Ok, here we are very near the end of the making process. We have just pressed and poured our cider into some clean and sterilized fermentation containers. Before we begin the discussion on the fermentation process, I really want to drive a point home; KEEP YOUR SH*T CLEAN! Pardon the expletive; however, this is super important. THE quickest way to ruin all your hard work is to let a bad strain of “whatever” into your cider. Some of the nasty things that can happen to your cider you can recover from, some you can not. However MOST of these things can be avoided by keeping your equipment clean and sanitary. I hope you have been following the guidelines outlined in the cleaning and sanitation section during all the steps; however, it is most important here.
If at any time you think you may have some sort of spoilage check out the, Umm . . . My Cider Looks or Smells Bad post.
So now (if you haven’t already) we need to decide on what type of Cider we want to make, as the fermentation process is somewhat dependent on that question. Below are some of the different cider styles that you can make.
- Dry Cider – No sweetness left in the juice, like a dry champagne.
- Off-Dry Cider – More residual sugars than Dry Ciders, around 1-2%
- Semi-Dry and Semi-Sweet – ciders with residual sugars above 2%
- Farm House Cider / Scrumpy – “au natural,” often made with wild yeasts
- Still Cider – non-carbonated, much like wine
- Sparkling Cider – Carbonated lightly, similar to a carbonated beer or soda.
As discussed in the Blending and Testing Your Juice section any additions that you may want to make to your juice to correct some aspect of it should be added in this stage, such as a Pectic Enzyme, Yeast Nutrient or adjusting your pH.
Below is a list of Tools/Supplies you may need for the fermentation process
- Airlock and Carboy Bung
- Malolactic Bacteria Culture
- Campden Tablets
- Yeast Nutrient
- Fermentation Container
- Digital Thermometer, Carboy Strip Thermometer
- Full Starter Kit
Hopefully you have pressed your juice into a suitable clean container for your initial fermentation process. If not you now need to transfer it into a container for the initial fermentation period. Oxygen is an oxidizer and can ruin your cider and therefore should be avoided, when pouring (not the recommended transfer method) your fresh pressed cider into a fermentation container, try not to splash as that will mix your cider with the oxygen-laden air. You should if at all possible purge your container with CO2 first or use a siphon tube to transfer your cider from one container to another .
Below are some typical fermentation vessels that can be used and links should you wish to purchase.
If you are interested in larger volume containers broaching on commercial productions check out the Going Commercial section for some ideas on what type of containers to use.
To Sterilize Juice, or Not to Sterilize, that is the question –
Amongst the many ciderests out there this question can evoke some profound mutterings and a heated debate. Most makers believe that some form of juice sterilization should be used, and I would highly recommend it if this is your first time around. So why sterilize your juice?
There area number of reasons to sterilize your juice. There are a lot of people out there that fear the juice. There was an E.coli scare in the mid 90’s related to unpasteurized juice that still has people freaked out today. But remember, this is for raw juice that was drank PRIOR to fermentation. There is a lot of contradictory information out there about the ability of alcohol to kill pathogens. However, if you use apple juice to make alcoholic cider then you do not need to follow the FDA HACCP requirements for raw juice. Fermentation is an acceptable means of killing off the many bacterial strains including E. coli (1) and that is why cider makers do not have to follow the HACCP guidelines. I don’t do anything other than add sulfites and ferment, and will sometimes bottle pasteurize.
It is also good to sterilize your juice prior to fermentation as it will kill off some bacterias, molds and will slow down natural yeasts, allowing your added yeasts to out perform them. These “contaminants” can cause all sort of problems from mousy flavors, to making apple vinegar.
So what are some of the options available to the hard cider maker?
*If you are buying store bought juice you really can just skip this section as it has more than likely been pasteurized*
I will be frank and just say “DON’T use this method”. I know you have probably read some other sites that talk about sterilization of the juice by boiling it, but don’t. Not only will this set the pectin which may cause a permanent pectic haze that no clarification can remove, it will also drive off flavors and add a caramel, cooked apple taste to your cider. There really is no reason to do this as there are much better ways to handle sterilization. About now, some of you will be saying “what about heat pasteurization, they do that all the time”. Well, yes, you are right they do, and so can you, if you are very careful. If you really feel like you must pasteurize your juice you can read more about it in detail here.
Since heating fruit degrades the aroma and flavor, most cider makers use Campden Tablets (potassium or sodium metabisulfite), or sulfites to clean the apple must (juice) of unwanted wild yeasts, bacteria, and molds before pitching your own yeasts or going for natural fermentation. Below is a table for adding sulfites or Campden Tablets to your juice.
Below is a video showing you the process that I use for testing and adding Campden Tablets to my apple juice.
There are a lots of different yeast choices for fermenting your cider. Check out the Yeasts post for a rundown on some of the more popular brands and styles. Some I have used and some have come recommended. Different yeasts will impart different flavors to your cider, just like different beer styles are achieved from the ingredients and yeast strains. I have tasted some great ciders made with traditional beer, wine, champagne, and sake yeasts. I dare you to try something new. 🙂 You never know what new flavor you may come up with.
Once you have picked out the yeast you want to use, just follow the directions that come with the yeast. Some will want you to add the yeast to a starter, such as juice you have pulled out of your batch or by just adding it to warm water 65–70 ºF (18–20 ºC)). Some have an activator built into the yeast packet and you mix the two together. Depending on the orchard that the apples came from there may not be enough nutrients in the apple must (juice) to drive fermentation to the end, and you may get a stalled fermentation. You can add a Yeast Nutrient now if you want to be on the safe side; however, I often wait until I notice a stuck fermentation (unless I know the history of the orchard and know the apples will not have enough nutrients).
When using store bought yeasts, you should check the datasheet of your yeast to see what temperature range that particular yeast likes. Generally speaking most ciders can be fermented in the 65–70 ºF (18–20 ºC) range which is good, as this temperature can be found in dark closets and basements most of the time. The lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation will be. This can at times be dangerous as the fermentation is what helps keep your cider healthy under a blanket of CO2. Slower fermentation can also help retain some of the natural aromas as as rapid fermentation often “blows off” most aromas. You should get your cider to your desired temperature prior to adding your yeast for a good start.
Finishing it out
Once your cider has found a home in your fermentation container and all your ingredients have been added, it is time to cap it off with Airlock and Carboy Bung. I like to add a little vodka to my airlock as it keeps the nasties from growing in it. You need to keep an eye on it though as alcohol tends to evaporate a little quicker than water. I also place a towel around my carboy and then place it in an area of my house or shed that maintains the optimal fermentation temperature. Your cider should start to bubble away in a few short days, and you may notice a good bubbling going on with what may be some froth on top (The fermentation may get a bit violent and pop your airlock off, so if that is the case wipe everything off and reattach the airlock). Once the main bubbling has subsided it is time to check for completed fermentation. This will happen around the three week mark. If you suspect something has gone haywire with your fermentation section, check out this post on Fermentation Issues, it may have your answers. If not drop me a line and we will figure it out together.
Your next step will be racking and bottling and then of course DRINKING!!!! super excited already. I think I may go and pop the top on a cider and have a glass. Until the Bottling section, adieu.
Malolactic Bacterial Culture
Depending on your desired cider style and your apple blend you may want to add a malolactic bacterial culture this will help produce a second fermentation (MLF) after the first fermentation. I would add the culture after your first fermentation is done. Here is a great article (technical) about MLF from NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) The MLF fermentation will subdue the tartness of the cider by converting the mouth-puckering acid malate to the rounder and less acidic lactic acid.
Tea bags or Tannins
You can add some earl grey tea bags during the initial fermentation or add some grape tannins at this time. However if this is your first time making cider I would recommend not adding any of these as it is important to get an understanding of the natural flavors of your juice.
Authors: Semanchek JJ. Golden DA.
Title: SURVIVAL OF ESCHERICHIA COLI O157-H7 DURING FERMENTATION OF APPLE CIDER
Source: Journal of Food Protection. 59(12):1256-1259, 1996 Dec.
Abstract: Survival of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in fermenting and nonfermenting fresh apple cider was determined. Populations of E. coli O157:H7 were reduced from 6.4 log CFU/ml to undetectable levels (detection limit of 0.5 log CFU/ml) in fermenting cider after 3 days at 20 degrees C and from 6.5 log CFU/ml to 2.9 log CFU/ml after 10 days at 20 degrees C in nonfermenting cider. After 1 day of incubation, recovery of E. coli O157:H7 from fermenting and nonfermenting cider was statistically (P < 0.01) lower on sorbitol MacConkey agar than on tryptone soya agar supplemented with
cycloheximide. These results suggest that substantial portions of the surviving E. coli O157:H7 populations were sublethally injured by cider components (i.e., acid and ethanol). The pH of fermenting cider was not significantly different (P > 0.05) from that of nonfermenting cider throughout the 10-day test period. Final ethanol concentrations in fermenting cider reached 6.01% (vol/vol) after 10 days at 20 degrees C. Inactivation of E. coli O157:H7 in fermenting cider is attributed to the combined effects of pH and ethanol. Results of this study indicate that E. coli O157:H7 is capable of survival in fresh apple cider at 20 degrees C, while alcoholic fermentation of fresh cider is an effective means of destroying this pathogen.
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