Autumn in a bottle
September 26, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Tips for making hard cider?

I'm an experienced beer maker who wants to try cider. I have 10 gallons of it coming in from CT and my plan is to make two 5 gallon batches, one with refined white sugar added, and one with brown sugar.

I'd like any tips or experiences with making cider, what did you do? How much sugar did you add? What kind of cider did you start with? Did you add citric acid for taste? What kind of yeast did you use? Did you add mulling spices? How long did it ferment in the primary, how long did it ferment in the secondary, and how long in the bottle? How'd it turn out? I've heard that cider can age on past 3 years and getter better in the bottles, any experiences with this?
posted by splatta to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't done it, but I've been meaning to read this book on the topic.
posted by jon1270 at 11:03 AM on September 26, 2010

I'm going with this apfelwein recipe this autumn. (You will notice that it's a long and popular thread.) It's a different kind of result to a British or French-style cider, but it's also highly adaptable.
posted by holgate at 11:10 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done the apfelwein thing a few times. I usually used brown sugar, I think it's 16oz per 5 gallons? I used one bag of light brown sugar. People also sometimes use honey or maple syrup.

I didn't bother with a secondary - I used one fermenter (carboy). I use 5 gallons and my carboy is only a little bigger than that so I made a blowoff setup, basically tubing into a jar of water, because the fermentation was pretty vigorous.

I use plain apple juice, treetop or anything that is 100% juice, not from concentrate.

In the apfelwein thread they recommend fermenting a long time (month or more), but I don't like my cider that dry. I like about 2 weeks, then bottling. The first time I tried adding sugar to carb, and not. The carbed ones I did in plastic bottles to avoid explosions and it's good I did - they got rock hard and it was WAY too carbonated. You'll need to check the gravity to be sure, probably, but in my case after 2 weeks there was enough sugar left to carb fine on it's own. It came out dry, bubbly and very nice.

I used an ale yeast the first time, nottingham maybe? I used a "cider" yeast the 2nd time and didn't like it. I've used hefeweissen yeast and liked it. I wouldn't recommend champagne yeast or wine yeast although some people like it.

I know a guy who buys pear juice concentrate and either adds that to apple juice or uses it on it's own (rehydrated), and that has come out pretty good for him. Never done that myself.

If the juice comes in 1ga glass bottles you can consider doing micro batches and trying different techniques. Get rubber stoppers to fit, drill holes for a blowoff tube or an airlock and go to town. Only fill them about 3/4 of the way with juice though.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:32 AM on September 26, 2010

The one time my buddies and I tried this with fresh cider we didn't add nearly enough sugar and the yeast ate all the natural sugars from the juice - we dumped the entire batch. I'm pretty sure we used more than RustyBrooks recommends, so I'd double check some recipes and make sure they are for fresh juice rather than concentrate.
posted by ecurtz at 11:41 AM on September 26, 2010

I've used both natural cider and apple juice. Let me check my records really quick:
OK actually it was 2lb per 5 gallons. I do think that was one bag, though. Gravity before brewing was 1.06, at bottling it was 1.02. Both times it took about 3-4 weeks to get there but you shouldn't let time be your guide, you should go with the gravity readings.

I had one really bad batch where the final gravity was 1.00, I don't know if the juice wasn't sweet enough (different brand), or I let it go too long, or what. The result was kind of sour and generally unpleasant. May have gotten infected with bacteria, also.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:55 AM on September 26, 2010

By the way, almost no matter how much sugar you add, the yeast are going to eat pretty much all of it until the alcohol level gets high enough to kill them, or the pressure does. So bottling will stop the fermentation to an extent, or getting to a high enough alcohol content will. That's the main reason I wouldn't use a champagne or wine yeast. One is meant to withstand high pressure and the other is meant to stand higher alcohol percentage.

Some people "cold crash" their carboy also which is to lower the temperature a lot and slow or stop the fermentation that way. I don't think that's permanent, though, although I'm not sure because I've never tried it.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2010

I don't understand why you all chapitalize your cider - it just drives the alcohol content up. The best ciders I know of (Bordelet, Poma Aurea, Farnum Hill) are non-chapitalized. You guys are just making white diamond.
posted by JPD at 12:12 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agree with JPD, why add sugar? That seems like it would destroy the subtle flavor of the cider in favor higher alcohol content. I have never, ever done that and I really enjoy our cider, and have only had one bad batch in the past ten years or so.

I inherited my great-great grandfathers cider press and we make hard cider every year. We make it with fresh just-pressed cider and a yeast that is specified for cider. Fresh as in we let it sit overnight after pressing to get some of the particulate to settle out, and then we transfer it to a clean carboy the next day and add the yeast. I have some going right now in my living room that's about a week old, and it seems to be coming along nicely.

We usually do primary for about two weeks, secondary for a bit more and then we bottle it (I think, I'll have to check and get back to you) I'm not in charge of the bottling, but instead I focus on obtaining (for free) the several large bins of apples one needs to press 20 or so gallons of cider.
posted by Maude_the_destroyer at 12:32 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maude you ever try using native yeasts rather than innoculating?
posted by JPD at 12:41 PM on September 26, 2010

I've had a hard time finishing with any residual sugar unless I make it super potent. I made a batch sweetened with a generous amount of natural apple juice concentrate, and that turned out pretty yummy, but alcohol content was really high and a 12-oz bottle of it would leave me (180 lbs) buzzy; two bottles produced a decided lack of coordination and a tendency to say stupid things. Friends complained that it produced a mean hangover.

I tried again without additional sugar content and it finished really dry, as in "no sugar left anywhere, no fun to drink". Both of these batches were done using champagne yeast.

I've heard of special cider yeasts with lower alcohol tolerance, and I've heard of people adding potassium sorbate to kill the yeast and stop fermentation before it finishes all the sugars. I'm not a fan of the chemical route; I am planning another batch soon with low-alcohol cider yeast. Sadly, the local store who is rumored to sell the yeast doesn't list any products on their web site, so I can't link to it for you.
posted by richyoung at 12:44 PM on September 26, 2010

When I was a kid and lived in the North East we made hard cider. In the fall we would get a bottle of apple juice or cider (from a farm stand, probably not pasteurized). We would open the bottle and leave it open for a little while, about 1/2 hour. Then put it out on the porch. In about a month, we had hard cider.

About a year ago, my sister got some fresh cider. Since the bottle was so big, she put it out on the porch to keep cool. It turned into hard cider. This cider was pasteurized.

I don't know what the alcohol content was, but it was enough to give you a beer buzz. And it was really fizzy and delicious.
posted by fifilaru at 1:51 PM on September 26, 2010

I made a batch of cider years ago. From memory I started with about 20kg of granny smith apples which I washed then juiced, then juiced the pulp again (this took hours; if you're going to juice the apples yourself I suggest getting a very powerful juicer). I used champagne yeast but I can't remember whether I added sugar. I doubt I used citric acid, as apple juice is pretty acidic already.

It tasted good after the usual bottle conditioning period (4-6 weeks), but as time went on it started making me feel slightly ill when I drank it - presumably the result of using 12L or so of unpasteurised apple juice full of wild yeast and bacteria. It was fun while it lasted, though.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:34 PM on September 26, 2010

My friend and I made cider once. We used 2 gallons of cheap, purified generic apple juice and 2 gallons of expensive, slightly pulpy organic apple juice from Berkeley Bowl's in-house brand. No added sugar at all.

After the initial fermentation, we decanted it into a plastic bucket with a spout and started enjoying. It was quite good, not too dry, just enough tartness, and with a slightly yeasty taste (not unpleasant). We forgot to check the initial gravity, so I have no idea what the alcohol content was, and we never got around to bottling it, so it ended up as vinegar.
posted by clorox at 4:09 PM on September 26, 2010

I've made cider from locally pressed juice. I used Red Star premier cuvee yeast and no added sugar. It turned out okay but I don't think I had the best blend of apples for a cider. I've decided I prefer make cyser (a mead with apple juice and honey) and buy local hard cider.

If you want to make great cider, you'll want to check out the Cider Digest.
posted by maurice at 6:20 PM on September 26, 2010

It's been quite some time since I made cider. Annie Proulx's book is an excellent primer — it's gone through a few variations in title over the years. British cider luminary Andrew Lea's book, Craft Cider Making is probably the last word, but it looks like won't be available for another month.

Adding sugar really depends on the SG of the juice you're getting, the yeast you're using, and how sweet you like it. Or how strong you want it. Adding acid (powdered malic is available) or tannin is something that I'd only do if I didn't get juice from a decently complex blend of cultivars. I would suggest that you make at least one plain batch to compare against your wintery brown-sugar-and-spice variety.

It being your first time, you may want to sulfite the must to kill off any unpredictable wild yeasts. I've used ale, champagne, and cider yeasts, and I think the ales turned out best. Champagne is super predictable, though, since it'll cleanly ferment almost anything to dryness, and still have an appetite for more when you want to prime at bottling.

Primary ferment can be quite volatile... as in 10 ft geysers of foam painting your ceiling, if you're unlucky. You are not just going to fill two 5 gallon carboys with must, pitch your yeast, throw on some waterlocks and walk away. Figure on setting up blowoff tubing, and watching it fairly closely for a week or so. After it settles down, rack it off, affix your waterlocks, put it somewhere coolish, and wait a few months. Three? You'll know when it's done because it's not fermenting any more. At all. Just keep your waterlocks topped-up and be patient :) The number of times you rack is up to you, but unless you're starting with Treetop, I think you'll find there's quite a lot of particulates that will fall out of suspension out over time.
posted by mumkin at 6:24 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many great craft ciders are made with added sugar, in the form of:
corn sugar
brown sugar

To say that all it does is elevate the alcohol content is somewhat missing the point I think.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:56 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The plan so far is to ferment in 5 gallons in a 7 gallon primary bucket.

I plan on adding campden tablets to kill the wild yeast. I was told that I should at some citric and malic acid to the cider since I'm using a blend of juice that wasn't pressed from apples specifically meant for making hard cider.

What's a good ABV to shoot for? This should give me a goal for how much sugar to add when I take the specific gravity.
posted by splatta at 5:53 AM on September 27, 2010

Many great craft ciders are made with added sugar.

See I disagree with this. Some of the most dreadful beverages I've ever had were bad craft ciders. But then again I also think 95% of craft beers made in America are crap as well.

And I really like good cider and good beer.
posted by JPD at 6:29 AM on September 27, 2010

I plan on adding campden tablets to kill the wild yeast.

I like the funkiness that wild yeast adds. i've found making dry hard-cider with just wild yeast to be difficult, but if you like the taste of a lambic beer, that's what the wild yeast will add. If you use a brewing yeast, the wild yeasts should die out fairly quickly as the alcohol content rises. I think the main worry is bacteria if you are using unpasteurised juice to start with.

What's a good ABV to shoot for? This should give me a goal for how much sugar to add when I take the specific gravity.

I'm not very scientific so I can't answer your question, but you need to decide whether you want a dry wine or a sweet wine.

See I disagree with this. Some of the most dreadful beverages I've ever had were bad craft ciders.

Many commercial bottled ciders are way too sweet, like a bad wine cooler, but I think they are marketed to the same types of consumers so it makes sense. Personally I would err on the side of dryness.
posted by at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2010

I like a dry cider, and my last batch went something like this:

5 Gal organic apple juice (the whole foods brand)
1 tbsp peptic enzyme (helps break down the complex fruit sugars)
3 tsp yeast nutrient
1 cup corn sugar (gives the yeast something easy to munch and boosts population before they tackle those apples)
1 package dry champagne yeast

O.G. ~1.054
F.G. ~1.00

This is based on a recipe by the owner of my local homebrew shop. I give it 3 to 4 weeks in primary, and then a quick 1 week in secondary to help let it settle before bottling.

Bringing the final gravity down so low makes a very dry cider, which in my mind is the best type of cider. If you want a sweeter cider then you need to force stop your fermentation, but I've never done that so I can't give you any advice there. If my math is correct then this batch is has about 7.1%ABV, which is on the strong side for ciders.

This particular batch also has a faint tart taste to it that hints at a sour apple flavor. I'm not sure if this is a quality of the apple juice used, or a small infection of yeast that was with the apple juice to begin with. Either way I find it's a desirable flavor.
posted by Hoenikker at 11:16 AM on September 27, 2010

I wrote an article on basic cidermaking for Mother Earth News a few years ago.

The How can I stop my hard cider from turning to vinegar? AskMe from a couple years back will probably have information you're looking for.
posted by cog_nate at 8:40 AM on October 5, 2010

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