Brew Date: Fall 2012 (~4 months prior to writing this article)
Apfelwein – Honey Cider
Difficulty to Brew: Very Easy
Ingredients: Cider, Honey, Water, Yeast, Yeast Nutrient
Brewing beer takes a long time. There’s the long hours of heating your strike water, mashing, sparging, drinking, boiling, cooling, drinking, cleaning, drinking, etc. That’s why, on occasion, we make cider!
We are not expert cider-makers. We, by no means, are as serious about our methodology when making cider as we are when making beer. In fact, we don’t exactly know when we made this article’s featured batch. For us, making cider is fun and easy — a break from brewing beer — and we want to share with you how we do it!
Cider can be “brewed” in half and hour, and can produce incredible results. First, let’s introduce the process:
1. Sanitize everything. We use Star San.
2. Fill fermenter with cider. We buy “President’s Choice Fresh-Pressed Sweet Apple Cider” (ingredient list reads: “apples”, and that makes us happy)
3. Pitch yeast (if you really want to, add sodium/potassium metabisulphite (campden tablets) to your cider and let it sit overnight to kill any wild yeast before pitching…we don’t)
The above three steps will yield a cider at the 5%-7% ABV range. If you want to be even more of a purist, leave a jug of that cider in ambient temperature for a few days…it will “self”-ferment. Ideally, however, you will want to use a proper cider or wine yeast for fermentation. We’ve heard that one of the best yeasts to use is Red Star Montrachet. It will produce a dry cider (under 1.000 F.G.), which can be back-sweetened later, if that suits your palate. We pitch generic dry champagne yeast (re-hydrated in pre-boiled, lukewarm water first), and it does a great job.
If you want to bump up the ABV, there are multiple ways to do so. Methods we’ve used include:
1. Add DME (Dry Malt Extract) to boiling water to sanitize. Cool, then pitch into your cider. This method produced a 10% ABV cider that was very dry, and slightly “beery” due to the DME. While the DME, due to it’s protein content, produced a cider with a “beery” head, the “beery” taste, while delicious, detracted from the “core” apple flavour, and so we likely won’t use this method again.
2. Add honey to boiling water to reduce viscosity (honey, like hops, is naturally anti-bacterial, but it’s always good to sanitize). Cool, then pitch into your cider. This method produced an amazing 10% ABV cider (tasting notes at the bottom of this article).
IMPORTANT NOTES TO CONSIDER
ACID BALANCE: Just like when making wine, acid balance is important when making cider. We simply go by taste, as it’s fun and easy to do. Pour some of your fermented cider into small cups, and add acid (we use malic acid — think green apples) to taste.
BACK-SWEETEN: Once fermentation is complete (we wait at least a month), add sodium/potassium metabisulphite (campden tablets) to kill any yeast still alive in the cider. Then, after at least 12 hours, add a dissolved sugar source into the cider. Ensure that the sugar source has been boiled to kill of rogue yeasts. Once again, add to taste.
PECTIN: Pectin, according to the Internet, is “a soluble gelatinous polysaccharide that is present in ripe fruits and is extracted for use as a setting agent in jams and jellies”. All you need to be concerned about (if you make cider like we do) is that apples have lots of it, and it can make your cider hazy. Luckily, you can buy pectic enzyme at any homebrew store. Pectic enzyme is best added the day before you pitch the yeast, but adding it later will still help clarification.
CIDER INGREDIENTS: ”Pasteurized” is just fine. However, watch out for ingredients such as “Potassium Sorbate”, as this is there to circumvent spontaneous fermention via wild yeast. Ingredients such as these will kill yeast (including yours). Often, Vitamin C is added to cider, which is not a problem. In fact, Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, and will actually help your cider from becoming oxidized.
YEAST NUTRIENT: Cider, unlike beer, does not have all the optimal nutrients for yeast to ferment happily. This is one reason why many people feel that cider needs to age longer than it really does. The truth is that, while grains used in brewing beer are chocked full of the nutrients that yeast require to be healthy (zinc, magnesium, niacin, etc.), cider is, essentially, a wasteland for the yeast. A little yeast nutrient can make great cider in months, rather than in years.
OXYGEN: Yeast need oxygen to reproduce before beginning fermentation. Shaking your carboy is always the cheap-and-easy way to add a minimal amount of oxygen to your cider or wort. However, using an oxygen tank with a sintered stone is really the best way to go if you want to get serious. Either way, get some more oxygen into the cider before pitching that yeast. They’ll thank you by making a better cider in less time. While the cider won’t be too oxygen deficient if it hasn’t been boiled, we find that boosting the levels helps fermentation. Not as necessary a step as when making beer where you have boiled out a lot of the O2.
OXIDATION: When making any fermented beverage, oxygen is only your friend at the beginning of the yeast’s growth phase before fermentation (typically the first 12 hours after pitching the yeast). After that, we ensure that we minimize oxygen contact as best we can. One way to keep O2 out is by keeping a healthy cloud of CO2 atop your cider. While we have CO2 tanks, used to carbonate our kegs, we also bought a relatively cheap hand-held CO2 dispenser that uses paintball gun CO2 gas cartridges (see photo). We simply sanitize the nozzle, and then blast any of our batches to push out the O2 before replacing the airlock. CO2 will eventually dissipate, so a good shot once and a while is standard practice at SB. If you don’t want to take that extra step, be really careful about thieving samples, transferring, etc., because concoctions like ciders really do age beautifully, and it’s very sad when you wait months or years to find that carelessness left you with five gallons of wet cardboard (oxidation).
Apfelwein Tasting Notes:
Age: 4 months
Pectic Enzyme? No
Additional acid? No
Yeast nutrient? Yes
Appearance: Light straw colour. Very clear (you could read a book through it, but it is not crystal-clear). No head retention (predictable, due to lack of protein and hops). Highly carbonated.
Smell: Delicate apple & honey aroma. Very subtle, pleasant yeast aroma. No hint of alcohol.
Taste: Crisp, refreshing apple essence that rides upon the carbonation. Very refreshing. Astonishingly quaffable (definitely a potential trouble-maker). Notes similar to a champagne or young chardonnay.
Mouthfeel: Light-bodied, effervescent, prickling mouthfeel, tartness due to low final gravity. Pleasant tart, refreshing finish.
Overall Impression: Very very good. Slight mustiness from apples is a very nice addition (gives the impression of further ageing). Can’t wait to see how this cider develops.
Brew Again? Yes
Change anything? Add pectic enzyme next time to aid clarification. Add a more aromatic honey.