First brew, need some advice!

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caarce

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Hello all,

So I started my first brew about a month ago. I used apples from my apple tree that produced some really sweet and large fruits this year. I used a juicer to extract the juice and then I strained some of the fiber out with a mesh colander. I used a brewing kit that came with sanitizer, yeast and all so everything went pretty smoothly.

The only hiccup I had was the morning after starting the fermentation, I discovered the yeast had a strong reaction and the airlock had some cider juice in it. So I quickly cleaned it out and replaced the airlock. I placed the cider in my closet with a double brown bag over it to block any light that might reach it. I have periodically uncovered it to check the bubbling rate and I have seen it producing gas consistently.

Fast forward to today, about a month later, I noticed a funny smell when I opened my closet. It is still bubbling at about once every 30 seconds and has been for almost 2 weeks.

It doesn't smell particularly like sulphur or rhino farts, its more of a subtle sour scent. It still smells a little fruity like the apples that I used.

It has been brewing at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit little-to-no fluctuation.

There is about 1.5 inches of sediment at the bottom and the top of the container still has the residue from the initial reaction. Im wondering if I should rack it to another container to separate some of the sediment and let out gas? Do I need to get it away from the residue at the top? Based on how it looks and smells I think I could just let it do its thing, but I'm wondering if I can help it along somehow?
 

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Falstaff

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Just let it ride.

I remember brewing my first beers and ciders and wanting to "help things along," too, but eventually you just learn to trust the yeast to do it's job.

The stuff at the top is fine, and I wouldn't syphon it away from it. You will just introduce oxygen and vectors for infection.
 
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caarce

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Just let it ride.

I remember brewing my first beers and ciders and wanting to "help things along," too, but eventually you just learn to trust the yeast to do it's job.

The stuff at the top is fine, and I wouldn't syphon it away from it. You will just introduce oxygen and vectors for infection.
Makes sense! I was a little concerned about the smell and the look of the film, but I guess its safe where it is until its ready! :thumbsup:
 
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caarce

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Did you take a hydrometer reading?

Cheers
Jay
I did not and I'm hesitant to try since its my first brew. I figure I'll just wait it out until the bubbles slow down.
 
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caarce

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ah! So lets say I take a reading and its ready. If its still bubbling isn't there a chance it explodes when I bottle it?
 

Falstaff

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ah! So lets say I take a reading and its ready. If its still bubbling isn't there a chance it explodes when I bottle it?
If you take two separate readings a few days apart and it hasn't moved then you are good.

In my experience vigorous bubbling means it's still going. So dont bother with readings till it slows down a bit. After that, a few pops here and there is probably just CO2 coming out of the liquid, as well as temperature changes in the room.

Consecutive readings will let you know it's stable. I don't bother with them anymore if I let it sit for four weeks, but some would say that's risky.
 

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It all sounds sort of normal but four weeks is maybe a bit longer than you might expect. A few years ago we were waiting a long time for WLP775 to be released from White Labs (hard to get here in Oz) and when it did arrive it took about six weeks to ferment from 1.050 to 1.030. It was almost panic stations but the end result was terrific. So, don't panic yet.

The stuff on top is typical of what you will get during primary fermentation. It typically settles after about two weeks but if you have a very pulpy juice with lots of "foreign matter" it could remain as "gunk" even after complete fermentation.

I do my primary fermentation in an open but covered bucket to give some initial O2 exposure. It also avoids getting an airlock full of muck. When the foam settles (around 1.030 if it started at 1.050) usually after about two weeks, I rack to secondary under airlock and leave the lees behind. If the current SG is something like 1.010 to 1.030 (or even beyond that range) it all seems to be progressing O.K.

As FalstafF said, two similar consecutive readings will indicate that it has more or less stopped, but I wouldn't bottle much above 1.005 which would be getting you into volcano territory. Even if the SG is around 1.004 when you bottle, and it keeps fermenting down to 1.000 you will only generate 2+ volumes of CO2 which is only around 30 psi in the bottle (about the same as bottled beer). Beer bottles are typically rated at over 100psi by the manufacturer so you should have a good margin of safety.
 
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caarce

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UPDATE: @Falstaff @Chalkyt

Thank you guys, it sounds like I need to do some readings to really get into brewing and avoid guess work. I will get a gravity meter sometime this week. In the meantime, the bubbling is down to 1 a minute finally! Smell is still pleasantly sour and bubbling has definitely lessened.

I am considering racking to another jug for clarity and possibly to sweeten. Part of me wants to leave it unsweetened since its my first batch so I can appreciate its natural flavor.

Also, would it be too late to add those tablets that help the cider clear? How necessary is it? Does it change texture or is it just cosmetic?

Will do some digging to answer these questions, but let me know if you have a minute! Thanks!
 

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UPDATE: @Falstaff @Chalkyt

Thank you guys, it sounds like I need to do some readings to really get into brewing and avoid guess work. I will get a gravity meter sometime this week. In the meantime, the bubbling is down to 1 a minute finally! Smell is still pleasantly sour and bubbling has definitely lessened.

I am considering racking to another jug for clarity and possibly to sweeten. Part of me wants to leave it unsweetened since its my first batch so I can appreciate its natural flavor.

Also, would it be too late to add those tablets that help the cider clear? How necessary is it? Does it change texture or is it just cosmetic?

Will do some digging to answer these questions, but let me know if you have a minute! Thanks!
If its down to one minute it might be done. Get a hydrometer asap. They are cheap and they are your #1 beer (edit: and cider!) making tool.

Don't re-rack. Only do that if you are going to age it for 6+ months. It's a vector for oxygenation and infections.

I wouldn't clarify your first batch. All of my ciders have cleared naturaly, and a little haze won't kill you anyways. Keep it simple your first time.

And happy to help :)

Prost!
 
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Chalkyt

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This goes on a bit long, but it might help point you in the right direction and answer your questions.

It is worth spending a few bucks to get some equipment that will help you along the way. Certainly get a standard "triple scale" hydrometer. It really is the only way to tell what is going on. It measures the density (or specific gravity) of juice which is a proxy for the amount of sugar left during fermentation. It is also worthwhile getting a 0 - 100 ml measuring cylinder with a wide base for use with your hydrometer. The wide base simply makes it harder to knock over than the plastic cylinder that sometimes comes as packaging with the hydrometer!!!

I also have a "finishing" hydrometer. These are a little more expensive but cover a limited range of SG, which just happen to be the range where you really need to know exactly what is happening prior to bottling. e.g. Medium Dry Cider is about SG 1.010 and Medium Sweet Cider is about 1.015. Finishing Hydrometers typically cover the range from 0.090 to 1.020 with nice big graduations to make it easy to read.

You don't usually need pectinase for a clear cider as time will allow solids to settle out. However I use it because it help clear juice that I press from my own apples. You will find that juice from a juicer will be quite pulpy and takes a lot of clearing. Cloudy cider is fine unless you really want it clear. I sometimes have a slight haze in my cider from solids which settles in the bottles over time. The last glass often has a bit of muck in it but it doesn't affect the taste.

You will probably find that fully fermented "natural" cider is a bit of a shock to the system. When the yeast has consumed all of the sugar, the malic acid leaves the the cider tasting quite tart. Sweetening with sugar only works if you do it just before drinking, otherwise the residual yeast just eats it up, creating more alcohol and CO2. To naturally retain some sweetness, the fermentation needs to be stopped by heat or chemical pasteurisation (or multiple rackings to reduce the nutrient level that yeast need... but that is probably something for later in your career).

Some yeasts (such as S04) will finish around 1.004 which leaves a touch of sweetness (a bit like 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per glass). Be aware that bottling with residual sugar and active yeast can lead to "bottle bombs" as the yeast will continue to consume sugar and generate CO2 in the bottle. Very roughly, fermenting five gravity points (SG 0.005) will generate 45 psi in a sealed bottle, which is about the carbonation level of bottled beer or soft drink.

An alternative way of sweetening cider is to use a non-fermentable sweetener like Stevia, Xylitol, etc. These can cause gastric issues with some people and can leave an odd aftertaste. Xylitol seems to be most like sugar, however it can be toxic to dogs.

If you want to do some digging around for answers and understand what is going on, spend $50 or so on Claude Jolicoeur's book (The New Cider Maker's Handbook). Andrew Lea's book (Craft Cider Making) is also quite good and there is an early version of it on his website (google "The science of cider making").

Hope this helps.
 

Falstaff

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This goes on a bit long, but it might help point you in the right direction and answer your questions.

It is worth spending a few bucks to get some equipment that will help you along the way. Certainly get a standard "triple scale" hydrometer. It really is the only way to tell what is going on. It measures the density (or specific gravity) of juice which is a proxy for the amount of sugar left during fermentation. It is also worthwhile getting a 0 - 100 ml measuring cylinder with a wide base for use with your hydrometer. The wide base simply makes it harder to knock over than the plastic cylinder that sometimes comes as packaging with the hydrometer!!!

I also have a "finishing" hydrometer. These are a little more expensive but cover a limited range of SG, which just happen to be the range where you really need to know exactly what is happening prior to bottling. e.g. Medium Dry Cider is about SG 1.010 and Medium Sweet Cider is about 1.015. Finishing Hydrometers typically cover the range from 0.090 to 1.020 with nice big graduations to make it easy to read.

You don't usually need pectinase for a clear cider as time will allow solids to settle out. However I use it because it help clear juice that I press from my own apples. You will find that juice from a juicer will be quite pulpy and takes a lot of clearing. Cloudy cider is fine unless you really want it clear. I sometimes have a slight haze in my cider from solids which settles in the bottles over time. The last glass often has a bit of muck in it but it doesn't affect the taste.

You will probably find that fully fermented "natural" cider is a bit of a shock to the system. When the yeast has consumed all of the sugar, the malic acid leaves the the cider tasting quite tart. Sweetening with sugar only works if you do it just before drinking, otherwise the residual yeast just eats it up, creating more alcohol and CO2. To naturally retain some sweetness, the fermentation needs to be stopped by heat or chemical pasteurisation (or multiple rackings to reduce the nutrient level that yeast need... but that is probably something for later in your career).

Some yeasts (such as S04) will finish around 1.004 which leaves a touch of sweetness (a bit like 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per glass). Be aware that bottling with residual sugar and active yeast can lead to "bottle bombs" as the yeast will continue to consume sugar and generate CO2 in the bottle. Very roughly, fermenting five gravity points (SG 0.005) will generate 45 psi in a sealed bottle, which is about the carbonation level of bottled beer or soft drink.

An alternative way of sweetening cider is to use a non-fermentable sweetener like Stevia, Xylitol, etc. These can cause gastric issues with some people and can leave an odd aftertaste. Xylitol seems to be most like sugar, however it can be toxic to dogs.

If you want to do some digging around for answers and understand what is going on, spend $50 or so on Claude Jolicoeur's book (The New Cider Maker's Handbook). Andrew Lea's book (Craft Cider Making) is also quite good and there is an early version of it on his website (google "The science of cider making").

Hope this helps.
I've also used lactose to sweeten my ciders. Easy to do and you don't need to worry about it fermenting out. I, personally hate artificial sugar. I can smell a diet coke from a few feet away. But this method is probably fine for people who dont mind it in the first place.
 

z-bob

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You can also use a refractometer to calculate your OG, and it only takes a drop or two instead of almost 100ml. Then you should be able to use it to figure out when the fermentation is finished, when you have two readings that are the same a couple of days apart. (I should take a reading from some finished cider to see if that's really true; if the refractive index is too low it might not be useful)
 
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