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Hard cider making process questions

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.

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I can try to answer the last part about the sugar-alcohol. I take it you mean Xylitol? I would check with your Dr. or a nutritionist to be sure, but I believe it is a neutral compound. However, I’m a Vet., and I do know that in dogs xylitol causes a significant DROP in blood sugar, causing seizures. Does not do this to people. I use Frozen Apple Juice Concentrate to prime my ciders/Grafs. Usually use 1 can per 5G batch. The yeast do eat the sugars, causing the carbonation, but some of the apple flavor is retained. Unless your cider has been sitting for more than 3 months, or you’ve done something to kill the yeast (metabisulfate & sorbate), then there will be plenty of yeast in suspension for carbonation. But if you’re worried, adding a little dry yeast is good for peace of mind. I have used 1/4 pkt per 5G batch for long-lagered beers in the past.
Finally, I’ve enjoyed ciders and grafs that were bottled 4 years previously. In fact, ciders get better with time.
Good luck with your ambitious project.

First off WOW! Now thats alot of cider. 1rst question, can you float a hydrometer in that big fermenter and to verify any drop at all? If not do taste it, to be able to tell ifn something going awry. You could take some of yer actively fermenting cider and add to the non fermenting batch. 2nd, take yer readings, thinking that cider may finish in the neighbor hood of 1.000-1.008, and rack to yer secondary 10 points above yer final, do always sample. 3rd, no info to give. 4th, I have kegged and will always keg my apple cider. I like sparkling as opposed still. Seems if you don’t keep CO2 to it, and its going to sit for a long time, it goes still. Maybe my kegs leak a bit? Yer last questions is something I can’t answer also. Sneezles61

Hi and thanks for the info. After some further “googling” of maltodextrin and sugar-alcohols, … i found that maltodextrin is not grouped together as one of the sugar-alcohols such as Xylitol, malitol, … Sorry for the error.

Maltodextrin was recommended to finish my cider in 6 - 8 months as a back sweetener since the yeast does not eat it. My concern was the effect that maltodextrin might have for diabetics. Since maltodextrin can raise blood sugar levels I would steer clear of giving it to anyone with diabetes even though the informaiton available from the internet is mixed over how much of a concern it is.

Your experience using apple juice concentrate in the primary also implies that the yeast will eat the sugars in the concentrate so unless I am using sorbate to prevent additional fermentation (which this year I am largely ommitting except as a test batch to see whether the sorbate is one of the culprits in producing a bad aftertaste), apple juice concentrate won’t work all that well as a back sweetener.

You raise an interesting point - how long will yeast stay in suspension and remain active? After racking a couple times, if I let it sit for 6 months, will the yeasts all die off or will they remain in a dormant state? To be safe, unless I use sorbate, I’m going to stick with nonfermentable sugar such as maltodextrin as a back sweetener.

Thanks for your suggestions. I will take a reading next Sunday when I return upstate NY to where the cider is fermenting. In hindsight, maybe the one batch was quicker and had already foamed and then the muck sunk to the bottom. I will know next week.

I received some more input for my second question which may be the key to the bad aftertaste. Last year, I used the 20-gal vat for the primary and the secondary and the vats had significant headroom. While the vats are constructed to allow out gassing, that they are not recommended for the secondary since once the cider becomes alcoholic. Demijohns and a bubbler with only a scant inch of headroom should be used. Oxygen may have been the culprit.

After the cider has sat for another 6 months to mellow, hopefully this batch will have eliminated any aftertaste. Then I’ll take another crack at using the keg to carbonate - it seems that bottle conditioning produces better results but keg conditioning is simpler and quicker. One bottle conditioned liter sat in the sun for a while and when opened, looked like a geyser,

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