Nottingham Has Fallen?

Every fall I brew a couple batches of cider, using sweet cider from a local press. I am quite particular about my ciders – I like them dry, and am not a fan of flavoured ciders. I’ve blogged about this in the past (click for all cider posts), so I won’t repeat everything here. But in short, I simply pour the fresh-pressed cider into a carboy, chuck in a packet of Nottingham yeast, and let ‘er rip. Once fermentation is done I’ll clarify (if I feel like it), and add a bit of acid blend and wine tannin. The latter two ingredients make up for the fact that my local cider mill is making sweet cider from dessert apples. Because of this, a bit of acid can help to brighten up the post-fermentation flavour, while the tannins add a bit of body. This year I added 1/2 tbsp of acid blend, and 1.5 tsp of tannin.

My love of Nottingham is nothing unique. In fact, I found out about it from this wonderful 2008 post over at homebrewtalk, where CvilleKevin tested a number of yeasts in cider, and identified Nottingham as one of his favourites. Every year I make a point of brewing a cider with Nottingham, usually pairing that with a second, more experimental, yeast or recipe.


A Better Cider Yeast?

Beehive from where I capture WM2018-J, the yeast used in this cider.
Beehive from where I capture WM2018-J, the yeast used in this cider.

This years experiment was a simple one. A few years ago I made mead using yeast from my beehives. This made a pretty good mead, and so “behind the scenes” I’ve been purifying a few of the strains and running tests on them. One strain (with the great name of WM2018-J) has become a bit of a house favourite for mead. It ferments fast, isn’t phenolic, and nicely accentuates the honey flavour of my meads. Its not a perfect yeast, and for example, flocculates poorly. But I thought I would give it a try in my “experimental” batch of cider.

Cider, made with WM2018-J.

As you may expect from its description, it took a long time to make this cider. Nottingham will ferment and clear out of the cider in 10-14 days, with another month or so of aging rounding off the cider nicely. WM2008-J struggled in comparison. In mead I treat this yeast as a high-nutrient yeast and use a corresponding TONSA fermentation approach. I did not do this with the cider, so it fermented the must from 1.056 to 1.022 in about a week, then stalled. Realizing my mistake, I pitched a fresh lot of WM2008-J and some nutrient, which was enough to bring the cider down to 0.999 in another 10 days.

Following fermentation I let the cider age in my cellar (starting at ~18C, and dropping to 15C by mid-January) for several months. Despite this long aging, it never cleared well. In late January I kegged the cider, crash-cooling it in the keg by placing it outside in -25C weather for a few hours. Following the cold-crash I added some gelatin and force-carbonated the keg. This did clear the cider somewhat, although a faint haze remained. I suspect this is a petcin haze, as I did not use any pectic enzyme at the start of fermentation. No other adjustments (acid blend or tannin) were added. None-the-less, the cider was kegged and ready for consumption.


Tasting Notes

Instead of my normal tasting notes, I’m going to write this up as a comparison between the Nottingham and WM2008-J version of the cider.

WM2008-J (wild yeast)Nottingham
AppearancePale straw, almost white, with a persistent fine haze.Light golden colour, clear as a bell.
AromaApples, yeast and flowers.Classical apple cider aroma – a mixture of apple and yeast.
FlavourModerate apple flavour overlaid with a very complex yeast character. The dominant yeast character is a floral note, similar but not quite the same as bergamot in Earl Grey tea. As the cider warms, this floral note takes on a more rose-like quality, especially in the aroma, but with a subtle shift in the flavour as well. This floral note is complemented by a subtle “generic herb” note which is most apparent when the cider is cool. Despite its low final gravity, this cider is neither dry nor crisp, and instead has a soft and gentle mouthfeel – I suspect, due to glycerol being produced by this yeast.Strong apple flavour, slightly fruity English yeast character, and is very crisp. The acid blend is just enough to make the apple character “pop” without being acidic on the palate. The tannin provides some mouthfeel and a very subtle apple-skin astringency. The after taste is that of apples, with a subtle alcohol note. This cider is the very definition of simplicity, but it is the clean simplicity of this cider which I love.
MouthfeelMedium-bodied and soft, with the body becoming heavier as the carbonation dissipates.Crisp and dry, with the carbonating giving it a “sharpness” on the roof of your mouth.
OverallThis cider is the opposite of what I usually look for in a cider – it is complex, with layered flavours and aromas. Rather than being dry and crisp, it is instead soft and gentle on the palate. But unlike the ciders I hate – the overly-sweet, flavoured alcopops that are so popular today – this cider is a joy to drink.I love this cider. It is great. Amazingly refreshing, great apple flavour, quaffable, and without pretention.

So what is WM2008-J?

As you may expect, the successes I’ve had with this yeast have led me to do a bit more of a deep dive into its biology, including identifying its species and genus by ITS sequencing (full sequence at the bottom of the post). It is Saccharomyces bayanus! This is a not-uncommon pseudo-species of yeast sometimes used in wine and cider making. Its a pseudo-species, in that it is a hybrid of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, uvarum and eubayanus (link to a study discussing this). Interestingly, this may mean that this isn’t truly a wild yeast, and instead may be a “rewilded” domestic yeast that my bees picked up from one of the wineries or cideries located near my farm.

So maybe this isn’t so much a wild cider as a feral cider…but its damned good either way!

The ITS sequence, for any who are curious:

> WM2008-J ITS
AGGATCATTTAAGAAATTTTATAATTTTGATATTGGATTTTTTGTTTTGGCAAGAGCGTGAGAGCTTTTTCTGGGCAAGAAGACAAGAGATGGAGAGTCCAGCCGGGCCTGCGCTTTAGTGCGCGGTCTTGCTAGGCTTGCAAGTTTCTTTCTTGCTATTCCAAACAGTGAGACTTCTCTGTTTTTGTTTTAGGACAATTTAAACCGTTTCAATACAACACACTGTGGAGTTTTTTTACTTTTGCAACTTTTTCTTTGGGTTTCGAGCAATCGAGCCCAGAGGTAACAAACACAAACAATTTTTTTTTTTCATTTAATTTTTGTCAAAAACAAGAATTTTCGTAACTGGAAATTTTTAAAATAATTTAAAACTTTCAACAACGGATCTCTTGGTTCTCGCATCGATGAAGAACGCAGCGAAATGCGATACGTAATGTGAATTGCAGAATTCCGTGAATCATCGAATCTTTGAACGCACATTGCGCCCCTTGGTATTCCAGGGGGCATGCCTGTTTGAGCGTCATTTCCTTCTCAAACATTCTGTTTGGTAGTGAGTGATACTCTCTGGAGTTTACTTGAAATTGCTGGCCTTTTCATTGGATGTTTTTTTTCCAAAGAGAGGTTTCTCTGCGTGCTTGAGGTATAATGCAAGTACGGTCGTTTTTGGTTTTTCCAACTGCGGCTAATCTTTTTTGTACTGAGCGTATTGAAACGTTTTCGATAAGAAGAGAGCGTCTAGGCGAACAATGTTCTTTAAG

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