#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, however for vodka making we don’t need to worry. Look for a yeast that has a neutral flavor profile.
#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 needed before settling on any brands.
#6 Can I Use Turbo Yeast ?
You can use whatever yeast you like, but wed 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.
|Dry||12 months||24 months||2 years+|
|Liquid||Use Immediately||6 months||Not Possible|