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First Cider - questions

The people that bought my wife’s family’s farm a few years back have started a cidery. They have a 212 ton (pressure) press, and I recently acquired 5 gallons of unpasteurized juice from them. It is pretty delicious, it is from a mix of apples, some of which are pretty rare, and I think there was a bit of pear juice in the juice I acquired from a prior press. My wife’s great-great grandfather had some pretty crazy varieties of apple trees on the 10-acre orchard.

A couple of questions on process:

-I was planning on adding a half tab or so of Campden, just to get a consistent result

-I was planning on lightly Chaptalizing with a 1/2 pound of simple sugar - with beers I will typically add this once fermentation has started just so my yeast don’t get lazy, but since the sugar makeup of cider is so much simpler, maybe I should just do it prior to pitching

-I’ve read from Mad Fermentationist that cider ferments are better ‘low n’ slow’. So don’t aerate too much, keep the temp in the low 60’s, and let it go for a long time

-I would really prefer a ‘clean’ cider the first time, and to taste the flavors of this juice, but I do have a decent slug of 3rd generation belle saison that I was considering pitching, but half of me says to just grab a vial of clean cider yeast. The other half of me says that some phenols/esters would be tasty, and that with cider, it doesn’t seem to matter as much what yeast you use.

-On backsweetening, I was planning on reserving and freezing about a half gallon of the cider, which I would add back to taste once fermented and sorbated to drop yeast, then force-carbing. While I do like drinks like this to be dry, I like them to be balanced.

Any advice would be great!

My experience:

Yeast DOES matter. I like dry yeast like Cote des Blancs or US-05, these two will provide consistently great results. I did not get good results from Nottingham or S-04. I have also had good success with the Wyeast 4184 sweet mead yeast and champagne yeast, although both of these resulted in an extremely dry result. Cote des Blancs will also be quite dry, just a hint of sweetness left. US-05 will leave a little residual sweetness as well as a hint of honey-like beery flavor that is pleasant and not at all bad.

FYI – A Belgian yeast used in cider will probably NOT taste distinctively Belgian. It just tastes like normal cider. You will likely NOT get the distinctive esters or phenols. In my experience it ferments fairly clean like many other yeasts. But it will definitely work, so if you have some fresh stuff on hand, by all means go ahead and try it.

I assume you mean you will add 1/2 Campden tablet per gallon? If only 1/2 for the entire 5 gallons, it wouldn’t be near enough to have any effect at all. In fact you really should use at least 1 full tablet per gallon, if not 1.5. I wouldn’t go up to 2.

Chaptalization I think is a good idea as long as it’s not overboard. 1/2 pound is fine for 5 gallons. 5 pounds, on the other hand for example, would be crazy high in alcohol and might also finish sweet if the yeast crapped out early from the high octane. I usually do not chaptalize but if I do, it is a small amount like 1/2 pound or so to add just a few points of gravity but not a lot. You can add it up front since yes, the sugars are all simple.

I have tried to ferment low and slow with varying success. The first batch I made this fall got down to SG=0.997 in just 4 days! And that was at 62 F with Cote des Blancs. I did NOT add any Campden to this batch, which was probably my downfall. When I got surprised by this, I immediately killed the yeast with 2 tablets per gallon AND I added gelatin and cold crashed to knock out the yeast completely. Obviously, the cider is now finished fermenting and clear as crystal. But in the past, using 1 Campden per gallon, fermentation has been much slower paced, and if you want to slow fermentation at any point, combine racking with smaller Campden additions of perhaps 1/2 Campden per gallon, which won’t kill the yeast but will slow them down a bit, and add gelatin if necessary to slow things down further. Even gelatin doesn’t stop the yeast entirely but just makes it that much harder for them to have sex and whatnot. In any case, cool temperatures in the 50s are probably best. 60s are okay but still a little too warm in my experience. Treat your cider fermentations sort of like a lager – low and slow indeed, with additional chemical controls to slow things down as needed.

I like your idea about freezing some cider for backsweetening. I am going to try adding a can of apple juice concentrate per 5 gallons along with Campden and sorbate to see how that works. I have had varying success with varying sweetening methods in the past, sometimes successful but most typically I have ended up with overcarbonation and an extremely dry cider when fermentation decides to take off again in the bottles. I have not kegged my cider in the past although I might have to give that a try this year. I have several 5-liter kegs which would be just perfect for the small 1-gallon batches I am making. I have made 2 batches so far and will make another 1 or 2 in the next couple of weeks. I’m trying different apple blends this year, keeping the yeast and fermentation conditions all the same, for comparison purposes. Last couple years I played with yeast. Good old trusty Cote des Blancs has been my favorite for years, but US-05 turned out very nice as well.

Seems you are very much on the right path, Pietro. Best of luck to you.

Somehow I had a feeling it would be you who responded! Thanks!

My thinking on the ferment was to get it nice and dry, and backsweeten a bit, as opposed to relying on the yeast to leave some residual sugar. Hopefully preventing overcarbonation/metabolization of the backsweetening solution being the idea…

For ‘stabilizing’ (aka ensuring no more fermentation happens), I was planning on using potassium sorbate to knock out the yeast, cold crash, maybe gel it, rack to a keg, and backsweeten to taste with the frozen, campdenized sweet ‘virgin’ cider.

Do you use any yeast nutrient during fermentation?

I’m also guessing that trying to repitch cider yeast is not a good idea given the sufites you add to STOP the yeast from replicating?

Funny you should mention repitching… I just tried this on my second batch for this year… and the yeast is alive and fermenting fine, although it is throwing a ton of sulfur this time around and I’m really not sure why because it threw zero sulfur in the first batch. Perhaps the yeast is growing old and tired. On my third and fourth batches I am going to pitch fresh Cote des Blancs and not repitch. Sulfur always goes away with age so I am not terribly concerned… but why worry at all whatsoever and just use fresh stuff.

I use yeast nutrients sometimes, and sometimes not. I’m extremely skeptical whether it really does anything or not. My first batch I used none and like I said, ferment was done in 4 days so it apparently didn’t need any help! But then the second one, well they say that nutrients can reduce sulfur emissions so I did add some and the condition does seem to be improving somewhat, albeit very slowly, and I cannot be certain if it was due to the nutrient or just all by itself, since I do know sulfur is only a temporary condition even if you do nothing. So… who knows. If I had to guess, I would say that nutrient is essentially worthless. The cider has everything that healthy yeast should need to get a batch done. And then just don’t repitch, and you should be golden.

My very humble opinions. I’m really not an expert… but I would like to be someday.

I have not tried the procedures in the following video, but it has some good suggestions for back sweetening:

Brewing TV Episode 67

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