Yeast is a very interesting little organism - it is neither a plant
nor an animal, but a single-celled fungus. As such, there are several
different species and varieties of yeast and, just like with the
apples you choose to make your cider, each one will make the end
product taste a bit different. The differences come because of the
rate of sugar consumption and carbon dioxide and other waste product
creation, as well as the temperature and pH needed for fermentation.
The two main types of yeast are baker's and brewer's yeasts. While
both are Saccharomyces cerevisiae, they are different strains (like
the difference between Red Delicious and Macintosh apples). The
active dry yeast that you can get in the grocery store is baker's
yeast - and is used for baking bread. To brew hard cider you want
brewer's yeast. This comes in dry and liquid forms. The Cook's
Thesaurus has a nice outline of different types of yeast (with
pictures!) at http://www.foodsubs.com/LeavenYeast.html
This discussion thread about making cider with baker's yeast may be of
Some online vendors will tell you important differences among the
brewing yeasts, like the attenuation level, temperature needed, and
flocculation level. See, for example, the list of yeasts at Brewer's
Rendevous: http://www.bobbrews.com/yeast.html. You'll see that the
champagne yeast has a low flocculation while the cider yeast has a
medium flocculation and is active at a lower temperature.
Here's the Yeast Information FAC from brewery.org:
http://brewery.org/brewery/library/yeast-faq.html. I found this a
great source of information about yeast, types of yeast, and how to
use it (note that it has a bias towards beer brewing).
Apparently the yeasts used for making wine (including champagne yeast)
can tolerate a higher level of alcohol in the mixture before
attenuating than beer yeasts can. See "Alcoholic fermentation by
yeast cells" at http://www.yobrew.co.uk/ferment.htm. That site also
has a section on cider brewing.
Here are some interesting articles that talk about the different types
of yeast used for brewing hard cider (note that most recommend using
either a cider-specific yeast variety or at least a wine yeast - not a
Yeast Selection for the Production of Hard Cider in Canada
Hard Cider Yeast Test (this is a discussion thread where a brewer is
testing about a dozen different yeasts to see which is best)
The choice of yeast is a very personal one, and unfortunately no one
can tell you what you'll like best. I've found on the Internet
recommendations for Red Star dry champagne yeast, Wyeast cider yeast,
White Labs cider yeast, and Cotes de Blanc (also called Epernay II or
2). The difference among these is the level of sweetness that remains
in the cider after the brewing is done. Note that unless a yeast is
specified as a cider yeast it is probably a wine yeast (including the
Cotes de Blanc).
You can buy all of these online - just do a Google search for the
particular strain you settle on, and you'll get several vendors on
both sides of the "pond".
This sounds like quite fun - I hope you find a yeast that you like.
For your first try I'd take the plunge and use the yeast recommended
in your recipe - or you could try a half batch with cotes de blanc and
a half batch with some other variety. Would be interesting! I found
the above websites and information by doing a series of searches on
the Google search engine for "cider yeasts" "bakers brewers yeast"
"types of yeast" etc.
Please let me know if I can follow up on any part of this answer -