HI. Been making hard cider for a couple of years and haven't gotten it right yet. I have a couple of questions that I'm hoping to get some feedback from this forum which I just joined to help improve by approach.
This year I'm using 3 5 gal carboys with bubblers, 2 20 gal white plastic vats with covers (which are made to allow out gassing during fermentation) and a 30 gal hard plastic vat (used for transporting the juice from the apple presser) which has a cover that I am loosely fitting over the top without the metal clamp to allow out gassing during primary fermentation. Altogether, I have nearly 70 gals fermenting since Monday, 10/10/2016 (along with another 15 gals that I pasteurized of regular cider (nice blend ginger golds and macintoshes for a starting 1013.5 BRIX). I got a great start having pressed 88 gals of juice made from 1,000 pounds of apples that I got from a packing house (wild apples are in short supply this year). I added dextrose to the must which increased the BRIX up to a target of 1018 for a 9% alcohol potential.
First question - one of the 20 gal vats does not seem to be fermenting (the carboys are bubbling away and the other containers all have some nice froth on top) but this one vat looks unchanged from when I added the sugar, nutrient, enzyme, acid blend and a touch of Campden. Everything was sanitized beforehand. .I waited a full two days before adding the yeast (either Red Star Premier Blanc or Lalvin EC-1118). I thought that I only used one type in each container in case the yeasts would be fighting each other. I added a couple of packages of the Lalvin today to see if this makes any difference. I'll know more in a couple weeks if fermentation takes place in the one container. Weird.
I haven't used the 30 gal container before and it did not come with a bubbler and the supplier (who has been making wine for 20+ years) said that for the primary, just loosely cover the must +sugar + yeast, ... but a bubbler is not needed. However, for the secondary fermentation, the suppler recommended demijohns with bubblers after racking and NOT to use the 20 or 30 gal vats for the secondary.
Second question: I'm a little confused about this. can anyone provide some input as far as how to stage the primary and secondary fermentation in terms of whether bubblers are always needed and whether what I am doing for the primary fermentation is going to lead to problems?
In prior years, I used potassium sorbate after the primary fermentation for the still cider to inhibit any secondary fermentation and clarifier (my first mentor was a winemaker, not a cider maker). Initially, the hard cider tasted just like regular apple cider with a kick but after a couple of months it developed this bitter aftertaste that no one likes. This year, I'm simplifying by not using any potassium sorbate or clarifier which is where I think i went wrong. I'm fermenting cooler (slower) in the basement and will rack the primary once the mix reaches a SG of 1010 into 14 gal glass demijohns in a week or so from now and let stand for another 6 - 8 weeks to dryness; then I will rack again and let sit in the demijohns (with little headroom) for another 6 months. From there, I will finish the still cider backsweetening with maltodextrin and some pasteurized apple juice concentrate, or for sparkling, will back sweeten a bit and also add 7/8 cup per 5 gals of maltodextrin and place the mix into growlers. I'll also experiment by mulling some of the finished cider by adding mulling spice (no brown sugar as the yeast will eat this) for both the still and the sparkling which has worked well in prior years to hide the aftertaste.
Third question - anyone have similar experiences with a nasty aftertaste whose experience I can learn from?
Fourth question - in prior years, I tried bottle conditioning but went to a keg with food grade CO2. Now I am back to bottle conditioning at the suggestion of my current mentor. Anyone have a positive experience with carbonating using a 5 gallon keg and placing the result into growlers? Mine never kept much of the bubbles using the keg method.
Last couple of other questions: is sugar-alcohol as a back sweetener safe for diabetics? Can pasteurized apple juice concentrate be used to supplement sugar-alcohol as a back sweetener without the yeast eating it? For back carbonation, can a bit of yeast be used to help spur the carbonation? And FINALLY, someone suggested using a small amount of ascorbic acid at the very end of the finishing process as a stabilizer. I'm going to avoid using the ascorbic acid but would like to know how long the hard cider will keep once bottled and kept out of the sun
Sorry about the long message. Please let me know if I am violating the community rules. Thanks in advance for any responses that I get.