Many first-time brewers start with something simple, like a wine kit, fruit wine, or mead. These ventures typically involve higher alcohol contents, avoiding some of the risks that come with sanitization and brewing beer. Sanitization is still necessary, but when the alcohol and CO2 content rise quickly, your fermentables develop a natural “infection” resistance to molds and bacteria.
So you’ve gone and picked up three pounds of fresh, raw honey and a gallon of spring water. Now what?
Yeast! Your little yeastie-beasties are like pets that make booze for you. Yeasts convert sugars into alcohol and CO2. If you’ve visited your local homebrew supply store, the number and variety of yeasts might have been daunting! Yeast in packets. Yeast in coolers. Liquid yeasts. Dry yeasts. Ale yeasts. Lager yeasts. Champagne yeasts! It’s all so much!
But if you’re just starting – I have news for you. Until you get the hang of making mead and wine at home, there’s only one yeast you need: the controversial EC-1118. This hardcore champagne strain is a beast in the carboy and won’t ever let you down. Some may say, “but wait, isn’t that stuff the main ingredient in homemade rocket fuel?” Well yeah, sometimes. But used correctly, with good record keeping and sanitation, EC-1118 is your best friend in your first fermenting foray. Here’s why:
1. It’s Affordable and Accessible
Expense is perhaps the foremost concern for the novice homebrewer and cost-effectiveness is on your side with EC-1118. Because of the sheer demand for this yeast strain, supply is always ample. You can obtain ten-packs on Amazon for just a few dollars. And it will keep in the fridge for years. I have yet to set foot in a homebrew shop that didn’t have a rack of EC-1118 in the winemaking section. For less than a dollar per five-gallon batch, this yeast is easy on the wallet – and easy on your mind.
2. Low Foam Party
Once EC-1118 takes hold of your brew, it keeps itself under control. Some yeasts, like D-47 pictured below, create a lot of foamy CO2. This foam will travel up the neck of your carboy and out through the airlock. While EC-1118 isn’t perfect in this regard, it is specially bred to have low-foaming characteristics. So instead of making a mess, your brews will turn out more like the other batch of cider pictured below. Crisp and subtle – not making a show of themselves.
3. Competitive Eater
Not to be outdone, EC-1118 is also a competitive yeast. It eats and reproduces faster than most yeasts out there – especially the ones that occur naturally in your home. Luckily, this means EC-1118 will out-compete other yeasts and prevent them from thriving. You’ll get consistent results every time you brew with it. A bonus: if your fermentation with another yeast strain gets stuck and you need to call in reinforcements, EC-1118 will typically jump right to work. It will happily clean up the residual sugars and by-products made by your previous yeast. It’s like your little superhero leaping in to save the day.
4. It Will Go All the Way with You
Speaking of its ability to clean up – EC-1118 will ferment pretty much any recipe dry. For a new homebrewer, this can be crucial. Some yeasts have tolerances of 8-12% alcohol. These tolerances can prevent them from consuming all the sugars in the must. If you want an insurance policy that your brew has fermented all the way out, EC-1118 is the optimal choice to get you there. Several risks come with incomplete fermentations, such as re-fermentation after bottling or cloying sweetness in a final product. With EC-1118, a trusted recipe, and hydrometer, you shouldn’t have any concerns that your meads and wines will be completely dry! Then you can stabilize and back-sweeten if you wish.
5. Flocculation Domination
Once fermentation is completed, and the yeasts have cleaned up after themselves, you’ll have to rack (siphon) your brew off the yeast slurry. EC-1118 makes this a piece of cake. This yeast strain is “high flocculating,” meaning that once it has lived out its purpose, it clumps together and falls to the bottom of the carboy in a firm, compact “cake.” This high flocculation means there will be less disturbance to the yeast when moving your carboys around or when racking to your bottling bucket.
Is EC-1118 the perfect yeast? Not at all. In fact, there are similarly aggressive yeasts that produce better flavors in your wines and meads during fermentation. I usually keep both EC-1118 and D-47 on-hand at all times. And I’ve used a wide variety of other yeasts in the past as well. But for the greenhorn homebrewer, EC-1118 would always be my first recommendation. It’s reliable, functional, clean, and quick. Grab a pack today and put that new equipment to work!