DIY: Picking a Yeast for your Home Cidermaking

imagesWhen starting to think about making a batch of cider at home there are a lot of variables to take into consideration. What kind of juice are you going to ferment? What kind of yeast will you use? Will you do anything to add to the cider before and after fermentation? How will you package it? These questions are just the start of what you need to think about before you start fermenting your juice into a nice cider, and we will talk about yeast in this post and follow up with answering some of the other questions in the future.

If this is your first batch you might think all yeasts are created equal, as you expose yourself to different ciders you can taste that the juice and yeast selection plays a role in the final fermented product. Yeast is a living organism that will consume the sugars in your juice and expel CO2 and alcohol as waste products, this is a metabolic process known as fermentation. Different strains of yeast actually produce some of the unique flavors you will taste in the cider – esters, phenols and alcohols. Researching on yeast manufacturers websites you can see them talk about flavors like green apple, butterscotch, buttery, sweet corn, barn yard, sweet pear, banana, clove, strawberry, etc. – some of these might be what you want to have in your finished cider, but none of the flavors are guaranteed to be there. If you follow directions and ferment it properly you may get some desirable outcomes.

Home cidermakers typically choose between dry or liquid yeasts – which one is best for you? Dry yeast is usually less expensive and easier to store, liquid yeast requires refrigeration and won’t keep as long (some are only good for a few months).  There are a lot more strains of yeast available as liquid, so if you like to experiment you may want to look into liquid. I like to keep a few dry yeasts on hand in case I come across some juice I want to ferment. Some cidermakers even opt for using the wild yeast that is on the apples, allowing the apple to ferment itself and let its whole true nature be revealed.

White labs offers this insight on using dry vs fresh liquid yeasts:
“Fresh yeast from White Labs has never been dehydrated and is alive and ready for inoculation upon delivery. Yeast fermentation contribute much of the flavor and aroma of cider, and liquid White Labs yeast offer significant character contributions to cider. The flavors and aromas will differ based upon apples used and fermentation conditions, and thus many cider makers experiment to find the strains (each with their own flavor contributions) that match the flavor profile they are seeking. The yeast is particularly valuable on drier styles in which the fermentation flavors shine through, and for which the yeast can contribute unique and complex flavors.”

Some suggested yeasts for cider making:

Fermentis SafCider
Cider House Select Premium Cider Yeast
Wyeast 4766 Cider
Danstar Nottingham
Lalvin EC-1118 Prise de Mousse
Lalvin QA23
Red Star Cote des Blancs
Red Star Montrachet
Red Star Premier Cuvee
Safale-US-05 Ale Yeast

When I want to try new yeasts I check out deals on e-bay, some sellers put together collections of yeast – perfect to try on your cider experminents! Check out Nor-Cal Brewing yeast variety packs!

Liquid yeast lab White Labs has a unique program called The Yeast Vault that allows some interesting strains they have collected for over 20 years to be cultivated for use by home cidermakers and brewers with some pretty unique ones like “Scottish Cider Blend” and “Funky Cider Blend”.

Do you have a favorite yeast or one you absolutely did not like the outcome? Post it up!