In my last post I wrote about hunting for the apples with which I make hard cider. Having done that – I’ve located two trees full of what appear to be ‘Golden Russet’ apples — I thought I would add a few notes about turning the fresh, sweet cider I’ll press from that fruit into the fermented, alcoholic product: hard cider.
The best introduction to this process is a book that Annie Proulx co-authored early in her career, long before she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Shipping News. Cider is the succinct title of this early effort, which Proulx wrote in partnership with cider-maker Lew Nichols. Together, they introduce the reader to every detail of cider-making, from selecting the fruit, to bottling the finished product.
One detail this book does neglect is the fine points of selecting an appropriate yeast. This is a point of some contention. Some cider makers just go with the yeasts that naturally occur on the apples. This is, no doubt, how hard cider making began millennia ago, and it is still the rule in the Asturias region of Spain, where I have tasted excellent ciders. The problem with this approach is that there are many strains of wild yeast, some good, some bad, and you won’t know which you have got until you pop the cork on a finished bottle. Uneven quality, in fact, has been a major obstacle to the export of ciders out of Asturias.
I prefer to innoculate my cider with a specific strain of yeast, so that I can better predict how the finished product is going to taste. But which yeast should I use? In the past, I’ve relied on champagne yeasts, typically Lalvin EC-1118 Champagne. This is a very aggressive strain that is fast fermenting and produces a very dry hard cider – I prefer a cider that isn’t sweet at all.
I used to sulfite my ciders immediately after pressing the apples, to knock out the wild yeasts, but I’ve found that the Lalvin EC-1118 is sufficiently competitive that when I use it, I can skip this step. That’s good, because occasionally the sulfites give the finished product a faintly sulfury odor.
I’ve been told, however, that this yeast is so aggressive that it strips out much of the appley bouquet that is one of hard cider’s pleasures, so this year I am going to experiment with some other yeasts. Lalvin K1V-1116, a white wine yeast, is supposed to be kinder to the bouquet, while still proving quite competititive, and I will surely make a batch of hard cider with this. I’ve also had Lalvin D47 Yeast, another white wine yeast recommended to me as enhancing the bouquet and producing “floral notes”. I’m not sure what those are, but I may try a batch with that, as well.
And if you happen to be in western Massachusetts on October 14th, do join me at the hard cider tasting I will be hosting for the Sandisfield Arts Center. There will be lots of fine ciders by leading cider makers complemented by local cheeses and live music.