Tuesday, 30 July 2013

DIY guide to becoming a back yard Cider Master - Part 2

Home 'real' cider making
So from Part 1 of my home cider guide, you should now have the skills and knowledge to successfully process and ferment your own cider. If you followed my guide, your cider and/or perry should be completely finished in terms of fermentation, and now in need of bubbles. It is this next point of proceedings where I get asked the most questions. It can be a little confusing and overwhelming, and it definitely took me some time to perfect my methods (and a lot of internet forum searching). But what I will discuss in Part 2 of the DIY guide is the final steps of the process including bulk priming, bottling, secondary carbonation and ageing.

Firstly to determine your final alcohol level, you need to do a few simple calculations. What you need handy is your original gravity (OG), and your final gravity (FG), which are taking with the hydrometer.
NOTE: Original Gravity is taken when you first being ferment. Final Gravity is taken when fermentation has ceased.
CRITICAL CALCULATION: I will be using two fictional gravity readings to illustrate how to calculate the final alcohol. Just follow the formula with your own specific readings:

OG: 1.060 and FG: 1.005
1.060 - 1.005 = 0.055 (this number needs to be multiplied by 105)
0.055 x 105 = 5.78% a.b.w (alcohol by weight)
To convert a.b.w to a.b.v (alcohol by volume) multiply by 1.25
5.78 x 1.25 = 7.21% a.b.v (alcohol by volume)

Therefore the final alcohol is 7.21%


A consideration you need to think about is if you want bubbles in your cider. In cider lingo, a 'still' cider means strictly no bubbles. The cider is practically flat, and can sometimes come across as a little boring. Through my experiences, most people like a little carbonation in their cider, but not to the point of a fizzy soft drink. A slightly carbonated cider adds life and vibrancy to the palate, and offers another dimension of interest. If you want a still, you would bottle at this point and let it age. If you want to define your style with some fizz, then follow my next set of steps.
NOTE: The ciders I produce through my methods are semi clear post secondary fermentation, but do have some harmless yeast deposits in the bottle. These can be easily decanted on pouring to a glass.  

Filled bottles
I want to first state that carbonation drops are poor and should not be used if you want a consistent product. I dislike them, as they have a real amateur feel about them. If you have them, ditch them. I want to introduce you to a new process called 'bulk priming'. What bulk priming essentially means is a sugar solution is added to the whole batch of cider, not to individual bottles. This helps to evenly prime the cider ready for secondary. You will get a far better, and consistent bead and bubble every time using this method. The residual yeasts left from the ferment more often than not spring back into life and referment the added sugar, and hence create the bubbles. If you're concerned that your initial yeasts may not be viable, then by all means add more. My method works every time without having to reyeast, but this step is completely up to you. So take off the lid to your fermenter and prepare to add your sugary mix. 
CRITICAL ADDITIONS: To bulk prime to a nice soft carbonation level, add 10g/L white sugar dissolved in water to your batch and mix well. For example in 50L's, 50L's x 10g/L = 500g's of sugar. For yeast, if you can find EC1118 then add this at 400ppm to your sugared up cider in the fermenter. If you can't find this yeast, any substitute will do. Again, 50L's x 400ppm / 1000 = 20g's.Remember, this method of cider making will produce a dry, higher alcohol and semi clear cider. There are alternatives to sweeten which I will explain later. Also, DO NOT add anymore sugar than what I have stated - double check your volumes and calculations. If so, you run the risk of exploding bottles which is a extreme hazard if glass is involved. 

Now that the cider is sweetened up and the optional yeast has been added, it's time to bottle. What ever you choose to bottle in - plastic, 330mL, 500mL or 750mL glass, just remember that the larger sparkling wine bottles take a 29mm crown seal. This larger crown seal also means you need to purchase the corresponding bell for correct application. The 330mL and 500mL's take a smaller and more easily available 26mm crown seal. 

Bottling is simple and can be a bit of fun. I always find it a special time, as you are bottling something 'you' made. The method for bottling varies, and is completely unique to your set up. But fill your bottles to a respectable level, leaving some head space and then cap. There should not be much yeast lees on the bottom of the fermenter as you have racked at least three times. If there is some, just discard it down the drain. 

Priming and Ageing

So the cider is in bottle and ready for secondary fermentation. You're almost at the point where you can enjoy your spoils! Unfortunately, patience is required with this next step. It's understandable that you would want to devour your freshly made cider, but it needs time. It needs time to develop flavour, develop complexity and develop a fine carbonation. The absolute minimum is around the two to three weeks from bottle to consumption. But I have cider from roughly two years ago, and it's only getting better - contrary to popular believe that cider doesn't age. Let your bottles age and ferment in a cool place, away from any extreme heat and temperature fluctuations. This ensures a nice, steady secondary with no off flavour development. Malo lactic fermentation or MLF, is a process where malic acid (a harsh tasting acid found in apples) is converted to lactic acid (a much softer acid) by lactic acid bacteria. During your bottle priming, you may get some spontaneous MLF happening, which softens the palate and makes the cider more microbial stable. Any SO2 additions post ferment will kill off these bacteria, and MLF will not initiate.
NOTE: Bulk priming in glass is just one method of carbonating home brew cider. Force priming with CO2 in 19L cornelius kegs, and dispensing from a tap is definitely an option - but costly. A counter pressure filler is also an option which let's you bottle forced carbonated cider from keg to bottle, but again harsh on the wallet. My method is easy, cheap and effective, with no fuss.  

Cider ageing in old oak
Advanced techniques of pasteurisation, filtration, hand disgorging, lees contact and oak age are all processes which can aid in a ciders complexity. Once experience is built over time, these techniques are definitely worth a try to help develop your style. But for now, let's keep it simple. Now for the sweet conundrum: For the lover's of sweeter cider. Besides filtration, you're not going to be able to produce a sweet cider naturally, sorry! But things you can possibly do is add some fresh apple juice to your cider when drinking. This is quick and easy. Another method is to add an unfermentable sugar, in this case - lactose. I have used it personally and you need a whole heap to even make it semi sweet. I find it impacts on mouth feel too, which really is not desirable. Also anyone who is lactose intolerant can not drink it. But I believe you have made a natural cider, so I say keep it that way with no additives.           

Congratulations!! After a short wait, you will be drinking your very own handcrafted and 'real' cider. No muck, no concentrates, no added sugars. Pure and better for you. If you are considering making cider at home, I hope my guide gives you the inspiration and confidence to give it a go. Trust me, you'll have a lot of fun and learn heaps whilst you do it. Also, I would love to hear of your experiences - be it bad or good. Good luck!!

Wassail! Finished product

Happy cider making, Cider Masters!

Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats-full! Caps-full!
Bushel, bushel sacks-full!
And my pockets full, too! Hurra!


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