This study guide is not intended to be a complete reference on cider making. However, good judges need to understand the production process so that any potential flaws can be diagnosed. Having a good understanding of how raw ingredients are transformed into the final product makes it easier to offer comments on individual components or steps that may have been used to produce the cider. Knowledge of the process is one thing, but actually having experience making cider and seeing each step is quite another. There is no substitute for actual experience.
This section covers the basics of cider making as understood today, and discusses alternative methods that people may use. The basic process discussion describes making traditional cider and perry, and then highlights the differences involved in creating other cider and perry styles.
Fruit or Juice Selection
Ideally, cider makers have the ability to grow, select, prepare and press their own fruit, but this is impossible for most people. Typically, home cider makers must use commercially available fruit or fruit juice.
While it is possible to make fruit wines from any sort of fruit, using added sugar, tannins, and acids to balance the flavor of the finished product, the best ciders are made from cider apples and the best perries are made from perry pears which the cider maker presses or receives freshly pressed. In any case, a home cider maker should understand why using blends of fruit (or blends of juices from pressings of a single variety of fruit) is important and should understand what different methods of pasteurization or stabilization do to the juice.
As detailed earlier, cider or perry is almost always made using a blend of different varieties of fruit which are often classified as Sweet, Sharp, Bittersweet, or Bittersharp based on their levels of acidity and tannins. Many pears and apples fit into more than one of these categories and a good blend of them fruit will be needed for a proper balance of the elements of structure, pleasing aroma, and sufficient sugar to create enough alcohol to protect from bacterial contamination.
However, most commonly available apple varieties are so-called “dessert apples,” which are apples intended to be eaten raw (i.e., “out of hand”) and tend to be high in acidity and low in tannins. While it is possible to make good cider from dessert apples, sometimes they produce insipid or excessively acidic cider. Dessert pears are similar to dessert apples in their acid, sugar and tannin levels, but they usually have a very soft texture when ripe, making it very difficult to press them properly using a standard cider press. This results in large amounts of pectin and pulp fragments getting into the juice. By contrast, perry pears are much harder, making them almost impossible to eat raw.
Starting with Juice – Pasteurization of fruit juice or “sweet cider” is required by law in many U.S. states, and some countries, in order to prevent food-borne illnesses. Unfortunately, pasteurization is undesirable and unnecessary for juice intended for cider (AKA “hard cider”) or perry. In particular, heat or flash pasteurization tends to “set” pectin in apple or fruit juice, making it impossible to remove without filtration. Heat pasteurization also tends to darkness the juice and gives it a slightly caramelized flavor. It is better if you can obtain ultraviolet or otherwise “cold” pasteurized juice. It is even better if you can obtain unpasteurized juice – some fruit growers or commercial cider mills will sell unpasteurized juice to you in bulk if you explain to them that you intend to use it to produce cider.
Sorbates are used to inhibit the growth of mold, yeast and fungi and are added to most canned or refrigerated bottled fruit juices. Sulfites are added to slow oxidation and to inhibit yeast and bacterial growth. Look for juices which don’t contain sorbates or sulfites. While it is still possible to ferment juice to which sorbates or sulfites have been added, yeast activity will be inhibited and off-flavors can result due to their presence.
If it isn’t possible to press your own fruit, you should attempt to obtain freshly-pressed unpasteurized juice pressed from a known blend of cider apples or perry pears. This is usually sold as “farm” cider, especially during autumn in the apple-producing parts of North America, and is usually opaque due to pectin and other suspended materials. At “farm” cider presses, the employees will often be able to tell you the approximate blend of apples used for a particular batch of cider. Avoid “farm cider” with added sorbates that is sold in grocery stores.
As a worst-case scenario, many cider makers, particularly in parts of the world where apples and pears don’t grow well, must rely on bottled juice or frozen juice concentrate. Bottled juices are often heat-pasteurized, usually heavily-filtered blends of dessert fruit, sometimes with added acids, and many are mediocre for making cider. Sorbated juice should be avoided. Many fruit juices also have sugar, water and flavorings added. Juice identified on the label as “blends” or “cocktails” often consist primarily of sugar water, colorants and artificial flavorings, with very little actual fruit juice. These products are all unacceptable if you want to make decent cider. Even “100% fruit” pear juice blends often consist of a small fraction of pear juice and a large fraction of apple or white grape juice. These are unacceptable if you wish to make true perry.
If you must rely on bottled apple juice, look for brands which describe themselves as being “Preservative Free” and 100% Juice, since they will be free of sorbates and will consist (mostly) of apple juice. Brands of juice sold by organic groceries and health food stores are usually of suitable quality, but expect to pay a premium to get a better quality product. If making fruit ciders, brands of 100% fruit concentrates sold by organic groceries work well as adjuncts.
Some brands of frozen concentrated apple juice can be used to make decent cider, but the same caveats apply as for bottled juice – read the ingredients list carefully. Frozen concentrate will at least be unpasteurized and preservative free, although the concentrating process tends to darken and slightly caramelize the juice.
It is extremely difficult to get bottled or frozen-concentrated 100% pear juice in stores, although these products are available online. Keep in mind that any pear juice or pear concentrate you get is almost certainly going to be made from dessert pears, rather than perry pears. Again, expect to pay a premium in order to get higher quality product.
One consolation of using bottled or frozen concentrated juice is that it is generally filtered to remove pectin haze, making it easier to clarify the finished cider.
If using juice, one could skip the next few sections and go straight to Juice Blending or perhaps even Yeast and Nutrients. If Starting with Apples, read on.
Storage and Sweating
The process starts with the picking of the pears or apples. These are left to ripen in a dry and cool (not refrigerated) area for a period of a few days to several weeks depending on the fruit used. Fruit should be protected from the elements within crates or laid out on a tarp. Sweating is the process of storing harvested apples or pears to allow the starches within to convert to sugar. This ripening tends to be more critical for pears than apples. Pears have fairly delicate flavors and without maturing long enough may impart little or no flavor to the perry. The fruit will tend to have the most flavor right before it is too overripe, but if left too long will spoil. The flavor of the fruit also develops during this phase as some water evaporates, which will also increase sugar concentration and lower the juice yield. Evaporation may cause some appearance of shriveling in the skin which is not a reason for alarm. Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen (YAN) tends to decrease, which can help if one is planning to perform a Keeve or other nutrient-limited fermentation. Apples and pears at harvest are often very hard, and the sweating process helps to make the milling process a bit easier as the fruit tends to soften a bit, to the point where slight finger pressure or squeeze results in impressions on the fruit. Any fruit that appears to have spoiled should be removed but those that display some bruising are still considered safe to use.
A major difference between pears and apples is first noted here. A harvest of pears may ripen quickly, all at once, thus timing is critical. Note pears also rot from the inside out, and many an unsuspecting perry maker has lost a batch from inattention.
Washing, Milling, and Maceration
Washing is quite simply washing the fruit before the milling process. It usually consists of placing the fruit in a tub full of water followed by a spray from a hose. This process aids in removing insecticides, pesticides, soil, bacteria, insects, leaves, twigs, etc which could negatively impact the cider.
Also known as grinding or the crush, milling is the process of converting the fruit into a pulp. This is done so the maximum amount of juice can be extracted during the pressing process. The pulp or pomace is produced when the fruit is put through a mill, sometimes called a grinder or scratter. Different style mills can produce different pomace consistencies but it is generally believed that finer pomace results in a maximum juice yield. Fruit mills come in all shapes and sizes ranging from hand crank to hydraulic press. Some juice will be extracted during the milling process. If maceration is to be performed, the pomace should be left on this juice rather than being separated.
Maceration is a period of allowing a milled pomace to sit before pressing. Maceration is usually performed with perry, another important distinction from cider when it is less common. While post-fermentation oxygen contact is to be avoided, note that at this stage oxidation is desirable. Maceration of an apple pomace will develop color through oxidation of tannins as well as develop flavor. For this reason a shallow wide container is better for oxygen contact than a narrow deep one. Enzymes in the acid will start breaking down pectic during maceration, improving the yield of juice during pressing. A few hours will usually suffice, with longer maceration times possible at cooler temperatures. Maceration time is practically limited by the possibility of contamination if the pomace sits too long.
Tannin levels in perry pears can be very high and may need to be reduced for enjoyment and even palatability of the finished product. Pear tannins are poorly understood and unpredictable, and tannins can change significantly in the perry-making process. The pear tannin molecules tend to be quite large compared to apple tannins, and prone to polymerization. Juice may or may not clear before fermentation in the form of a gelatinous mass of tannin removed from the juice, and tannin may persist all the way through fermentation and create haze in the finished product. Depending on the pear variety, allowing a pear pomace an extended maceration before pressing may reduce such problems as well as develop flavor. Such maceration would generally be performed multiple hours or overnight in a cool or refrigerated location. Tannin precipitation is favored by high acidity, low temperature, and presence of oxygen. Increasing alcohol concentration and presence of sulfur dioxide retard precipitation of tannins, thus depending on fruit tannin levels it may be important to reduce tannin somewhat before fermentation begins. The final contributing factor to perry tannin precipitation is the ripeness of the pear used to make the perry. Best results are found in pears which are ripe but not overripe, again pointing to the critical timing of milling a batch of pears.
Pressing is the process of extracting the juice from the pomace, usually through the application of pressure using a fruit press. It usually involves placing the pomace into some form of a mesh bag, placing a wooden or steel plate on top of the bag, and then applying pressure either by hand crank or hydraulically. In some instances the mesh bags of pomace may be stacked with plates layered within.
With the pressure applied the juice runs out of the mesh bags down to a funnel and then collects in a bucket or container. The amount of time for applying pressure to the pomace varies by the cider maker. Some may remove the pressure once the juice slows to a light trickle and others may leave the pressure applied for several hours for flavor development. The longer the juice is exposed to air the more it will take on a brown color and characteristics associated with oxidation. Oxidation gets a bad name but micro-oxidation is an important part of flavor development – juice pressed in a zero oxygen environment tends to be extremely tart and near water-white, with one-note acidity and little other flavor. The process is completed when all the juice had been delivered to a fermentation vessel or to a storage container where the juice may be frozen for future use.
Blending is the process of blending different apples or pears together. It is also the first part of the cider or perry making process where the balance of the final product is addressed. This step is mentioned here but some makers choose to perform it after washing so the fruits can blend at milling while others choose to do it after fermentation in order to achieve a more consistent final product. Acidity, tannins, and sugar level of the juice are all influenced through blending.
Before pitching the yeast into the juice or must, as in homebrewing and mead making it is important to take an original gravity reading. In general ciders and perries that begin under 1.045 OG tend to finish with too little alcohol resulting in potential contamination issues during storage. If the sugar content of the juice alone is too low it can be augmented with additional raw sugar. Adding additional sugar to a fruit fermentation is called chaptalization. Pears tend to have slightly higher gravity than many apples and most do not need chaptalization. Perry pears in particular may provide a very high OG.
Acidity and pH measurements should also be taken around this time. It is generally desirable for ciders and perries to be within a pH of 3.3 and 3.8 at the beginning of fermentation. Anything above a 4.0 could be at risk of contamination and anything below 3.1 end up too acidic and tasting too sharp. Some have had success creating lower acid cider above pH of 4 but contamination risks are increased. pH levels can be decreased through the addition of juice from higher acid apples / pears or through the direct addition of acids such as malic, tartaric, or occasionally citric or an acid blend. Acid adjustments prior to fermentation are to protect the fermenting beverage from contamination or lower an excessive acidity, not for flavor adjustments. Adding juice from apples / pears with a higher pH can help to reduce acid levels.
For the purpose of training judges this guide has focused on pH rather than Titratable Acidity (TA); however, a cidermaker should test both. There is a relationship between pH and TA, but in fruit juice the relationship is not accurate enough to calculate one from the other, thus measuring acidity of the juice with an acid titration kit is advised. A proper range of acidity for a cider will vary based on the sweetness and other structural elements like tannin and alcohol levels, however acidity in the range of 5-7 g/L as malic acid would be a good start for most cider.
One tsp of pectic enzyme (pectinase) per gallon of juice may be added at this stage to aid in clearing of the cider. Pectinase is an enzyme that breaks down the jelly-like polysaccharide pectin. Pectinase is somewhat inhibited by presence of alcohol and therefore works much better at clearing pectic haze if added prior to fermentation. Pears tend to have lower levels of pectin than apples and their notorious lack of clarity tends to come from tannins, not pectin, thus pectinase may not be necessary or even particularly useful in Perry.
Tannic juice can be blended with dessert fruit juice to soften. Aromatic early-maturing apples may be low in sugar and need help from a higher sugar blend to help avoid contamination. Rarely is a blend going to be too acidic, and in this case one is better off blending in low acid juice to reduce acidity rather than making chemical adjustments.
Cidermakers will also blend for flavor, though this generally demands previous experience with the fruits’ fermented characters to know how they would fit together.
After juice blending is where a cidermaker would generally add sulfite, at this stage mostly to kill undesired microorganisms in the juice or prevent unwanted malolactic fermentation. Later on the cidermaker may use sulfite to help fix problems or prevent oxidation. A more in-depth discussion of the various uses of and proper dosage of sulfite is presented in Advanced Topics.
How does blending affect Judging? – Blending can change sugar level, acid, tannin, color, and add complexity. Properly blended juice may be noticed as a harmony of character, a lack of excessive tannin or acid, and often a more interesting flavor profile. Note some juices do quite well on their own while others may show a simplistic, one-note profile that would benefit from a wider variety of apples or pears in the blend. Tannin or acid greatly out of balance with the other elements of structure often indicates a lack of proper blending, and such beverages may be hard to drink.
Yeast and Nutrients
Yeast – A wide variety of yeast can be used to ferment cider or perry. Wine yeast strains suitable for champagne or fruity white wines are most commonly used. Some beer yeast strains are also fairly common. Some cider is fermented spontaneously with yeasts on the fruit, without the additional use of commercial yeast.
When evaluating yeast for making cider, there are a few characteristics to note: flavor profile, alcohol tolerance, temperature range, nutrient requirements, and flocculation. Published attenuation numbers for beer strains are for fermentation of wort and not fruit juice and can largely be ignored – many beer strains can and will create completely dry cider with no residual sugar. Select a strain that has the necessary alcohol tolerance for the style of cider being made, and that generally fits the other environmental characteristics (temperature and nutritional requirements) and cider style requirements.
Information about nutrition requirements, fermentation ranges, alcohol tolerance and fermentation characteristics are readily available from yeast manufacturers’ web sites. These factors are all important when deciding which strain of yeast to use. In addition the type of cider desired or juice used may influence the yeast choice. In a very high acid juice blend the cider maker may desire a strain such as 71B that metabolizes a small amount of malic acid. Others may choose an ester-producing strain like K1V for complexity or desire a fuller mouthfeel due to polysaccharide production from a yeast like D47.
Ale yeasts strains which produce phenolic off flavors (e.g., Trappist or Hefeweizen varieties) yeast can also be used, however, any unique flavor profiles at noticeable levels in the finished product may be best used for specialty ciders. Also note that the precursors necessary to produce such characters in beer are generally not available in fruit juice.
Unless a wild fermentation is being performed, yeast health and vitality should be taken into account. Liquid yeast could be added directly to the juice with less impact due to rehydration, but the need for a proper cell count might not be met. Making a starter increases yeast viability and ensures the yeast are properly prepared for fermentation. This method is currently recommended when liquid yeast is used, although adding micronutrients prior to pitching still has advantages.
Early references that advocate pitching dry yeast directly into juice are becoming less and less common. Dry yeast should instead by properly rehydrated before pitching. Juice may contain sulfur dioxide or residual fungicides which the cells can resist in normal conditions but which may be lethal during the rehydration stage. Dry yeast must reabsorb all of their cellular water before they can function properly. If rehydration isn’t carried out, yeast cells can leak important cellular compounds through the membrane, which is extremely permeable at the time of rehydration. Improperly hydrated yeast will lose viability and the remaining population may be unable to initiate a rapid fermentation.
When using dry yeast, allow 30 minutes for the yeast to come to room temperature before rehydrating. Rehydration should be done in clean water rather than in juice and distilled water should be avoided. Water hardness of 250-500 ppm is optimal. Use of the proper water temperature indicated by the manufacturer can make a big difference in how well the yeast cells reconstitute from their dried state. The addition of dried yeast to cool water or juice can decrease cell viability by as much as 60%.
In the first critical minutes of absorbing water, the yeast will take up any micronutrients as well. Adding a micronutrient blend to the rehydration liquid is the best current practice for yeast preparation. The proper use of a product such as GO-FERM may greatly increase the viability and performance of yeast.
Yeast Nutrient – Proper rehydration ensures that healthy cells will retain their good fermentation characteristics, however yeast nutrition must also be considered. At the most basic level, this involves the cidermaker making a choice as to whether to add yeast nutrient. Some cider makers insist that a low-nutrient fermentation, where the yeast ferments slowly for a few to several months, makes the best-tasting cider, while other cider makers insist that adding yeast nutrient to provide a relatively quick fermentation is the best method. Fermaid K or O and diammonium phosphate (DAP), may be added directly to the juice before the yeast is pitched. Commercial nutrients should be used according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Research is beginning to provide greater and more specific information on yeast nutrient requirements and on the nutrient levels in apple and pear juice. Some large cidermakers measure Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen (YAN) but this is nearly unheard of at the amateur level. Older references either didn’t mention nutrient additions or said to add them all at once, along with other additives. This resulted in inconsistent fermentations, occasional chemical or metallic off-flavors, and long aging times before cider could be considered drinkable. Still, some cider makers insist that low levels of yeast nutrients and slow fermentation times produce the best cider.
Low Nutrient Fermentation is a traditional cider making technique, which some cider makers swear makes a better product. It consists of not adding any yeast nutrient to the juice and using juice from fruit known to be low in nitrogen (i.e., from old-growth trees grown in orchard where no fertilizer was added). The lack of nutrients (especially nitrogen) starves the yeast, forcing them to ferment very slowly, over a period of weeks or months. In extreme cases, the cider might continue to slowly ferment for years. The slow fermentation helps preserve delicate aromatic compounds in the juice and preserves higher levels of sugar. If done correctly, it eliminates the need for back sweetening the finished cider.
The decision to add nutrients is partially a result of the speed of fermentation desired, partially due to yeast selection (some yeasts are nutrient hogs) and partially due to the individual fruit. Grocery store dessert apples generally have high nutrient levels while some organic farms may produce fruit with very low nutrient levels. The soluble nitrogen content and levels of important amino acids in pear juices tend to be lower than that of apple juices. As a result pear juice typically has lower nutrient levels than apple, and may need additional nutrients to avoid sluggish fermentation.
Keeving or Défécation is a variant on low nutrient fermentation. It consists of removing nitrogen from the juice by “complexing” it with pectins, so the combined nitrogen and pectin mix falls out of solution and can be removed. Keeving is further detailed in the Advanced Topics section.
Nutrient Timing – Adding nutrients all at once provides nutrients to the yeast, but it doesn’t deliver them when needed. Adding them all at once can overstimulate the yeast and result in off-flavors, especially when producing high alcohol ciders. The yeast need available nutrients throughout their growth phase, but adding the nutrients in one batch at the start does not ensure that they will be present later. This approach is better than not adding nutrients at all, but with a slight modification in delivery can yield superior results. Understanding how much nutrient is needed by the yeast is critical since nutrients left over after fermentation can feed growth by unwelcome yeast, or can remain and leave behind undesirable flavors.
Staggered Nutrient Additions (SNA) may also be used. SNA serves many purposes for yeast health. Abundant CO2 is toxic to yeast, so mixing while adding the nutrients will release the gas. Vigorous mixing introduces oxygen need by growing yeast. In a fruit cider made using macerated fruit, the mixing also disturbs the fruit cap (or floating fruit). The SNA approach might not be necessary when producing low- to medium-alcohol ciders, but can be helpful when producing chaptalized high-alcohol ciders such as applewines or New England Cider.
How do Yeast and Nutrients affect Judging? – Some yeasts leave a stronger yeasty flavor in the finished cider than others, a small amount of which may be welcome but detract at higher levels. Aging on the lees may leave some bready characters. Cloudiness in a sweet cloying cider could be suspended yeast in a stuck fermentation. Excessive nutrient use may show up as chemical, metallic, or salty characters. Such off-flavors often interfere with a clean, crisp mouthfeel and linger into the aftertaste. A fermentation that lacked sufficient nutrients may be indicated by hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg) aromas from struggling yeast. A very fast, strong fermentation may blow off subtle character and leave the finished cider with little aroma or flavor of interest.
The choices to use wild fermentation or a higher or lower fermentation temperature are the main choices, but the length of fermentation is also a factor. Fermentation management can have an impact on how much aging the cider will need before it is drinkable, as well as the obvious contribution to overall flavor profile.
The fermentation temperature range for wine yeast is quite broad, ranging from 50 °F to 90 °F (10-32 °C), though few cidermakers will use the top end of this scale. By contrast, most ale yeasts work best at fermentation temperatures of 60-68 °F (16-20 °C). But, cider traditionally was a beverage which is made in autumn and allowed to ferment at cool or near freezing temperatures during the winter before warming up and finishing fermentation at cellar temperatures in spring and summer. Warmer temperatures will make the yeast more active, but also increases the production of harsh fusel alcohols and other unpleasant metabolic byproducts as well as scrubbing out many delicate aroma compounds as carbon dioxide is produced. Cooler temperatures promote cleaner fermentations, but need to be warm enough for the yeast to remain active. Temperature swings can shock the yeast, possibly causing them to flocculate (fall out of suspension) prematurely, resulting in stuck fermentation and excessive levels of residual sweetness. The production of off-flavors is somewhat strain-dependent, but higher temperatures increase the chance of these undesirable flavors. Cider and apples can be quite subtle and the 60-68 °F range is a good compromise for most uses.
The length of fermentation can be managed as a way of managing residual sugar in the finished cider. The most common way to produce sweeter ciders is to ferment the cider to completion, which normally produces a dry cider and then back-sweeten it with a sugar source to produce the desired level of sweetness. Yeast selection for lower alcohol tolerance generally is a consideration only with high alcohol styles such as Applewine or New England Cider. Yeast alcohol tolerance will also vary from batch to batch depending on the conditions of the juice.
The fermentation may be interrupted at the desired level of fermentation by techniques such as crash-cooling the yeast or intentionally starving the yeast of nutrients (see Advanced Topics for a discussion of Keeving). Again, these are somewhat hard to manage and require careful monitoring of sugar levels and then taking somewhat aggressive steps to cause the yeast to stop working. Using potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate can sometimes stop the yeast while in action, but this method is very unreliable. Yeast can produce off-flavors when stressed with sudden environmental changes, and the timing is somewhat tricky. Unreliable methods can also result in restarted fermentations at inconvenient times (say, after bottling). Champagne yeast are very commonly used in cider and notoriously difficult to stop once fermentation has begun. These yeasts can be especially dangerous in styles like ice cider where fermentation generally stops well before normal alcohol tolerance is reached and with significant residual sugar.
Alcohol levels are best managed by adding sugar or syrup to the juice, and sweetness levels are best managed by adding the desired juice or sugar after fermentation and stabilization has been completed. These techniques result in the cleanest fermentation character with the easiest to determine sweetness level. Any technique that causes a more stressful fermentation is more likely to produce off-flavors that may or may not age out. Healthy fermentations produce less undesirable compounds and tend to clean up their fermentation by-products more thoroughly. A healthy fermentation will create a cider that is ready to drink at a younger age.
Wild or Spontaneous Fermentation is the traditional method of making cider. Apples and pears are covered with wild yeasts, and some yeasts actually live inside the fruit, so any fresh or lightly-pasteurized apple or pear juice will naturally ferment. Wild fermentation may proceed very slowly over several months. While this approach can result in excellent cider, it is also an invitation to weak fermentation or off-flavors, and success or failure may be tied to the specific strains that inhabit the fruit or cidery region. A mixed approach is to use sulfites to reduce the level of bacteria and wild yeasts, allowing just wild Saccharomyces yeast strains to survive. To do this, add half the normal amount of sulfite you would use to treat the juice based on its pH.
Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is the process of allowing the cider to undergo secondary fermentation by one or more lactic acid bacteria (LAB). MLF results in production of carbon dioxide and other minor metabolic compounds such as diacetyl, as well as conversion of malic acid to lactic acid. If done correctly, it can make an excessively sour cider much more drinkable by reducing acidity, and can impart subtle buttery, smoky or spicy notes to the cider. Recall one important difference between cider and perry is the substantial levels of citric acid pears may contain. Citric acid may be converted by some strains of lactic acid bacteria into acetic acid, tainting the perry with substantial vinegar and effectively ruining the perry. MLF in Perry is thus to be avoided. MLF is further detailed in Advanced Topics.
How does Fermentation affect Judging? – As should be obvious to any judge, this is the reason we’re here – BJCP Judges judge fermentation. We evaluate how well or poorly it turned out compared to a style guideline, and if given enough detail may even be able to suggest improvement. Fast, hot fermentation may leave a largely characterless beverage or sharp alcohols, while unintended malolactic fermentation may create unwanted spicy, smoky, or diacetyl characters, or reduce acidity resulting in unfavorable balance. Fermentation of apple juice does not generally affect cider tannin however pear juice tannins may reduce during fermentation of Perry. Judges will note the amount and quality of the alcohol created during the fermentation – its aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and sometimes in high alcohol ciders in appearance too. Flavors will also change during fermentation – cider that tastes like raw unfermented apple juice is generally a flaw. A good fermentation will integrate characters if multiple ingredients are used.
Fermentation may add impressions of spiciness, additional characters depending which yeast was used, or remind judges of other kinds of beverages such as white wine. Finally, a fermentation that was inadequately stabilized may re-start in the bottle and result in cider lower in sweetness and high in carbonation than entered, or worse.
Fruit Cider is cider comprised of apple juice and some other variety of fruit or fruit juice added. Canned fruit purees or bottled pure juice or juice concentrates can be used and are a good option for out-of-season fruit ciders. Fresh fruit used should be ripe. These ciders should be entered in Cider with Other Fruit or Specialty Cider/Perry with the fruit identified in the Specialty Information.
Making fruit ciders is similar to making traditional ciders, except that additional thought must be given to the selection, timing, handling, and cap management of the added fruit.
Fruit Selection. Apple choice in a fruit cider is important, since the tannins and acids in the apple juice blend must complement those of the added fruit or juice. Many fruits, particularly dark fruits with thick skins, such as cranberries are extremely high in acids and tannins, and can easily overwhelm a delicately-flavored cider. Many fruits also have high levels of pectin, which can produce undesirable haze in the finished cider. Still others produce juice which oxidizes to an unattractive or unexpected color.
Type of Fruit. Choosing a fruit for your cider is as simple as deciding what type of fruit you like. If you enjoy eating the fruit, it will likely yield pleasant cider to you, although some fruits blend better with apples than others. Delicately-flavored fruits such as strawberries, plums or peaches work well in cider which is itself often delicately flavored. Other commonly used fruits include berries such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, and currants and stone fruits such as cherries or apricots. With these stronger flavored fruits, one may need to limit the amount added to avoid the base cider being “lost” in the flavor or aroma of the added fruit.
When to add Fruit. Fruit may be added during primary or secondary fermentation, or fermented separately and blended in later. As cider often has alcohol well below yeast tolerance, adding fruit to secondary will very commonly renew fermentation. Adding fruit after fermentation completes may preserve more of the fruit’s original character, however it may need significant aging to avoid a raw, unfermented character. Depending on the fruit used, it also may need to steep in the secondary fermenter for many weeks or months to extract all the goodness the fruit has to offer. Even if primary fermentation has finished due to the yeast’s alcohol tolerance being reached, fruit added to secondary will dilute the alcohol (fruit is typically 70% water) and may allow the yeast to reactivate.
Fruit can be fermented separately from the cider and blended when done. This method is sometimes used when making ciders blended with fruit wine. This is useful when you are unsure of the relative balance between the fruit character and the cider, or when you want to experiment with varying fruit sources or several fruit varieties. It also allows you to make a partial batch of fruit cider and enjoy the other components separately. However, the flavors do not fully meld as quickly and there can be differences in fermentation character.
Cap Management. The cap is the layer of fruit that floats up and is held at the top of the fermentation vessel by CO2 during fermentation. The term originates in the winemaking industry, and refers to the conical shape of the fruit visible in an open fermenter. Managing the cap during early primary fermentation is important to reduce the loss of fruit flavor, reduce yeast stress, help prevent a stuck fermentation, and to reduce off flavors or characters.
Breaking up (or “punching down”) the cap accomplishes two key goals: releasing toxic CO2 and preventing temperature buildup below the cap. For every 1 degree reduction of Brix in the cider, there is an approximately 2 °F (0.6 °C) increase in temperature. Unmanaged, the temperature can increase to the point of killing your yeast in the heat zone below the cap. This literally cooks off the floral fruity character of your fruit and kills some of your yeast, which could cause a stuck fermentation. Off-flavors could result from the stressed yeast before they are killed.
The CO2 buildup under the cap deprives the yeast of oxygen, which is required by yeast for optimal ethanol tolerance. Aerating during the first third (by gravity, not time) of fermentation helps the yeast synthesize sterols to strengthen their cell walls. Carbon dioxide is toxic to yeast, so removing the gas helps provide a healthier environment for fermentation.
If the cap is not pressed down into the juice, it can dry out. Then, if oxygen is introduced, spoilage organisms can grow and produce off flavors. Yeast are also stressed since they must compete for nutrients with spoilage organisms, which results in a less healthy fermentation and a less clean finished cider. Mixing the fruit back into the juice will also facilitate the extraction of color, tannin, aroma, flavor and fruity character. In other words, it gets more fruit character into your cider and wastes less of your expensive fruit.
Effects of added Fruit on Judging – Depending on the fruit used, the color of the cider may slightly or greatly change. Added fruit may bring acidity or tannin and have significant effects on balance of the cider. Addition of fruits containing citric acid may create undesirable acetification if malolactic fermentation results. Depending on the amount of fruit used, the flavor of the base cider may be partially to completely covered by the addition – the latter being a flaw that should be noted on the scoresheet.
Herbed / Spiced Cider
Think of making spiced cider as like making traditional cider, except that you have to add spices at some point. Other than choosing the desired spices and adjusting the final balance of spices, the main decision in making a spiced cider is selecting the time and method of the spice addition. Choosing a method requires understanding if the flavors are water-soluble or alcohol-soluble, and whether a raw or a cooked character is desired from the ingredient. Potential difficulty in removing the spices from the cider or getting them to settle may also be a concern.
Spices may be added during primary, however most spices are added to cider during secondary fermentation or later. Spicing during primary fermentation may offer greater chance of infection or an overdone character. When spices are added later, the alcohol in the cider can inhibit bacteria, and extract flavors. Depending on the spice, this method is reliable and generally takes several days to a few weeks to work.
With all methods it is generally better to spice a cider a little and see if more is necessary than to have to blend an over-spiced cider with plain to dilute an excessive character.
Some spices require heat to let their flavors bloom. Cold extraction of their essences may give a different character than expected. Undesirable raw, uncooked flavors and tannins might be extracted. For those spices a spice tea may be a better solution. To make a spice tea, pour very hot to boiling water over the spices and steep for 3 to 10 minutes. The spices are strained out, the tea cooled, and then blended into the cider to taste. This approach gives the most control since the exact amount of spice flavor can be tasted immediately upon blending. Sample blends can be done in smaller amounts and then scaled to the full batch. However, this does introduce some water into the cider, and can drive off some aromatics. This is the fastest way to add spicing, and can be used to adjust a previously spiced batch as well.
A spice tincture can also be made. This approach is similar to making a tea, except using neutral alcohol (high-quality vodka, for instance) to extract flavors. This technique allows careful blending as with the tea method, but also has the downside of the secondary fermenter method with extracting tannins and raw flavors. Depending on the spices, it might work well. It will add some additional alcohol, so care must be taken with the quantities used.
With all methods it is generally better to spice a cider a little and see if more is necessary than to have to blend an over-spiced cider with plain to dilute an excessive character.
Effects of added Spices on Judging – Depending on the spices used, the color of the cider may slightly or greatly change. Added spices may bring tannin or bitterness and have significant effects on balance of the cider. Astringency from spices may be welcome in a low tannin cider but become overwhelming in an already highly tannic one. Some may bring tartness, and a few ingredients in this style may be fermentable, adding sugar that is converted to alcohol. Depending on the amount and type of spices used, the flavor of the base cider may be partially to completely covered by the addition – the latter being a flaw that should be noted on the scoresheet.
The process of adding sugar, syrup or similar fermentable additives to fruit juice to make a stronger fermented beverage is called chaptalization. Some styles of cider benefit from the addition of sugars, syrups or other sweeteners which enhance the flavor and aroma of the finished beverage. The two factors to consider when making a chaptalized cider are sugar variety and impact on fermentation.
Sugar Variety – The type of sugar or syrup used can have a huge impact on the cider’s character. New England Cider requires the addition of brown sugar, molasses, or similar fermentable sugar or syrup in order to give it its unique flavors and aromas. Applewine uses white sugar, glucose or some other neutral-flavored sugar to boost alcoholic strength. Any variety of cider made using apples which are insufficiently low in sugar might also need to have sugar added to the juice.
When choosing sugars or syrups to add to your cider, check the ingredients. Many varieties of “molasses” or “maple” syrup sold in grocery stores are little more than flavored corn syrups, while the most common sort of brown sugar sold in the U.S. or Canada is nothing more than white sugar with a bit of light molasses or caramel coloring added to it. Likewise, many widely available brands of honey are made from low quality ingredients. Very cheap brands of honey might even be adulterated with corn syrup. Typically, you get what you pay for.
The best quality products are found at farmers markets, organic grocers, gourmet food stores and ethnic markets. Turbinado or demerara sugar, and pure molasses is available from organic and gourmet groceries, as well as some Caribbean groceries. Piloncillo sugar is available at Mexican bodegas, and jaggery sugar (palm sugar) is available in Indian or Pakistani groceries. These sources are also excellent for fresh spices. The best honey is available at farmers markets or from local beekeepers.
Ordinary cane sugar or dextrose (AKA glucose) sugar is suitable for chaptalizing juices with insufficiently high sugar levels or for making ciders where noticeable “specialty sugar” character is out of place, such as applewines.
Effects of Sugar on Fermentation – Adding significant amounts of sugar to push Original Gravity above 1.070 (17 °Brix) puts further strain on the yeast, which slows fermentation, makes stuck fermentation more likely and increases the risk of undesirable off-flavors.
Sugars, syrups and other products such as honey are notoriously deficient in nutrients necessary for fermentation, particularly nitrogen and phosphate. When added to juice which is already low in nutrients, this might result in a situation where the fermentation will be sluggish and the cider may have off-flavors that take a long time to age out (if they do at all). As a rule of thumb, darker-colored honeys (e.g., buckwheat) and syrups (e.g., molasses or maple sugar) contain more nutrients than paler products. Even so, consider adding nutrients to the fermenting cider, unless you are opting for a reduced nutrient fermentation. For a very strong cider, consider using Staggered Nutrient Additions and expect much longer fermentation times.
Some ale yeasts also don’t perform well at higher alcohol levels or in juices with a high original gravity, so it is better to use a wine or mead yeast when fermenting fortified ciders. Alternately, it might be necessary to start off with a strain of yeast which works well at lower alcohol levels, and then finish fermentation by adding a strain of yeast which works better at higher alcohol levels.
Extremely strong fortified ciders, which approach the strength of wine or brandy, benefit from the same techniques as are used to make meads or strong beers. This includes aerating the juice and fermenting wort, and “feeding” the fermentation by adding fresh yeast, nutrients and more sugars. Since these “ciders” are actually closer to being “sugar wines,” the techniques described in the BJCP Mead Exam Study Guide will be helpful in such cases.
Chaptalization and Judging – While added sugars and syrups aren’t likely to significantly alter the acid balance of the cider, keep in mind that some honeys and syrups can be more acidic than others. Creation of a higher alcohol cider may also require an adjusted acidity to properly balance the other elements of structure. Elevated alcohol may support a higher sweetness without becoming cloying, and can change impression of sweetness as compared to how it was entered. Alcohol levels can be significant and some chaptalized cider can be quite warming, though none should be harsh or hard to drink.
Obviously depending on the sugar used, chaptalization may bring significant flavor and aroma or nothing but greater alcohol. Chaptalization will by its nature slightly dilutes base fruit character, but should not overwhelm or dominate. Increasing gravity through chaptalization may also increase chances of struggling fermentation in the form of a stuck fermentation or struggling yeast characters such as hydrogen sulfide.
Finishing and Adjustment
Upon completion of fermentation cider is racked off the yeast, and eventually packaged. Depending on the methods used, conditions of fermentation, and desired final beverage there may have been multiple rackings. Sulfiting may be performed during some rackings to limit oxidation – though oxygen contact was desirable for flavor development before fermentation it should be limited once fermentation slows down. Pectinase added before fermentation would have been the first step in clarification and most cider tends to clear with time. However, the cidermaker may choose to assist the process with one of several methods. Clarity as it relates to judging is discussed in Troubleshooting (Cloudy/Haze) and in Stabilization in Advanced Topics.
Many cidermakers choose to sulfite the finished beverage prior to packaging. Post-fermentation sulfiting, like that done pre-fermentation, is about protecting the cider. Sulfite can limit the damage from oxygen exposure, discourage MLF, and keep other microorganisms at bay. The various uses, effects, and proper dosage of sulfite are discussed in Advanced Topics.
Most cider recipes describe the basic ingredients and process involved in making a cider, but that isn’t always the full story. Experienced cider makers know that cider will often have to be adjusted to achieve a pleasant final balance, whether it is adding sweetness, acidity, tannin, or other components. These adjustments are usually done to personal taste, rather than relying on analytical tools.
Previously we’ve discussed a common adjustment, which involves the selection of the specific blend of apples, pears, or their juice to achieve the desired beverage. However, apples in particular may have a harvest schedule that varies by months by varietal and conditions. Some fruit can keep a very long time in storage but other kinds may simply need to be fermented before desired blending components are ripe. For this reason many adjustments are made after fermentation is complete, when the results of the adjustment can be readily determined by taste.
Among the most common adjustments is Blending in other finished cider to achieve a desired flavor profile. Recall that most cider apples do not have the complexity of many of the best wine grapes and such complexity might only be achievable with a blend. Though often not complex individually, the range of characters possible in fermented apple and pear juice is very wide, and a stunning complex bouquet is absolutely possible with some blends. Blending is best done on a small scale to make sure the flavors are complementary before large amounts of cider are potentially ruined in a bad blend. Blending can also reduce over-done character such as diluting a Cider with Other Fruit that might be called a Fruity Acid Bomb or Other Fruit Wine with “plain” cider. The same goes for cider where spices were used in excess.
Adding acids prior to fermentation can have a negative impact on fermentation. Addition of acidic juice can help decrease pH if initial acidity is too low, however adjusting for flavor is performed after fermentation, not before. The pH can be adjusted upwards and buffered prior to fermentation by using potassium carbonate or potassium hydroxide, but this is to make the fermentation healthier, not to affect the finished profile of the cider.
Refer to the chapter on Balance in cider (Section ?) for necessary background for this discussion. Within this section, we are discussing balancing properly-fermented cider. If the cider has a stuck fermentation or other fermentation fault, refer to the chapter on Troubleshooting (Section?) for help. As fermentation is finishing, checking the final gravity and calculating the alcohol level will help determine if a fermentation problem exists.
If the fermentation has finished (not stuck) but the alcohol seems low, more juice or sugar can be added to extend the fermentation. The yeast may need to be roused, but avoid introducing oxygen at this stage.
Sweetness is the most common element to adjust, since most ciders will ferment dry but many people prefer to drink sweeter ciders. Consider stabilizing the cider first (read the section on Stabilization), unless yeast have been removed, the cider has an alcohol content at the limit of the yeast’s alcohol tolerance, or the cider will be stored cold (well below the fermentation temperature range of the yeast).
Sweetness is typically increased by back-sweetening the cider. This can be done with any sugar solution, or by using juice. Using the same kind of juice used to make the cider can reinforce varietal character, or other complementary juice can be used. One trick is to reserve a bit of the fresh or sulfited juice and freeze it in a sanitized container. To back-sweeten, the juice is thawed and added to the finished cider. Alternately, bottled juice or fruit concentrate can be added, as long as it is of good quality. When adding a different type of juice than you used to ferment the cider, however, be aware of how the new juice will affect the cider’s acidity and tannin levels. It is best to make sample blends before adding juice to the main batch of cider.
Alternately, it might be possible to blend different batches of cider to obtain the correct level of sweetness, as long as there is no risk of fermentation restarting when the sweeter cider is added to the drier one.
Be careful about over-sweetening, since adding a large amount of unfermented juice can give a raw, unfinished flavor to the resulting cider. Generally, taking a cider from Dry to Sweet just with juice is ill-advised. Sugar syrup can be used in combination with juice if larger adjustments need to be made. Raw juice also tends to add more haze to the cider, which may need to be removed later through clarification techniques.
Some prefer to keep overly sweet ciders around for blending. The advantage to this approach is that the juice will have a fermented (not raw) flavor, that the base cider won’t be diluted as much, that no heat is involved, and that combining the two ciders is much easier. Of course, this requires that a suitable sweet cider be available and not introduce any undesirable varietal character of its own.
As the alcohol levels of most styles of cider are less than that of grape wine or mead, rarely do commercial wine or beer yeast stop fermenting cider with significant residual sweetness left. It CAN happen, as in the case of a Keeve that is too successful, but very sweet, stuck fermentation cider is rare. Using the mead-saving method of pitching a yeast strain with a higher alcohol tolerance is therefore unlikely to be applicable.
Cider that is too sweet may be balanced by force carbonating it. Adding carbonation will create carbonic acid which can balance the cider.
Once the sweetness level is correct, adjust acidity and tannin. These components add structure (AKA Body) to the cider, enhancing complexity. Cider that is sweet but lacks balancing acidity is said to be flabby. Flabby cider is not the same as a stuck fermentation; it could be appropriately fermented, but just lacking in balancing acidity. Acids and tannins balance sweetness, although if the sweetness level is very high then the resulting cider may seem too intense. Keep in mind the scenario described above; an overly sweet cider may have additional life as a component in blending.
The use of acids such as citric, malic, tartaric, or a combination of the three (typically called acid blend) can be used to adjust the final acidity, as can lemon juice or other naturally acidic flavorings (but these can add additional flavors that might not be wanted). Highly acidic cider can also be kept around to blend into and brighten bland cider. Performing a test blending using a smaller sample is recommended, so the general scaling can be estimated. But the final adjustment must be done to taste. Enough acidity should be present to give the cider a bright flavor without seeming acidic. The acidity should support the sweetness.
If you judge the acidity level to be high enough but the sweetness still seems unsupported, then try adding some tannin. Tannin is better to add at the end of fermentation when you have a better sense of the final tannin levels. Many sources of tannin have become available in the wine world in recent years, some much more useful than the old “powdered wine tannin” often noted as harsh bitterness in recently adjusted cider. Commercial tannin products are best for making small adjustments. Tea can also be used for tannin if in amounts that little flavor is added. For larger adjustments, an ideal solution is to blend in small amounts of very tannic cider. Unfortunately, with the current state of apples in North America, most people have too little tannic juice, not too much.
Using oak-aging is another method for introducing tannin, although it usually adds flavor as well (see Section ?? on Oaking for more details). Keep in mind that tannins added may not be fully soluble and another adjustment may be necessary, as well as another racking off the sediment. With any commercial tannin product, give it enough time to integrate and for some to settle out; very late competition adjustments can often be detected by a judge and not in a good way.
If there is too much acidity, then sweetness can be added in the same manner of back-sweetening. If the sweetness level is high enough, then the acidity can be lowered using additives such as calcium carbonate, potassium carbonate or potassium hydroxide. Take care not to increase pH to a point that the cider is poorly protected from microbial contamination, i.e. above 3.8. If the cider has not been sulfited, malolactic fermentation may eventually proceed on its own, and reduce that excessive acidity. However this process is likely to have other effects on flavor and the final cider may no longer fit into the original style. See MLF in Advanced Topics.
When all adjustments are made, evaluate the finished cider for clarity. You may need to repeat the clarification process if some of the adjustments introduced haze. Allowing additional time could solve that problem, and would also allow the adjustments time to properly meld flavors. The adjustment process can be repeated several times until you are satisfied. However, be careful about making too many adjustments as the cider can easily be ruined just as adding too many spices to a meal can ruin dinner.
Finally, if you are unsure about what adjustments to make, take a measured sample of your cider and experiment with it. Apply measured adjustments and see if you like the improvement. When you have something you like, scale it up for the full batch. This way, you don’t ruin a full batch of cider while tweaking the final balance.