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Considerations for Operating a Commercial, Non-HACCP Cider Mill in Vermont

 

 

 

 

Alcoholic fermentation, in its simplest sense, is the conversion of sugar in a solution into alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast metabolization.  A cider fermentation is a pretty simple process compared to beer brewing and winemaking.  In fact, perfectly good cider can be made by putting fresh, untreated cider in a sealed carboy and waiting for the natural or wild yeasts to ferment it to dryness.  activeferment.JPG (90543 bytes)

The process which most cidermakers go through, however, generally involves a little bit more than that.  For a good thorough base primer on cidermaking, I'll recommend Proulx and Nichol's book and Andrew Lea's website.

Once the apples have been chosen and juice squeezed, the cidermaker will often add sulfite and a selected yeast culture to the must, or unfermented cider stock.  Others who choose to utilize the wild or natural yeasts present on the apples and the pressing equipment may add less sulfite to knock down wild bacteria but allow the more sulfite-tolerant yeasts to grow in the cider.  Others who eschew sulfites altogether will simply allow the cider to start working on its own with the full 'wild and natural' complex of microflora intact.  Good cider can be made with all of these methods, although I tend to sit in the middle camp.

Fermentation vessels should be clean, airtight, fittable with an airlock, and easy to sanitize. Glass carboys (above) make excellent vessels for five to seven gallon batches.  Larger vessels may be food-grade plastic juice barrels, stainless beer kegs, and wooden barrels.  The important part is that the container be clean and airtight.  I have made cider in all of these containers, and each has their pros and their cons.

I mention airtightness because keeping oxygen out of an active fermentation is critical.  While yeast will use oxygen in the first 24 hours or so of the ferment while they are in their reproductive stage, they soon shift to an anaerobic life cycle.  Oxygen at this point in the cider could degrade your cider at best, and since another class of beasties, acetobacter, are themselves aerobic in nature, their presence in your cider (a pretty good likelihood) would favor their work, leaving you with a big batch of vinegar.

Some traditionalists feel that good cider can only be made in a used whisky barrel.  While images of a barrel bubbling away in the cellar may be romantic, they are damned hard to keep clean, heavy, and prone to developing their own microbiological cultures which can be hard to manage.  I had a barrel which developed a nice malo-lactic bacteria culture which served me well for a couple of seasons.   Eventually a little bug called Brettanomyces got in, too.  This organism is known for giving cider a 'barnyard' aroma, and is often found in the authentic ciders in the West Counties of England.  Too much, however, can be overpowering.   When I was cleaning the barrel one summer between seasons it came crashing off from its breaking barrel stand and a stave cracked, leaving me with a leaky rig.  I wasn't too disappointed, and have since used only glass and stainless steel kegs for fermentation.  cellar2.JPG (82491 bytes)

Those who follow this simple 'let it sit and ferment' process will get cider, and may get pretty good cider.  Likely, especially if the ferment proceeds quickly and at higher temperatures, the cider will be insipid or, especially when using commercial/eater-type apples, sharp, and will not have much fruit in the flavor or aroma.   People are also often surprised when the cider ferments to full dryness (which will happen given a good yeast culture which will eat every last bit of sugar in solution) and there is no sweetness left.  To retain that fruity character and or any residual sweetness, the cidermaker would have to consider some other steps in the process.

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All material Copyright Terence Bradshaw 2006-2013

terryb at lostmeadowvt dot com