Best Hard Cider Yeast
My recommendation for the best hard cider yeast for a beginner is Safale S-04 by Fermentis. Safale S-04 is a great balance of price, availability, ease of use and produces a final product that is very consistent and high quality.
For more advanced cider makers, Red Star’s Cote des Blancs is a great hard cider yeast selection. It gives a very high quality outcome, but you should only use it when utilizing a technique that doesn’t include fermenting the cider all the way to dry.
Yeast plays a very critical role in the process of making hard cider. Many different yeasts can produce a fantastic hard cider. However, I give my top yeast picks for beginners and advanced cider makers on this page. Here’s what else you can expect to find in this page:
What is Yeast?
The definition of yeast is a single-celled fungus that ferments sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast is a thoroughly researched microorganism that researchers have studied to gain a better understanding of human biology and even make energy. It also plays a vital part in baking, used as a leavening agent in breads.
But most importantly, yeast produces alcohol through a process called fermentation! This is the process used to brew beer, and make wine and cider. Certain strains of yeast have been cultivated to draw forth desirable characteristics in these fermented beverages, and a known generally as ‘brewer’s yeasts’. Let’s take a closer look at the at the different categories of brewer’s yeast.
General Types of Brewer's Yeast
Some advanced cider makers use the naturally occurring yeast on the apples to ferment the hard cider. This can be a risky and unpredictable process, so I would only suggest it for advanced cider makers. A couple things to keep in mind are that would have to start with unpasteurized, preservative-free cider. Pasteurizing juice (anything bought in a store) kills all the wild yeast, making it impossible to ferment without adding additional yeast.
Champagne yeasts are very commonly used in making cider and are called for in many recipes. Some common brands and types are Lalvin EC-1118, Red Star Champagne, Pasteur Champagne, and Premier Cuvee.
While many cider makers sing the praises of champagne yeast, others complain that the result is too dry, stripping out too much apple flavor. Many successful cider makers who use champagne yeast don’t let their ciders ferment all the way dry to avoid this issue.
Champagne yeast has a medium to low flocculation, meaning it takes longer to settle out of the liquid. Although there is some variation among specific yeast types, champagne yeast typically ferments in a range of 60 degrees – 75 degrees.
Wine yeasts most often used for making hard cider are yeasts cultivated for white wine, and often ones intended for aromatic benefits. Some of the typically used brands are 71B or M2 from Lallemand or Red Star’s Côte des Blancs. These handle high ABV (most over 15%) and can impart a fruity tone into the final product.
It is not uncommon to use ale and lager yeasts to make hard cider. Most beer yeasts are less alcohol tolerant than wine yeasts but bring a wide range of aromatic elements. The most commonly used yeast in this category used as a hard cider yeast is Nottingham Ale Yeast.
The increase in popularity of hard cider has caused several commercial yeast producers to introduce cider-specific strains. These often have a little bit lower ABV rating (10-12%), but that is plenty high unless you are wanting to make an apple wine or mead (in which case a wine or champagne yeast would be a better choice). Some of the common types of hard cider yeasts are Mangrove Jack’s Cider Yeast M02, Safcider from Fermentis, WLP775 English Cider Yeast from White Labs and Wyeast 4766 Cider.
Best Hard Cider Yeast - Beginners
Safale S-04 is my top recommendation for hard cider yeast for beginners. It is a strain of yeast that many cider makers use and like, making it my top recommendation. It’s an English ale yeast known for its fast fermentation time and high level of flocculence (it drops into the sediment when it’s done fermenting, leaving a clearer cider). S-04 also yields a very compact sediment, making it easier to leave the sediment behind when removing the hard cider.
The temperature range is 64-72 F, ideally sticking in the lower end of the range (even slightly under). S-04 also doesn’t finish as dry as the wine yeasts, which leaves more of the residual apple sugar (and flavor) in the hard cider. Additionally, because it can handle alcohol contents as high as 18%, it’s a common selection for apple wines as well.
Nottingham ale is a versatile yeast, used in a wide range of beers. It’s a good hard cider yeast because it is neutral, allowing the flavor of the apples to come through. Like most yeasts used for cider, it has a high attenuation (converts most sugars to alcohol). It is also highly flocculent (drops into sediment when done fermenting).
This English-style ale yeast has a good tolerance for low temperatures (down to 57 f), with an optimal range between 57F and 70F (keeping it under 65F will produce much better results). It also comes in a vacuumed package which makes it apparent if the package has been punctured. The 11-gram package is good for about 12 gallons of cider!
Lalvin 71B-1122 (71B) is a white wine yeast known for producing a smooth final product and enhancing fruit flavors. 71B has a very wide fermentation range from 59 to 86 degrees. An alcohol tolerance of 14% makes this a popular choice for those making apple wines or cysers (apple wine with sugar coming from honey). It does consume 20 – 40% of the malic acid in the cider, which is a negative thing if you are using apple juice already low in acids (as most commercially available juices are).
Safcider is a champagne yeast that is commonly used to make hard cider and boasts the ability to do so effectively even under difficult fermentation conditions. It works with a very wide range of temperatures (50 – 86), with the ideal range being 64 – 75. It’s reported to work well with low pH levels (from 3.3) and has low nitrogen requirements (from 150 ppm).
Like most yeasts used for cider it is highly flocculent (drops into sediment when fermentation is complete). Being a champagne yeast, it has a high listed alcohol tolerance of 16%, but some report a max around 12-13%. Cider makers also report that it holds apple flavor very well but emits a strong sulfur smell during fermentation and benefits from longer aging before bottling.
Mangrove Jack M02 is a cider-specific yeast that has grown in popularity in the cider-making community. This yeast comes with yeast nutrient already mixed into the packet.
With a listed fermentation range of 64 – 75 degrees, it’s easy to ferment at room temperature. The M02 is a fairly fast to ferment the hard cider, and most will drop out of the cider when fermentation is complete (highly flocculant).
The resulting hard cider has great apple flavor and a very nice aroma and ester (aroma or flavor that is reminiscent of flowers or fruits)
Cider House Select Cider Yeast is another cider-specific yeast that is not be widely used. However, some of the folks that use it swear it is the best yeast for hard cider.
This yeast comes with a small of amount of yeast nutrient already mixed into the packet
The listed temperature range is very wide, from 54 degrees up to 82 degrees. However, the manufacturer recommends using a temperature range of 61-75 for best results.
Cider house select yeast can be pitched directly into the cider, or rehydrated into a paste first (following directions on packet).
One of the big selling points of this yeast is that it is a high ester-producing strain, and produces a very good flavor.
WLP775 is a liquid yeast made by White Labs that is very popular with cidermakers. It is categorized as a English cider yeast.
As a liquid yeast, it will cost you more and needs to be kept cool. However, many people say that the overall quality is well worth the added cost and inconvenience.
The optimal fermentation temperature listed is 68 – 75 degree Fahrenheit, which is relatively high and a relatively tight range compared to some other yeasts. However, since the range is so close to room temperature, it shouldn’t be hard to maintain.
WLP775 can be pitched directly into the cider, or used to make a starter prior to pitching. It has medium flocculation, meaning that some of the yeast will remain suspended in the cider.
One other thing to keep in mind is that this yeast produces sulfur during fermentation, so be prepared for a stinky fermentation. The manufacturer claims that 2 weeks of aging will remove the smell.
Best Hard Cider Yeast - Advanced
Red Star’s Cote des Blancs is loved by some cider makers and hated by others. While some claim it is an over aggressive wine yeast that ruins all the flavor, others swear by it to be the best yeast out there.
If left to ferment completely dry, Cote des Blancs will take a cider beyond dry (some report as dry as .990). This is why many who sing it’s praises use techniques to stop the fermentation before it gets that far (either with chemicals or cold crashing). It’s also very important to keep the fermentation at a low temperature, to preserve as much flavor as possible.