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Cider 101 - FAQs, Help String

It seems like a necessary list to ask for, considering beer & cider have their own nuances and we are all asking the same things, which dmtoylo2 is kindly answering for us. Thanks to dmtaylo2, by the way!

So I’ll ask it… what are the necessary steps for a standard, carbonated hard cider, like Angry Orchard or Crispin. Given the season, I feel like I’m wasting an opportunity if I don’t at least try one.

I’ll list what I can tell are are steps, then will the rest of you list your own & ingredients for how you’ve found success?

  1. Create & buy natural, organic cider, like the kind you’d find at an orchard this time of year.
  2. Choose a yeast - this is different EVERY TIME I see a thread. I’ve seen a ton of different yeasts, which obviously do their own thing. What is right for the type of cider I mentioned? I hear a lot about Safale S-04 dry yeast.
  3. Ferment 4-6 weeks. Transfer to a new carboy (rewrack) every 2 weeks. (Is this necessary?)
  4. Use gelatin, like Knox, to settle the yeast a few days before bottling.
    5…? I’ve heard of people heating the fermenting cider to 160, without bringing to a boil, to stop fermentation. Ummm… yay or nay?
  5. Bottling day - DO or DO NOT add priming sugar for carbonation? Remember, carbonation is necessary for the ciders I mentioned. I see a lot about bottle bombs, so how do we get good hard cider without it being flat or a bomb?
  6. Condition 2-3 weeks.
    8 Drink. Sharing is optional :cheers:

Please comment with what you have done and what you have used to find a good, standard cider.

BONUS QUESTION: what ingredients are good to add extra flavor? Cinnamon? Nutmeg? Cloves? Something else?
EXTRA BONUS QUESTION: how much of the extra ingredients did you add for a 5 gallon recipe?

No cider expert here, (I’ve done 1 five gal batch), but a couple of things I do know.

  1. If you’re going to bottle, and you want a semi-sweet or sweet sparkling cider, you’ll need to bottle from a keg. Cider will always ferment to dry if you don’t rack often to get the yeast to slow down.(it’s all sugar, no protein like in grain to leave residual sweetness.). But if you try to bottle carb a cider that has not fermented dry, you’re risking bombs. You can sweeten it by first stopping the yeast with chemicals ((potassium metabisulfite, I think, and maybe campden?) and then backsweetening with cider concentrate, but then you have no yeast left to carbonate the bottles. So putting the yeast to sleep, backweetening, force carbing, then bottling seems to be the only method for us homebrewers to get that sort of result. (unless you want to try the soda stream thing).

  2. In an earlier post, Dave mentions a Zymurgy report on a yeast recommendation if you want a little sweetness left. I’ll try to find it after work today.

  3. Only reason to heat the cider as you mention is if it has not already been pasteurized. Also, make sure it has no preservatives added-the yeast can’t do their thing in the presence of preservatives.

  4. My cider fermented to about 1.002 and I racked once per week and used wyeast cider yeast. Not bone dry, but to a palate that likes angry orchard, it will seem bone dry. I bottle carbed mine with table sugar to about 2.6 vols and it came out great. Kind of white wine-ish but good apple flavor (and I used the store bought stuff). But definitely not sweet. It has been in the bottles now for about 6 weeks and is still getting better.

  5. Yes, Dave is a mountain of information, he has helped me immeasurably.

Hope this helps at least a little.

Cheers,

Ron

Edit: found it, Wyeast 1728 Scottish ale yeast,

Well… I just jumped right in and I’ll figure the rest out with your help.

I got 5 gallons of fresh cider from an orchard nearby and pitched the yeast an hour ago.

WHAT NOW?!

Shark and Frenchie, thanks for the recognition. I would never claim to know everything about cider but I do love to experiment with it and I’m trying to learn as much as I can! Glad to see others are interested as well. Cider is really the next big undiscovered alco-beverage in the USA. There is SOOOO much more to cider than the commercial junk popping up everyplace from the beer giants. Try some little ciders from lesser known places and you’ll usually be very pleasantly surprised at how interesting and complex these ciders are in comparison to the usual sweet fizzy yellow stuff. Plus it’s extremely easy and rewarding to be able to create a cider that is instantly 20 times better than these commercial versions, which are so often made from concentrate and artificial flavors. (Please, please don’t tell me you enjoy Redd’s Apple Ale.)

And now to answer Shark’s specific questions:

  1. Yep, fresh unpasteurized cider from a local orchard with no preservatives is best. Or juice your own.
  2. My favorite cider yeast is Cote des Blancs. It preserves all the wonderful appley flavors that other yeasts sometimes destroy. However it comes out a little too dry if you want to try to duplicate a commercial cider. For a sweeter cider, I’d try Wyeast 1728, which I have not yet tried myself but I will next week. Zymurgy reports this as their favorite yeast for cider that leaves a hint of sweetness.
  3. Currently I am recommending that we rack the cider once a week. Why? To get some of the yeast out of there, to slow down fermentation, and to preserve a little sweetness! The more yeast you have in there, the stronger and faster your fermentation. If you want to maintain control over your fermentation, you should ferment cool in the 50s or low 60s, and get some of the yeast out and take a hydrometer measurement often. When specific gravity hits around 1.010, start thinking about knocking the yeast out more completely using gelatin and/or sulfite and sorbate. Otherwise, final gravity will usually keep on running down to the 0.990s, and that is quite dry. SG=1.005 seems the right point for a guy like me. Many/most people might like it even sweeter at about 1.010.
  4. Yes, use Knox gelatin. It’s really awesome, like magic.
  5. I heat my fresh juice to 160 F for a few minutes to kill stuff. I do this up front before pitching. In my experience it’s worked much more effectively than sulfite alone. Just take care never to heat it above 170 F or to a boil. I boiled my last batch on accident after fermentation and the cider that was pretty good before is garbage now. Alcohol is totally gone. Now I just have really thin apple juice, and it’s cloudy. In future I will probably only heat the juice before ferment, but only rely on sulfite and sorbate after fermentation. I’m still learning… still experimenting.
  6. Carbonating cider through bottle priming is a crapshoot. Inevitably, you’ll either get a bone dry gusher, or you’ll have something sweet and flat that never carbonates. Your guess is as good as mine as to which one happens. Lately I’ve given up on bottle priming and I just enjoy the cider flat. This is perfectly acceptable and traditional. If you want to try bottle priming, just be warned that you might not get the results that you expected. You’re most likely not going to get anything resembling commercial ciders with respect to carbonation unless you force-carbonate with CO2 gas.
  7. Cold condition for as long as you can before drinking. I left last year’s ciders in the fermenters in the refrigerator for almost a full year before bottling. Every once in a while I stole a couple of pints out of the fermenters. One batch I didn’t even bottle. I just drank it all right out of the fermenter. (I guess I should also mention… Once fermentation is complete, you don’t need to rack it every week anymore.)
    8 ) Sharing is very strongly encouraged, if not essential. Show people how awesome cider can be when made at home! It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. Don’t add too much extra crap to your cider. This includes yeast nutrients, acid additions, pectic enzyme, cinnamon, spices, brown sugar, etc. All unnecessary. Just ferment the juice. By itself. One exception is that if the original gravity is less than 1.045, you can add a few ounces of sugar to bring it up above that level. You’re shooting for upper 1.040s / lower 1.050s for good traditional stuff that won’t go stale with age. If you like wine, you can add pounds of sugar, but personally I would NOT recommend this. I’m kind of a cider snob I guess. Another exception: I suppose a very small addition of tannin is okay. Use about half as much as the label says to use for white wine. But it’s totally optional and not necessary. Sulfite and sorbate is also important at the end if you want to help prevent bottle bombs. Of course, if you just leave your fermenter in your refrigerator for like 9 months like I did, then this is not necessary as the yeast will be dead on its own by then.

Other pointers… Ferment as low and slow as you can manage. If you can ferment in the 40s, great. Otherwise 50s or low 60s is great too. Too warm, and you’ll lose control and your cider will probably turn out too dry. The slower it ferments, the more control you have over when it quits. When it tastes good, shoot the yeast with gelatin, sulfite and sorbate, and then let it sit for another couple weeks to make sure it quits fermenting. Then you can think about bottling, and whether you want to try backsweetening and carbonating it. If you have CO2 tanks, go for it. If not, carbonation’s a crapshoot.

Um… there’s a whole heck of a lot I could say about apples, but suffice it to say: First of all, if you want to juice your own, I find that a few crabapples will help your cider, but not too many. Maybe 5% should be crabs. These will usually add astringency (good in a cider, to a point) and tartness. And with tart apples, tartness is also nice, to a point. If the cider gets too tart, it’s more difficult for many folks to enjoy. But really, don’t be afraid to try ANY apple in a cider – they really all turn out quite good. In my experience, there’s no real need to pursue so-called “cider apples” or single varietals – they’re not that much more awesome than normal culinary apples, or at least, not that anyone will notice until they have many years of experience tasting different ciders. But this is also the nice thing about cider, in that you truly can use ANY apples to make good cider. Just as long as you don’t use a high percentage that are too terribly tart or bitter, it’ll be great.

And same goes for good fresh pressed juice from your local orchard. They all will make great cider. But one thing you can do, and has made a difference in my own ciders, is to buy from like three or four different orchards, and taste all the fresh juices side by side. Then you can get a feel for which orchard makes your favorite, which one is most tart, which one is sweetest, which has the best aroma, and how you might like to blend them to try to get your perfect hard cider. It’s worthwhile education. Plus, such experimentation supports the locals, and that’s always cool, too. That being said… I know which ones are my favorites, and this year I plan to buy many gallons from each. Plus juice a few of my own apples for fun, and maybe add them to the blend, or ferment them separately. It’s all good.

Bottom line: If I have made this all sound complicated, then I apologize. Cider making is SO simple, a caveman could do it. It’s true. All you really need is some apple juice. Period. Leave it sit for a while, and it will become hard cider all on its own! But it will indeed help if you add your own yeast and attempt to control the fermentation, just a little bit. But there’s really no need to get too fancy with it. Anyone can make FANTASTIC cider on their very first try that is much much better than most of the commercial ciders out there. It’s certainly worth a try! It really doesn’t get any easier. It’s even easier than mead and wine, and FAR easier than making beer! And so rewarding. Mmmmm…

1 Like

Amazing… thanks, Dave!

Great post Dave ! I have not even bottled my first batch yet and I excited to start another, larger batch with all I have learned from you in the past two weeks !

Thanks, Coyote Ron :cheers:

It’s been a couple days now, so I expected to see some fermentation going on, like in a beer (I do get that they’re different). Nothing!
The room is cooler, it’s my laundry room, so I suspect that may be part of it, but I would think there would be SOMETHING going on.
Does cider take longer or look different when fermenting?

How cool is your laundry room and what yeast did you pitch? I’ve seen it take at least 24 hours to “see” anything happening. As long as the juice is unpreserved and the yeast is viable, it’ll ferment. I have 6 gallons fermenting now and it was about 18 hours to see any small bubbles at surface and 24-36 hours to see airlock activity. That was at room temp around 68F and it almost fermented out of the airlock! I should have used a blow-off hose in this case.

Just be patient.

You won’t see krausen on a cider. It just fizzes and fizzes until it’s finished. It will probably be cloudy for several weeks, then may begin to clear when it’s almost done. Check for fizzing. If there’s fizz then it’s doing great.

Exactly (except I did have krazy head of foam on my most recent batch :!: ).

But It’ll ferment, it can’t help it :mrgreen:

Got it. Thanks.

Dave’s got more experience than I do, but I’ve been making some awesome cider the last few years and my process differs from his in some significant ways.

  1. I add pectinase up front before fermentation, as well as a small addition of potassium sulfite because I don’t use pasteurized juice. If the OG is low (a common thing here in Finland) I’ll add enough sugar to get it to the 1.040 - 1.050 range.
  2. I just let it go for fermentation (at cooler temperatures, typically around 60F). FG ends up in the 1.002 - 1.005 range. No racking till its done.
  3. One racking once the cider has reached FG, and one more about a month later and I’ve got very clear cider. No gelatin used. I credit the pectinase for the clarity.
  4. Avoid all heating. I stabilize with Ksulfite and Ksorbate exactly like you would for a wine. Then sweeten to taste (usually around 15 - 30 g sugar per liter, but exact amount depends on the acid levels as I use the sugar to balance that) and then keg to carbonate.

I did one time bottle carbonate (after 3 month to make sure it was truly done fermenting) adding fresh yeast and the right amount of sugar as per any beer carbonation calculator. I then did the whole method champagne to let the yeast die in the bottle before disgorging, sweetening and recapping. Came out great, but is a lot of work and it takes 1.5 years to get it to the drinkable stage.

So, is there a fermentation differences between wet & dry yeasts?
When I was at NB, the guy reco’d Salfale dry yeast and, after a week, I’ve seen nothing happen to the cider. There hasn’t even been fizzing going on.

I’m wondering if I should do anything or more…?

No real difference between wet and dry yeast as long as both are pitched healthy and in the proper quantity.

You should take a gravity sample, that will tell you if the fermentation is happening. Most often when people have difficulty with cider fermenting, it is because they bought cider with preservatives in it. It is ridiculously easy to ferment fresh pressed cider.

Oh, duh… I haven’t even considered a gravity sample.
I am using fresh cider directly from the orchard, so it’s legit, but I don’t know what the original gravity was because I didn’t take an original measurement.

Any any of what regular cider should be, approximately?

Nevermind… it looks like it ranges from around 1.048 to 1.056

Overall average cider gravity is about 1.045.

Have only been brewing ciders for 2 years, but will chime in :slight_smile:

  1. We’re lucky that we have a couple of great orchards nearby that we can buy fresh cold-pressed juice from, but only for about 1 month per year. During the rest of the year, we have to settle for store-bought juice (of the 100% no additive variety). No crabappbles or cider apples are easily found, however, so mostly have to use eating varieties.

  2. As far as yeast goes, so far I’ve used 3 Cider yeasts (were all ok, but WYeast was best), a white wine yeast (was pretty average), and 2 Ale yeasts (US05 not bad, S04 a bit tart but fresh).

  3. I normally ferment for about 6 weeks. Some I have then transfered to a secondary, but others I have bottled straight from the primary. The major difference that I have noticed is the ones in the secondary clear faster, but apart from that I don’t think it is nessicary. As for multiple rackings, thsi can definitely get you a higher FG, but I’m not 100% convinced that this is a good idea if bottling (potential bottle bombs?).

  4. I’ve never used any finings to clear the cider, and have only had 1 batch that refused to clear (S-04).

  5. I’ve heard of people heating the cider to pasturise before bottling. I haven’t done it personally, as I like sparkling cider.

  6. I’ve always fermented dry and then added priming sugar for carbonation. I’ve never had issues with the cider carbing (either gushing or staying flat), but also haven’t really bulk-aged any yet either. If you are aging the cider long term before bottling, I would add some fresh yeast alongside the priming sugar.

  7. I usually condition for about 4 weeks, however I will also try to leave some to bottle age for 6-12+ months, as cider often matures quite nicely.

Other Points:

  • Like “rebuiltcellars” I usually add some pectinase up front, and maybe some sulfite if the juice isn’t pasturised.
  • I may add some sugar maybe if the OG is low, but I try to minimise this.
  • Fermentation is done at a low temperature, but i’m not super fussy about it (as long as it isn’t hot).
  • I have never used yeast nutrients up until my last batch, which was also my best. This has made me rethink nutrient additions, and will try a nutrient schedule next time. I have been reading a lot about making Mead, which traditionally has no nutrient additions either. Most people these days agree that nutrients are not only essential to making good mead, but reduce the required maturation time massively. I have a gut feeling that something similar may be applicable to cider, and the lack of nutrients is why a lot of ciders require a bit of age to reach their prime.
  • I’ve experimented a little with adding spices, but have never managed a cider that I liked more than the plain version.

My latest batch has actually been the best so far. I boiled down 2L of juice into about 200ml of syrup and added that to the rest of the juice (10L total) along with ~5kg of manually crushed Granny Smith apples. It’s got a reasonable amount of sweetness from the syrup (FG was 1.006 iirc), but the stewed apple flavour has carried through also. I don’t really mind, but I know that technically it’s a “flaw” so would prefer it without.

I’m actually thinking of doing a batch using 100% Brett next, just to see how it goes :slight_smile:

Is it possible/advisable to ferment in small batches (3/4 gallon Santa Cruz glass bottles) and then toss in the fridge to stop fermentation?

Yes, that sounds good, I do that, with good success.

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