Originally Posted by RunnerDude
So, I've had a batch patiently in primary for almost 5 months now. The goal was to wait at least 6 months as that seems to be what everyone says to do to get the best results. But with the warm weather we're really wanting to bottle this and start drinking. So, a few questions:
1) What magic happens between 5 and 6 and 8 months? Is it really that different?
2) Does it have to age in primary or will the same effect be achieved aging in the bottles?
3) I'm going to carb half the batch. I assume it's just the same procedure as beer. How much corn sugar have others used? I assume a light carbonation is best for this.
EdWort has posted in this thread a couple of times about recommending that the apfelwine only sit in primary on the yeast for about 3 months max - after that, you're more likely to pick up off flavors/aromas from the dead yeast autolyzing. When people talk about aging in terms of time, they are usually referring to time since last "open" handling, thus "3 weeks aging" in primary is pretty obvious, but "3 months aging/conditioning" in a secondary fermenter or bright tank refers only to the time in that tank and does not include primary fermentation time....likewise, "3 months aging/conditioning in the bottle" says absolutely nothing about how long a product was fermented for - it is purely the amount of time since the bottle was capped. For example, I brewed a Patersbier that spent 3 months in primary fermentation, 9 months in secondary, and 8 months in the bottle - when serving, I'd say the beer was aged for 8 months, but had been brewed 20 months ago.
All that blah-blah-b.s. about semantics aside, you should rack your wine off your yeast now. You are probably getting minimal daily contribution of off-flavors at this point, but you could stir a lot up trying to bottle directly, and that cake would NOT taste like a bit of tangy bready yeast that hasn't flocculated yet - you'll taste that it's old and mostly dead. After racking, I would give it a day or two to re-settle anything that did stir up (if you have the fridge space, maybe even cold-crash it to help flocculation) - if you see much of any sediment, repeat the racking until it stays clear. I wouldn't normally go to this effort with apfelwine, but we're trying to gently separate out the old yeast here.
During the aging/conditioning process a number of complicated things happen (some of which aren't quite fully understood) that result in subtle changes to flavor, aroma, color, clarity, mouthfeel, body, etc. Any primer on fermentation processes should explain the start of the process clearly, so I won't re-hash that other than to point out that yeast still in suspension adds to the density (gravity), mouthfeel, and texture as well as the flavors and aromas to be expected. This body drops out as yeast is removed, leaving the result to be thinner, more watery, less cloying, less tangy, and certainly less bready. Yeast flavors and smells are very strong and can be detected at very low levels by the human palate, often masking others completely - removing them allows for the subtler ones from other ingredients or process effects to show through. For example, many meads don't smell or taste remotely like honey until the yeast starts to settle. As the yeasts work, of course, alcohol and CO2 are produced, but so are many other byproducts in trace amounts. These byproducts interact with each other, with constant changes in temperature, atmospheric pressure, and chemical composition of their environment acting as endless catalysts for reactions. The yeasts themselves begin to break down as they die off, providing more components for reactions.
The end result is that even after yeasts have completely died or gone dormant - even after any bacteria have dome the same, reactions continue for quite some time, in ever-decreasing magnitude (like the ring of a big bell fading away). As long as the combined magnitude of these changes is above a level detectable by the human palate, we will notice that the product continues to change in subtle, not-always-definable ways. As the reactions get smaller, it takes longer to notice changes in their combined effect.
To put all that in layman's terms, fermented beverages will change character quickly and often drastically in their initial period in a bottle. Changes will continue for some time, taking longer and longer and time goes on, until the flavor and aroma stabilize at the peak of perfection. Then, the process can often continue into undesirable changes. This is different for every drink.
What is the "peak of perfection"? Heh...an endless debate.
To put it simply, it's the point that the undesired flavors and aromas (yeasty breadiness, harsh fusel alcohols, fruit green-ness, chlorophyll, etc.) have minimized and the desired flavors and aromas (fruit juices, flowers, herbs, spices, chocolates, rich malts, etc.) have come to the forefront in the desired balance.
To put it even more simply, it's when all the flavors come together a way that is "yummy" and seems to have stopped getting better. (Which means drink it before it starts getting worse!)
Comments on carbing range the gamut.....do you want light fizz or champagne?