I have received many questions about yeast nutrient since I wrote a post about it and I didn’t have a solid way of backing up my belief that it helps produce better cider. So, I decided to run an experiment, one that can be replicated by other home cider makers. 

The idea was to track the fermentations of two ciders that has different amounts of nutrient to see if there would be much of a difference. 

I didn’t want to get too fancy or scientific but I needed something more accurate than just taking specific gravity readings every day or reporting on my taste. 

So, I searched for a tech solution. 

A graph showing the two experimental ferments declining in specific gravity

This lead me to the Tilt Hydrometer, which is a digital hydrometer that tracks specific gravity and temperature of active fermentations and logs them live to Google Sheets. It’s a pretty cool toy that has become as addictive as checking Reddit.  

I will note, I did not receive any compensation from Tilt for using their cool tool. As an avid maker, I dreamt of building a device like this and after some googling, it seemd very complicated and it would be atleast a year before I could write this post…

Back to the experiment.

Ingredients Used:

Both tests used the same store bought apple juice because I wanted them to be consistent and for each experiment and to be replicated in the future.

Both fermentations also received one package of Nottingham Ale Yeast pitched dry directly into the fermenter.

For the nutrients, I used LD Carlson Yeast Energizer and LD Carlson Yeast Nutrient.

The yeast energizer is a blend of diammonium phosphate (DAP), magnesium sulfate, yeast hulls and vitamin B complex. The package suggests using ½ tsp per gallon of must.

The yeast nutrient is a blend of diammonium phosphate (DAP) and food grade urea. The package suggests 1 tsp per gallon of must.

Both fermentations where placed in my basement with a fairly consistent temperature.

The Recording Device:

The Tilt Hydrometer (can be found on Amazon Here) goes directly into the fermenter and floats, or tilts, in the cider. It was setup to log a reading every 15 minutes of specific gravity, temperature and time that was sent to my Kindle Fire via bluetooth. 

Using the Tilt App on the Kindle, the data was sent to a Google Sheet that comes preformatted from Tilt. Sounds complicated but it was simple to set up and a lot of fun to watch. 

Yeast Nutrient and Energizer Tests:

For these experiments, I wanted to start with a small amount of additions and work my way up over several ferments. I have only completed two so far, but more will come in the future. 

For the first experiment, Ferment #1, I added ¼ tsp of yeast energizer per gallon of cider must which is about half of the suggested dose per the manufacturer’s instructions. 

  • 5 Gallons of Apple Juice
  • 1 Package of Nottingham Yeast
  • 1 and ¼ tsp Yeast Energizer

For the second batch, Ferment #2, I added the same amount of yeast energizer, but also added one ¼ tsp of yeast nutrient per gallon of cider must. This is only ¼ the recommended addition according to the manufacturer but still provides a significant amount of additional DAP in comparison to energizer only.

  • 5 Gallons of Apple Juice
  • 1 Package of Nottingham Yeast
  • 1 and ¼ tsp Yeast Energizer
  • 1 and ¼ tsp Yeast Nutrient

In hindsight, I should have started without any nutrient at all, but I’m far from a scientist… I’ll try that one next.

A graph showing ferment # 1 in a 10 day graph

The Data Results:

I must say, this was fun to watch. I checked the log on Google Sheets way too many times per day for both ferments. 

I started both ciders at night and I woke up each morning and pulled up my app to see what, if anything had happened overnight. This continued for days…

Ferment #1 took almost twice as long to begin fermentation after pitching and almost three times as long to complete fermentation as Ferment #2! 

Looking at the data shows:

Ferment #1 

  • Fermentation began about 16 hours after pitching yeast
  • 56.5 Hours to reach 1.023
  • From first point drop to 1.023: 40.5 hours
  • From 1.046 to 1.001: 31.4 days
A graph showing ferment #2 in a 10 day graph

Ferment #2

  • Fermentation began about 8 hours after pitching yeast
  • 39.5 Hours to reach 1.023
  • From first point drop to 1.023: 31.5 hours
  • From 1.046 to 1.001: 10.6 Days

Looking at the comparison chart, both ferments started very similarly but Ferment #2 had a lot more bouncing. I would guess this is due to VERY aggressive fermentation where the CO2 bubbles pushed on the Tilt which caused the readings to go up and down. 

The interesting part is where they seperate. 

I’m sure there are far more scientific explanations but I believe the additional DAP improved and prolonged yeast health and growth which allowed the yeast to continue metabolizing sugar for longer before slowing.

A graph showing the two experimental ferments declining in specific gravity

The Taste Results:

I always say a quality fermentation is more important than a timeline. Text and comments by other cider makers suggest that slow ferments produce a cleaner, better tasting alcohol but this generally refers to lower temperatures. 

So how do nutrients effect flavor of cider?

It would seem that a slower 30 day cider should taste better than the quick 11 day ferment from #2.

While both ciders were young, I found that #2 was slightly, just slightly, better. The aroma and mouthfeel were seemingly identical but the alcohol came through just a touch more in Ferment #1.

About two months after Ferment #1 was racked, and about a month after Ferment #2 completed completed fermentation, I did another taste test.

The result, both of them taste nearly identical and given a blind taste test, I could probably not tell the difference.  

A glass of fresh hard cider

Overall thoughts:

While skipping nutrients may not hurt, I think having some will benefit the health and provide cleaner alcohol.

Of course, these two experiments do not solve the nutrient debate, but it sure was fun!

I will definitely have to update this post with the data from a ferment without any additional nutrients and one with an overdose to see exactly what happens!