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Meadmakers Corner: Brewing A Cyser

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One of the great things about being a homebrewer is being able to use what’s in season where you are, and being able to get it into your brew at the peak of freshness. As summer has slipped away from us, we are now welcoming the fall. Hay rides, harvests, and of course apples? Apples you might ask, isn’t that cider? By themselves yes, but what if you were to brew a concoction of mead and cider? A liquid mixture of honey and apple to get the best from both? You would have the elixir known as cyser. I can’t say that I’ve seen very many commercial examples out there. Yes they exist, but they are not very wide spread.
Now that you know what we are shooting at, let’s take a look at what we will need for our home made cyser. Of course we will need some amount of honey. In the future we’ll take a look at the different varieties of honey and how they might bring different flavors out in your mead, but for now, we’ll keep it simple. While you can get adventurous and try any type of honey you wish to - there are a number of different ones available online - for simplicity’s sake, why don’t we stick to either clover or wildflower honey. They will both give a good basic honey profile to your beverage, while still being easy enough to find in most major supermarkets.

Additionally you will need apple juice or sweet cider. You have a wide range of selection to choose from here, but the biggest thing is that you want one without preservatives. They might show up listed as potassium sulfate or sodium benzoate. These will kill our yeast friends, so avoid products that contain them. While you can pick up apple juice in a store (Whole Foods’ 365 apple juice works well), you can also look at orchards to see if they sell some fresh pressed, or if you want to get crazy you could just buy the apples and press your own. For this round let’s assume that we’ll be getting a bottle of juice from the store.
Lastly we will need some yeast. When you think of all the sugar in this mix, between the apple juice and the honey, we will need something that can tolerate the higher alcohol. This is going to leave most of our beer type yeasts out, and push us in a more wine yeast direction. There are a number of strains from Red Star that will work well, but I’ve enjoyed going with some Lalvin options. While I have enjoyed the product I got from 71B, I prefer the Lalvin D47 for this type of beverage. Though if you wanted to be different, you could always throw in a Belgian strain to see where that would take you.
After all of that, let’s take a look at numbers. For this round let’s just stick to a one gallon batch.

Fall Cyser Recipe


1 - Gallon of Apple Juice/Sweet Cider
3 - Pounds of Honey (I’d say start with Clover or Wildflower)
1 - Package of Chosen Yeast (I’d recommend D47)
Start off by cleaning and sanitizing everything that you will need. There won’t be much, it may not hurt to have two one-gallon jars (one for now, one for aging later), an air lock assembly, a funnel might be helpful, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a mixing wand. While I don’t like heating my honey for mead making I do tend to put the sealed container in bucket of warm water to help it flow a bit easier.
Once everything is clean and sanitized, you will want to pour about half of the juice into your fermentation vessel. Next add in the honey. Once you have done this, it’s a great time to seal up the container and shake it or use your mixing wand.
Then top off with however much more juice will fill your vessel. Remember you will want to leave some head space between the top of the liquid and the air lock. Activate your yeast selection as directed on the package. Take your original gravity reading (Should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.100+). Write down that reading, and put on your air lock.
Find a cool dark closet, bathroom, or back of the pantry. If you are using staggered nutrient addition remember to do that, if you don’t know what it is, we will cover in the future, or you can brush up here. Check back after a few weeks to see how your fermentation is going.
When the fermentation has finished up, move it to a new clean and sanitized jar for aging. You’ll lose a bit of liquid at the bottom along with the lees (sediment). Take a taste at this point. It will most likely taste hot, kinda like jet fuel, or 80 proof liquor.
Now is the time for patience. You can drink it all right away, but with that hot taste you might not want to. Let it age, remembering it is there. Try it again every few months. Whenever you feel that it has hit that sweet spot, bottle it up and share it with your friends. Or you know, hide it just for your own use.

Changing Things Up, Modifying Your Cyser Recipe


Now with a starting gravity somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.120 or so, there is a lot of sugar available for your yeast to chew up. You could potentially end up with a beverage somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-16% ABV, depending on your yeast selection. The yeasts I mentioned above (71B and D47) both go up to about 14%, leaving you with some residual sweetness. If you wanted to go for a drier cyser, try EC-1118 from Lalvin, which should be able to go up to 18% ABV. In higher alcohol meads, proper nutrition and fermentation management are even more critical.
Now once you ferment your beverage down to the spot you want it, and let it age some, there are a few more tweaks that you can do. If you found that it is not quite as sweet as you would want, you can back sweeten. To do this it’s best to start with a measured amount of cyser, and then add in measured amounts of your sweetener. You can use apple juice, brown sugar, honey, or even plain white table sugar if you like. Be sure that your yeasts have been knocked out, by using 1 camden tab per gallon and 1 tsp of potassium sorbate per gallon, or they can start to work on those sugars too.
You can also add a few spices if you would like, and let them age in secondary for a while. A good starting place is 2 cinnamon sticks, 3 to 4 cloves, and 3 to 4 all spices berries to a gallon of cyser. Let them sit in secondary for about a month.
A tasty finished cyser
If you are looking for a commercial example to compare to yours, check out Cyser (Rabbit's Foot), Cyser (White Winter Winery), Blossom (Moonlight Meadery), or Kurt's Apple Pie (Moonlight Meadery).
Happy meadmaking! Also I hope you all have a happy Autumn and a festive Holiday season!
 
Arktos Meadery out of Grand Rapids, MI has a fantastic cyser.
Great article. Thanks for sharing.
 
That was the same recipe I first used. Came out great although I might back off on the S.G. in the future.
 
Made you're recipe and used Laven d47 and local honey and pasteurized apple juice with no preserves. og was 1.125 and has stoped after three weeks at 1.080 or 14 brix. Is it done? thanks
 
If apple Juice s.g. is 1.050 and you add three pounds of honey and get a s.g. of 1.120 does that mean honey raises s.g. approx. 22 pts. per gal.?
Because it's close to what I got but I've read honey raises s.g. approx. 35 pts. per gal.?
 
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