An increasingly popular option for home cidermakers is to ferment their juice with Belle Saison yeast—or other strains that are var. diastaticus, which helps to ensure a complete fermentation as the yeast keep chomping away on sugars.
As an added bonus, these yeast strains also produce some glycerol, which provides a bit of body and just an impression of sweetness—as they do for saison—despite fermenting out the juice (or wort) completely. That makes them an interesting option for producing a dry cider that doesn’t taste overly austere.
Optionally, you can also back-sweeten or flavor the cider after fermentation. Notably, when fermenting cider, these saison yeasts—without maltose to chew on—don’t produce as much of the clove-like or spicy phenols usually expected of them. Fermentation at ambient temperatures, ideally supported by nutrients, can take a few days up to few weeks.
Thanks for this recipe go to Josh Aune, an accomplished St. Louis–area homebrewer and cidermaker. He was the first to tell me that he uses Belle Saison for his ciders, and some cursory online searching found quite a bit of forum chatter on the topic, going back a few years.
Batch size: 5 gallons (19 liters)
5 gallons (19 liters) of the best apple juice you can source
0.25 oz (7 g) Fermaid O yeast nutrient
6 ml Biofine (optional)
Lallemand LalBrew Belle Saison, White Labs WLP590 French Saison, Wyeast 3711 French Saison, or similar strain
Add yeast and nutrient to a clean and sanitized fermentor, then pour the apple juice on top. Cover loosely with a sanitized piece of aluminum foil and ferment at ambient temperatures—anywhere from 60–80°F (16–27°C) should be fine with this yeast. After the initial fermentation activity has slowed down—a few days—you can replace the foil with an airlock. Once fermentation is complete and stabilized, package and carbonate to desired level of sparkle. Optionally, for a clearer product, add Biofine 1 or 2 days before packaging.
Yeast & Fermentation: If you’re getting fresh-pressed juice from an orchard—or pressing it yourself—consider adding a Campden tablet (potassium metabisulfite) to kill off any wild critters that might produce off-flavors during fermentation; then let it sit 24–36 hours before pitching the yeast. (Alternatively, you can consider going the purist route for a wild ferment, without pitching yeast—though this can take months rather than days, with no guarantees.) Another option—if you want to go rustic but in a more controlled way—is to co-pitch with some Brett and/or lambic blends. Besides saison yeast, other popular strains for fermenting cider include Fermentis SafAle S-04, LalBrew Nottingham, and various wine yeasts. We’ve also heard about small-batch successes using kveik strains and even sourdough bread cultures. If you’re using store-bought juice, you can pitch your yeast right away.
Back-sweetening: There is no need for back-sweetening at all, if you like your cider dry. However, after fermentation is complete, Aune likes to back-sweeten his cider with ¼ can of frozen apple juice concentrate. (This is no problem if you’re kegging and chilling, but be careful about bottling with unfermented sugars—if you’re adding much more gravity than you would for priming, it could lead to exploding bottles.) We have also heard of home cidermakers either using non-fermentable sweeteners (monk fruit extract could be worth trying) or adding sugar but home-pasteurizing their bottles.
Optional flavors: There are many possibilities here, including adding cinnamon and/or vanilla, berries and other fruits, chilies—you can even dry-hop it. Or just keep it pure and enjoy the taste of fermented apple.