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. Having been reasonably successful in my last attempt at cider making I decided to change things up a bit and play around with a higher alcohol cider. For this experiment I decided to start with actual “apple cider” marketed to me as such. So I picked up a 1 gallon jug of Musselman’s: 100% Juice Apple Cider and since I want to have a sweeter cider in the end, but still want an ABV that is decently high I decided to add 1 pound Light Brown Sugar to the cider before pitching the yeast. Because I’m bringing up the sugar in the liquid, and because apple juice is fairly lacking in nutrients that yeast like I will also be adding some yeast nutrient to help aid in fermentation.
Update Feb 19, 2016: I got some additional Airlocks in the mail today so I’m going to start the second experiment, Batch #4. I started the batch by measuring the OG of the cider, just by itself from the store I got a gravity reading of 1.044 @ 75ºF adjusted to 1.045 @ 60ºF. This was before I added the light brown sugar to the mix, to do this I poured the entire gallon into a large boil pot and raised the temperature to 120ºF while stirring constantly. I am not trying to pasteurize the juice so I don’t need to raise the temperature too much, I just want the sugar to melt into the juice well. Added the brown sugar slowly while stirring, you can see that the addition of the sugar changed the color of the brew (picture on the right). I set the entire pot in the fridge to cool, I wanted it back down to about room temperature so I could take another gravity reading before pitching the yeast. With sugar added the gravity reading was 1.084 @ 75.3ºF adjusted to 1.085 @ 60ºF this is a much higher gravity than I started with and as a result should yield a decently higher ABV.
I decided to save about 1/3 cup of the sample I took for gravity testing to rehydrate my yeast. Hit it in the microwave for 15 seconds to get to it to 103.7ºF then sprinkled in my yeast and 1 Tsp of yeast nutrient. and waited 20 minutes. When I came back the small cup of rehydrating yeast had foamed up quite a bit and I was mildly concerned about pitching this into my cider as I had not left much head room in the bottle, having forgotten to account for the added volume created by adding the sugar. Fortunately for me these apple juice batches don’t foam up much and I checked it 12 hours later, after fermentation was well underway and the minimal headroom I had left was more than adequate.
Update Feb 22, 2016: After two days the fermentation is raging! I am super excited to see how it turns out. After about 4 days I will begin sampling the gravity and taste. I want to maintain a semi-sweetness to the cider so I do not want to let the yeast ferment out all the sugar.
Update Feb 25, 2016: My plan was to start checking on the brew after about 4 days in the primary, unfortunately I let time slip away and it has been longer.
So today I sampled the brew and took a gravity reading. The reading was 0.990 @ 74ºF adjusted to 0.991 @ 60ºF based on my starting gravity gives me a ABV of 12.21% which is significantly stronger than I was going for. A taste of the sample burns going down and reminded me of rubbing alcohol. I hope I haven’t screwed this one up… I immediately racked into a carboy and shoved the overly strong concoction in the fridge to cold crash. I plan to stabilize here, no secondary for this brew. I am hoping that with age the rubbing alcohol taste may go away and leave me with something that can be consumed…
Update Feb 27, 2016: After 2 days in the fridge the cider has cleared up, and most of the remaining yeast has gone dormant and settled to the bottom of the carboy. I took one can (12 oz) of Great Value Apple Juice Concentrate and added in just under 1/2 Tsp Potassium Sorbate to stabilize and racked the cider into a new carboy. Placing this back into the fridge until I can empty and clean enough bottles to bottle the cider and age. After reading some of the threads on Homebrewtalk Forums I decided because the ABV was so high that 6-12 months aging might be required. I will update this thread when I taste the aged cider.
Update Feb 29, 2016: I removed the cider from the fridge and decided to test the gravity with the new apple juice concentrate (back sweetener) added to see if this helped with the high ABV. The gravity was 1.018 @ 48ºF adjusted to 1.017 @ 60ºF which should yield an ABV of 8.93% – Still strong but much better than the original 12.21% I started with a few days ago. The taste was also significantly improved from a few days ago. The next move was to bottle and age the cider. The quantity that remained was exactly enough to fill six 16 oz bottles, giving me exactly 6 pints of cider. So all in all I lost about 2 pints in the brewing process, between racking and testing, not terrible. After bottling I decided to flush the oxygen from the bottles, to help preserve the cider during aging. I did this by mixing a spoonful of baking soda and a bit of vinegar in a cup, letting the mix fizz (which produces CO2 – a gas heavier than Oxygen) and carefully poured the gas into the top of each bottle, thus (hopefully) displacing the oxygen in the bottle and replacing it with the heavier CO2 gas, then sealed the flip top. I then placed all six bottles in a mini-fridge I have in my garage that is set to the warmest I can set it, according to an internal thermometer its stabilizing around 52ºF. I would prefer to age in the 55 – 60ºF range but this is as close as I’m going to get to a stable, long term temperature solution.
Update May 25, 2016: After almost three months aging in the mini-fridge aging we decided to try some, it was too strong and too sweet (IMO) and I was going to tweak the recipe and try again. That is until a friend, trying the still cider pointed across my kitchen at my SodaStream and said “we should carbonate this!”
I figured, why not and pushed a batch through the SodaStream and I was amazed how the addition of carbonation changed the cider, it took the “too sweet” bite out and made a quite enjoyable drink, in fact we polished off 2 bottles before realizing it was still the middle of the day… oops!
I will warn people wanting to carbonate cider with a SodaStream Be Careful – the cider acts very different from water, it will fizz up a ton during the pressurization phase, so you have to wait for it to settle before pressing the button again. Then when you release the pressure you have to do it SLOWLY for the same reason. The cider will foam and bubble aggressive so you want to bleed off the pressure slowly, taking breaks as you do to ensure you don’t end up wearing the cider instead of drinking it.