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Brewing an Apple Cider

So, I’m planning on brewing an Apple Cider for my dad for Christmas. My parents recently spent some time in Normandy and completely loved the cider there. They drink Woodchuck now, but it’s definitely not the same thing. I’m looking for some tweaks to what I’m thinking about doing, and I want to get started relatively soon in order to get a batch done by Christmas (or at least drinkable, you guys know what I mean). I by no means think I can replicate a French Cider, especially without hardcore equipment, but I would like to try and mimic some of the flavors/body found in french ciders.

Anyway, for simplicity I’m thinking about just picking up a Mr. Beer Cider Kit, setting aside the dry yeast and the canned mix and using 2 gallons total of a couple of different apple juices along with either White Labs WLP775 or WLP715. I definitely, definitely, definitely have to keep the ABV low. I would like to land with something that has more mouthfeel than Woodchuck without adding those New England style flairs like honey.

Should I just boil 2 gallons of unpasteurized apple juice or use Campden tablets to kill off any wild yeasts and bacteria? Transfer to the fermentation vessel, wait 24 hours, then pitch the yeast?

While I’ve never purposely tried to make a French style cider, I do have 8 batches of cider going right now, with 4 different yeasts. Based on that, as well as a lot of other stuff I have read and researched lately, I know what I would do to try to make a good French style cider, but without all the fuss of “keeving” and whatnot.

Use fresh unpasteurized cider from a local orchard if at all possible, not store-bought juice which often contains sugar, water, and preservatives. Hopefully the initial specific gravity is around 1.050-1.055. If not, add a few ounces of your favorite sugar to bring it up (I think I’d use the equivalent of 3 to 6 ounces of brown sugar in 2 gallons, IF necessary – something like that). 24 hours before adding your yeast, add 1 Campden tablet (crushed) per gallon. This will kill any wild bugs. Then after the 24 hours, add dry S-04 yeast and ferment in the low to mid 60s for temperature. I’ve never tried them but I’ve heard some issues with the WLP yeasts being fussy – they might work fine, but it seems not as reliable as dry yeast. However, I used S-04 in 2 of my current 8 batches based on what I read elsewhere, and it’s really turning out great for me. It has either the best or second best flavor profile of all the yeasts I have ever tried (sweet, appley, and almost cinnamony!?), it should finish sweeter than any other yeast, and it will drop clear when it’s done without any extra messing around with clarifiers. You won’t need to make a yeast starter with this, just sprinkle about 1/2 pack in. It might smell very sulfury and downright vile for 2 weeks, but do not worry – all that will clean itself up in about a month.

When the yeast has been in the primary fermenter for about 5 days, check it for specific gravity. This is a crucial point for checking gravity. When it is around 1.020, rack it to secondary and add 1 teaspoon potassium sorbate to slow down fermentation and keep the cider sweeter like the French style, and cool the cider down into the low to mid 50s if possible (I now have mine in my garage in Wisconsin where the weather is 40s and 50s – perfect). If the gravity is still in the 1.020s or higher after the first 5 days, then just wait another couple days, and keep checking gravity every few days until it gets down into range. Sorbate won’t kill the yeast, but it puts some of the less healthy cells to sleep while the others keep chugging.

The goal, I think, for a good French cider is to have a final gravity around 1.011-1.015, something like that – sweet, but not too sweet. Basically, fermentation starts really fast in the primary fermenter, then is slowed by racking, temperature, and sorbate, and finally, the last few points will probably take 2-3 weeks to ferment out, maybe longer. If gravity starts going towards 1.010, I would add a second dose of 1 teaspoon sorbate (for 2 gallons) and bottle immediately. If you want carbonation, add a little priming sugar (I’m not sure exactly how much offhand but I could look it up later if you’re interested). If you don’t want carbonation, you can add 1 Campden tablet per gallon again which will help kill more yeast and prevent refermentation in the bottles. Either way, check for carbonation after about 2 weeks in bottles. If it’s well carbonated in 2 weeks, it might be a good idea to put all the bottles in the refrigerator to avoid bottle bombs as it shouldn’t happen quite that fast. If not carbonated in 2 weeks, wait another week or two and hope for the best – it should carbonate fine in 3-5 weeks, although it’s not an absolute guarantee with all the sorbate in there.

All in all, this is going to take almost all the way up to Christmas to finish. Better get started immediately! But you don’t need any fancy equipment to make great cider. Mine is all in gallon milk jugs. Of mine, 2 gallons are already ready to bottle after the first month of fermentation (maybe tonight!) while the other 6 of 8 have probably a couple more weeks to go. For the ones that are done already, I used Cote des Blancs wine yeast. If you are in a real hurry you could try that yeast but it will make a very dry cider that has to be backsweetened significantly. It finished at 0.999 and I had used bittersharp apples so it is quite tart and dry. If I had used sweet apples I would have expected even lower gravity but it probably wouldn’t need as much backsweetening to take the edge off the tartness and astringency. But anyway… If I were you, I’d seriously consider the S-04 yeast. It will leave the cider sweeter and more appley, and you shouldn’t need to backsweeten if you halt fermentation with sorbate (once or twice) at the right time.

So anyway… those are just a FEW ideas I have… :mrgreen:

Now those sound like some good idea’s Dave. :smiley:

Being in Alabama, we don’t have much to choose from locally. As far as homebrew shops go, there’s 1 here in Birmingham, so I’m going to check them out here in a bit today. As far as orchards go, there are only 3 in the state. The one closest is about an hour away. They sell cider, but this time of the year the only apple variety they have is Pink Lady. It looks like I missed the mark on Yellow Delicious, Criterion, Jonagold, Braeburn, Fuji and Granny Smith but maybe they’ve still got some cider laying around made with those varieties. I was incorrect in saying Apple “Juice”. What I was thinking was grabbing up some organic cider from Whole Foods which is suppose to be preservative free. I also thought about blending two different types of cider just to try and get some, err, complexity.

Why not hydrate the S-04 first? I’ve never brewed anything 100% on my own, but I’m quite familiar with it. The thing that worries me the most is pitching the appropriate amount of yeast for the batch. I know that in general, with beer, you’re going to lose 50% of your dry yeast adding it directly to your fermentation vessel. The last thing I want to do is underpitch.

I’m thinking I may just pass over the Mr. Beer since I’d end up tossing the ingredients to the side (at a minimum, I’d use apple cider over the 2 gallons of water it calls for) and getting a couple of carboys and an auto siphon. I would like to bottle it in 22oz bottles and carbonate it, maybe just under 2 tsp of sugar? Here’s an idea, would cane sugar work? Cane sugar is sweeter than table sugar. Maybe too sweet? I know in the baking world, you can use less cane sugar than and get the same sweetness.

You can rehydrate your yeast. Personally I just don’t see any benefit to it. I just listened to a Basic Brewing podcast where they couldn’t find a clear benefit in rehydration versus just sprinkling it onto wort (or in this case, apple juice), and I never rehydrate and have the opinion that rehydration is a wasted effort.

I don’t know that cane sugar is any sweeter than beet sugar. Chemically, the two sugars should be about 99% identical, which is why collectively they can be called “table sugar”. (Yeah… I’m a chemical engineer…) But as far as using cane sugar, yes, certainly you can use it. That’s what I use for bottle priming and other sorts of white sugar additions. I don’t use corn sugar anymore, as it’s more expensive, and again, for what benefit.

Best of luck to you. However you decide to do it, I’m sure it’s going to be great.

I hope so! I spent some time at my local homebrew shop (the owner has about 20 years of brewing experience) and I got some great ideas from him as well. I’m slowly formulating a strategy in my head for a recipe he gave me that should finish up before Christmas so I think I’m going to try it the first time around and adjust from there!

Thanks for all the advice!

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