Yeast, since you asked
I posted a story on our instagram feed (@lochmorciderco) a little while ago to see what information everyone was interested in learning about cidermaking. The OVERWHELMING majority of choices were about yeast selection. It's quite a topic and one that has a fairly large influence on the outcome of your cider at home. In general, they were all revolving around this question:
What yeast would you recommend for cider?
Amazing question and one we hear a lot from home cidermakers in the tasting room (when our tasting room isn't under quarantine lock-down rules). It's not an easy answer. Some of it relates to which yeast you can easily get in small quantities for carboy sized fermentations (many more yeasts are available to commercial makers in the standard 500g packages).
--> Lalvin 71B is a great yeast to start and is often available in winemaking stores in small sachets. Why do I like it? It's enhances ester development (fruity aromas) during fermentation; it works well as it reduces the malic acid in the cider (important when using culinary apples); and is also relatively high convertor of glycerol (which improves perception of sweetness). Doesn't usually produce H2S, but, as always, you need to look after your fermentations to make sure the yeast don't get stressed.
--> Layer your yeast to improve complexity and learn. If you have 3 carboys of the same juice fermenting, pitch a different yeast into each carboy to see what difference the yeast choice makes. When it comes time to bottle, blend them together to improve the complexity of your cider.
--> Consider allowing a wild/natural/spontaneous fermentation, even if for just the first 3-4% of alcohol level. When you allow the natural yeasts to do their part, it isn't one strain of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae or bayanus), it is lots of different types yeast which include not only the sacc. yeasts, but also apiculate and others. This layers complexity from the very start, without having to add cultured yeast into the mix. It can go wrong, so here are a couple thoughts on how to manage:
consider pitching a 25% dose rate of SO2 (as calculated based on the pH of the juice) to kill the worst of the spoilage micro-organisms
once the SG has dropped by about 3-4%, you can pitch a commercial yeast to finish off the fermentation more cleanly if you are worried
don't forget to consider yeast nutrients if you would normally need them with your juice
--> We pitch a tiny amount EC118 (saccharomyces bayanus) when we bottle to create the 'prise de mousse' or bubbles in the bottle. It's a strong fermentor in difficult circumstances (closed bottle). I do not like it in a standard primary ferment with culinary apples though - it can leave a sharp somewhat watery cider as the result. The amount of sugar we add to the bottle determines the amount of bubbles created - it is very important to know the strength of your bottles and caps or you may have a bottle bomb.
What else I've learned + other questions answered:
--> What happens with one variety and one yeast does not translate into the same results for another variety. If X yeast makes Golden Russet juice into an amazing tropical fruit bomb, it does not necessarily do the same for another apple. Unfortunately, there isn't any extensive research on which yeasts bring out the best in which apple varieties (unlike the wine world), so it is good to experiment with the apples you have available. We use different yeast with our tannic (cider) apples than with our culinary apple varieties.
--> Don't limit your yeast experiments with what the catalogues say are suitable for apples. My favourite yeast for some of our varieties is actually a red wine yeast. Look for characteristics that you want in your cider (mouthfeel, acid reduction, clean fermentation, etc). I've heard that some cidermakers have success with ale and mead yeasts too; so look beyond the wine catalogues.
--> Fermentation temperature makes a difference for aromatics. Keep it as cool as you can.
--> After fermenting, most cidermakers do not try to repitch their yeast like a brewer would. You can add the lees (if not stinky) to a tank or barrel to improve mouthfeel, but do not expect it to do a clean fermentation on fresh juice.
--> My favourite apple to eat is a Golden Russet. Also my favourite Ontario apple for cider - it's spicy and high sugar. My favourite single variety cider apple is Dabinett (or Harry Masters Jersey - I could go either way). I also love a nice perry (made with real perry pears like Oliver's Blakeney Red).
Resources for more info:
ScottLabs publish handy handbooks for both wine and cider: https://scottlabsltd.com/en-us/handbooks
Vines to Vintages is our local supplier for the Laffort yeasts: https://5a25dbba-f457-4ce2-b7dc-7aebeab10dcd.filesusr.com/ugd/86199b_3a90b9b849294274853e814e021e9e8d.pdf
Escarpment Labs are a local yeast producer and have a great selection of some of the more under-used strains of yeast (Brett, etc) and beer yeasts: https://www.escarpmentlabs.com/strains
Both Wyeast and White Labs also have a selection with cider specific strains of yeast, which I've heard are really good.
CiderChat: The host Ria Windcaller talks to knowledgeable industry folks about all topics cidermaking. She even has one with the Yeast Whisperer, Shea A. J. Comfort. https://ciderchat.com/073-shea-comfort-the-yeast-whisper/
Let me know if I haven't answered your yeast question!