I want to start out by saying this is not a “how to” post, this is a documentation of what I did during my cider experiments, what worked and what didn’t. If you’re interested in doing this yourself, check out my Getting Started post for some tips and equipment. Otherwise use my experiments as a reference for what I did and hopefully learn a bit in the process. This is my first attempt at making any kind of alcoholic beverage, so I have little to no clue what I’m doing here.
To begin this first experiment I started with three 1 Liter jugs of Great Value 100% Apple Juice. I planned to do the primary fermentation in the original apple juice bottles so I began by drilling a small hole in the top lid of the apple juice bottle, large enough to fit the #2 rubber stopper. Inside the center of the stopper I fit the airlock. I did this for all three bottles and set the lids aside. This will allow me to ferment in the original apple juice bottle. After doing this, I removed approximately 8 oz of liquid from each bottle (in hindsight this was more than I needed to remove and could have gotten away with removing only 4oz) this is done to give the bottle some room at the top, during fermentation bubbles and foam can be produced and this “head space” prevents overflow incidences.
To rehydrate the yeast, I took approximately 2 oz of water and heated it up for 10 seconds in the microwave. I was trying to reach 100°F, too hot and you can kill the yeast. I sprinkled in the yeast and let rehydrate for 15 minutes. After rehydration I pitched the yeast into my apple juice and topped with the airlock / cap I fabricated earlier, set in the spare bedroom to ferment.
The plan is after a week or two, to transfer the cider into another container, clean out the jug and put the cider back in for a “secondary fermentation”. This should only take another week or so, then I can bottle and age the cider.
This was an initial experiment using three identical bottles of apple juice and 2 different yeast, the purpose was to see the difference in the final product that yeast can make. Using the hydrometer I tested the gravity of one of the jugs of Apple Juice, this just happened to be Batch 1, however it stands to reason that all three batches would have the same Original Gravity (OG). Batch 1 measured 1.044 @ 72ºF which using a Hydrometer Temperature Adjustment Calculator comes out to a OG of 1.045 @ 60ºF
- Batch #1: Premier Cuvee Yeast – Rehydrated with 1.7oz Tap Water @ 105ºF – 15 Minutes.
- Batch #2: Pasteur Blanc Yeast – Rehydrated with 1.7oz Tap Water @ 104.9ºF – 15 Minutes.
- Batch #3: 50/50 Mix of the previous 2 yeasts – Rehydrated with 1.7oz Tap Water @ 103.8ºF- 15 Minutes.
Update Feb 19, 2016: I expected the fermentation to take much longer, however after a week most of the bubbling has stopped and the juice had mostly cleared up. I was worried not enough time had passed for everything to be done. Many of the people on Homebrewtalk Forums had made comments about weeks (plural) in the primary fermenter. Then I found a thread that put in in plain language and said don’t worry about bubbles, I needed to be more concerned with Specific Gravity (SG) of the beverage than anything else. So after 7 days in the spare bedroom I pulled the three batches out and proceeded to test the gravity of one of the batches (I believe it was Batch 1 again) and this time the gravity was 1.010 @ 72ºF adjusted to 1.011 @ 60ºF which according to Brewer’s Friend Alcohol By Volume Calculator gives me a ABV of 4.46%, not quite a strong beverage but close to many light beers.
It was at this time I decided to rack the brew to its secondary fermentation vessel. Basically I used the mini-auto siphon (aka) “Racking Cane” to siphon the cider from the bottle into a sanitized 1 gallon carboy. I was careful to avoid the bottom of the bottle where the flocculated yeast (lees) has settled, this yielded less liquid than I initially started with because some was going to be discarded at this point. I dumped the lees out into the garbage disposal and washed the apple juice bottle well. I then poured the cider back into the original bottle for its “secondary fermentation”. The loss in volume from the racking left me with considerably more headspace than I initially had, I have heard that oxygen can be detrimental in many situations, and I believe this may be one of them.
I was concerned about allowing the cider to age exposed to oxygen. I needed a solution, and in a follow up podcast, Jack discussed making Carbon Dioxide to fill the empty space. I took about a tablespoon of baking soda in a plastic cup and added a small amount of vinegar. The reaction creates CO2 and displaces all the oxygen in the cup, since CO2 is heavier than air, I then poured the vapor into the open bottles. You can’t actually see this happen because it’s a gas but I was told to trust it is happening. This creates a barrier of CO2 on top of the cider to protect it while it ages.
I sampled the three batches as I racked them into their secondary, so taking into account this was preliminary taste testing I was surprised to find batch 1 (Premier Cuvee Yeast) to be very dry, far dryer than I prefer. The wife described it as an “apple wine”. Batch 2 (Pasteur Blanc Yeast) a bit sweeter, not quite to my taste but getting closer and batch 3 (50/50 mix) was about the same taste and sweetness of batch 2, so for all intents and purposes there was no marked taste difference between batch 2 & 3. As for now, pending tasting after aging, I see no particular advantage to the extra hassle of mixing the two yeasts together and will most likely conduct further experimentation with the Pasteur Blanc Yeast.
I plan to further this experiment, I found a wonderful German beer called Mönchshof Schwarzbier available at my local ABC Liquors for $3.99 a bottle. It comes in a 16oz flip top bottle, perfect for me to clean out (after I drink the black gold inside of course) and use to rebottle my cider. The same size bottles are on Amazon for $37.92 for a case of 12, that comes out to $3.16 per bottle. So even with an after tax total of $4.29 for the Schwarzbier I can reuse the bottle and the beer is only running me $1.13 – cheaper than any american swill I can buy at my local dive bar and far tastier! I have two options for bottling, I can bottle the cider “still” which means no carbonation. If I plan to bottle still I can stabilize (with Potassium Sorbate) and “back sweeten” using sugar or what I plan to do is use apple juice concentrate to give the cider a more apple taste. The other option is I can “bottle prime” aka “bottle carbonate”, which is the practice of adding an additional amount of sugar to a finished cider (many recipes I found reccomend 2 Tablespoons for a gallon batch), mead or beer, bottling and allowing the subsequent fermentation to pressurize and ultimately carbonate the beverage. So since I can not stabilize anything I plan to bottle prime I can not back sweeten either. So for this experiment I plan to bottle prime 16 oz from each batch then bottle the rest still so I can back sweeten. This will give me a good variety of types, flavors and methods from my three batches so I can best determine how to proceed in the future.
Update Feb 23, 2016: After a bit more than a week in the secondary I decided it was time to bottle and age the cider. I took a gravity reading from Batch 1 again and was pleased to see it was 1.000 @ 74ºF adjusted to 1.001 @ 60ºF which should give me a ABV of 5.75% which is awesome! I decided to take two paths in bottling / aging since I don’t have enough flip top beer bottles yet to properly bottle condition I decided to use three 1 pint Mountain Dew bottles for the priming experiment. I put 1/2 Tsp of powdered sugar (it’s all I had) into each bottle and racked the cider in, sealing the top as hard as I could. I placed all the bottles into a plastic tote and closed the lid (in case of an explosion, it’s less to clean up). The remaining cider (which I estimated to be 2 qt. of liquid per batch) was to be back sweetened with apple juice concentrate. I wanted to try and give the cider back that apple flavor it lost during fermentation. I placed just under 1/4 Tsp of Potassium Sorbate into a sanitized carboy and racked the cider into it. I then cleaned out the plastic apple juice bottle from the remaining yeast that had flocculated to the bottom during the secondary fermentation and put 1/3 of a can apple juice concentrate into each bottle. I was guessing at the amount, but I only had one can so 1/3 was the best I could do evenly between each bottle. I placed the new, sweetened concoction into a mini-fridge I have in the garage to cool the liquid. This is an attempt to “cold crash” the cider in case the potassium sorbate does not kill the remaining yeast. After a couple of days, I will raise the temperature in the fridge to 50ºF and age the cider for 3-4 weeks. Testing the gravity of the new mixture produced a reading of 1.010 @ 56ºF which adjusts to the same @ 60ºF giving me a new ABV of 4.59%