Exploring Different Yeasts for Fermenting Cider

[Editor’s note: The following report is the summary of a research project that was funded by the American Homebrewers Association in 2013.]

By Stan Sisson, Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF)

The purpose of this experiment was to determine if there were White Labs yeast strains that produced apple ciders that a majority of consumers would prefer over the usually recommended WLP775 English Cider strain.

Methods and Materials

Seven experienced cidermakers were recruited, and each selected a different White Labs yeast strain for their cider. One of the seven cidermakers used the WLP775 English Cider strain as the go-to strain for comparison.

The apple juice selected for the experiment was Kirkland brand from Costco. This juice is readily available, produces a clean and pleasant cider, and is thus a good base for fermentation-related experimentation. A small amount of nutrients were added to each 5-gallon batch: ½ teaspoon Fermaid-K and ¼ teaspoon DAP (diammonium phosphate) .

Aeration/oxygenation was limited to shaking the carboy for one minute, as not all of the cidermakers had oxygenation capability. No starters were made. One vial of each strain was pitched into the 5 gallons of apple juice along with the nutrients. The yeast was provided by White Labs and was picked up at the source to ensure maximum freshness and viability.

Fermentations were conducted in the recommended temperature ranges for each of the yeast strains. The WLP862 Cry Havoc strain can be fermented as either a lager or an ale and was fermented in the ale temperature range.

Length of fermentation and other fermentation characteristics such as lag time and kräusen production varied somewhat for each strain, with the lager strain requiring the longest fermentation time, probably due to the relatively low fermentation temperature.

After fermentations were complete, each cider was kegged and carbonated to the same level. The finished ciders were then transferred to growlers and transported to the judging site. The ciders were approximately one month old at time of judging.

Judging was performed blind by a panel of 10 experienced judges, none of whom had made any of the ciders. In addition, the seven cidermakers also ranked the ciders in a blind tasting, in a separate area where they would not be influenced by the judges.

Approximately two weeks after judging, all seven ciders were made available for the general public to taste side by side at the White Labs tasting room in San Diego. Forty-five ballots were collected from this event.

Results

In all tastings, the WLP775 English Cider strain did not come out on top in terms of consumer preference. This may reflect a regional preference for sweeter ciders. All of the strains except WLP002 English Ale were able to fully attenuate the apple juice. The strains and their rankings are shown below.

Yeast Strain Lag Time Ferm. Temp. (°F) Judges’ Rank Cidermakers’ Rank Public Rank Overall Rank
WPL775 English Cider 10 hr 65–67 3 tie 4 4 4
WLP002 English Ale 6 hr 74–76 2 1 1 1
WLP028 Edinburgh Ale 12 hr 68–70 1 2 3 2
WLP810 San Francisco Lager 8 hr 59–61 7 7 7 7
WLP500 Trappist Ale [now Monastery Ale] 8 hr 68–70 5 6 5 5
WLP575 Belgian Ale Blend 12 hr 68–74 6 5 6 6
WLP862 Cry Havoc 12 hr 68–70 3 tie 3 2 3

Related Information

Of interest is that with 10 experienced judges all tasting the same ciders at the same time, the comments for Bouquet/Aroma and Flavor would be so different from judge to judge. I suspect that those who have entered homebrew competitions and read their score sheets can relate to this. Here are a few selected comments for each strain. Remember that there are conflicting comments in most cases.

WLP002 English Ale

  • “Crisp apple aroma. Clean fermentation character. Low esters, low phenols. Showcases apple aroma.”
  • “Very light straw color, slight haze.”
  • “Sweet apple, finishes a bit sweet. Balance towards sweetness over acid. Med. body, petillant carb, medium alcohol, very crisp finish.”

WLP028 Edinburgh Ale

  • “Crisp apple aroma with a light fruity ester – flowery like aromas. Very pleasant.”
  • “Very clear, very pale gold.”
  • “Very low sweetness, tart apple, moderate complexity, medium acid.”

WLP862 Cry Havoc

  • “Medium apple aroma with a light flowery character. Light citrusy character. No phenols, no off aromas.”
  • “Very clear, pinkish tinge.”
  • “Extremely dry, some apple character, wine-like (Sauvingione Blanc [sic]).”

WPL775 English Cider

  • “Very subdued sweetness and apple.”
  • “Pale gold, slightly cloudy.”
  • “Tangy, but lacks some apple notes. Med-high acidity, tannic.”

WLP500 Trappist Ale

  • “Very low apple aroma notes with a distinct spicy (almost ‘Belgian’) note.”
  • “Very pale straw, good clarity.”
  • “Quite tart, quite dry, distinct apple flavor notes.”

WLP575 Belgian Ale Blend

  • “Little spice, esters, very fruity. Too much esters that it almost smells solventy.”
  • “Very clear, very pale gold.”
  • “Very dry, low to moderate sweetness, tastes bigger in the alcohol, moderate carbonation, sweetness and bitterness linger into aftertaste.”

WLP810 San Francisco Lager

  • “Medium sulphery [sic] notes. Light ‘yeasty’ champagne aroma. As it warms, sulpher [sic] becomes unpleasant.”
  • “Clear, pale gold, good carbonation. Darker than other versions.”
  • “Quite dry and fairly tart. Low indistinct fruitiness. Sulpher [sic] is off-putting.”
Quaff Cider Tasting

Quality Ale and Fermentation Fraternity (QUAFF) | San Diego, CA

Discussion & Conclusion

I would like to extend thanks to the cidermakers, the judges and steward, the people who took the time to rank the ciders, and White Labs for making this a fun learning experience. I suspect some cidermakers will try different yeast strains in their ciders, and maybe a few people who have not made cider in the past will decide to do so.

After concluding this experiment, it is obvious that there are many yeast strains suitable for fermenting ciders. I would encourage current and future cidermakers to take what you can from this experiment and add to it by trying different yeast strains, letting others know how your cider turned out, and sharing your plans for future fermentations. For me, I’m thinking WLP028 for my next batch of Apple Pie Cider.

The post Exploring Different Yeasts for Fermenting Cider appeared first on American Homebrewers Association.