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Full question – mvolke1 at MakeHardCiderEasy Youtube Channel:
“Great videos on the yeast starter.  I’m definitely going to use your method.  I have a local orchard that presses a hard cider blend around Thanksgiving.

I have made cider a few times. The first was from a kit.  The results were pretty good.  It was dry, but bland.  The next, I made a New England style, and added too much stuff to it.

I want a semi-sweet cider that has apple flavor and isn’t too complex. I was thinking of just using the cider and the yeast starter you suggested. Will the starter work on a 5 gallon batch? And when I pitch the yeast, do I put the apple peelings in the carboy along with the liquid?”

Answer:

A good batch of yeast starter produced as in the Yeast Starter Experiment should be ideal for a 5 gallon batch.  Do not put the peel from the apples in the carboy; if necessary use a sanitized sieve to separate the peelings from the starter juice.  As much as possible be careful to avoid exposing the juice and the starter to the air as this will increase the possibility of introducing airborne bacteria. 

Use an Auto Syphon

A good gadget to aid in this process if your container has a wider neck is an Auto Syphon.

Don’t be tempted to simply suck on a hose as this will almost certainly contaminate the juice.  Transfer it before it stops fermenting, the ideal time is as soon as it slows down, usually 5-10 days.  If you are not quite ready, simply put it in the fridge and this will temporarily stop the fermenting process without killing the yeast.

If you are doing this for the first time with a particular type of yeast, juice and or particular process, our suggestion just as in the Hard Cider Recipe experimenting with Natural Yeast Starters videos for the yeast starter is to make several separate fermenting batches at once, in smaller than 5 gallon quantities.  Essentially repeating the idea used to produce the yeast starter, but this time kicking off at least 3-4, 1 gallon fermenting jugs side by side.  Make each one slightly different using different types of yeast and or juice.  This is a great way to try using other additives to the mix such as cranberry, peach or mango juice.  Avoid the mistake I made when I first started doing this though.  Do take the time to keep detailed notes of what you used for each batch.  As I know from experience there is nothing worse than getting a great result but then not being able to recreate it in a larger quantity.  A personal favorite of mine is to add small quantities of berry juice of one type or another.

When you have a batch that is really good you can re-use the yeast starter from the successful batch and make a larger quantity with a much greater probability of success.   Also the second generation yeast starter saved in this way will generally be more concentrated and you should have more of it, see What is the process for storing and reusing a successful yeast starter? for detail on this method.

We advocate the multiple batch method as it can be very disappointing to realize several weeks into the process that you have a whole 5 gallons of either a pungent horror story or simply a poor tasting product.   If on the other hand, if one or two of your jugs fermenting in parallel turn out ‘not so good’ it’s not such a big deal.

Apple Juice obtained from a local Orchard

Make Cider Form Juice Obtained From a Local Orchard
If you are using juice pressed locally the rules may change, depending on whether they have pasteurized it.  If they have pasteurized it they will have killed the wild yeast and you will indeed need to use a Yeast Starter.  At the risk of stating the obvious make sure they have not added any preservatives, take nothing for granted.

Unpasteurized Apple Juice

If on the other hand if you can get unpasteurized juice then it should at least in theory have sufficient wild yeast already in it to kick off the fermentation process.  Generally it is rarer nowadays to be able to obtain unpasteurized apple juice as local laws often prohibit orchards from selling it.  This is mainly due to potential health hazards usually associated with new strains of E-coli and similar potentially dangerous bacteria which can sometimes be found in some unpasteurized beverages.   It should be noted though that until very recently, almost all Apple Juice sold in the States was in fact unpasteurized.

The whole pasteurized / unpasteurized debate is a contentious one, with unpasteurized advocates convinced that pasteurizing significantly affects the flavor.   Pasteurized advocates on the other hand will argue that there is a significant health risk and that modern methods of pasteurizing do not significantly affect the flavor.   Also, for many, it’s preferable to control the fermentation by adding a specific strain of yeast.  Generally these cultured yeasts produce a dryer more alcoholic product. 

Our own experience is that no two apple juices produce the same result regardless of whether they are pasteurized or not.  Everything affects the flavor: the type of yeast, the temperature of fermentation, the specific juice or blend of juices and many other factors.  This is one of the things that makes the process of making hard cider so much fun!  Also we prefer a Hard Cider around the 3.4% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) range, as not only is it easier and quicker to produce, we like to drink it like beer, by the pint and still be standing at the end of the evening albeit with a bit of a wobble!

The bottom line is that the benefit of making a yeast starter is to kick off, accelerate and control the fermentation process.  The longer a batch of apple juice sits waiting for fermentation to start the greater the possibility the bacteria will multiply.  As fermentation starts and alcohol is produced it inhibits the bacteria from multiplying acting as a natural preservative.   So even if you use unpasteurized juice a yeast starter will help the process.

Once you have a great batch of yeast starter you are in a good position to consistently produce great cider in larger quantities.

Question:
“What is the process for storing and reusing a successful yeast starter?”
Paraphrased for brevity

Answer:
In practice it is really simple, just take the remains, that is the sediment and remaining juice on the bottom of a successful fermented batch of hard cider and store it in the fridge, when ready add some fresh juice (which will naturally contain sugar) and start the process again just as in the videos.   Yeast Starter

I have successfully reused sediment that was around six weeks old; I have no idea what the limits are though.

The really cool thing about this process is that you can play around generating various yeast starters, just as in the Natural Yeast Starter Experiment until you get one that produces a really good hard cider then keep reusing that particular starter over and over again, each new batch effectively producing a new Yeast Starter for the next.  Each time you do so the yeast starter can actually get more concentrated and in greater quantity depending how large a batch of cider you make and how much sediment you keep.   Due to this I have found that second or third generation yeast starter can actually work better than the first!

Even at that point the fun and experimentation can continue, try different hard cider recipes i.e. use combination’s of different fruit juices to create really unique results.  My personal favorite is to add about 20% redcurrant juice to the mix and call it Red Apple Cider!  Lovely…

A recent question regarding Hard Cider Recipes and Natural (Wild) cider yeast starters

Question: “At what level of ABV will natural (wild) cider yeast die off?”                                      Paraphrased for brevity

Answer: Commercial yeasts are usually selected at least in part for their high tolerance to alcohol, wild yeasts are therefore more likely to die off sooner due to their lower tolerance to alcohol concentration, so if high alcohol content and predictability is the goal then probably a champagne yeast that is more alcohol tolerant may be the best bet.   Wild or natural yeasts on the other hand inherently add a level of unpredictability to the process but can also produce distinctively different result.

Given that natural (wild) yeasts are many and vary from location to location I guess it’s not surprising that each time I have created a natural (wild) yeast starter I have got a different result as have several of my friends.  Although 3-4% ABV (Alcohol By Volume) is generally easily achieved with natural yeast starters I have on occasion successfully achieved a 7% ABV and may have been able to take it further had that been my intent.  Most of mine get consumed pretty quickly though… 🙂

One of the problems of fermenting cider is that (in my experience) people, particularly those new to the process can get turned off due to a bad result, this being particularly frustrating after investing several weeks in the process.  The philosophy of the ‘Hard Cider Recipe experimenting with natural yeast videos‘, indeed the site itself is to suggest ways to make the process easier for beginners.

Given the inherently unpredictable aspects of natural yeast cultures and many opportunities for even the purchased yeast based batches of cider to go wrong, my belief is that a good way to approach the process is to experiment with several batches at one time, thus allowing for some to go wrong.  This can accelerate learning; it’s the ones that don’t work that teach us the most?  At the same time a positive result encourages further efforts.

Some Commercial Yeast Varieties

English Cider Liquid Yeast          Red Star Pastuer Champagne Yeast

Cider Yeast                    Champagne Yeast

Thus for anyone starting out I would encourage them to create a batch or three using natural yeast starters alongside one or two using packaged cider yeast products.  If some fail it’s no big deal, it’s good to go into this expecting and allowing for some failures.  The benefit of running multiple batches is that it builds up experience fast and the process itself can become fun and extremely interesting.  The alternative being to invest several weeks (at least) in one batch which may or may not be a winner.

Once a good batch of hard cider is produced from a natural yeast starter the opportunity presents itself to reuse that batch in its more concentrated form.  This then can increase the probability of further success.  Even then I would use it to get multiple batched going.

From there we get into the issue of preferences, which type of yeast starter produces the best result? I have produced both good and bad hard cider from both.  My personal and highly subjective favorite was made using a natural yeast starter, sadly it was all consumed some time ago :(.