Cider Making For Beginners
Taken from HomeBrewTalk.com with permission from the author, Lorena Evans.
Cider making is very simple. But, simple is not easy! I wanted to answer a few of the top questions in one place, for new cider makers as these seem to be the most common queries.
Your cider will ferment as much as it will ferment. Much of this is yeast strain dependent, as wine yeast will ferment a cider as low as .990, while ale yeast might stop at 1.004. Both have happened to me in the the last year- wine yeast (71B-1122) stopped at .990 and S04 stopped at 1.004. Same pressing, same batch of apples, etc. Just different yeast, with no added sugars.
So, if you are hoping for a bit more “apple cider” flavor, perhaps pick an ale yeast you like (S04 isn’t great for beer, in my opinion, but it makes a nice clear apply cider!). If you want to get some bone dry tart “wine” characteristics, choose Montrachet or 71B. (71B metabolizes more malic acid so if you’ve got strongly tart apples, that’s a good choice).
Sugar in Cider:
Add sugar, if you want. However, you may want to try a batch sans sugar first, so you have something to compare future batches to. Adding sugar boosts the alcohol by volume, without much flavor at all. It does NOT make a cider sweet in the end!
I make apple wine, crabapple wine, hard cider, and everything in between. My husband loves apple wine and crabapple wine, which is boosted to 1.085-1.090. It loses all of the “apple cider” taste and becomes a nice fruity dry white wine, most similar to Pinot Grigio than any other commercial wine. It does not scream “APPLES” and most people who taste it do not think it’s an apple wine, until they are told. The extra fermentables make it much more wine-like, which is what he loves. He drinks it as a dry white table wine. The cider, which is 100% fermented apples, is crisp and apple-y and I have it both carbed and non-carbed. People who think “cider” don’t think “apple wine” and they are vastly different, mostly because of the sugar added to boost the ABV and lose some of the apple flavor. The choice is yours- but I’d still try a cider without added sugar the first time unless the SG of the juice is ridiculously low. If you’ve got, say, 1.045 or thereabouts, I would do it as is and use ale yeast.
Pectic enzyme helps to clear the cider, to prevent pectin haze. If you have it, use it, but if not don’t sweat it. Most commercial ciders will clear without pectic enzyme. But if you’re pressing apples, it helps a lot with clarity and to get more juice out of the apples. Things like wine tannin and acid blend are strictly for flavor. I like a “bite” to my apple wine and cider, and if my cider is “flabby” (that’s a real winemaking term, in case you were wondering…..) adding a bit helps a lot. But it’s strictly to taste. If you make your cider, and it’s awesome, no need to add those. But if it’s a bit bland or boring, they can help. A lot.
Sulfites have a bad rap, from people who don’t understand them. They are used to kill wild yeast and bacteria initially, in unpasteurized cider (or fruit). They do dissipate relatively quickly, and so the yeast is added 12-24 hours later so fermentation can begin. As they do dissipate, many winemakers will add sulfites at every other racking to keep approximately 50 ppm in their wine. What is great about sulfites is that they work as an antioxidant. That’s really the purpose, once fermentation begins. For folks who want a sulfite-free wine, that’s really not doable as fermentation itself produces sulfites. But many winemakers will add a bit more (again, at about 50 ppm or less) as an antioxidant as sometimes ciders and wines throw a lot of lees and have to be racked a few times. Sulfites bind with the wine, so that oxygen can’t. You can leave them out, of course, once fermentation starts. If you start with pasteurized juice and not fruit, they aren’t necessary at the start either. Think of sulfites as replacing the boil in beer- killing unwanted microbes and giving the chosen yeast a chance to outcompete other microbes, but not having lasting effects.
Oxygenation and pitch rates:
Oxygen is great for yeast reproduction, so oxygenating the must is a good thing. Most dry wine yeast strains have a 6 gram package that is “good for 1-6 gallons” and it really is. Don’t worry about this too much, but ensure that your cider or wine must has nutrients for the yeast. Often times a teaspoon of yeast nutrient is exactly what the yeast need to get started. Yeast energizer is comprised of different things and is needed for more tough ferments. Ale yeast works well in ciders as well, and one package of dry yeast (11 grams) is typically used for 5-6 gallons.
First, the term “backsweetening” is often used incorrectly in this forum. The actual meaning to winemakers is to hold back some of the must, before yeast is added, and freeze or otherwise save to back-sweeten the wine when done. On this forum, we probably mean “sweetening the finished cider or wine” when that term is used. You won’t ever hear me use “backsweeten” that way, though! Anyway, if you want to sweeten your finished cider, you have several choices. A still (uncarbed) sweetened cider is very easy because the cider is stabilized (with sulfites and sorbate) once it is finished and then sweetened to taste. If a sweetened carbonated cider is desired, it can be done in the keg by stabilizing and kegging and force carbing. A sweetened carbed cider done by bottling will require extraneous measures such as bottle pasteurization.
Adjusting flavor after fermentation:
This is important, as sometimes a finished cider or wine just isn’t right. Oh, it may not be bad, but it may be missing something. Sometimes a pinch of wine tannin or a bit of acid blend is all that is needed to make it great, and it can all be done post-fermentation. Sometimes, a cider might be best with both sweetening and acid added- and that can be done post-fermentation as well. Often, adjusting “to taste” really is the best way to do it!
One of the first things many cider makers have to do is source their cider. Unless you have an apple orchard with tart varieties, you generally have to buy your cider.
There are many cider mills in the US, and fresh cider is a great place to start. The thing to be aware of is that the cider can be pasteurized, but it must have NO sorbate or benzoate in it. Those are the most commonly used preservatives.
If fresh cider isn’t available, juice from the store may be a decent substitute.
A great cider generally uses a mix of sweet, bittersweet, sharp (tart), and bittersharp. There may be a few varieties that alone make good cider, but most cider makers will tell you that a mix is best. That gives a great balance of tannin, acidity, sweetness, and body.
Some acid (via acid blend or individual acids like malic acid) may really bring out the tart flavor of the cider, but generally it can be added at the end of fermentation before packaging if the cider is bland.
Powdered wine tannin may be needed in some ciders to give the cider some “bite”, like it does for wine, unless tannic bitter-sharp apples are used.
Many cider makers have some yeast strains that they prefer, and there are various reasons why. For example, some ale yeast strains like S04 ferment quickly, make a clear cider, and don’t ferment to bone dry. My last S04 batched ended at 1.004- plenty tart but not bitingly puckering dry. A wine yeast strain, like EC-1118, may finish at .990- very dry. Some strains, like 71B-1122, will ferment more malic acid than others and since apples are highest in malic acid, that may be preferable for some.
Experimentation is one of the most fun ways to see which YOU prefer!