Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm in Cider Town!

So I've been toying with making cider again this year (in fact, right now I'm thinking of doing two beers and a cider for Novemberfest instead of the traditional three beers). The tricky thing, though, is backsweetening. See, if you just add yeast to fresh cider it'll pretty much ferment all the available sugars, leaving you with an incredibly dry cider that isn't much like the commercial ciders out there. Now, I'm not interested in making a cider as sweet as Woodchuck (especially not with that fake apple taste), but I do want a little residual sweetness. The easiest way to do this if you keg is to let it ferment out and then backsweeten with some fresh cider. If you keep your cider near freezing and/or add some sodium metabisulfite it should prevent further fermentation leaving you with the desired sweetness in your hard cider.

What further complicates this is that most hard ciders, without backsweetening, come out to starting gravity of around 1045, which if it ferments completely yields you an ABV of 5.9%. Not bad for a craft beer, and a decent amount above the Bud/Miller/Coorses of the world. However, if you backsweeten with 20% cider now you're down to 4.7%, which actually isn't that bad either (I'll be honest; this is the first time I'm actually sitting down and doing the math as I type this). So I guess you could backsweeten with 20% fresh cider and still have a normal-strength cider.

HOWEVER, let's say you want to jack it up a bit. What do you do? Add sugar to your must (unfermented cider). Then you can dilute it with fresh cider to your preferred alcohol level. The one missing variable in all this, however, is how much fresh cider is needed to get you to your desired level of sweetness. Well, the only way to figure that out is to ferment some cider and experiment, and that's just what I did. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find my record of exactly what I added, but I think I remember enough to get close to report my results.

For starters, just because we wanted to try it out, we decided to make our own cider with a juicer that Leah's mom bought us for Christmas. We only made two quarts of cider (one quart to ferment, and one to save for backsweetening) so if something went horribly wrong it wouldn't be a huge deal. Specifically I was worried because, while we added potasium metabisulfite to the resulting must to kill the wild yeast, it doesn't kill wild bacteria, and I didn't really do anything to kill the bacteria. This would create a problem later on. However, for now, what I did was make the juice, add a sugar/brown sugar mixture (about 50/50) to get the gravity up to around 1065 (yielding a potential of 8.5% ABV), throw in some sodium metabisulfite and yeast nutrient, and toss in some dry Nottingham yeast to get it going.

Tonight, after a couple weeks, I poured 400mL of fermented cider and 100mL of fresh cider into a water bottle which I then carbonated with one of those carbonation caps. Of course, before I did this I tasted the cider and it was, um, interesting. It wasn't crazy sour, and it wasn't crazy funky, but it definitely has a little of each. (Maybe I can sell this to Jolly Pumpkin!) Anyway, I'm a little worried that the sour and funk notes will make it seem less sweet than it really is, but I really thought this first try with 20% fresh cider really works. Plus, even if we decide to make a heavy-hitter like this (at 6.8% ABV), we can always add 10% at first and see how we like it. If we decide we don't want it sweeter, we'll just have a 7.7% monster on our hands!

So for now, here are my concluding remarks... As somebody who doesn't like my ciders too sweet but likes some sweetness, 20% seems to be a good percentage of fresh cider to shoot for. And unless you're comfortable that you're killing the bacteria, stick to cider bought from the professionals (though don't buy cider at the grocery store that contains preservatives! I recommend getting cider from a local mill that's been flash-pasteurized but doesn't have added preservatives). Stay tuned to hear how our actual full-scale batch of cider turns out.

Oh, and in case you don't get the reference in the title of this post:


Blogger Señor Brew™ said...

Russ, for your cider label, you have to get a photo of you and your family wearing apple headwear, like Ned and Todd (or is that Rod?)

10:16 PM, August 25, 2009  

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