Results from juice, yeast and sugar experiments
Hi Folks Ė Last year I decided it was time to come up with some new cider and cyser recipes, so in addition to 20 keg batches, which were mostly made with ole trusty Nottingham ale yeast, I did roughly 80 single gallon batches with different yeasts, juice and sugars. I saved a liter each of the better ones (36 total) and drank them with friends last month to see what was worth replicating for this year. For anyone who is interested, here are the results:
The goal Ė I try to make ciders and cysers that are semi-dry to semi-sweet Ė ie from 1.002 to 1.008 when they finish out. Thatís a good bit dryer than the commercial ciders I like (woodchuck granny smith, woodpecker, original sin), but not so dry that it tastes like a white wine (or jet fuel).
Juice Ė I used fresh juice from a couple of local cider presses. One has the option of UV pasteurization, the other just sells unpasteurized.
Some people say that unpasteurized juice tastes better. It depends. I did several keg batches where the guy at the press filled a couple of carboys right before the juice went through the UV, and a couple right after the UV. The only difference was the UV. The UV changes the color a little bit, but the taste was exactly the same.
Once the juice ferments, itís a different story. The pasteurized juice ferments faster, the results are more consistent, and you can drink it in a few weeks. If you cold crash it, it is quite drinkable in about 10 days. Since you donít have to sulfate it, it doesnít stink up your brew cellar as much. Finally, if you use Nottingham, S04 or a lager yeast and add sugar, enough of the yeast will stay close to the bottom that you can stop fermentation before the sg bottoms out just by racking a couple of times, which is a lot less hassle than cold crashing.
Using pasteurized juice does have disadvantages. It doesnít get the nice clear finish of unpasteurized juice. And it often overwhelms the airlock with krausen and makes a mess, because there is no sulfate slowing the initial fermentation. But mainly it doesnít keep as well. I didnít realize this before last year, because previously everything I made would be drunk up by February. However after a few months the pasteurized stuff gets vinegary. Without exception, all of the batches that we tasted last month which were made with pasteurized juice had a noticeable vinegar taste, even though they tasted fine back in the early spring. All of the unpasteurized stuff was fine.
The unpasteurized juice tastes really sour during and after fermentation Ė even when it has a relatively high final sg - and it takes several months to mellow. But it still tastes great almost a year later and in many cases improved. Unlike the pasteurized juice, I havent been able to stop the fermentation by using a bottom fermenting yeast, extra sugar and racking (at least not so far), but cold crashing still works.
The type of apples makes a big difference. You have to start with a good blend or the final result will taste crappy, no matter what yeast and sugar you use. I had the best results with blends that were based around Staymans and Winesaps as the main juice, with Granny Smiths to give it some extra tartness and Golden Delicious, Yorks or Pink Ladys for sweetness. Iím sure there are lots of other combinations that work, but these are whatís readily available in Central Virginia.
Yeast Ė the best ones so far (for the juices I used)
edit - quite a few years have gone by since this post, and while the list below has largely held up over time, I've made a few additions. For the latest list, see here:
Nottingham Ė This has been my favorite yeast for several years. It works well for sweet ciders and cysers with pasteurized juice, although not so well for unpasteurized cyser. It cold crashes well with any juice. With just juice, no sugar, and cold crash around 1.004, it is outstanding. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. You have to do either rack or cold crash to keep it from drying out all the way, as it tends to strip out the flavor if it goes all the way dry.
Safale S-04 Ė This is becoming my new favorite. It has a little fruitier taste than the Nottingham. It cold crashes well with any juice. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. With unpasteurized juice, if you donít cold crash and just let it ferment out to dryness, it leaves more of the apple taste than the Nottingham. It also works better for unpasteurized cysers. I havenít tried a pasteurized cyser with it yet.
Saflager S-23 Ė This lager yeast has a similar flavor profile to Nottingham. It doesnít do as well with unsweetened juice, but is good if you add sugar to bump the sg up to about 1.060. This is one that definitely improves with age. It was one of the best that we tasted last month. It cold crashes well.
Safale US-05 Ė This yeast imparts an interesting taste to the cider which reminds me a little bit of a pale ale. It works better with pasteurized juice Ė with unpasteurized it tends to knock out some of the body.
Yeasts Iíll probably try again
Wyeast 3068 Ė So far Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar, cold crashing both batches. It has a nice smooth taste and lots of body, but not much tartness. However, mixed with juice that is fermented with WLP300 (which fermented out a little too tart) it was outstanding. Iím planning to try it with unpasteurized juice this year to see if that imparts a bit more of a bite.
Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead Yeast Ė I tried this one with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar, all of them cold crashed. All were good, although the best was unpasteurized with sugar.
Wild yeast Ė I did several experiments with wild yeasts. Generally, they tasted pretty good until the sg dropped below 1.020 and then they started picking up nasty flavors. Cold crashing keeps them stable for a little while, but not for long. But they do pick up some interesting tastes.
Yeasts I probably wont use again, but still were OK
WLP002 Ė Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. It tasted nearly the same as using Nottingham, which is very good, but they were similar enough that I would say its not worth the extra hassle and cost of a liquid yeast
WLP300 Ė Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. It was very slow to start fermenting. It had a nice body and flavor but a really sour finish, even though I cold crashed it. Mixed with the Wyeast 3068, it was really good though.
Windsor Ė So far, Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice. It finishes out really sour, but has a fruity taste. I kinda liked it but none of my friends did. Adding sugar before fermentation makes it taste worse.
Coopers Ė So far, Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice with no sugar added. It ferments out more tart than Nottingham and has a woody taste which I wasnít crazy about, but some might like. If you like Blackthorn dry commercial cider, youíll probably like working with Coopers.
Lalvin 1118 Ė I used to use this yeast all the time back in the day until a friend turned me on to using Ale yeast. It ferments very fast and very dry. With unpasteurized juice, the only way I could ever get decent results was to let it dry out and then back sweeten with the original juice. Iíve been able to get OK results with pasteurized juice by cold crashing, but you really have to keep an eye on it because it drys out fast.
Yeasts I donít particularly recommend
Wyeast 4766 Cider Yeast - Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened unpasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely
WLP720 Sweet Mead - Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened pasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely
Safbrew WB-06 - Iíve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. They were both really bitter.
Lalvin-1116 Ė I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, butter taste.
Red Star - Cotes de Blanc Ė I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, buttery taste.
DV10 - Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, no extra sugar. Both were drinkable but somewhat bland.
Safbrew S-33 Ė Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. All tasted pretty crappy. Basically sucked all the flavor out of the juice.
I experimented around with different combinations of cane sugar and dextrose. I found that both leave an aftertaste, with the dextrose a little more of a beery taste and the cane sugar a little more winey. Of the cane sugars, the darker sugars leave more of a butterscotch taste. I got the best results with a mix of 2/3 dominos organic cane (which is a light turbinado) and 1/3 corn sugar and adding whatever is needed to get the sg to 1.060 to 1.065. I found that going above 1.065 causes the finished juice to lose the apple taste.
For cysers, I add 3lbs of honey to 5 gal. I warm the honey jar up a little in a hot water bath so that it mixes easier. For some reason, the honey causes pasteurized cider to finish a lot more clear that with sugar or on its own.
I also tried using agave nectar on a couple batches. The result tasted like diluted and alcoholic agave, which was interesting, but not what I was going for. It tasted like the yeast fermented out all of the apple sugar (and taste) and left the agave sugar behind.
That is a lot of great information! Thanks! One question... after racking you say that you can stop the fermentation. Could I still bottle and add priming sugar to carbonate? Or is too much of the yeast left behind?
jayhuff - You need to leave the yeast behind or you get bottle bombs. The stuff I bottled ranged from 1.002 to 1.010 when I bottled it last year and it was all still when I opened it last month (except for a few bottles that I filled from kegs). One exploded over the summer, so I guess I didnt get all the yeast out of that one. Normally I use the kegs to force carbonate, so these experiments were just for taste.
I was able to stop fermentation on all of these (except the wild yeast) by cold crashing. But the Nottingingham and S04 were the only ones that I could get to stop by racking alone, and that was only with pasteurized juice with added sugar. I think it would work with S23 or another lager yeast but I havent tried yet. I'm also planning to try stopping fermentation with K-meta and see if that affects the taste, but that wont work with bottle carbing either.
Thank you very much! I am curious about using the lager yeast. How do you think lagering the cider would turn out? I know I've read that using a hefeweizen yeast turns out very well. Do you have any experience with this yeast?
I'm not sure how lagering would work for cider. Normally the temp in my basement is 55-60 during the fall and winter and I cold crash by putting the juice in the fridge, which is pretty close to lager temp. Usually that stops fermentation completely, but in the case of the S23, it might have been the racking afterwards that stopped the fermentation. If you've got a lagering setup, I think it would be worthwhile to check it out. Based on my experience with the S23, I ordered some Breferm lager yeast which I'm going to test as soon as I get a new batch of juice later this week (although I'm not sure if the basement is cold enough yet). I'll try some other lager yeasts this fall.
The Wyeast 3068 is a Hefe yeast. I got OK results with pasteurized juice. I'm planning to try it with unpastuerized juice later this fall to see if that gives it a little more of a tart note. I also just got some Danstar Munich wheat beer yeast which I'm planning to try this week.
Thanks for sharing those great ciders with us, Kevin. You're the cider master! I still contend that the wild yeast batch was incredible, but this is coming from a Gueuze fan, so take it with a grain of salt. Let me know when the next juice re-up comes in, I'll probably take 10 gals this time. I'm definitely going to experiment with some brett and lacto on a small portion. Also thinking I'll test out Wyeast forbidden fruit yeast on a batch. :D
WOW!!! Great, clearly defined info..This should be stickied or at least added to the WIKI!
Hi. I am very curious about your comment that cider made from pasteurized juice did not keep well. I just bought pasteurized juice to make cider.
How long after fermentation is done before you drink it, and how long will it keep?
I noticed you do not use anything to stop fermentation. Is there a reason for that? Would stopping the fermentation cause it to keep longer?
Thanks for your help.
Toularat - Other than the bottles I saved til last month, the cider I made from pasteurized juice was all gone by the end of March and it tasted fine until then. It was all stored unrefrigerated in my basement over the summer and we had some days when the basement got warm, so that was probably what turned it. But the unpasteurized stuff was stored in the same place and survived just fine.
One thing I was going to mention in my original post but ran out of space - Not every bottle that got vinegary was ruined. Some had just a bit of the taste and a lot of my friends liked it more than some of the stuff that hadnt turned. Others tasted like salad dressing. Even so, there were only a few liters that didnt get finished off. Of the 30 or so people that helped me finish off the last 36 bottles, about half a dozen were beer makers and they liked the most funky tasting stuff. So I guess its somewhat a matter of taste. But the majority of women were leaving it alone and it didnt do much for me either.
As far as how long before you drink it - if its pasteurized you can drink it in a couple of days if you cold crash it. A week or so if you rack it off the lees and just let it sit. The pasteurized stuff doesnt get much better with age, at least not if its sweet.
I didnt use k-meta to stop fermentation because I thought that would give the cider a sulfer smell - like it does at the beginning of fermentation with unpasteurized juice. But I am planning to experiment with that this year. It might help the cider keep longer. One thing I discovered later in the season is that if you have a keg of cider and it has a sulfur smell or other funky smell, you can usually scrub it out by charging the keg with CO2, let it sit for a day, then depresurize the keg and let it sit another day. The C02 comes back out of the cider and takes a lot of smells with it. Purge out the gas that comes out of the cider and then charge it up again. Repeating 2 or 3 times gets rid of most funky smells. So now I am not so wary about introducing funky smells by using K meta. It ought to be a lot easier than cold crashing
thanks for your answer.
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