Fermentors: Hard cider problem!
May 3, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to make hard cider and am having issues. It has fermented for two weeks steadily and burbled the airlock nicely. But no change in gravity reading and no taste of booze. I don't understand. If there was gas release then the yeast was active. I had this happen last time too. I introduced yeast twice, watched air action, etc. I make beer and wine but am about to give up on something that should be easy but is inexplicably diff. Help!
posted by kturner to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is amazing to me, as if I leave cider out for two days, it becomes hard cider. How is there no taste of booze?

Is it possible you have old or dead yeast? Have you tried throwing a little beer or wine in there?

If it burbled in the airlock, then it really should have alcohol in it. You say it has "no taste of booze." Hard cider tastes a good deal like cider. When you drink a pint of it, do you feel tipsy?
posted by musofire at 5:58 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are you using for juice? What are you using for yeast? What is the unchanged gravity reading? Is the juice sweet enough to yield significant alcohol?
posted by ssg at 6:05 PM on May 3, 2011

Is it possible you have a bacterial infection? Did you apply sulfites at the beginning and/or boil the apple juice? Does it taste sour?
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:16 PM on May 3, 2011

Huh. I don't know what that would be, and I've made a bunch of cider.

How did you introduce the yeast? Did you add yeast nutrients? Was the juice pasturized/not? Give us all yer specs, brah!
posted by OrangeDrink at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2011

Did the juice have potassium sorbate in it?

P.S. Homebrewtalk.com has a cider forum.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2011

What kind of yeast is it? What temperature is it at?
posted by Greg Nog at 7:37 PM on May 3, 2011

This happened when I tried making some with bread yeast. It ended up tasting like cheap sparkling apple juice. Since you do other brewing, I assume that isn't what you are doing.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:20 PM on May 3, 2011

Should have included details first.
Using store bought cider (may have something to inhibit fermentation added to it at the warehouse?), champagne yeast once added dry then again after starting in warm water because the first batch did not become active, and the gravity reading started and ended at 1.050. No sulfites, did not boil, juice tastes unchanged. Have not had a pint yet but I feel like I know when I taste my good friend alcohol.

I guess my question should be more like: has anyone ever successfully used store bought cider to ferment?

Bubbling with no change in gravity. No matter what the other details are this one is what doesn't make sense. I had success making hard cider when I used concentrate and tap water. I wonder if the pasteurizing process removes the ability to ferment. I noticed that Brita filtered water did not ferment wine well.

Life's little mysteries.
posted by kturner at 10:49 PM on May 3, 2011

How strange. I've never had bubbling without alcohol. My guess is either you have a stuck fermentation or the juice is being decomposed by bacteria rather than actually fermenting with yeast.

I've made great ciders from storebought juice/cider from brands like Treetop and Martinellis (really, really good sale).

One thing I've heard about cider is that it can be difficult to make sure the yeast is in ideal enough conditions that they take over and overwhelm any competing bacteria/wild yeast. I've always added yeast nutrients and done a yeast starter first, just to make sure the little bastards are strong enough to rule the joint.
posted by OrangeDrink at 11:14 PM on May 3, 2011

I make wine and have done cider as well, and I only use distilled water. The chlorine in (my) tap water kills the yeast.

Are you properly sanitizing everything? You mention making wine and beer so I'm assuming yes... 1.050 is right in the pocket for starting cider.

Is your starting (and fermenting) temp in the correct range? Some yeasts have a crazy narrow ideal range, others are much more generous.

Only thing I can think of is make sure your starting juice has no preservatives, especially sorbates.

It sounds like you're getting some yeast action, your airlock is burbling so you're getting some gas off it... but it sounds like your fermentation is stopping early. Bacterial contamination or preservatives in the juice could do it.
posted by xedrik at 11:31 PM on May 3, 2011

I mostly make mead but I have made hard cider from store bought juice. As others have said, I suspect sorbates are inhibiting the fermentation and the temperature at which you're fermenting might be an issue as well. You might check the Cider Digest.
posted by maurice at 4:08 AM on May 4, 2011

Hm. Do you still have the bottle the cider came in? I usually just use cheap cheap generic apple juice or cider as the base, where the only ingredients are apples and sometimes a bit of ascorbic acid, and that never seems to stall, particularly with champagne yeast.

I've had the best luck with champagne yeast when my apartment's fairly warm, but I've never had a complete stalling-out when I've used store-bought cider/juice. My only guess, given that it did intially ferment a little, is that the temperature in your place might be a little low for the microbes to really thrive.

Still, I've found that champagne yeast can be pretty tenacious, so I'd just let it keep slowly doing it's thing, if it's still bubbling. It's only been two weeks so far; I've sometimes had cider take up to two months before the yeast finishes eating all the sugars. I think it's just taking its sweet time. Set it aside and don't worry, and wait until all the bubbling stops completely before you take the gravity reading again. (also, was there a discrepancy in the room's ambient temperature between the first reading and the second? That could fuck with the reading.)
posted by Greg Nog at 6:58 AM on May 4, 2011

Another vote for potassium sorbate. Especially if you start getting a brownish ring of crud, and the taste goes sour.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:24 AM on May 4, 2011

Eww just say no to sulfites. Do a soft pasteurize on NON-pasteurized, 100% pure cider in containers that have been thoroughly sanitized. I lost a 6 gallon batch of cyser I had personally hand-pressed because one teensy tinsy hair got in it, no joke---but then I won't use sulfites and I only soft-pasteurize. You don't actually even have to pitch yeast into cider from fresh apples that hasn't been pasteurized, as the on-skin yeast does a fine job on its own. (I also almost never bother with SG either, because I don't much care, and I also don't finely-filter on any racking when it's cider.)

I'm gonna put my 2 cents on your source product.
posted by TomMelee at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2011

Pasteurizing won't inhibit fermentation. Neither will ascorbic acid.

What champagne yeast are you using? What temperature is the liquid that you're pitching into?

I'd go back to the store, get apple juice that I was sure had no preservatives in it (Whole Foods has organic, unfiltered apple juice for about $5 a gallon. Sam's Club has some cheapo Member's Mark apple juice that's $4 for 3 gallons. Neither of these have potassium sorbate in them. I have fermented them both successfully.) and then use a liquid yeast like WPL775, pitching into juice that's 70 degrees F.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:04 AM on May 4, 2011

Make yourself a big starter, stepping it up to 1 litre perhaps, and then add that to your cider. If the sorbates are the culprit, this will likely be enough yeast cells to get your fermentation complete, as sorbate inhibits yeast production. Depending on the state of your current batch you might want to just start over using a massive starter... can't really make that call without tasting or seeing the must.

I've made cider from frozen concentrate without any problems (using the big starters), but if you can get fresh pressed juice locally that'll make the nicest cider. I wouldn't worry too much about sulphites as they occur in all fermented products as far as I know.
posted by glip at 9:09 AM on May 4, 2011

Have you tested the yeast to make sure it is any good?
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2011

What champagne yeast are you using?

I'm curious about this, too. I've had the best luck with the Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast, in the little yellow packet, pitched into about a pint of boiled-and-cooled water (with a dollop of honey or sugar or whatever added) that's a little over 80 degrees F at the time of pitching. I let it sit for maybe half an hour to an hour before adding it to the juice, and it kicks in pretty fast.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2011

Not sure what the problem might be, but if you want to try this again, this is the hard apple cider recipe to make. Tastes amazing, and packs a punch! http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f25/man-i-love-apfelwein-14860/
posted by toddst at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2011

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