Hi Folks – Last year I decided it was time to come up with some new cider and cyser recipes, so in addition to 20 keg batches, which were mostly made with ole trusty Nottingham ale yeast, I did roughly 80 single gallon batches with different yeasts, juice and sugars. I saved a liter each of the better ones (36 total) and drank them with friends last month to see what was worth replicating for this year. For anyone who is interested, here are the results:
– I try to make ciders and cysers that are semi-dry to semi-sweet – ie from 1.002 to 1.008 when they finish out. That’s a good bit dryer than the commercial ciders I like (woodchuck granny smith, woodpecker, original sin), but not so dry that it tastes like a white wine (or jet fuel).
– I used fresh juice from a couple of local cider presses. One has the option of UV pasteurization, the other just sells unpasteurized.
Some people say that unpasteurized juice tastes better. It depends. I did several keg batches where the guy at the press filled a couple of carboys right before the juice went through the UV, and a couple right after the UV. The only difference was the UV. The UV changes the color a little bit, but the taste was exactly the same.
Once the juice ferments, it’s a different story. The pasteurized juice ferments faster, the results are more consistent, and you can drink it in a few weeks. If you cold crash it, it is quite drinkable in about 10 days. Since you don’t have to sulfate it, it doesn’t stink up your brew cellar as much. Finally, if you use Nottingham, S04 or a lager yeast and add sugar, enough of the yeast will stay close to the bottom that you can stop fermentation before the sg bottoms out just by racking a couple of times, which is a lot less hassle than cold crashing.
Using pasteurized juice does have disadvantages. It doesn’t get the nice clear finish of unpasteurized juice. And it often overwhelms the airlock with krausen and makes a mess, because there is no sulfate slowing the initial fermentation. But mainly it doesn’t keep as well. I didn’t realize this before last year, because previously everything I made would be drunk up by February. However after a few months the pasteurized stuff gets vinegary. Without exception, all of the batches that we tasted last month which were made with pasteurized juice had a noticeable vinegar taste, even though they tasted fine back in the early spring. All of the unpasteurized stuff was fine.
The unpasteurized juice tastes really sour during and after fermentation – even when it has a relatively high final sg - and it takes several months to mellow. But it still tastes great almost a year later and in many cases improved. Unlike the pasteurized juice, I havent been able to stop the fermentation by using a bottom fermenting yeast, extra sugar and racking (at least not so far), but cold crashing still works.
The type of apples makes a big difference. You have to start with a good blend or the final result will taste crappy, no matter what yeast and sugar you use. I had the best results with blends that were based around Staymans and Winesaps as the main juice, with Granny Smiths to give it some extra tartness and Golden Delicious, Yorks or Pink Ladys for sweetness. I’m sure there are lots of other combinations that work, but these are what’s readily available in Central Virginia.
Yeast – the best ones so far
(for the juices I used)
– This has been my favorite yeast for several years. It works well for sweet ciders and cysers with pasteurized juice, although not so well for unpasteurized cyser. It cold crashes well with any juice. With just juice, no sugar, and cold crash around 1.004, it is outstanding. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. You have to do either rack or cold crash to keep it from drying out all the way, as it tends to strip out the flavor if it goes all the way dry.
– This is becoming my new favorite. It has a little fruitier taste than the Nottingham. It cold crashes well with any juice. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. With unpasteurized juice, if you don’t cold crash and just let it ferment out to dryness, it leaves more of the apple taste than the Nottingham. It also works better for unpasteurized cysers. I haven’t tried a pasteurized cyser with it yet.
– This lager yeast has a similar flavor profile to Nottingham. It doesn’t do as well with unsweetened juice, but is good if you add sugar to bump the sg up to about 1.060. This is one that definitely improves with age. It was one of the best that we tasted last month. It cold crashes well.
– This yeast imparts an interesting taste to the cider which reminds me a little bit of a pale ale. It works better with pasteurized juice – with unpasteurized it tends to knock out some of the body.
Yeasts I’ll probably try again
– So far I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar, cold crashing both batches. It has a nice smooth taste and lots of body, but not much tartness. However, mixed with juice that is fermented with WLP300 (which fermented out a little too tart) it was outstanding. I’m planning to try it with unpasteurized juice this year to see if that imparts a bit more of a bite.
Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead Yeast
– I tried this one with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar, all of them cold crashed. All were good, although the best was unpasteurized with sugar.
– I did several experiments with wild yeasts. Generally, they tasted pretty good until the sg dropped below 1.020 and then they started picking up nasty flavors. Cold crashing keeps them stable for a little while, but not for long. But they do pick up some interesting tastes.
Yeasts I probably wont use again, but still were OK
– I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. It tasted nearly the same as using Nottingham, which is very good, but they were similar enough that I would say its not worth the extra hassle and cost of a liquid yeast
– I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. It was very slow to start fermenting. It had a nice body and flavor but a really sour finish, even though I cold crashed it. Mixed with the Wyeast 3068, it was really good though.
– So far, I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice. It finishes out really sour, but has a fruity taste. I kinda liked it but none of my friends did. Adding sugar before fermentation makes it taste worse.
– So far, I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice with no sugar added. It ferments out more tart than Nottingham and has a woody taste which I wasn’t crazy about, but some might like. If you like Blackthorn dry commercial cider, you’ll probably like working with Coopers.
– I used to use this yeast all the time back in the day until a friend turned me on to using Ale yeast. It ferments very fast and very dry. With unpasteurized juice, the only way I could ever get decent results was to let it dry out and then back sweeten with the original juice. I’ve been able to get OK results with pasteurized juice by cold crashing, but you really have to keep an eye on it because it drys out fast.
Yeasts I don’t particularly recommend
Wyeast 4766 Cider Yeast
- Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened unpasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely
WLP720 Sweet Mead
- Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened pasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely
- I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. They were both really bitter.
– I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, butter taste.
Red Star - Cotes de Blanc
– I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, buttery taste.
- Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, no extra sugar. Both were drinkable but somewhat bland.
– Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. All tasted pretty crappy. Basically sucked all the flavor out of the juice.
I experimented around with different combinations of cane sugar and dextrose. I found that both leave an aftertaste, with the dextrose a little more of a beery taste and the cane sugar a little more winey. Of the cane sugars, the darker sugars leave more of a butterscotch taste. I got the best results with a mix of 2/3 dominos organic cane (which is a light turbinado) and 1/3 corn sugar and adding whatever is needed to get the sg to 1.060 to 1.065. I found that going above 1.065 causes the finished juice to lose the apple taste.
For cysers, I add 3lbs of honey to 5 gal. I warm the honey jar up a little in a hot water bath so that it mixes easier. For some reason, the honey causes pasteurized cider to finish a lot more clear that with sugar or on its own.
I also tried using agave nectar on a couple batches. The result tasted like diluted and alcoholic agave, which was interesting, but not what I was going for. It tasted like the yeast fermented out all of the apple sugar (and taste) and left the agave sugar behind.