Today, we started batch two of hard cider. We bought more bottles for bottling the first batch, some Belgian Ale yeast and five gallons of cider. The second batch is starting to ferment on the kitchen table. However, given how cold the house is, especially during this cold snap outside, it may take a while to ferment.
Afterward we went over to Kim’s parents’ house to celebrate my mother-in-laws birthday. Now, late in the day, we are back home. I’m feeling particularly run down. I believe I’m fighting a virus. So, I’ll wait until tomorrow to follow up on the emails I’ve received today and put up a more in depth blog post.
Today Kim and I siphoned off the cider from the first firmentation jug into the second. We will give it a few days to settle and then bottle it. We poured off a glass to see how it came out, and we're very pleased.
Today, we started on an adventure to make our first batch of hard cider. Essentially, we are looking for a way to let the cider ferment into an alcoholic beverage, like various hard ciders we’ve had in the past.
My wife’s ex-husband had been an home beer brewer, so we borrowed a couple ‘carboys’ from him and a fermentation lock. A carboy is a large jug, in our case, it can probably hold about six and a half gallons. So, we bought five gallons of fresh untreated cider from a local cider mill, poured them into the carboy, added some yeast, put the fermentation lock on top and are letting nature take its course.
We are fortunate. The cider mill near where we live uses a cold method of pasteurizing their cider, running it under ultra violet lights. Sites have suggested that if you are going to use pasteurized cider this is the best type to go with. However, our cider mill does one step better. They will sell untreated cider to people who specifically ask for it.
We asked for five gallons of untreated cider, and an older man at the mill asked if we were making hard cider. We told him of the carboy we had borrowed and the yeast we had gotten. He said that next time we should just bring the carboy and they would fill it up directly. It is nice to know that they do that and if things go okay and we decide to make a second batch, that is how we’ll approach it.
At home, being the geek that I am, I thought I’d go out and read various sites for their comments about how to make hard cider, and we found a lot of different options. After talking about these options, we’ve decided on what our course will be for this first glass.
A serious brewer would probably measure the specific gravity of the sweet cider and do all kinds of calculations as to whether or not to add some sort of sugar, depending on how sweet and how strong they wanted the cider to be.
One site suggested adding two pounds of sugar per gallon. My guess is that this would make a very strong hard cider which could be 12-14% alcohol. This would make it similar to table wine, or perhaps a little stronger. Adding no sugar would make a hard cider which would be something like 4.5 – 5.0 % alcohol, or something a little weaker than a typical beer. We’ve decided that for this batch, we will not add any sugar, at least at this stage.
The yeasts in the cider turn the sugar in to alcohol. Here is the next decision. A purist might use just the yeast that came off the apples and let the fermentation begin. A different type of purist might add Campden’s tablets. These are sulfur-based tablets used to kill off any bacteria as well as any natural yeast. Other purists of this ilk, prefer to warm the cider up to 140 degrees for twenty minutes to kill off bacteria.
We chose a third approach. We decided to leave the natural yeasts, and any natural bacteria that there might be, but to give the yeast a little help by adding some additional yeast. There are many different types of yeasts that you can add. Some people like to add a champagne yeast. Champagne yeasts can withstand a much higher alcohol content and are a good idea if you are making a really strong hard cider. There are also special yeasts for making hard cider, and we went with one of these for our first batch. Others like to use a yeast made for making ale, or just a regular wine yeast.
Kim talked about Weissen yeast or Lambic yeast. These sound like interesting ideas that we might try for a subsequent batch.
The yeast turns the sugars to alcohol and to carbon dioxide. The fermentation lock allows the excess carbon dioxide to escape without allowing bacteria or oxygen in. Many people worry about any new bacteria destroying the taste of the hard cider, however the bigger concern is excess oxygen allowing the alcohol to oxidize and become vinegar.
Depending on how warm the house stays and how much sugar we put in, the cider should complete its first fermentation between two weeks and three months. Since we’ve added no additional sugar, it will probably be closer to two weeks, however it could stretch out a little because we keep our house colder than most people do. The three month fermentation came from the site that suggested adding two pounds of sugar per gallon of cider.
During dinner, we heard an occasional burping sound. The fermentation has gotten off to a good start. It is still several minutes between these burps. When things get going, I’m told we can see at least a bubble a minute. When it drops off from that level, it will be time for the next step.
Here, we will be faced with our next choice. The first is to call the whole thing done. This will result in a thicker, yeastier cider. Or, we can draw off the cider into a second carboy for a second fermentation. This fermentation will help clarify the cider as the last of the yeast settles out. From what I’m reading, this should take two to four additional weeks. Right now, we are planning to do a second fermentation. However, we might take a little bit of the cider at this point, just to see how it is, and perhaps bottle a little to see how this ages.
At this point, it will be time to bottle the cider. If we want the cider to be ‘still’, that is, not have any bubbles, we can bottle it as is. However, if we want it bubbly, we will need to add a little additional sugar. One site suggests three-fourths of a cup of honey or sugar equally added to the five gallons. Right now, we are thinking we will split this and bottle some with sugar and some with out.
Have any you made hard cider before? What methods did you use? How did it turn out? I’ll let you know how ours does as things develop.
Update, a year later: In September 2009, I've started getting a bit of traffic on this blog post. Since I first wrote this post, I've made more batches and written more about my cider making experiments. I would encourage any new visitors to check out the whole Hard Cider section of my blog.