It’s happened to the best of us, we go to grab a packet of yeast to pitch our wort and the cupboard is bare. Then your thoughts turn to raiding the wife’s larder because you know she has stacks of baking yeast in there.
Alternatively, you may be passing the baking aisle in your local supermarket and you see just how cheap baker’s yeast is and how readily available it is.
So, should you throw away your kveik yeast for this ubiquitous bread yeast? Can you actually brew beer with baker’s yeast?
It is possible to produce alcoholic beer using baker’s yeast. The beer will ferment and produce ethanol and you will also be able to produce carbonated beer even when bottle conditioning. however, Baker’s yeast doesn’t have the same desirable qualities as brewer’s yeast in terms of performance.
Most homebrewers will tell you that baker’s yeast, the stuff you use to make your bread, just won’t work to brew beer. That’s not entirely true but there are many things which you need to consider before you make the switch.
I’ve done a lot of personal research into this question, and everything I found out is listed below.
Why do you need yeast at all?
Let’s not forget that yeast has two main functions when it comes to brewing beer. The first and perhaps the most important for many of us is the fact that it’s yeast which turns your sugary wort into alcoholic beer. It get’s a gold star in my eyes just for that.
Another important function of yeast in the brewing process is that it adds to the beer’s distinct taste and aroma. Some strains of brewer’s yeast have very pronounced characteristics that have been developed over time.
New to homebrewing? Please feel free to read my ultimate guide to brewing beer at home and where to start.
Bread yeast vs brewer’s yeast
Bread yeast and brewer’s yeast, as we know them today, are actually the exact same species of fungus: Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
In times gone by, brewers and bakers would have worked very closely together the latter benefiting from the former’s ability to capture wild yeast into their wort. Once the beer was brewed, the bakers would take the leftover yeast to be used in baking.
This is how it used to be done, but since then brewers and bakers have adapted the yeast they use and, through selection, made it more suitable for their individual tasks.
Bread yeast, beer yeast, and wine yeast do not have to achieve the same result and they also don’t have to work under the same conditions. In particular, the level of alcohol the yeast is exposed to when it starts converting sugars into ethanol.
For the most part, brewer’s yeast is just a little more hard-core in this respect. It’s one of those strange phenomenons that yeast is actually fatally susceptible to its own waste product. However, thinking about it now, I suppose that if we were swimming in our own excretions, we’d not last long either.
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Will bread yeast produce alcohol
There is no doubt that bread or baker’s yeast will produce alcohol. It’s exactly the same species of fungus as other types of ‘domesticated’ yeast and so has the same abilities.
However, it is widely believed that bread yeast will only survive at very low levels of alcohol, so it wouldn’t be effective for a higher ABV beer or wine.
This being said, again it really depends on the strain of bread yeast as some seem to be more resilient to alcohol than others and some further have the same resilience as ordinary brewer’s yeast.
If you are looking to experiment with baker’s yeast, you should try working with Fleischmann’s bread yeast (found on Amazon).
Why don’t brewers usually use baker’s yeast?
I really want to say that most homebrewers disregard baker’s yeast as an ingredient through preference, while many others do so through ignorance. They simply just assume that it won’t work so have never tried it.
This being said, it is true that the strains of brewer’s yeast that most of us use have undergone centuries of adaptation and are therefore just more reliable in most cases.
So, I can see two reasons why a brewer may choose to work with baker’s yeast, the first is curiosity and the love of experimentation, the other is through necessity.
If you really can’t get your hands on real brewer’s yeast and you are ready to pitch, why not experiment with baker’s yeast and see what happens!
Common issues with Baker’s yeast
In addition to the low tolerance baker yeast normally has to alcohol, there is another major issue which will concern those brewers seeking a perfect beer.
Baker’s yeast generally has poor flocculation qualities when compared to most types of brewer’s yeast. flocculation is the process where the yeast forms into ‘flocs’ or ‘flakes’ and collects together before falling out of suspension and settling in the trub.
Having a high flocculating yeast, or one that does it at all, is desirable because it leads to a clearer beer and there will not be an overpowering taste of yeast in your beer. However, this isn’t always an issue for some homebrewers and is actually desirable in some beer types.
You can, of course, combat the cloudiness of your beer through several methods, including cold crashing and the use of finings. If you suffer from a cloudy beer, then you may want to check out my full article on how to deal with this issue here.
Another issue that has come up in my research is that many brewers complain about the taste that baker’s yeast gives to their beer. Baker’s yeast can produce phenolic flavors, some between cloves or band-aid, which have been bred out of most brewer’s yeast strains.
In some cases, the yeasty or bready flavor compliments the beer well but most people say they really didn’t like it at all.
So, it seems that if the need is desperate, go for it but if you have access to brewer’s yeast then you’ll get a better tasting beer.
How much bread yeast to pitch?
You should use about 11 grams for every 5 gallons (19 liters) of wort, which is pretty much the same as the amount of brewer’s yeast you would use on average.
Just like the brewer’s yeast you buy which has been freeze-dried, you can add the baker’s yeast directly to your wort in the fermenter. However, there is nothing wrong with starting with a good yeast starter either.
Why is my beer more carbonate after using baker’s yeast?
If you actually do a split batch test and pitch one carboy with regular brewer’s yeast and the other with baker’s yeast, you’ll see that during fermentation the krausen looks bigger with the latter. Why?
Well, brewer’s yeast has been cultivated and selected to produce more ethanol a less carbon dioxide because those are the qualities brewer’s need.
However, baker’s don’t need the booze in the bread but they do want more CO2, so that’s why you’ll get a much more carbonated beer with baker’s yeast.
If you are having issues with your beer being too carbonated or even having exploding bottles, check out my article on how to fix this here.
What beer varieties will baker’s yeast work best with?
As a general rule of thumb, if you have to use baker’s yeast then it’s going to do better with any ale recipe and less well with lagers. This is because baker’s yeast will ferment on top of your wort rather at the bottom.
If you are really looking to experiment with a beer type that will do well with bread yeast, then check out the following beer varieties:
Kvass is a traditional drink in many parts of Eastern Europe and, depending on how it’s made, is classified as non-alcoholic. However, you can find proper beer-style recipes some of which are actually made with real chunks of bread in it.
Sahti is a real homebrew variety which dates back to the 1500s. It’s not a hopped beer but finds its balance through the use of Juniper branches. Although unfiltered and rich in sediment, it’s apparently a perfect candidate for bread yeast.
Although I haven’t yet made mead myself, definitely on my to-do list, my research shows that baker’s yeast can work really well with mead recipes.
There are also several beer varieties that are supposed to have a bready flavor, here are just some to research:
- Weihenstephaner Korbinian
- Hacker Pschorr
What if you used a heck of a lot more bread yeast…
When using some baker’s yeast which has a very low tolerance to alcohol, less than 3%, you could experience stuck fermentation. So, what happens if you just add more yeast?
Well, that shouldn’t work in theory as if you add exactly the same strain of yeast it’ll suffer the same fate as the yeast you already pitched.
Can you make bread with brewer’s yeast?
Yes, as long as it’s ‘active’. As brewers yeast and baker’s yeast are the same thing in many respects you can definitely use them to make bread. However, when I say that I do have a voice in the back of my head which says “what a waste of good yeast”!