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Old 11-05-2013, 01:53 AM   #1
duffrecords
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Default apfelwein with sluggish fermentation

I bought 5 gallons of fresh apple cider from a cider mill up in Oak Glen, CA and decided to follow EdWort's apfelwein recipe. The only variations I made to his recipe were the addition of 5 Campden tablets (erring on the side of caution) and the creation of a yeast starter instead of pitching the yeast dry. The cider itself had a specific gravity of 1.070 and after adding two pounds of dextrose, it increased to 1.080. I'm expecting a final ABV of about 10.5%.

However, the fermentation got off to a very sluggish start so I examined the jugs more closely and realized the cider contained less than 0.1% of sodium benzoate. A couple of days later, I built up another massive yeast starter by gradually increasing its volume over the course of a day and added that to the primary. The fermentation sped up a bit but still was noticeably slower than other wines I've made. Three weeks later, it's slowing to a crawl around 1.021, just over 7.5% ABV.

I know stabilizer doesn't actually kill yeast (it interferes with yeast reproduction) so I'm assuming the yeast cells are gradually dying off but not being replaced with new ones. I'm thinking about creating another starter, growing the population as large as I can, and adding that in to finish the job. Any recommendations?

I'm also concerned about transferring the apfelwein into a secondary. I wasn't expecting the fermentation to take this long, and three weeks in the primary with all that headspace is probably asking for trouble. It is beginning to develop an unusual yeasty, bready flavor, sort of like when I made a batch of kilju with turbo yeast earlier this year. I'm not sure if that's because of the benzoate or exposure to oxygen. It's not bad but it's not what I expect from a commercial cider. Perhaps this is what everyone means when they say apfelwein is an acquired taste.

A final concern is carbonation. Ideally, I'd like to bottle condition it and make it sparkling. If it's having this much trouble with the stabilizer, what if I bottle it with priming sugar and it just stops, leaving me with an overly sweet beverage? What about the idea of bottling it before it's fully dry? I don't know what sort of gravity would be appropriate in order to avoid bottle bombs. That happened to a bottle of homemade sangria in my kitchen once and I never want to have to clean up a mess like that again.

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Old 11-05-2013, 02:05 AM   #2
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So much benzoate and then campden is definitely the cause.. those yeast are likely stressed to their limits. Bottle carbing is going to be a real excercise in patience.

Edwort's Apfelwein is usually made with bottled juice that only has vitamin c added (if that) and no campden tablets. When you modify the recipe this much, you've really got a different beast, and all bets are off.

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Old 11-05-2013, 03:05 AM   #3
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Yet I will try the last. I've rescued a botched bochet before and turned it into something drinkable. I'll try adding another starter and see if I can ferment it to dryness.

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Old 11-05-2013, 12:48 PM   #4
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You might add some yeast nutrient/energizer when you add your extra starter, it will help the yeast to overcome the preservatives. Also, while less headspace is better, active fermentation generates CO2, which will form a layer over the surface of the must & protect it from oxidation.
Regards, GF.

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Old 11-11-2013, 04:34 AM   #5
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I made another Montrachet starter on 11/6, built it up overnight, and then pitched it on 11/7, along with some Fermax. I also added some pectic enzyme and lysozyme a couple of days later to help clarify it and eliminate the possibility of malolactic fermentation. I generally use lysozyme as a precaution whether a wine needs it or not but in this case, I was beginning to smell a slight vinegar odor, probably from spending all this time in the carboy with extra headspace. On 11/9 I checked the gravity again. It's still 1.020, the same as it was earlier this week. I racked it into a three gallon carboy and a couple of one gallon jugs to minimize oxygen exposure since this may be fermenting for a long time to come. The airlock continues to bubble but the gravity doesn't seem to change. I'm not sure if it's ever going to reach 1.000 and I'm worried about bottle bombs. Bottle conditioning is probably out of the question now. Fortunately, I have some kegs and a CO2 tank so I can force carbonate it if I buy one of those pressurized bottling wands. I guess at this point, though, I either have to wait an unknown amount of time for it to ferment to dryness (if it ever does) or stop it with meta and benzoate (although it already has some of that). What about that stove top pasteurization method in the sticky post? Has anyone ever tried that and had a bottle explode?

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Old 11-11-2013, 05:58 AM   #6
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I tried the stove top pasteurization on a heavily carbed batch and blew up 2 out of 10 bottles.

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Old 11-11-2013, 06:37 AM   #7
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Making kilju with turbo yeast? Are you a Finn?

In any case, apple juice is extremely slow to ferment. I have made around 15 x 5 gallon batches with only apple juice, sugar, and yeast, and it always takes at least a month to ferment dry. I've tried it with dry yeast, rehydrated yeast, large starter, bottom fermenting yeast, top fermenting yeast, etc. Always the same long fermentation time.

I have been thinking that perhaps adding some raisins to the next batch would speed up the process by giving the yeast more nutrients.

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Old 11-11-2013, 06:01 PM   #8
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No, I made kilju for the novelty of it and also because I was curious to know what the fermentation of sugar alone (no fruit) tastes and smells like. It's definitely an acquired taste (and mine ended up with high residual sugar) so it's just sitting in jugs for now. Maybe I'll find a use for it one day. It's going to be the test subject for my Mini Jet filter once I get around to setting it up.

That's too bad apfelwein takes so long to ferment dry. I'm glad I transfered it to a carboy where it will be safe until then. Since some of it is in one gallon jugs I'm going to experiment with American oak in one and French oak in the other, for comparison.

I guess I won't try that stove top pasteurization technique. The safety of that procedure sounded questionable when I read it. I seriously hope I never have to clean up another bottle bomb. The glass shards manage to find their way into every part of the room.

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Old 11-15-2013, 04:03 PM   #9
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The big carboy formed a krausen in the neck and has been bubbling steadily since I racked it. However, I checked it with the hydrometer last night and it still reads 1.020. I thought at least I'd see it change by one mark by now.

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Old 11-15-2013, 04:12 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by duffrecords View Post
The big carboy formed a krausen in the neck and has been bubbling steadily since I racked it. However, I checked it with the hydrometer last night and it still reads 1.020. I thought at least I'd see it change by one mark by now.

What are you dropping your hydrometer into? Is it clinging onto the side of the sampling vessel? Hydrometers have a way of doing that. At least the ones that are in the price range of homebrewers.
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