I’m thinking of making a cider in the next few weeks here. And starting to get some ground work together. How long on average does Cider need to ferment, and how long should it be racked for before it will be drinkable? I"m contemplating possibly having something ready in time for late October. Also any suggestions for a recipe that will give me a crisp semi-sweet finish. I should note that I have very little control over the temperature of my fermentation conditions. It will likely be done at standard room temperature aka 70-75.
Fermentation time for cider varies, but you can probably get a good drinkable product within 4-6 weeks.
Use fresh orchard-pressed cider if possible. If you can’t get any of that, try the Simply Apple brand juice from the supermarket, which does not have any preservatives.
I like to heat-treat mine to kill wild beasts. Do not boil it, but rather bring to about 160 F for about 15 minutes. This will pasteurize the juice. Then cool and add your yeast.
The sweetness level is almost entirely dependent on the yeast that you use. For maximum sweetness, you might want to try Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale yeast (weird, I know, right?!) which is said by Zymurgy magazine to have the sweetest and most desirable flavor profile for ciders.
Another thing that will help maintain more sweetness is to rack the cider about once a week. The yeast will tend to settle to the bottom, so by racking you can remove much of the yeast and keep it from fermenting too dry.
Another thing that helps is to add gelatin. Take a tablespoon of Knox brand unflavored gelatin, add hot water and dissolve, then add this to your cider. This sticks to yeast like glue and helps them settle to the bottom.
If you don’t do these things, then the cider will likely be very dry, like chardonnay wine.
Don’t add any sugar unless you want to make something more like a wine. Juice naturally contains enough sugars to get you to at least 6% alcohol. If you want more, you can add a little sugar, but no need to overdo it.
Do you suggest adding any finishing sugar before bottling, like with beer? Or does the racking to cut down the settled yeast make that a bad idea? Or would you just use less than in a beer batch?
You could probably get away with it if you stabilize with sorbate, but if you don’t there’s a chance you could re-awaken whatever yeast are in suspension and have it ferment again. Depending on how much residual sugar is in the batch, you could end up in bottle bomb territory.
If you stabilize, you won’t be able to bottle carbonate. I’ve heard of people heat pasteurizing after reaching a desired level of carbonation, but that seems pretty risky to me…
My success rate with carbonating ciders has been about 50/50. It either turns out flat with no carbonation, or highly carbonated but very dry, depending on whether the yeast is alive or not at bottling. In cider all of the sugars are easily fermentable so it is very difficult to get the yeast to eat some but not all the sugars. You can try to tire them out or kill some with sorbate and sulfite, but like I said, they are pretty much either alive or dead, and there is no easy in-between. So, you can prime and try to carbonate, just like beer. Just do not be surprised if it stays flat or turns to champagne. It is a crapshoot in my experience.
I have a question about adding sugar before I ferment, I want to experiment with one cider as is (no sugar added) and one with cane sugar and a third with brown sugar. with the two I add sugar to does it matter one way or another if I just dump in the sugar and stir it up, or heat a small amount of cider and disolve the sugar that way? I just wonder if finished product will be affected at all by heating the sugar vs not heating.