My First Try at a Cider

Cider Tastes Like Christmas

My family has a cabin in the mountains where we have spent every Christmas for many years.  Traditionally, one of the first things we do upon arriving for our holiday break is to go to the local orchard and pick up the fruit, pies, cider and mulling spices to be used during our stay.  Because of this, hot mulled apple cider has significant sentimental value for me, especially as we head into the holiday season.  Unfortunately, because of the demands of our work, neither my girlfriend nor I will be able to go home this year, but that doesn't mean I can't still have my cider.

Unfamiliar with brewing terminology and technique?  Consider reading the Nathan's Homebrewing page before continuing for a refresher.

Brewing Day (09Nov13)

Choosing to brew a cider was spur of the moment.  My one gallon primary fermenter was sitting idle, and I wandered into the local home brew store just before close to browse.  Just about to leave were a husband and wife pair that were talking about some of the ciders they had brewed and were about to brew.  I expressed interest in brewing a cider and talked about our holiday tradition.  Homebrewers being an awesome community, they immediately helped me pick out everything I would need for my first wine making experiment, and walked me through the process.

I procured a book of wine recipes from the homebrew store, but they were less detailed then the instructions I've had in the past.  My recipe called for  12-14 pounds of apples, but I decided to use 10 pounds of honey crisp apples and 2 pounds of fresh mango. I wanted to get all the sugars I could get out of the fruit so I essentially made apple sauce as the starting material.

I also added 1/3 pounds of sugar in the raw rather than the white sugar I have used to date to see what sort of difference it makes.  I like my wines dry, so I also added 1/4 tsp of liquid tannin, and then the other chemicals I would need for brew.  I couldn't add the yest yet, as the pectic enzyme and campde need time to preserve the fruit.  Added too early, the yeast would just die.  I also added yeast energizer, which was described to me as yeast steroids, so we'll see how that ends up.  I may have to end up using a blow off tube if the fermentation gets too vigorous, but for now, I'm just using an S airlock.

The specific gravity I was shooting for was 1.085 to 1.090.  I ended up with 1.12.  Not bad, but not great either.  Unfortunately, there isn't any more room for water in the fermenter.  I'll have to live with the slightly high SG and use less fruit next time.

The next step will be to wait for 24 hours for everything to algomerate and for the pectic enzyme and campde to do their thing.

Adding the Yeast (10Nov13)

Now that everything has had an opportunity to sit for 24 hours and the chemicals I added yesterday will no longer kill the yeast, it's time to get those little microbes working.

Before I did, I took another specific gravity measurement, which turned out different from what I wrote down yesterday.  Yesterday, I took a sample from inside the bag, the section which includes some fruit pulp (SG = 1.120).  Today, I took the sample from outside the bag, where there is only fluid (SG = 1.030).  The presence of the pulp would change the density of the fluid, so I think it is a function of where I took my sample from.  The question is, where am I supposed to take the sample?   I'll stop by the home brew supply store tomorrow and ask some questions.

Over the next couple days, we'll be mixing the contents of the primary fermenter regularly.  This is a bit different from the beer, which we don't want to mix for fear of introducing oxygen.  Oh well, we'll follow the instructions as it is likely that the Winemaker's Recipe Handbook probably knows more than us.  Just a hunch.

I'm writing this update about 5 hours after adding the yeast and have just checked in on the airlock for the cider.  No bubbles yet, but the water level on the fermenter side of the S is lower than the atmosphere side.


This means the pressure inside the fermenter is higher than the outside pressure, and since the two levels were equal when I closed the lid 5 hours ago, the yeast must be producing carbon dioxide to make this happen.  This is a good sign that the yeast are taking nicely.  Hoping for bubbles tomorrow!

Changing the Plan (11Nov13)

As promised last night, I went back by the homebrew supply store today. First, I checked on the brews.  Still no bubbles, but the difference in water levels in the cider's airlock was even more extreme.  I was starting to get concerned about a blow out, so I have swapped the S airlock with a blow off tube.

After talking to Robert at the homebrew store, I've decided to change the timeline a bit.  Remember that pack of yeast I added?  Turns out, that's enough microbes for a 5 gallon batch.  It won't hurt anything in my 1 gallon batch, but it'll be very alcoholic and it'll effect the taste. I'll have to sweeten the cider on the back end (after the fermentation is complete).  He recommends waiting two weeks for the primary fermentation, and then put it in the secondary fermenter for 10 - 14 days.  At that time, I should add potassium sorbate to kill the fermentation, wait 48 hours and then mix in sugar until it is sweetened to taste.  That, vicarious brewers, is now the plan.  The next step is to rack the cider on bottling day for the holiday ale.

Racking Day (21Nov13)

I really wish I could transmit smell over the internet.  When I walked into the bathroom today, the whole room smelled of the cider, though I'm not sure how to describe the experience in words.  One thing I'm sure of is that the room did not smell like rotting fruit, so I think we're okay from that regard.  The smell put me in mind of being a kid and leaving a jar of apple juice on the counter in the sun for a couple days.  It smelled like the orchards in northern Georgia, late into the fall season, when the trees still bore fruit but were about to loose them if not harvested.  It wasn't a bad smell, just a bit overwhelming, of alcohol and fruit.  Which, I suppose isn't surprising.

I hope that we didn't loose the batch.  It does appear that we had a minor leak in the fermenter, which has caused parts of the nylon bag to darken and left a stain on the bath tub, but the stain stops in a clean line where the lid sealed on the bucket.  When I opened the fermenter, the nylon bag was a clear white.  I don't think the leak affected the inside, but we'll have to see.

The final specific gravity reading of the cider came out to be just about 1.00.  Remember how we had two original gravity readings?  Let's see what our ABV reading comes out to be.

(OG - FG) x 131.25 = %ABV
(1.120 - 1.000) x 131.25 = 14.55%
(1.085 - 1.000) x 131.25 = 11.16%

Either way you look at it, that's a hard cider.

When I went to try to clean the tub, I noticed all the trub that had already settled to the bottom of the secondary fermenter.  I'm not surprised, as I'm still getting the hang of siphoning and doing it by myself was a bit tricky.  I left a good deal of trub in the primary fermenter, but I'm still thinking about reracking the cider tomorrow just before or after I bottle the holiday ale.  It'll be better for the cider to do it that way.

ReRacking (22Nov13)

Though there was not too much trub in the secondary fermenter this morning, I decided that I wanted to rerack anyways.  The cider was pretty cloudy last night, and clarified a bit overnight, but the only way for it to be really clear was for it to go into the secondary fermenter as cleanly as possible.  I ended up siphoning the cider back into the primary fermenter, cleaning the secondary and then siphoning back.  In the end, the clarity is a bit better.  Here's hoping for more improvements in the next few weeks.

In other good news, the weird smell from yesterday has dissipated and the cider smells pretty good.  I'm seriously looking forward to this batch.  Now, the cider has to wait until I'm ready to mull, sweeten and bottle it.

Killing the Fermentation and Impromptu Bottling (05Dec13)

It seems that brewing, like life, is all about being flexible.  When I went to check on the brews today, I found that the Belgian tripel is bubbling merrily away.  Good news!  Glancing over to the cider I whose fermentation I intended to kill today, I found that something had grown on the surface.


That doesn't look good.  However, after doing some internet research, I found out that it could be one of two main things.  First, it could be an opportunistic infection that I accidentally introduced into the system.  Second, since I added so much yeast, it could be the yeast have formed what are called "yeast rafts."  Since the cider is almost to the end of the fermentation, I doubt the alcohol content would make it a friendly environment for biological growth.  Day 1 of the fermentation?  Sure.  Day 28?  Probably not.  Also, the cider smelled and tasted fine this afternoon when I sampled it (trying to decide if I needed to back sweeten).  Finally, the speed at which the clumps formed is suspiciously fast for a biological process.  Experience shows that one or two colonies could have grown in a favorable environment over night, but we're talking about 6 hours from nothing to all those bunches.  Given that, I think that the more resilient yeast flocculated (clumped together) to form those spots.

Chances are, the clumps are completely harmless, but I am also very cautious by nature.  If they were some sort of biological colony, the solution to save the batch would be to rack the cider ASAP and add preservatives (such as the sodium sorbate I was planning on adding to kill the fermentation).  Since I don't have another 1 gallon fermenter, I decided just to go for broke and bottle.

I'll keep an eye on the bottles over the next few days for signs of pressure and regrowing of the flocs.  I'm not expecting either.

I used mason jars on the recommendation of Robert from the home brew store.  It seems like a fun idea and apropos for a mulled cider. As a plus, mason jars are really easy to clean.  The only concern I have is their pressure integrity, but with the preservatives I've put in the bottling bucket before siphoning, there shouldn't be any CO2 production anyways.  Plus, the airlock hasn't bubbled for a few days in any case.  Unless I add more sugar, there shouldn't be anything for yest to ferment.

The next step is to leave the jars to sit in order to allow them to age a bit.




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