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Old 10-12-2011, 03:36 AM   #1
thesmj
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Default New to hard cider, a few questions

Every October for the past 5+ years I remind myself that I've always wanted to make hard cider. This year, I'm actually making that happen! I have a few questions before I get started, though...

I bought a brewing kit that has most everything I need in terms of equipment, and maybe more as I'm not sure what I'll do with the glass carboy (more on that later. The kit I purchased includes:

  • 6.5 Gallon "Ale Pail" Primary Fermenter with Grommeted Lid
  • 6.5 Gallon "Ale Pail" Bottling Bucket with Spigot
  • 5 Gallon Glass Carboy
  • "Home Beermaking" Book
  • Easy Clean No-Rinse Cleanser
  • Twin Lever Capper
  • Triple Scale Hydrometer
  • Siphon Hose and Shut-Off Clamp
  • Driilled Universal Carboy Bung
  • Liquid Crystal Thermometer
  • Lab Thermometer
  • Brew Paddle
  • Airlock
  • Fermtech Auto Siphon
  • Bottle Filler
  • Bottle Brush
  • Carboy Brush
  • Equipment Instructions

I also bought:
  • Red Star Premeir Cuvee active dry yeast
  • 5 gallons of my favorite apple cider. Unpasteurized and with no preservatives
  • 2 LB bag brown sugar
  • 2 LB table sugar

Now, what I'm looking for is a hard cider about 6-8% ABV, preferably sweet and sparkling. I did a bunch of reading, and here's my plan of action (after disinfecting, etc):
  1. Dump the cider into the primary fermenter bucket, stir in and dissolve the 2 LB brown and 2 LB table sugar. Add the yeast, close the bucket and place on the airlock.
  2. Watch the airlock and wait a week or until it slows down. Test the SG and maybe give it a taste. Wait and repeat as long as necessary until the SG is at the low end of where I want it.
  3. Once the SG is where I want it, I'll rack it all into the 5G glass carboy and let it settle out. Once settled, siphon it out into the secondary fermentation bucket.
  4. Give the cider more time in the secondary fermentation bucket until the ABV reaches around 8% ABV, I'll taste it again, back sweeten it more if I like and then bottle.
  5. Wait 24-48 hours, open a bottle and give it a try. If its as fizzy as I want, I'll pasteurize all the bottles in the dishwasher, and then put in the fridge.

Sound like a good plan? My kit came with the two plastic buckets and the clear glass carboy. Honestly the first time I heard about using a carboy just for settling the drink prior to racking into the secondary fermenter is new to me, and may not be necessary for hard cider. Should I settle it out in the carboy before placing it into the secondary fermenter bucket, or is that really necessary?

Since the cider is unpasteurized and has no preservatives should I pasteurize it myself or allow the wild yeast to add to the flavor?
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Old 10-12-2011, 07:40 AM   #2
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if you wait until the gravity is where you like it, and then rack it, it is just going to keep fermenting to dry. stopping at the desired gravity is not easy, you can do it by cold crashing but if you don't have a big fridge you are better off sweetening after it's clear in the secondary. then you can sweeten, bottle and pasteurize, and hopefully you won't lose an eye. the time it will take to carb up is really variable, especially after clearing, so don't be surprised if it takes 1 day or 3 weeks.
your secondary is the 5g glass thing, not the other bucket. the bottling bucket is for bottling. fill the secondary right to the top since once it's fermented you want to minimize exposure to oxygen. if it's not completely full then get some juice and top it up
start with more than 5g since you will lose volume when racking. once you've done this a couple times you will know exactly how much to start with to fill the secondary to the brim
if you are worried about wild yeasts then knock them down with k-metasbisulfite (campden tablets), add at the beginning with your sugar and then wait a day, then carry on with your plan. if not your yeast will still take over and suppress other microorganisms but k-meta is safe and will largely dissipate by the time you drink the stuff.

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Old 10-12-2011, 09:06 PM   #3
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Thanks dinnerstick! Here's another dumb question for you: How do you know its time to move from the primary to the secondary fermenter?

I take it after I bottle, I'll have to try it every day or so until its carbbed (and hopefully before the caps start to bulge) and then pasteurize?

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Old 10-12-2011, 09:29 PM   #4
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I've found the best way to test carbonation is to fill a 20oz plastic soda bottle and sit it in the same place as your bottled cider. Once the soda bottle is firm to the squeeze, the bottles are usually carved nicely. Check out the sticky about stovetop bottle pastuerizing. Very informative. I've yet to have a capped bottle explode. Corked wine bottles on the other hand... They don't hold carbonation. Ask me how I learned that one.

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Old 10-12-2011, 09:48 PM   #5
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i rack to secondary after it's well and truly done; when the gravity is stable below 1.000. i give it at least a month in primary where i just forget about it. but you can rack any time after vigorous fermentation is done and a lot of sediment has settled. i agree strongly with the above advice to bottle one plastic soda bottle and check the firmness. when it is very hard but not quite rock hard the carb level is perfect for me. indeed if the caps bulge and you then heat them you are asking for it

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Old 10-12-2011, 11:10 PM   #6
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So after most if not all of the fermentation is done in the primary (maybe a month), rack it into the secondary, then continue to monitor until it settles out and the SG remains stable for a few days. Then rack into the bottling bucket, sweeten with table sugar to taste and bottle?

I will do the plastic bottle method for testing the carb level. Sounds easy and I'll waste less cider that way.

What do you think of the yeast I'm using (Red Star Premeir Cuvee)?

Am I adding a good amount of sugar to the primary fermenter (2 LBs brown, 2 LB table sugar)? EDIT: on second thought, maybe 2 brown, 4 table sugar?

My friends say "Go big or go home" when it comes to ABV, so if I go over 8% its not an issue so long as I can finish it sweet and carbed.

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Old 10-13-2011, 12:51 AM   #7
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Also, another lesson I just learned - make sure you pour your test bottle from the middle of the batch. The last test bottle I poured was from the bottom of my bottling bucket and must of had more priming sugar/yeast in it. The test bottle was carbed perfectly, but all the other bottles were barely carbed.

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Old 10-13-2011, 03:18 AM   #8
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I have only made cider once before. However, I used a lot of table sugar and it had a very distinct vinegary flavor. This only intensified with age. It also did not have that distinct apple sweetness you might expect out of something like a Woodchuck Cider (they use Champagne Yeast btw). You might want to just use brown sugar.

In addition, for my beermaking I have about 5 glass carboys of different sizes. I use those as both my primaries and secondaries and just use a wine thief for gravity readings. In order to sterilize the wild yeasts I would heat it up to 185 F for 5-10 minutes but don't let it boil if you care about clarity. Once it boils the fruit pectins will set and there is nothing you can do to clear it up after that.

I'm planning on making a 4Gal batch soon and will probably add a 1/2 cup of Blackstrap molasses for some extra color and maybe some unique flavor along with 1LB of brown sugar. The last time I made it the color came out very pale, not the rich amber that you're accustomed to from a cider.

I also intend to use Wyeast 3068 Wiehenstephan Wheat Yeast. A few different forums I've read said that this seems to maintain the fruitiness of the cider a little better. Plus it's convenient as I just washed about 600ml of it from my last batch of Hefeweizen and have it in the fridge waiting for some good eats. I love saving money.

If you make it as advertised let us know how it goes. I'll do the same.

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Old 10-13-2011, 03:37 AM   #9
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Yeah, I'm starting to find there are a lot of ways to get great cider. Everyone has their own way and while my first batch will most likely not be perfect and land in the "pretty good" arena, I can always make more.

As for ending up with apple vinegar, I thought the only way that would happen is if the yeast was exposed to too much oxygen.

EDIT: Nope, its bacteria processing the alcohol.

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Old 10-13-2011, 06:40 AM   #10
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personally, i don't agree with the go big idea, there is no real defining distinction between a cider and an apple wine but if it's more than 10% i think of it as a wine and pour in a small glass and sip, 6-8% i pour in a big glass and chug. so the only times i have added sugar have been when my sugar levels were a bit low (for example early watery apples this year after a lot of rain). but that's just me, so go for it. high % will take longer to mellow out though
i would say that if you are only going to use the secondary for a few days then just skip it altogether. problems with oxidation and infection can be minimized by handling (swishing, pouring, racking) as little as possible once it has fermented. you get vinegar from the combination of acetobacter bacteria and lots of oxygen, they thrive in an oxygen rich environment and can't work in fully fermented anoxic cider with no oxygen at the top of the half-full carboy. in practical cider making with a modicum of care this will never happen (but with a bit of cleared leftover dregs or half a bottle undrunk, you can make some great vinegar). so point is if you don't intend to age it in secondary for a while then there's nothing to gain from using it.
champagne yeast does seem to strip a lot of the apple flavor, i generally use an ale yeast and am pretty happy with it, but it's down to personal taste; try an ale yeast or wheat beer yeast some time and see.

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