Pitching yeast is simply the terminology used by brewers for adding yeast to your wort or unfermented beer, mead, cider, wine, etc.
In the case of beer, after you have brewed your wort and chilled it, you add the yeast to the fermenter before putting the lid on and placing it into your fermentation chamber or space.
The yeast is what turns the wort into the beer. Yeast are living organisms that feed on sugar, the byproducts of their consuming the sugar are CO2 and of course alcohol.
Since yeast is a crucial component of making beer it goes without saying that learning how to pitch yeast correctly is an important step in the process. Providing the yeast with the ideal conditions that it requires in order to perform optimally is imperative.
Although there are many strains of yeast there are in fact only two forms of yeast that brewers can use when making beer, liquid and dry. In this article, we will review both and explain how to pitch each of them properly.
Pitching Liquid Yeast
Different companies make different styles of liquid yeasts. Some come in what is referred to as a “Smack Pack” which simply means that before opening the package you need to literally give it a smack in order to break the inner package which contains the nutrients. You then shake the whole package in order to mix the contents thoroughly, some companies then recommend you let the package sit for a couple of hours at room temperature.
Outside of those extra steps pitching any liquid yeast involves the following process:
Some brewers recommend that if you are using a liquid yeast that you make a yeast starter, other ourselves included simply pitch the yeast directly into the fermenter and it works just fine.
Before pitching yeast whether it is liquid or dry it is important to look at the package to see what temperature they recommend the wort should be at. Typically the company will provide you with a temperature range. Most yeasts can be pitched once the temperature is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Next, it is recommended to dip your yeast package into your bowl of sanitizer in order to make sure there is no bacteria present. It is also recommended to sanitize the scissors you are using to open the package with. It is very important to keep bacteria out of your brew.
Now simply pour the contents of the yeast package into the chilled wort.
Some brewers will give the wort a good stir with a sanitized spoon in order to aerate it as oxygen is a requirement at this point for the yeast to do its job. Other brewers simply allow the wort to splash around when they pour it from the kettle into the fermenter, which typically allows enough oxygen to penetrate the wort and allow the yeast to perform.
Note: This is the only time in the brewing process that oxygen is healthy for the beer. During the rest of the time, it is important that you restrict your beer’s access to oxygen as much as possible.
Next, we will take a look at using dry yeast and as you will see there is not much difference in the process…
Pitching Dry Yeast
When it comes to pitching dry yeast follow the same sanitizing instructions we just covered and then it is just as simple as sprinkling the yeast directly onto the wort and aerating it by giving it a good stir. This is the technique we use and recommend.
However, there is no doubt you will come across brewers who recommend that you hydrate the dry yeast in water before pitching it into your wort. They believe by doing so you are bringing the yeast to life before pitching it and are giving it a better chance of getting started; some also believe it makes fermentation start quicker.
In our experience, we have never had a problem simply adding the yeast to the wort without rehydrating. We also believe that rehydrating can risk contamination, it’s an extra step in the process that allows for the possibility of bacteria being exposed to your beer; so it is not worth it in our opinion.
However, if you wish to rehydrate your dry yeast the following are the steps you would take:
- Boil 2 cups of water
- Pour 1 cup into a sanitized bowl and let it cool to under 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Again dip your yeast packet into your sanitizer along with the scissors
- Open your packet and pour it into the bowl of water
- With a sanitized spoon stir the yeast and water for about 15 seconds.
- Now cover the bowl with saran wrap and let it sit for approximately 15 – 20 minutes.
- You will notice a dough-like smell and start to see a light foam forming.
- You can now pitch the yeast into your fermenter.
Tips for Pitching Yeast
After pitching your yeast it will typically take at least 24 hours for you to see signs of fermentation happening. However, some yeast strains will start sooner than that and many will start later. Although rare sometimes it will take up to 72 hours to see any action happening.
If after 72 hours you are not seeing signs of fermentation there are two things you can do:
Simply pitch some dry yeast into the fermenter.
Alternatively, you can take a hydrometer reading, if the gravity has not started to move then the yeast has not started to do its job, if this is the case simply pitch some new yeast into it.
If you are using an outdated yeast or one that you have concerns regarding its quality, prior to pitching it we recommend that you do make a yeast starter first, if it starts to foam you will know it is a quality yeast and that it will ferment your beer.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following is a list of questions we get asked from time to time on pitching yeast. Although most of these topics have been covered in this article we decided since they get asked as often as they do we will cover each one individually for your reference.
Why Do You Pitch Yeast?
Although it is true that the beers brewed centuries ago never had yeast added directly to them by the brewer, it was still an important part of the beer-making process. Back when beer was first discovered wild yeast was finding its way into liquids similar to wort and fermenting it. It took a while for people to figure out yeast was part of the equation to making beer.
Simply put without yeast you are not making beer, in fact, you can even make nonalcoholic beer without it. It is that important not just in the making of the alcohol but also in the development of many of its characteristics.
Do You Stir After Pitching Yeast?
Yes, you can but you do not have to stir your wort after adding the yeast as long as you allowed the wort to splash around when transferring it from the kettle to the fermenter, which serves the same purpose as stirring it, i.e. aerating the wort. Stirring does no harm and we typically will give our wort a good stir prior to putting the lid on the fermenter.
At What Temp Do You Pitch Yeast?
Each packet of yeast will tell you what temperature range they recommend you pitch at. With most strains, you are safe as long as you get the temperature under 80 degrees Farahenight. However for us, this is the high end, we like to get it down to at least 75 degrees Farahenight.
What Happens if I Pitch Too Much Yeast
You will still achieve your goal of making beer however the yeast might do its job too quickly and as a result, the beer might not have enough time to develop some of the characteristics you were striving for.
How Long Can Wort Sit Before Pitching Yeast?
Unless you are practicing the no chill method it is recommended that you pitch the yeast as soon as you cool the wort down to the proper temperature. Do not overstress this however, there are many methods you can use to cool your wort, some do so faster than others. So if you are using an ice bath to cool your wort it can take longer than an immersion chiller and that is fine. The point is, do not intentionally wait hours or days to add your yeast.
Should I Use a Yeast Nutrient?
When making most beers you do not need to use a yeast nutrient, however, if you are making a big beer with a high ABV around the 7 – 8% range you might want to consider doing so.
The Final Word
Pitching yeast is not complicated, it is as simple as opening the packet and sprinkling or pouring it onto your wort. However, the techniques we have covered in this article will ensure that you are maximizing the fermentation and reducing the chances of bacteria infecting your beer.
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