As the craft cider wave rolls across America, interest in home hard cider making is right there with it. When you decide how to turn your apples (or apple juice) into this time-honored but also trendy beverage, you are faced with more choices than ever before. Other fruits can be added, hopped ciders are becoming common, apple variety blending has long been a part of hard cider making, and then there is choosing the yeast. Older references for cider making often advise using Champagne yeast, but modern choices have gone far beyond that narrow focus. There are cider-specific selections from commercial yeast producers as well as a whole world of yeast strains originally selected for beer or wine that also can be applied to hard cider making. Let’s explore some variables that go into the selection of a yeast strain for hard cider making, and then a range of specific alternatives.
Yeast choice for making the best hard cider requires a few considerations. Prominent among these are your specific objectives for your particular beverage. Choice is further influenced by the apples (or juice) that you will have available for the project. Finally, you are faced with whatever range of yeasts you can obtain where you live.
Cider objectives can be simple to complex. You may just have a large quantity of apples and want to turn them into a clean, straightforward adult beverage as simply as possible. In another direction, you may be a history buff and looking to re-create a historical category or style of hard cider. The character of the apples themselves may also drive your decision, if you are seeking to express specific fruit characteristics or capture the characteristics of the apples in a specific region or orchard. If that seems too basic, maybe you want to choose a yeast that contributes strongly to an exotic profile in the finished cider. Even having decided that, you still have the choice of many strains with many effects. You can even take a shot in the dark and rely on indigenous yeast and see what you get, although that’s not a yeast choice that you will have much control over during fermentation.
A popular way to make cider at home is to pick or purchase apples at harvest time, crush them, and press the juice. In that sequence, you may wish to add pectic enzymes to the pulp to increase juice yield and enhance the release of aromatic compounds. If you will be using a selected yeast strain (the point of this article), sulfiting the juice is advisable to retard growth of indigenous yeasts prior to the dominance of your cultivated strain.
If you do not have apple trees but live in an area with orchards, you may be able to buy freshly pressed apple cider from a commercial grower. Frozen cider is often available year-round in apple growing areas, and even store-bought bottled juice may be used if it is free of preservatives (like sorbate). After you have your cider, add yeast and nutrients to get the fermentation started.
Alternative methods for making hard cider are available and some are of historic interest. For example, fermentation can be carried out on the crushed apple pulp and the cider pressed off later. There is also a traditional method from France and England known as “keeving.” To do this, calcium salts and table salt are added to the cider to coagulate the pectins. This causes a brown, gelatinous mass of the pectins to form and rise, which is known as the chapeau brun or “brown hat.” Once the brown hat rises, the clear cider underneath is racked away and fermented. Because it is treated in this way, the fermentation will be very slow as most of the nutrients and indigenous yeast are left behind in the cap, making it easy to create a sweeter cider as the yeast will likely become stuck and leave behind residual sweetness. For more on keeving, check out this link: www.cider.org.uk/keeving.html
Even in a conventional fermentation, your yeast choices may change if you decide to add other fruits to change the flavor and color of your cider or to add sugar to increase the final alcohol level. Among apples themselves, traditional fresh eating varieties or “culinary apples” are lower in tannin and acid than specific-purpose cider apples. If you are using culinary apples, you may tilt your yeast choice toward adding complexity that the apples do not have. If you have a good selection of apple varieties available, including some cider types, you may tend toward a yeast with a simpler profile and build your complexity in the juice.
Culinary (eating) apples tend to be sweet with low acid and low tannin profiles, leading to a fairly bland cider if fermented alone with a clean, neutral yeast strain. Varieties like Red Delicious, Cortland, and Rome Beauty fall into this group. Some multi-purpose apples, suitable for eating fresh as well as cooking or cider, are higher in acid and provide a bit more interest in a blend. These higher acid varieties include Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening, and Winesap. For aromatic enhancement, there are also some multi-purpose types, including Cox’s Orange Pippin, Gravenstein, and McIntosh. Finally, astringent varieties that are high in tannins will usually be grown strictly for cider production. Some of these are Newtown, Lindel, and various crabapple varieties. “Wild” apples that have grown from seeds without deliberate cultivation or grafting will usually be higher in acid and tannins also. When you know what apples you will use, the predicted alcohol/acid/tannin balance can help you choose the best yeast.
In making a yeast choice to match your apples and your objectives, consider three broad attributes of yeast strains for fermentation. Many might be described as “clean” or “neutral” in their effects, producing little in the way of added estery aromas or yeast-derived flavors. Others are specifically targeted at aromatic enhancement, often developing fruity esters reminiscent of apples and pears. Finally, there are specialty yeasts, mostly borrowed from beer brewing practice, that introduce dramatically different aromas such as the barnyard funk of Brettanomyces or the cloves-and-bananas of German hefeweizen.
One additional factor to consider in your yeast choice is availability. Of course, with the Internet, we can order anything from anywhere. To assure the freshest yeast and best product support, I encourage you to work with your local homebrewing or home winemaking supply store. As far as I know, no one has created an exclusively home cider making store — yet! Usually you will find yeasts available in specific cider strains, a variety of wine strains, and many beer-derived choices. Here are my most recommended choices:
While neutral Champagne-like yeast strains were long recommended, modern cider makers are having good success with others that enhance aromas. Most are marketed primarily for white wine production, but adapt easily to cider. Here are a few examples, but feel free to experiment more widely on your own!
Prise de Mousse, EC1118 from Lallemand: A very traditional choice among the Champagne-style yeasts, this one is a bayanus strain of Saccharomyces and has a high alcohol tolerance of about 18%. A level that high would not likely come about naturally from apples, but if sugar is added to make apple wine, this yeast would be a good neutral choice. The character of the apples themselves will be on display, with little contribution from the yeast. The finish is usually bone-dry with no hint of sweetness.
Pasteur Champagne (now called Pasteur Blanc) from Red Star: This is a similarly neutral strain with good alcohol tolerance. This is also known as UCD #595 from the UC-Davis yeast type collection. White Labs liquid yeast WLP715 and Wyeast liquid yeast 4021 will produce similar results.
VQ 10 yeast from Enartis: This is another bayanus strain and reflects the higher alcohol tolerance typical of such yeasts. It is considered neutral in character and may ferment up to 17% alcohol by volume (ABV).
M2 from Lallemand: I will confess to a bias right here — this is my personal first-choice yeast for cider. It reliably produces enhanced fruit aromas that intensify apple character and add other fruit notes including pear, and sometimes also cherry. It also helps develop richer mouthfeel and leaves a fruity note in the finish that may suggest a residual sweetness even when fermented effectively dry. Alcohol tolerance is plenty high for cider, topping out around 15% ABV.
71B from Lallemand: Favored by some cider makers, particularly when faced with a blend of apples that may be too high in acid to produce a well-balanced cider. 71B partially metabolizes malic acid (20-40%), the dominant acid of apples, reducing the sharpness and rounding out the product flavor. It is also estery, although some users report a buttery note, probably from diacetyl production. Alcohol tolerance to 14% ABV.
Enartis Ferm WS: This yeast was originally isolated from an indigenous yeast fermentation of late-harvest Zinfandel at Williams Selyem winery. For aromatic complexity in your cider it might be a good one to try and is very high alcohol tolerant at 18% ABV.
Côte des Blancs from Red Star: Also known as Epernay II, this strain has the UC-Davis type number 750. It has long been used in production of aromatic white wines and often produces similar effects in cider fermentation. It is tolerant to about 15% ABV. It is particularly easy to stop by chilling, so it would make a good choice if your objective includes an interrupted fermentation to produce a sweet beverage.
As cider fermentation grows in popularity, many commercial yeast producers are taking notice and making cider-specific strains.
Mangrove Jack’s Cider Yeast M02: Produced specifically for cider fermentation, this yeast would be among the “aromatic” strains. It produces fruity esters and has a lingering finish along the same lines as M2 wine yeast.
Safcider from Fermentis: This is another bayanus strain that is effective at fermenting cider even under difficult conditions. It has a wide fermentation temperature tolerance of50 to 86 °F (10 to 30 °C). It is rated to 11% ABV, which should be fine for natural-sugar ciders but may not accommodate apple wines with added sugars.
WLP775 English Cider Yeast from White Labs: A traditional cider yeast, this liquid preparation can be used for ciders up to 12% ABV. It produces sulfur odors during fermentation, but should clear up with aging (White Labs says within two weeks).
Traditional ciders made with this yeast include “West Country” styles that are usually made with bitter apples that are cultivated specifically for cider production.
Wyeast 4766 Cider: This yeast was selected for producing a big, fruity finish. Aromas of pears, apples, and other fruits are prominent. Alcohol tolerance is to 12% ABV.
In this category of yeast strains we find a division between fairly neutral/somewhat fruity yeasts in lager and ale strains as compared with very character-driven specialty strains for specific exotic effects. Most beer
yeasts are less alcohol tolerant than wine yeasts but bring a wide range of aromatic development.
Saflager S-23 from Fermentis: This dry yeast was derived originally from VLB-Berlin German brewery. It produces fruity and estery lager beers in its primary role and can bring similar effects to ciders, although it may be a bit subdued as compared with fruity wine yeasts or fruity cider yeasts. As with lager fermentation, it should be used between 53 and 59 °F (12 and 15 °C). It has a lower attenuation profile than some other lager yeasts and may leave slight residual sweetness.
WLP001 California Ale from White Labs: This yeast is widely used among brewers for fermentation of clean, crisp ales. It will bring similar effects to cider, although some users report a beer-like note in the cider even with the neutral character. It is highly alcohol tolerant for a beer yeast, up to 15% ABV. It accentuates hop character in ales, so it could be a very good choice if you want to try a hopped cider. Wyeast 1056 will produce similar results.
WLP565 Belgian Saison from White Labs: A classic strain originally from the Wallonia region of Belgium. It produces spicy, earthy, and slightly funky notes in saison ales and will similarly affect a cider fermentation. It has a low attenuation level and may leave residual sweetness. It is a slow fermenter, sometimes stalling out and then restarting as much as two weeks later. A good choice if you want to make a funky, earthy farmhouse style cider.
Wyeast 3711 French Saison: Along with similar spicy and peppery notes as noted for WLP565, 3711 often displays a citrusy component in the aroma. It shows higher attenuation, leading to a dryer finish. This strain could be a good choice for those hobbyists who want to achieve French cider character at home. It enhances the aromas of added spices, so it might make a very interesting spiced farmhouse cider with added cinnamon and cloves.
Wyeast 3787 Trappist High Gravity: Typically used for strong Belgian ales, this strain produces a complex mix of fruity and phenolic esters. It has very good alcohol tolerance for a beer yeast at 12% ABV or higher. An excellent choice if you want to produce an overtly “Belgian-style” apple beverage.
WLP300 Hefeweizen Ale from White Labs: Traditionally employed to make cloudy, aromatic German-style wheat beers, this yeast has great aroma potential. It produces a blend of banana-like esters and phenolic clove-like aromas. Recommended fermentation temperature is 68 to 72 °F (20 to 22 °C). Fermenting at higher temperatures will produce more esters, potentially developing a strongly aromatic cider.
Wyeast 5112 Brettanomyces bruxellensis: This could be a good yeast choice for the very adventurous cider maker. Old-style Belgian beers like gueuze or sour brown were traditionally fermented with Brett as it was naturally present (it was not added by the brewers). It can produce aromas of sweaty horse blanket and possibly barnyard. For beer brewing it is often used in conjunction with a Saccharomyces strain to complete the alcoholic fermentation. For cider, you could either do that or let it ferment on its own, although unless properly pitched, completion might require three to six months. For more about the latest methods for brewing with Brett, check out Michael Tonsmeire’s story “All About Brett” in the October issue of BYO.
With so many choices and so much range of character, you may be hard-pressed (no pun intended) to decide what to do for your cider. One approach is to split up a large batch or make single-gallon (3.8-L) trial batches with a variety of yeasts and present them to friends and family for critiquing. A couple of years ago, my former colleague at The Beverage People, Kimi Anderson, did exactly that. She purchased locally produced Sonoma County refrigerated apple juice at an independent market and tried seven different strains of beer, cider, and wine yeast on them. She brought the resulting ciders in to work and had five of us taste them and give her written feedback (you can find her summary here: http://www.thebeveragepeople.com/pdf/webwinepdf/AppleCiderYeasts.pdf). The overall winner was M2 and this was the study that started me using that wine yeast for my ciders.
To design your experiment, or to just plunge ahead and make a full-size batch of cider, think of your yeast choice as a matrix of elements. Factor in the character, flavor, acid, and tannins of your apples (or juice); your objectives for the final beverage; and the availability of yeast strains in your area. Let your imagination run free and celebrate the result: Your own unique cider!
Basic Hard Cider
(5 gallons, 19 L)
Estimated OG = 1.060
Estimated FG = 1.000
ABV = 7–9%
Use this base recipe to play around with different strains of yeast. Try making a large batch of this as a base and splitting it into five 1-gallon (3.8-L) carboys and fermenting with five different yeast strains to see what you can get.
2 bushels assorted fresh apples
5 Campden tablets
½ oz. (14 g) pectinase powder
table sugar (optional)
tartaric acid (optional)
2.5 Campden tablets (secondary)
Yeast (of cider maker’s choosing)
Step by Step
If starting with fresh apples, use a mix of sweet and tannic/bitter apples. Before you begin, sort out any spoiled fruit. Then crush the good fruit. If starting with pre-pressed or store-bought cider, skip ahead to pitching the yeast.
Remove a sample of the juice to test for total acidity (TA). You can do this using an acid testing kit (available at homebrew retailers). Follow the instructions in your acid testing kit. If the acidity is less than 0.65%, add tartaric acid to bring it to this level. If you cannot do the test right away, refrigerate the juice and run the test later. Now test the sugar content of the juice with a hydrometer. Correct any deficiencies by adding enough sugar to bring the reading up to 14–15 °Brix (1.057–1.061 SG).
When these tests and corrections have been completed, add one Campden tablet per gallon of crushed fruit right away (65 parts per million SO2). Stir in the pectinase powder. Wait 2-4 hours before pressing the pulp in the cider press for the pectinase to break down the pulp, which increases the amount of juice that can be extracted. It will also aid in clarifying the cider to achieve a clear, bright cider.
Press the pulp to separate the juice from the skins and other solids. Funnel the juice into sanitized fermenters that can accept an airlock. Only fill them three-quarters full. Wait a total of 8–12 hours after crushing and adding the Campden tablets for the sulfite to dissipate.
Pitch your yeast. For recommendations, see the list starting on page 59. Attach an airlock to your fermenter and allow fermentation to proceed. After a day or two of fermentation, sprinkle in 1 tsp. of yeast food or yeast nutrient. Agitate to disperse.
Allow the cider to ferment to dryness, usually less than a month. When visible signs of fermentation end the cider should be removed from the sediment. Use a siphon to transfer the cider to a secondary fermenter. Fill your container all the way into the narrow part of the neck without touching the stopper (no airspace). Close the top with a stopper and replace the airlock. During the racking at the end of fermentation, add 1⁄2 Campden tablet per gallon (3.8 L) (32 parts per million SO2).
Store for two or three months. Carefully rack the cider away from the sediment, making an effort to avoid exposure to oxygen. If your cider is going into extended bottle storage, add another half Campden tablet per gallon (32 parts per million SO2). Beverages such as this may often be enjoyed within two months of bottling. If you plan to drink some that soon, don’t add additional sulfite to that portion at bottling time.
Siphon into bottles, cork or cap them, and set them aside for whatever bottle aging is needed. If you wish to sweeten, add to taste, a syrup made by boiling two parts sugar with one part water, and add 1⁄2 tsp. Potassium sorbate per gallon to prevent re-fermentation in the bottles.
Tips for Success: If your first attempt at cider tastes flat, add a teaspoon of tannin per 5 gallons (19 L); you can find tannin at homebrew and home winemaking suppliers. You can also raise the total acidity, as needed, with a small amount of tartaric acid.
To raise the alcohol of the cider, add sugar prior to fermentation, to raise the sugar content to 17–18 °Brix (1.070–1.074 SG), a customary level for traditional New England-style ciders. Small amounts of brown sugar or molasses may be used for part of the sugar.