How can I stop my hard cider from turning to vinegar?
October 3, 2008 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to hang on to some hard cider though the winter — without it turning to vinegar.

I have a lot of (fresh-pressed, non-alcoholic) cider on my hands, both apple and pear. It's pasteurized, but it's pasteurized with UV light, not heat — which means there are still some yeast in there and it will eventually go hard.

In past years, I haven't added anything to it or messed with it at all. I've just let it sit and turn alcoholic. I was pleased with the results.

The only problem is that after a while, it turns to vinegar. I would like to find the easiest way possible to stop it from getting to that stage. I'm handy in the kitchen and have friends who make wine and mead and such, so I'm totally willing to make a project out of it and I've got people to help out. I just want to know where to start, what the easiest method is, etc.
posted by veggieboy to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You need to keep it anaerobic. If the yeast have oxygen, they'll switch from anaerobic fermentation to aerobic respiration, resulting in the vinegar. The way my highschool biology teacher (thanks Mr. Campbell!) recommended was to seal the containers tightly, only venting through a tube that feeds into water at the other end. I found a picture posted in a brewing forum through a google image search.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:16 AM on October 3, 2008

from that forum, it appears that the venting tube is called the "blow-off" - hopefully that will be usefull in researching more diy setups.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:19 AM on October 3, 2008

You can use the trick that we use for ginger beer. Seal the bottles with champagne corks (the sort with bulbous tops), that are tied on with thin string. This means that if fermentation continues in the bottle, the cork will come off rather than having the bottle explode. Then add sugar every few (6-8) weeks and reseal. This will lead to more fermentation (so you'll get really alcoholic cider). But it also stops the sour effect (which happens when the yeast uses up all of the sugar in the last). As you can imagine, we have had some very merry ginger beer evenings ...:-)
An alternative is to use the wine-maker's trick, which is to "stop" the fermentation using sodium bisulphate or a similar addition. You can buy this stuff from a brewers' supply store. Personally, I dislike this method -- I don't like chemicals in my brews and I can taste the additives (see the discussion at this site).
Lastly, I have decanted the cider from the big container into bottles (sealed with champagne corks and string). I have successfully kept it for 6 months and found that it did not turn to vinegar but was still sweet, slightly fizzy, and very good! The vinegar effect happens when bacteria (or vinegar flies) get into the last - this tends to happen when your storage container is not airtight. If you leave the cider in a demijohn or plastic bucket, this is vinegar waiting to happen. So the trick is to decant into sterilized bottles and seal them well, so that there are no bacteria around to feed off the cider.
posted by sgmax at 10:00 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

PS - the last suggestion is to add no sugar but to seal the bottles and just leave them. When I have sterilized the bottles, I have been very pleased with the results for cider. Just make sure that there is some sugar in the last before you bottle it (I usually add sugar to my cider when I make it, as I like a sweet cider).
posted by sgmax at 10:03 AM on October 3, 2008

An easy, cheap solution for an airlock is a plastic bag and a rubber band or two. No need for tubes, water, recorking, etc.
posted by stavrogin at 10:30 AM on October 3, 2008

I have no experience with cider, but as a former homebrewer, I would be tempted to add yeast to the cider to get it to ferment well and make sure that the yeast outcompete any other microorganisms in there. After its completely fermented, I would bottle it (perhaps adding a little sugar if you want it to be carbonated). I think that if you're reasonably clean the bottles should be stable for months.

Yeast itself will not ferment to vinegar. Vinegar is produced by bacterial fermentation, so if you keep things pretty clean you should be ok. Vinegar production also requires oxygen, so if things are tightly capped or corked that should also help.
posted by pombe at 11:37 AM on October 3, 2008

At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I wrote an article on making hard cider for the October '07 issue of Mother Earth News. You may find some pointers in there.

Basically, get the soft cider into a clean, sanitized, food-grade plastic bucket that has a lid (raid your local hippie grocery store -- they routinely have them laying around and will part with them for free), add a packet or two of wine yeast (per five gallons of soft cider), punch a hole in the lid and affix an airlock, affix the lid and let it sit a few weeks in a cool place. The lid and airlock will allow the fermenting cider to off-gas will keeping ambient air out, and the wine yeast will most likely outcompete the wild yeast and leave you with a more consistent- if not better-tasting beverage. Lalvin 71B-1122 is pretty good for cider, because it can process some of the malic acid in the cider into softer-tasting lactic acid. Once it's done fermenting, siphon it into another bucket -- if you want it to clarify -- or clean, sanitized jugs/bottles. Siphon it between vessels with as little splashing as possible to prevent aeration, which will lead to oxidation and possible acetobacter infection.

Also, consider contacting a local homebrewing club. Even if you're not a member, they're typically eager -- to a fault, almost -- to share their expertise.

(I really dig your fruitslinger blog, by the way.)
posted by cog_nate at 11:43 AM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

This guy got the best results from using wild yeast. YMMV.
posted by electroboy at 12:16 PM on October 3, 2008

electroboy, yeah. That article was one of the first things to spring to my mind when I saw this question. Keep in mind that the author of that article preserved his finished hard cider with sodium benzoate and goes on to say, "A word of caution, wild yeasts are notorious for variability. One year the cider may be award-winning but could equally be putrid."

For the record, I've had a couple decent results w/wild yeast, but most of my wild yeast ciders have been middling in quality. Plus there's virtually inevitably an acetobacter infection if the hard cider's not chemically preserved. Taking into account the time and effort put into making a batch of cider, relying on wild yeasts isn't worth the risks to me. As electroboy stated, YMMV.
posted by cog_nate at 12:56 PM on October 3, 2008

Response by poster: So much good information here. Thank you all so much.

cog_nate, I think you're allowed to plug your article when it spells out step-by-step the answer to the question. Haha. And thanks for the kind words about the blog. I really appreciate it.
posted by veggieboy at 2:35 PM on October 4, 2008

« Older I am thinking about knocking down the wall between...   |   Single-user CMS? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.