As someone recently (ie, this Monday) diagnosed with/condemned by Celiac, my doc recommends easing back on malt-based homebrewing.
Its about time for a new brew and I was thinking of making a mead, but given that its autumn anyway, I figure a cider would be a good place to start.
I suppose I lucked out living in Londonderry NH, given the number of orchards out here, so the cider supply is generally pretty good.
Stopped off at Mac's Farm Stand yesterday and picked up 5 gallons of cider, which unfortunately were labeled "House Blend". I asked the lady behind the counter if she knew what kind of apples were used, but she didn't. All she could confirm is that "If it were all Honeycrisp, it would say so on the label".
The stuff is fresh pressed, unfiltered, and unpasteurized, so I'm actually pretty tempted to just leave it in the carboy and let nature take its course.
But a buddy of mine who brews professionally had made a small batch of cider using champagne yeast that came out fantastic so I'm going to go that route. Actually, it was a bit more dry than I might find ideal, so based on what I've been able to learn on this forum thus far, I filled the carboy with 4.5 gallons of cider, and plan on backsweetening (?) the finished product with the last half-gallon, bottle carbonating, and stovetop or dishwasher pasteurizing to halt the yeast.
I do have some questions, though. A lot of them have been touched upon in various other threads, but the answers tended to be contradictory or at least just a matter of opinion ("I like to do this" vs "I don't like to do this"). I think that I'll just have to learn over time, but some advice for this first batch would be helpful. Its just been sitting overnight, coming up to room temperature, so I don't believe that much action has taken place yet.
1) If I add some of the original cider to the finished product to sweeten it, do I still need to add sugar to prime it for carbonation? If so, would it be the standard 5 oz or 3/4 cup sugar that beer would use?
2) The gravity of the cider still slightly chilly was 1.053, so I'd think that no sugar would need to be added (I'd considered adding some honey), but there's an unknown amount of solids suspended in the cider due to it being freshly pressed. For example, I drank the sample that I'd measured with the hydrometer and there was actually a tiny chunk of apple I bit down on. What do you think, is it ok as is or should I dump a bottle of honey in it?
3) The pectic enzyme - is its sole purpose to clarify the final product? Or does it have an important role in the fermentation?
4) Is it worth hitting with a tab of that sulfur-whatever to sterilize it? What about that whole malo-lactic thing? I sort of like the idea of old-school fermentation (with ambient whatevers), being largely driven by the champagne yeast.
5) Is there any use or worth in aerating or oxygenating the cider? Or is the pressing of the cider enough to get it full of air on its own? I just bought an aeration stone/wand from Williams Brewing a few months ago and have only used it on two beer batches so far! Should I just throw it on ebay? Is aerating mead useful?
6) I never really used "cold crashing" with the beers I made, and actually had to look up what it meant when I started searching this forum. But I see it used all the time here so I guess its a pretty important step. How cold does the cider need to get before stuff starts to settle? I certainly don't have room in my fridge for a carboy, and the temperature outside ranges between 40-50F overnights this time of year. Is that enough?
7) Um.. any general advice or obvious things I should/shouldn't do with cider vs beer that a noob like me might make a mistake with?
Thanks for any info, and cheers