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Old 02-03-2013, 10:50 PM   #1
Gavagai
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Default Cider Pitching Rate

I've heard from multiple sources that long slow fermentations produce the highest quality ciders (see, e.g., http://homepage.ntlworld.com/scrumpy/cider/cider.htm and http://www.lostmeadowvt.com/cider/other.htm). In my limited cider making experience (3 batches), I have found this to be the case.

Cider-makers can take a number of steps to slow down fermentation (minimizing aeration, low fermentation temperatures, low-nutrient juice, keeving, etc). Pitching rate must also factor in, but I've found relatively little information on cider pitching rates. Clearly quality cider can be made via natural fermentation, but assuming you're starting with pasteurized or sulfited juice, how much yeast should you add?

Let's start by looking at wine pitching rates. Since grape juice has a much higher OG than apple juice, we'll use wine pitching rates as reasonable upper bound on cider pitching rates. Standard wine pitching rates are 25-40 g/hL (via Lalvin's website). 25g/hL translates to about 1 gram per gallon.

According to Gillian Grafton (see above link), traditional pitching rates for English ciders are 5-15 times lower than beer pitching rates. The standard ale pitching rate (via George Fix) is 0.75 million cells/mL/˚Plato. Assuming a gravity of 1.050 (fairly middle-of-the-road for unadulterated apple juice) and 90% viability, this translates to 35 billion cells per gallon, or 2 grams of dry yeast per gallon. This figure divided by 5 to 15 equals 0.13 to 0.4 grams of dry yeast per gallon (2.3 - 7 billion cells per gallon).

So I don't have an answer, but I think 0.13 - 1 grams of dry yeast per gallon is a reasonable range. Any thoughts?

Obviously you can make good cider with higher pitching rates, as many of us have, but if you've ever had a really good Normandy cider, you know that we have a lot of room for improvement. Refining our fermentation practices has to be part of that.

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Old 02-04-2013, 12:10 AM   #2
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Very interesting topic and also comes with conflicting info. Most will say to overpitch but we all know that yeast multiply. I'm with the thought that I'd almost underpitch and MAKE the yeast multiply at will (with the thought that it'll be a longer ferment). I usually do 5 gallon batches and use the whole vial or packet, but when I do a 2.5 gallon experimental batch I do only use half.

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Old 02-04-2013, 12:18 AM   #3
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Dunno...put I a whole packet of Montrachet in my 3gal batch of apfelwein/cider, along with 19oz of dextrose.

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Old 02-07-2013, 03:59 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by JtotheA View Post
Very interesting topic and also comes with conflicting info. Most will say to overpitch but we all know that yeast multiply. I'm with the thought that I'd almost underpitch and MAKE the yeast multiply at will (with the thought that it'll be a longer ferment). I usually do 5 gallon batches and use the whole vial or packet, but when I do a 2.5 gallon experimental batch I do only use half.
Well, that's just the question. What constitutes underpitching or overpitching? We agree on 0.75 cells/mL/˚Plato for ales, 1.5 cells/mL/˚Plato for lagers... but what about cider? Maybe 0.75 cells/mL/˚Plato is overpitching! It's far from clear that we can just translate beer techniques into cider making.

I think I'll send some emails to farmhouse cideries. Hopefully there's a some degree of agreement between them.
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Old 02-07-2013, 12:26 PM   #5
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Scott labs recommends 25g/100L of their dry yeast for wines, and cider is a type of wine, therefore pitch rate should be in the neighborhood of 1g/gallon.

Although I wouldn't count on pasteurized and sulfited juice to be free of yeast, if left unattended, juice treated in this manner will ferment naturally as the goal is to eliminate harmful bacterial like e.coli or other potentially harmful pathogens.

I don't suggest a low pitching rate, this is a good way to let other organisms get a foothold in the cider before your culture can take over. Rather you want to extend the actual fermentation itself, not just the growth/lag phase of the yeast. Personally, I prefer good temperature control over the other options, as keeving success is unpredictable, insufficient nutrients can lead to yeast stress and sulfur smells and aeration of the unfermented juice can bind your free SO2 and alter the flavor if the cider from the start.

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Old 02-08-2013, 12:21 AM   #6
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Scott labs recommends 25g/100L of their dry yeast for wines, and cider is a type of wine, therefore pitch rate should be in the neighborhood of 1g/gallon.
Well, yes, except that apple juice has roughly half the sugar content of grape juice. I got a response from Judith Maloney of West County Ciders, who says they use about half as much yeast as wine-makers, which I'm assuming means somewhere in the 12-20g / 100L range.

I don't know, maybe pitching rate isn't terribly important for cider.

What's your preferred fermentation temperature?
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Old 02-08-2013, 01:04 AM   #7
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As per my understanding, brix doesn't effect the max population of yeast possible in must. Even at 'wine' rates there is still a lag phase in fresh apple juice as the yeast colony builds up so I don't see the benefit of underpitching, although you can get away with it so long as you pitch within the window that allows for your yeast strain to become dominant and eventually ferment dry. My best results have come from establishing a healthy yeast colony and then maintaining as low a temperature as I can get away with and still keep the fermentation going. Commonly 50-65F depending on the strain.

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Old 02-22-2013, 02:09 AM   #8
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Just got a response from Nancy of Alpenfire Orchards (Port Townsend, WA). She says they use 15-20 grams per hundred liters.

A note to any cider makers using yeast pitching calculators: you're pitching A LOT more yeast than the pros.

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Old 02-22-2013, 02:57 AM   #9
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It seems like going down from the 11g packet I usually use to half of it might help from what you are saying. I think temperature control is more important than yeast pitch rates, I ferment at home at about 58 F using Cotes de Blanc with pretty good results. I will ask my boss what he does at Colorado Cider this weekend and get back to you. Yeast will propagate till it reaches a "critical mass" so under pitching doesn't make a lot of sense because you just get more lag time while the colony builds up. Over pitching is probably worse though because the yeast will fight each other till they get down to the right amount and produce stuff you don't want.

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Old 02-22-2013, 07:00 PM   #10
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I agree that temperature control is probably more important than pitching rate. But the amount of yeast growth required doesn't just impact lag time. It also changes the flavors that the yeast produce. There's a study cited in Yeast (Laere 2008) showing that lower pitching rates increase production of acetate esters and decrease production of higher alcohols, at least in beer. It's also known that underpitching will often decrease the level of attenuation in beer.

Granted, these effects seem to be less dramatic in wine and cider, at least if we take as evidence the general lack of attention paid to pitching rates by wine and cider makers. This is probably because juice is much easier for yeast to metabolize than wort. However, I still think it's likely that a lower pitching rate will produce a more interesting cider. And given that professional cider makers are already using a low pitching rate, it clearly can produce a good product.

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