Question About Wild Fermented Cider

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jtwilliams31

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Hi all,
This is my first time making (or attempting to make) wild fermented cider. I'm a bit concerned about the safety of the final product (I've read a lot on the topic and understand that any safety concerns are very low/non-existent, but I still want to ask), and I wanted to ask as wild fermenting is, for me at least, new, and my procedure was a bit strange.

SO, I juiced about 1.75 quarts of apples from a local orchard, added about a cup of water and a half cup of sugar to bring the sugar content up a bit, covered the top of the 1/2 gallon mason jar the cider was in with cheesecloth, and let sit on my counter for three days. Yesterday morning I transferred to a 1/2 gallon demijohn with an airlock on top and let sit for most of yesterday. Last night there was little to no activity in the cider, so as I was making some brown ale I added a bit of yeast to the cider to get it started fermenting (I know this takes a way from the wild yeast part, but I was tired of letting it sit with no activity after 3.5 days).

It is currently bubbling nicely, but now I'm a bit concerned about the safety of the final product because of the 3.5 day time that it sit with no yeast or fermentation taking place. I'm planning to bottle in a week or so and bottle carb (I want this to be a young, sweet cider), so any reassurances that I'm not going to die from botulism or some other stupid bacterial infection because of the lack of sterilization would be great.

Thanks for reading.
 

bernardsmith

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Hiya jtwilliams31 - and welcome.
Not a doctor or a microbiologist but I think the only concern you need to have is if the apples had dropped on the ground and animals wander the orchard and poop on the dropsies. E-coli is then a possibility - which is why in NYS you cannot sell juice from apples without pasteurization (orchards tend to use UV pasteurization to avoid cooking the juice). Absent the possibility of e-coli (because the apples were picked from trees) then I would have zero fear about any other pathogen.
My concern, however, is that you have diluted the juice with water - (I will ignore the fact that you added sugar. Why? Cider is not wine and a starting gravity of 1.045 or thereabouts would result in a cider with about (about 6% ABV)). No matter the volume of juice you expressed I would have fermented that rather than ferment apple flavored water - which is what you have when you add water to fruit juice.
Last point, while I am sure you can trap a yeast cell or two floating in the air (your preferred wild yeast approach?) your apples - certainly the skins - would have been covered in yeast but the number of cells may not have been high enough to make an obvious impression even after 3.5 days. It can take a week or two AND if you increase the sugar concentration you make it more challenging for wild yeast to transport the sugars through their cell walls.
Of course, if you juiced the apples after peeling them you may have removed the indigenous yeast. But no harm - no foul.
 
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jtwilliams31

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I see what you're saying - I was sort of leaning the same direction, but this is my first time wild fermenting anything (or at least attempting to) and was curious about the process.

I added water because I have a half gallon demijohn and only filled about 7/8 of it up. I wanted to get the liquid a bit higher to get the headspace smaller. I added sugar because I assumed adding water would dilute the sugar amount of the total and I would need sugar to raise it back up to the original OG of the apple juice.

This is my first time wild fermenting and it seemed... strange? to not have fermentation begin with a day or so. Any other time I've made beer or cider the fermentation has always begun within 12 hours at the latest. I happened to be making an ale and there was no fermentation so I thought "here's an opportunity to kick up the fermentation, wild yeasts be damned." I was just a bit unsure what the effects of having raw, unpasteurized apple cider sitting on the counter for three days and in the demijohn for a half day without any kind of fermentation. I didn't want it to become infected with any kind of pathogen before the yeast had a chance to do it's thing and I was unsure of the time period for safety.
 

bernardsmith

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Over the summer I did some "experiments" with indigenous yeasts - Basically, all I did was take some herbs and fruit from my garden and bought some dried figs and diluted some raw honey and placed a small quantity of the samples in sealed mason jars into which I also added enough sugar and water (about 1/2 pint) to create a solution that had a gravity of about 1.040. Every day I agitated the contents (by shaking) and after about two weeks or so many of the jars showed signs of fermentation. I had success with the honey, figs, apple, and marjoram - and the honey produced enough yeast for me to use as a starter for a mead using the same raw honey (from Brazil) which I was able to ferment dry at about 8% ABV (quite delicious).
The yeast from the apple, I am hoping to use to make a starter to make a scrumpy when I can get my hands on some fresh apple juice from a local orchard.

Here's the thing about headroom: IMO, headroom is really only ever a problem after active fermentation has ceased. I typically use buckets as my primaries and loosely cover the buckets with cloth napkins or dishtowels to keep out flies and pets. After active fermentation I look for a fermenter that offers me no headroom (and at this time I have at least two 1 gallon carboys with a quart of must with varietal honeys that I just want to see how they taste (If you use 12 oz of a varietal honey diluted to make 1 quart of must that is the equivalent of making 1 gallon with 48 oz of honey (3 lbs) - and so the SG is about 1.100 and so the potential ABV is 13% - This way I can freely experiment even with expensive honey because I am using only a very small quantity). After active fermentation is over I will simply transfer these babies into quart jars with mouths narrow enough for me to seal with a bung and an airlock.
 

bernardsmith

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I think the only concern you need to have is if the apples had dropped on the ground and animals wander the orchard and poop on the dropsies. E-coli is then a possibility - which is why in NYS you cannot sell juice from apples without pasteurization .
Just to amend my earlier post - the concern is about E-coli and Listeria and salmonella for which the US has apparently zero tolerance and which other cider producing countries are a little more relaxed about. (see for example:
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/cider-workshop/X5F78p9gogQ )
 
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jtwilliams31

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O wow, I guess my concerns about harmful things growing is a bit unfounded given your experimentation with fruit/honey and water. I've made beer/cider/mead before (the latter taking a year and skyrocketing to 17% ABV!), but I am new to wild fermentation. I recently moved to Western Massachusetts and there are a lot of orchards here. Luckily there is an orchard that's about 10 min away that has all sorts of apples for around $6 a peck. I've been looking forward to juicing some of them and seeing what kind of flavors I can develop with wild yeasts versus the commercial ones I've used so far.
 

bernardsmith

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Lab cultured yeasts will tend to produce consistent flavors and mouthfeel but indigenous cultures won't. Sometimes you will be very happy with the outcome and often you may not. That is why, I think, that most commercial wine, mead and cider makers today tend to only use lab cultured yeasts. For them both consistency and quality outcomes are paramount. For home brewers, consistency between batches is less an issue, and while we might really want really good quality batches (of course) the possibility of obtaining a very desirable and UNIQUE tasting batch - a flavor that may be unique only to your "cidery" might outweigh known and consistent flavors...
 

MarkKF

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I think the danger of bacteria is only when drinking unfermented cider. Once the ABV gets to 4-5% the bacteria can no longer survive or thrive. That's kinda why or forefathers drank hard cider or beer in the first place. My fear is that the bacteria will start producing before the wild yeasts take off. So can you add k-Meta to knock down the bacteria and will the wild yeast still reproduce in a few days?
 

bernardsmith

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I think the danger of bacteria is only when drinking unfermented cider. Once the ABV gets to 4-5% the bacteria can no longer survive or thrive. That's kinda why or forefathers drank hard cider or beer in the first place. My fear is that the bacteria will start producing before the wild yeasts take off. So can you add k-Meta to knock down the bacteria and will the wild yeast still reproduce in a few days?
OK but I am curious: what pathogenic bacteria are likely to be in the apples that will grow before the yeast takes over? The reason for adding K-meta is to hobble the wild yeast so that the lab cultured colony has free rein. But if you are embracing the indigenous yeast you really do not want to hobble them, do you?
 
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