Planning Your Next Cider Batch

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Frequently, questions arise in Homebrewtalk's cider making forum from people who are new to cider making and are uncertain how to formulate a batch. Many of these questions are repeated from time to time, so I thought I'd share some information here that will hopefully give those who are new to the hobby some confidence with which to proceed. This article will deal primarily with yeast, sugar, and Alcohol By Volume (ABV) percentages - in other words, batch planning and calculations. In addition, the methods for avoiding filling your living space with unpleasant odors will be discussed.

Assumptions
  • In order to eliminate ambiguity, for the purposes of this article, the term cider refers to fermented apple juice - an alcoholic beverage - and not to unfiltered apple juice.

  • Dry yeast will be used. This article will not go into discussion regarding the usage of liquid yeast.
  • Store bought apple juice will be used. This article will not go into discussion regarding squeezing apples, killing wild yeasts, etc.
  • The units of measure in this article are based on the metric system and the batch size is assumed to be 20 litres (which is equal to 5.28 US Gallons). For conversion to small batch, e.g. 5 litres, simply divide the numbers by 4. The batch size is total volume; that is all sugar is added before using juice to top up to the 20 litre mark.
    NOTE: For those who are accustomed to the US Customary system of measure, when it comes to making cider there is not a significant difference between 20 litres and 5 US Gallons (18.9 liters) so it's not really necessary to adjust the recipes - the resulting ABV will differ by less than half a percentage point. On the other hand, if you are doing small batch planning then it's important to know that there is a very significant difference between 5 litres and 1 US Gallon (3.87 litres). In this case, you can not simply divide the recipe by 4 and expect a similar result.
  • The sugar used to increase alcohol by volume percentage is "plain white table sugar", whatever that means for your specific geographic location.
Choice of Yeast
Often, we prefer our cider to be a bit stronger than our beer. Every yeast has a different alcohol tolerance, i.e. the maximum ABV percentage to which yeast can be subjected before it stops converting sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Beer yeasts, such as ale or lager, are often not designed with high alcohol tolerances so they may not necessarily be the best choice for making cider. If you have a target ABV percentage of 9 or higher in mind, the safest bet is to use wine or champagne yeast. Champagne yeast typically has an ABV tolerance of around 18% and wine yeast stops producing alcohol at between 11-15%. My preference leans toward the use champagne yeasts for cider making.
Amount of Yeast
One packet of dry yeast is sufficient for a 20 litre batch of cider. I commonly use a German-produced champagne yeast that comes in a 7 gram packet and is enough for a 50 litre batch (yes, the claim has been tested).



Yeast Re-Hydration
There is an ongoing debate as to whether re-hydration, i.e. proofing your yeast, is necessary. I don't rehydrate, and after more batches under my belt than there are numbers of days between blue moons, I've never had a failed batch. If it makes you feel better to rehydrate then by all means go for it.
Yeast Nitrogen Requirements
Ooh, that smell
Can't you smell that smell?
Ooh, that smell
The smell of death surrounds you
- Lynyrd Skynyrd

You might have heard about the dreaded "Rhino Farts" that sometimes appear when making cider, otherwise known as "How to get on your wife's bad side". The term "Rhino Farts" refers to the situation where the yeast is producing sulfur dioxide (SO2) in response to living in a nitrogen deficient environment such as apple juice. Different yeasts have different levels of nitrogen requirements, typically categorized as low, medium, or high.
In order to avoid the farting rhinos, either choose a yeast with low nitrogen requirements or feed some nitrogen to your yeast. Depending on the yeast, approximately 25-50 grams of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), which is a form of nitrogen commonly used in fermentations, added to your batch is sufficient to keep the farting rhinos at bay.
Even for yeast with low nitrogen requirements, adding a bit of DAP will prevent a slow, sluggish fermentation.
Yeast Attenuation
Attenuation simply refers to the percentage of sugar that the yeast consumes.
Based on cider making experiments with many different types of yeasts (champagne, wine, ale, lager, bread) the finding is that yeast attenuation is generally very near to 100%, regardless of the type of yeast used. In other words, terminal gravity (or final gravity) will almost always be between 0.998 and 1.002 but in most cases is exactly 1.000. What this means is that we don't really need to be concerned with yeast attenuation factors when formulating cider recipes.

Length of Fermentation

A frequently asked question is "How long will it take for my cider to ferment?". This depends on the type of yeast, fermentation temperature, amount of sugar and whether or not yeast nutrient is used. The answer is "Somewhere between 1 and 6 weeks". Fermentation can be complete in as little as 7 days when using champagne yeast combined with nutrient with a target of around 8% ABV. In the case of ale yeast and no nutrient, it may take up to 6 weeks.
Determining the target ABV percentage
When planning your cider, the first thing you want to do is decide and/or calculate your target ABV percentage. This can be achieved using any of the following methods:
  • Your will allow the amount of sugar naturally present in the apple juice to determine your target ABV percentage.
    In order to determine that amount of sugar that you are starting with, you will need to measure the the specific gravity of your juice using a 100ml graduated cylinder and a hydrometer. If you are using store bought apple juice, the specific gravity is usually somewhere around 1.046. With an expected attenuation of 100%, this will give us 6% ABV.
  • You want to determine the ABV percentage that can be achieved by the small amount of sugar that you have on hand.
    400 grams of sugar will raise a 20 litre batch by 1 % ABV. In other words, adding 400 grams of sugar to apple juice with an original gravity of 1.046 we can expect to end up with 7.04% ABV. So if you have a 1kg bag of sugar on hand then we can expect to raise our ABV by 2.5%, leaving us with a total of 8.54% ABV.
  • You have a large stock of sugar and have a target ABV in mind.
    Assuming our target ABV is 10%, how much sugar would we need to add? Given that the apple juice itself will produce 6% ABV, then we need to add enough sugar to increase the ABV by 4% (4 * 400 grams = 1600 grams = 1.6 kg).
    Applying the same formula, we could target an ABV of 12% by adding a total of 2.4 kg of sugar for an ABV increase of 6%.

Next Steps

With this information, you should now be well enough informed on the topic of cider batch planning that you are able to plan your own. Stay tuned for Part 2, otherwise known as "I've planned my batch of cider, what's next?".
 
Good tip about the diammonium phosphate. I have a slow, sluggish, rhino-farty batch going now and I think I just figured out the reason why. Will definitely add DAP to the next batch. Thanks!
 
Rhino farts are surely not SO2. I add what amounts to sulfur dioxide (SO2) when I add K-meta to kill wild yeast before I pitch my yeast and throughout the aging process to inhibit oxidation. I think you may have meant hydrogen sulphide (H2S). That smells like rotten eggs and could be mistaken for a rhino fart
 
I had to point out, although it makes little difference 1 gallon = 3.78 liters.
Also while most yeasts (not all) do produce some SO2 when fermenting the stink is mainly from H2S. DAP at the onset can help with this as you mentioned (The TTB limit for DAP is 8#/1000 gallons). I've found going with 6#/1000 gallons does well most of the time (That's .03# or about 1/2 oz in 5 gallons).
If the stink is persistent and from H2S a copper add can help greatly, but the home brewer likely doesn't have Copper Sulfate; however a clean & sanitized copper tube(s)inserted into the ferment for a day or 3 may help.
If the stink still hangs around after all this it could be a disulfide stink (burnt rubber/ chemical) and you would need a 50-70ppm (0.95gms-1.32gms in 5 gallons) add of Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) followed immediately with a copper add. If it still stinks after all that it's probably not worth keeping/ saving.
 
Fantastic, thank you Podz. I've been asked by other household members, heretics all, for something non-ale-ish and Autumnal so your article comes at the perfect time.
 
Scotts Lab provides a new cidermaking guide for free. One of its recommendations is to use a complete nutrient like Fermaid vs just DAP to get a healthier ferment rhino gas free, especially good I think in something like store bought juice. WVMJ
 
For lower gravity ciders (say ~7% and lower) I've found that champagne yeast tends to dry it out to much for most peoples taste buds (I like it but the boss tends to be grumpy :D).
Have had good success with US-04 for dry yeast and make a really fantastic batch with white labs "farmhouse blend" wet yeast a couple years back (interestingly T58 was not a winner, although I've only tried one batch with that and there were other possible issues there so may be worth another try).
 
It's a different animal, but 4.5 gallons of raw, unpasteurized local cider mixed with 2 quarts of local honey fermented in the fridge at 36 or so for several months with no other additions, including domesticated yeast is much easier... All you need is patience!
 
"7.04% ABV. So if you have a 1kg bag of sugar on hand then we can expect to raise our ABV by 2.5%, leaving us with a total of 8.54% ABV"
Incorrect math, 9.54ABV!
 
I personally prefer adding apple juice concentrate instead of table sugar as I have it in my head that it tastes better but be warned, the yeasts seem to be turbocharged by the vitamin C in it.
 
I have been trying to make lower-ABV ciders lately. Keep coming in the 7-8% range. I use Nottingham yeast and I find it produces a very nice tasting cider, though I also use EC-1118, too, which is also very yummy.
 
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