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The Great Cider Experiment of 2010

I have a co-worker who also brews beer.  He’s even guest blogged on this site.  He had a ton of apples collected from a tree in his yard, so we decided to try our hand at creating a hard cider.  I had already made a Mr. Beer Cider, but for real apples, we had no idea where to start. After a lot of Googling, we figured out most of the basics and set out to our local homebrew shop.  The guy there was a wealth of information, and sent us in a pretty different direction.  The processes we eventually used were mostly done by his advice.

A lot of websites we had been reading had advised cooking the apple juice to kill off the natural yeasts.  Our LBHS suggested the use of Campden tablets to do roughly the same thing without boiling the juice, which can change the flavors.  We decided on an ale yeast, and NOT to add any additional malts or sugars.  The natural sugars from straight apple juice are good for about 5% ABV on their own.

Ingredients

  • 3 Types of Apples – 90% tree apples, 5% Granny Smith, 5% Red Delicious
  • Safale S-04 Dry Ale Yeast
  • Campden Tablets
  • 5oz. Priming Sugar

Misc. Details

  • Brewed September 20, 2010  –  O.G.: 1.042
  • Secondary: September 30, 2010
  • Bottled November 02, 2010  –  F.G.: 1.008
  • 4.5% ABV

How Do You Make Hard Cider??

At it’s essence, hard cider can be made from separating juice from apples, then fermenting.  That’s REALLY all there is to it.  To make a consistent batch of Cider, there’s a little more process involved.  The major trick with cider is controlling the wild yeasts.  You could kill them off with a good boil, or you can use campden tablets like we did.  The boil is the quickest way to go, but I was told you can lose some of the natural goodness of the apples.  We were told to let the tablets work their magic overnight after juicing, so an extra day was involved for cider making.  After juicing, you could add additional fermentables, like malt or brown sugar, but we opted not to raise the alcohol levels.  As you’ve killed off the natural yeasts, you’ll need to add some of your own back to the juice.  By using beer yeasts you have more control over the final flavor, and there’s less risk of wild yeasts gone wrong.  We chose a pretty standard ale yeast (Safale S-04).  After fermentation, you can let it set for a while, rack to a secondary, or just bottle when you’re ready.

Juicing the Apples

I don’t know the ‘best’ way to juice apples, but I happened to have a Power Juicer that worked just fine.  We didn’t know how far our tree apples would go, so I had a couple bags of store bought apples on hand, as well.  The store bought apples gave up a lot more juice than the tree apples, and using them would have been much faster, though quite a bit more expensive.

Before juicing, I dissolved the campden tablets in a couple cups of water.  A little of this solution was added to the juice collection cup before juicing.  This was said to reduce the browning of the liquid as it came in contact with air.  General info found online said to add about one tablet per gallon of juice.  The tablets need time to do their work, so the extracted juice sat overnight before yeast was pitched.  My Mr. Beer kegs worked perfectly to hold the juice.  A fermenting bucket would have worked, as well, but the Mr. Beer kegs left less air in contact with the juice.

The juicing of the apples was WAY more work than I’d signed on for.  The juicer needed to be cleaned a lot, and it took a lot of dang apples to make enough juice.  The first evening only yielded 2 gallons of juice, so a second night of juicing followed.  After two nights I had 4.5 gallons of juice to work with.

On the third evening, I pitched the yeast.  Fermentation took off pretty quickly.

Settling and the Secondary

I racked the cider to the secondary after about 10 days.  I was surprised to see how much crud was in the primary.  As you can see in the pictures, there was a pretty thick layer of crud floating on top of the juice.  I tried to be careful not to transfer much of the heavier gunk to the secondary.  I was also surprised to see how cloudy the cider was at this point.  The major crud had separated out, but the juice remained very cloudy.  I just hoped that the time in the secondary would take care of quite a bit of that… it didn’t.

Due to a lack of time, and a lack of decent settling, it was a month later that I finally got time to bottle the cider.  Even after all of this time, the juice was as cloudy as the day it moved to the secondary.  I can live with it, but I’d like to find a way to improve that for next time.

Consistent information on priming for cider is hard to find.  I did some research, then picked a middle ground.  I dissolved 5oz. of priming sugar in about a cup of water.  This dissolved sugar was added to my bottling bucket as the cider was being siphoned over.  I happened to have sugar left over from one of my brewers best kits that was already measured out, and that worked great.

Drinking & Evaluating

I cracked open the first cider after just about a week in the bottle.  First thing to note, the cider is clear now!  For whatever reason, the settling that didn’t happen in the secondary happened very quickly as the cider carbonated in the bottles.  Gotta be careful pouring, though, as it’s all settled at the bottom of the bottle now.

So how’d it taste?  Well… that’s a matter of opinion.  This cider is TART and DRY.  It’s more like champagne.  As would make sense, using mostly tart backyard tree apples makes for really tart cider.  The juice was great as we were juicing, but once the sugars were fermented out, the tartness busted through in a big way.  All that said, I like it.  My co-brewer thinks it’s awful, though he’s found that adding cinnamon or other sweeteners or spices makes it a little more quaffable.

Overall, the cider experiment went pretty well.  We found out that it’s a ton of work, and that the mixture of apples and inclusion of some non-fermentable sugars would be key improvements.  I’d also like to find out the trick for clearing better before the cider is bottled.

This was a cool process, but the Mr. Beer Cider kit is actually a much easier, and better tasting, alternative.  Worth checking out if you want to make cider.

Random Facts & Details

Safale S-04 – A well-known, commercial English ale yeast, selected for its fast fermentation character and its ability to form a very compact sediment at the end of the fermentation

Campden tablets (potassium or sodium metabisulfite) are a sulfur-based product that is used primarily in wine, cider and beer making to kill certain bacteria and to inhibit the growth of most wild yeast

Clearing the Cider

It’s just a matter of time.  Once the cider contains alcohol, it will eventually clear.  This can take a month, or 2, or more.

Sweetening the Cider

There are a few ways this can be done.  One site I found suggests using sugar alcohol.  These can be natural, like sorbitol or xylitol, or chemical, like splenda.  The same site suggests using flavor concentrate, too, to give some extra apple flavor.

More on sweetening

  • For still brew.
    Wait until fermentation is complete, as confirmed with consistent hydrometer readings over a week or so. Stabilize the cider with k-metabisulphite and sorbate. This will prevent any renewed fermentation. Now just adding any sweetener you like, turbinado, table, corn sugar, honey, maple syrup, juice concentrate, fruit juice, whatever. When you have it at your preferred sweetness (I suggest going till it is almost sweet enough, as it blends with age) just bottle as you normally would, no need for priming sugar.  TIPS FOUND HERE
  • For sweet brew.
    Let it ferment completely, then add a nonfermentable sugar to your bottling bucket. This could be stevia, splenda, lactose, etc. Be wary of how much you add, because these tend to vary greatly in sweetness from real sugar. Then go ahead and add your priming sugar to the bottling bucket, and rack your cider into there allowing the sugars to mix. Bottle as per normal.
  • Backsweetening – Add potassium sorbate to stop further fermentation. Wait 2 days, then add 1 can of frozen concentrate (NO WATER) and 1/2 cup of Splenda.
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