Hi folks - Kevin from Cville here. I've been lurking for a couple of weeks and this is my first post. I've been making cider and cysers on and off for about 10 years. This is a great site - I wish I has stumbled across it earlier.
My local produce place started getting fresh pressed juice about a month ago and I started brewing right away. The first 5 gallons was drinkable right before last weekend and is almost gone. I currently have 25 gal under fermentations (3 cider, 2 cysers) and generally brew anywhere from 5 to 60 gallons a season.
I'm looking to improve on my current method for controlling final sweetness for ciders, which is to rack and then chill the cider in the fridge for a couple of days shortly after primary fermentation and then take it out and rack it again. This knocks out most of the secondary fermentation, leaving a percent or two of unfermented sugar. This works great for brewing a gallon at a time but is a PIA for 5 gal carboys, as it takes up most of my basement fridge to do this and takes two rackings before kegging.
Before finding out about chilling, I used to let the yeast run its natural course which always produced a very dry cider which is pretty good to my taste - but most of the women I know, including my girlfriend, wont drink it that tart. So I would mix with fresh squeezed juice in a corny keg for party consumption. The chilling method tastes better IMHO and is just as good for mass consumption, although you will need to experiment around to find the right time after primary fermentation to do it. Adding a few pounds of fresh honey also generally improves the drinkability, although the taste is less consistent and getting the honey to dissolve is another PIA.
What I'd really like to do is find a yeast that goes only produces about 5-6 percent alcohol and goes dormant before consuming all the natural sugar in a 1.052 apple juice. So far everything I've tried will take all the sugar right to the bitter end. I'd really be interested if anyone knows of a good low alcohol producing yeast. So far, I've had the best results with ale yeasts and mostly use Nottingham as it produces good flavor notes with the juice I'm using and responds well to chilling control for sweetness. I also like the Lalvin 1118 Champagne yeast. It produces a final product that is really clean, but its too tart for all but a very few of my friends.
Other than finding a better yeast, after reading this forum I think my next move is going to be to experiment with adding enough dextrose to knock out the Nottingham before its done with the apple juice. I've never used dextrose before but it sounds like it has a more neutral taste and easier to mix than the honey I've been using.
I see a lot of questions on yeast on this forum. In my experience the best yeast for taste depends a lot on the apples. I've had the best luck so far with ale yeasts. I read an earlier review that panned the Nottingham, but for the juice I'm currently using, I like it over Coopers, Côte des Blancs and Lalvin 1116 - some of the other yeasts I've tried recently. I had great results one year from some no-name lager yeast that a friend gave me and before that I used champagne yeast (mostly Lalvin 1118 which I still like). I'm using Windsor for one of the current ciders, but havent tasted it yet. I would recommend brewing individual gallons until you find the yeast that works best with your juice and taste.
Prior to this year I've just gone by taste for controlling fermentation, but partly out of reading this forum I broke down and got a hydrometer a couple of weeks ago. So I now know that the juice I use starts at around 1.052 to 1.055 and if it ferments out any lower than 1.002, my girlfriend wont drink it. When it comes to cider, I'll drink just about anything, but before the hydrometer I would have her sample a glass and if she wouldnt give the glass back then I knew it was ready for public consumption.