Wild-Caught Cider Yeast Adventure

Friday, May 25 at 5:00 pm is the debut of a cider at Redwood Coast Ciders in San Carlos made with a wild California yeast I captured in the Trinity Alps, near the Pacific Coast Trail in August of 2015.  I’m delighted that this organism is finally finding its calling in the beverage world by making a cider.  Cider maker Andrea Johnson made this happen.

“By morning, something from the berries was actively fermenting apple juice in the small jar”

Here’s a quick recap of the life of the organism that fermented the cider.

I always wanted to capture a wild funky native yeast, but each year I’d go to the mountains and fail to do any yeast-prospecting.  One summer, August of 2015 to be exact, I was driving out from camping in the Trinity Alps near the Pacific Crest Trail when I decided to stop by the dirt road and do some foraging.  I wanted to find wild fruit or flowers.  The only thing I found nearby was unripe manzanita berries.  I used hand sanitizer on my hands and on the scissors on a swiss army knife, then carefully took a sprig of berries into a new ziplock bag.  I popped it on ice in the cooler and drove on home.

Knowing that the best chance for getting a yeast to ferment malt and make a beer was to make a starter with malt in it, I also knew I had no time and was about to take on a heavy work week. Reluctantly I sanitized a small glass jar and put in a few inches of pure apple juice from a juice box.  It was the best I could do.  I covered it with foil.

The next morning I was greeted with the obvious fermentation you can see in the image above.  Something alive and vigorous was making carbon dioxide, joyously.  I grew it up into larger vessels, then tried it on beer and cider. It was a relatively clean fermenter with some nice fruity esters, nothing at all like a Brettanomyces species. But it made a nice cider, very dry and fruity.

Since I seldom make cider, I was afraid that I’d have to dump this promising culture eventually.  I felt awful about that.  Fortunately, the folks at GigaYeast, the Bay Area’s own yeast labs, took the sample in and banked it.  They told me that I would not be able to get a home-brew pitch, but that if anybody wanted to order a commercial pitch, they’d grow it up.

Last year at Beers Made By Walking, Andrea Johnson, formerly an assistant brewer but now assistant cider maker at Redwood Coast Cider, asked me about a hard to find wild ingredient I’d used. I suggested that a better option might be the banked yeast, waiting for its big break in the world of cider.

She ran with the idea.  Tomorrow I’ll get to try the fruits of her labor. I’m so tickled that my little rescue-dog of a yeast has gotten a chance to shine in the world of delicious fermentations.  There are so many interesting organisms that just want to make alcohol and flavor for us.

It’s come a long way…

Mount Shasta from afar, with Manzanita bushes in the foreground

Oh, since it isn’t on the Beer By BART list, the tip about Redwood Coast Cider is that it is just a ten-minute walk from CalTrain San Carlos.  You can transfer to CalTrain easily at BART Millbrae station.

Cheers, with a cider for a change!

– Gail

Update: The cider was amazing.  It was young, with a touch of sulphur, but the esters from the yeast amplified a lovely apple flavor. Thanks to Andrea for giving my wild-caught Manzanita-berry yeast such a delicious debut in the big time world of small-batch commecial cider! And thanks for teaching me about cider production. I’m super-excited to know that a keg will be held back for further aging, too! It was great fun meeting the gang at Redwood Coast Cider, and also visiting Blue Oak Brewing, the cidery’s industrial roommates in the backside of the space.


Explore Beer By BART: Use our list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places with detailed transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

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