When the Apples are Ripe, Ferment Some Cider!

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

When the Apples are Ripe, Ferment Some Cider!
Matt Miller
Crab apples. Those little apples that most people consider just ornamental. Yes, they are pretty sour and they aren't really very easy to eat out of hand. I have several crab apple trees in my neighborhood, in common areas, which get loaded with fruit every year. As an avid cook, I just hated to see them wasted. I got a few odd looks from neighbors at first, but I picked a big bucketful! My first thought was crab apple jelly.

And it was a good thought--good enough for a second place ribbon at the North Carolina State Fair in 2012.
I made all the jelly I could use and gave away a bunch, but there were still crab apples weighing down the trees. So I made crab apple butter, and lots of it. Still, the trees had plenty of fruit. What else could I do? Juice? After some research, I decided I would like to try making cider. Hard cider.
I have been a little leery of fermenting things in the past, but my research convinced me that this would be a safe procedure. I sought out a local home brew shop and procured the basic set of equipment and supplies to ferment a one-gallon batch of cider.

Over the next couple of months, I was able to ferment several batches of cider. The first two, I made using Champagne yeast and they fermented out very dry. I individually primed the bottles with corn sugar and they wound up tasting much like Champagne, but were lacking in apple flavor. I experimented with another yeast: Safale S-04 and bottled them with a little sugar left in them. A little more apple flavor, but still kind of monotone and tart. As the season was waning, I made a blend of crab apple and Fuji apple juices that fermented into a very nice still hard cider. Much better sweetness and apple flavor.



Through more research, I learned more about varieties of apples and their history. Many varieties were bred specifically for making cider. In fact, early in our country's history, apples were much more readily available than grain. Therefore, hard cider was more popular than beer. I also learned that crab apples are traditionally used in blends for their tartness and tannins, but are not normally used by themselves. My Fuji-crab apple blend reinforced that information.

(Juice with pulp)
In my experiments, I also read about cider makers using concentrated, frozen apple juice to sweeten their cider after fermentation. What I found in my local store was that the concentrated, frozen juice was made from juice from China or Argentina. I wasn't thrilled about that, so I checked out the bottled juices and found a product that is packaged in a half gallon glass carboy and it's preservative-free, pasteurized and made from whole apples sourced from Virginia. Much better! After the apple season was over, I even made some "Super Easy Cider" by just adding yeast and an airlock directly to this commercial cider and the results were very good.

(Ferment bucket)

This year, I am looking forward to using my crabapples again; however, I am going to seek out several varieties of cider apples to blend them with. I may also experiment with a couple of new yeasts. For you brewers out there, you likely have everything you need, as far as equipment is concerned, to make cider. Primary fermentation bucket, sanitizer, airlock, second bucket, or carboy to rack into, siphon, bottling cane, etc. There is no boiling, just fermenting. What you will need to add to your supplies are: yeast nutrient, campden tablets (to kill off undesirable yeasts) and pectic enzyme. These should all be available at any good home brew shop and are not expensive.

(Bubbly cider)
For procedures, I recommend delving into the information and recipes in the Cider forum here.

Author Bio: If you are interested in my experiences, you can see my journal entries starting at: MMMBrews.

First, congratulations for your experiments and article. Secound, I would like to comment on something (maybe you read about it on your researchs, but here it goes).
I started brewing beer a couple years ago so I'm learning, and even if I never brewed cider, I live in a small town in the Basque Country, well known for it's many ciderhouses, so I know a bit of theory, as I use to visit them a lot, and a couple friends are owners.
You don't need to add any yeast (or shouldn't, unless something's wrong with the apple). The fruit itself is full of yeast, even in the interior. Just clean them, mash them, and you're done. After a decanting process for leaving solids behind, wort should ferment by itself.
Another important thing is temperature. Cider is fermented in winter. Ciderhouses harvest apples at the end of the year, start fermentation around nov-dec, and in january they open their doors to public (you pick cider directly from a hugh barrel, 5.000 to 15.000 L)..., until april, where they close and bottle it. And it needs to stay cold, not warm. Around 9-11C should be fine, if I'm not wrong.
Then it should rest on a cool place, cellar temperature, and drinking temperature should be around 10C. Not too cold, to better get the taste and aromas.
A typical ciderhouse:
I would avoid using wild yeast from the apples themselves. Yeast can create undesirable flavors. I'd stick to known yeast strains for better quality control
@Irreo Thanks for your comments! They are very interesting and contain some good information. Let me be the first to say that there are several cider fermenters in our little community that are waaaay more experienced than I and have patiently answered many a rookie question from me and others.
Concerning the yeast, while it is true that you can get a cider going with resident yeast, there is no guarantee, from batch to batch, what that yeast is going to be and how it will interact with your cider. By using campden tablets to get rid of them and choosing your own yeast, you can get more consistent results and the attributes you desire.
For temperature and storage, I ferment my cider inside, at room temperature, which is usually around 68F in the Autumn and Winter for me. After I rack off of the lees (sediment), I let the cider clear and then I bottle it and let it bottle condition from 4 or 5 weeks to several months. Many experienced cider makers do, as you say, condition their cider in their carboys, for long periods, often until Spring, before they bottle them. I may do a few batches that way this Fall. I'll have to find a dark closet...I don't have a cellar or any outdoor space that won't freeze and thaw repeatedly.
Thanks again for contributing! Basque cider...mmm! Cider braised pork? Oh yeah!
@mattmmille @causeimthesquid:
The thing is that it's not "wild" really. Is the yeast specific to that apple. Again, I don't know those apples, but I do know that the apples used here (both from their own trees, and others imported) are cider-specific and they don't add any yeast at all. The end product is a bit acid, but nothing similar to lambic beers. I don't know how to describe it... it can even be a bit sweet due to apple aroma and taste. Each barrel has it's own taste, and that's the good thing, because you got trying barrels here and there while enjoying dinner.. one is dry.. another one is more acid.. another more sweet... But all natural :)
It's like when making wine. If you get the proper fruits, naturally grown, and in their proper time for harvesting, it's enough if you press them and let them ferment. It will become perfect wine without adding anything else.
If you have trees around, I recommend you try it, just to see how it goes, nothing to loose I guess ;)
By the way, I understand there are many ways of making cider, so I talk about what I know here. In our case, there is no priming. We let it ferment in huge barrels, and then bottle. The final alcohol volume it's 6 always. It has to be served from high distance to the glass, so it "breaks", creating temporary carbonation that lasts some seconds, the time it takes to drink, because it's served in small rations.
An example, from another ciderhouse I use to buy bottles from:
Sorry for the offtopic, but just to add a bit more information, the menu is always the same: codfish omelette, codfish with green pepper, a nice big and red beef steak, and cheese with walnuts and quince paste.
Some pictures of ciderhouses around here:
And some pictures of the dishes:
Very interesting article. For others who may be interested in making hard cider but have no access to apple trees local orchards that make and sell apple juice or cider (non alcoholic) are a great source of pressed and apples. You just need to make certain that the juice has no preservatives (sorbates and the like) and is only UV pasteurized or (not so preferable) heat pasteurized.
With the addition of sugar or juice from commercial concentrated apple juice you can make a must with a specific gravity of say 1.090 which will be enough for an apple wine (you may want to add oak ) - around 11.5 % abv - or you can simply ferment the juice itself which is likely to have a gravity of about 1.045 (or an abv of about 6%). Unlike beer, cider will ferment dry (final gravity will be below 1.000 - perhaps 0.994). That may be too dry for American tastes so you may want to backsweeten the cider by stabilizing it and then adding sugar.
@Irreo Cool to run in to someone on here from the Basque Country. I live in Idaho and I'm half Basque (my mother is full and my dad isn't Basque at all) and we have family in Lekeitio and Bilbao. I've been there to visit once and we went to a sagardotegia that was awesome! I love the Basque cider, and after reading your comments, I may try to make my own without adding yeast. Gora Euskadi!
@bernardsmith @Irreo
Bernardsmith, thanks for the additional info. The commercial cider that I use is usually around 1.058-ish for the OG and I try to catch it at about 1.010 to bottle, without priming and I still get a nice little carb...without pasteurizing and without worrying about bottle bombs. My last couple batches went down to 1.006, so they may not carb much at all, but will still be tasty. If I'm using fresh juice, I'll generally add sugar to bump the OG up to more like 1.080, +/-. My Champagne style 100% crabapple cider went down to around FG .996-.998 and was quite dry.
Irreo, I've never been to Spain, but would LOVE to go and arrange my trip around ciders and Iberico ham! My wife would have something to say about that, though. I may try a batch of cider without adding yeast, this Fall. I guess I'll have to extract the juice myself, because any cider I find will probably be pasteurized. I guess I could just let the crabapple juice's resident yeast be the only factor for the first batch...and see if it's any good. I don't have a press, so juicing is a bit tedious for me.
I imagine the established cider houses in your area have a firm knowledge of the resident yeasts and have utilized them so much, that the desired strains are dominant. Those big barrels probably do have a huge and very individual influence, as well. For some reason, your links aren't coming up as links, so I have to cut and paste each one...so I haven't been to each one yet, but I'll find some time tonight to go through them. Thanks for sharing!
So...if you folks are enjoying some good, craft cider this Spring, remember: somebody started that process last Autumn. Why not YOU this year?!
@Irreo -- I'll be in northern Spain for the Vuelta this September - looking forward to tasting some of the famous ciders from Galicia. Similar to Basque cider? Hoping to jump over to Basque Country after the race ends in Santiago. Where should I go?
I agree the natural yeast is the way to go. Traditional:) Its the way my buddie and I do it harvest, let it ride til spring and package. We also use lots of crab apples for tart, all apples are free if u ask the land owner.
@millhouse9: Cheers! Good to hear you like the cider. I don't live in the areas you visited. It's around 1 hour away by car (nothing for big cities but a lot here). I live in a town called Astigarraga.
@mattmmille: Sorry about the links, I noticed and tried to edit, but it seems to be something wrong with this comment system, and it auto-inserts new lines...
About your trip, the iberico ham is more from Spain, down on the map from where I am. Here in the Basque Country you can taste cider, txakoli (another variation of wine, it tastes a bit acid, and is served and drinked like cider, in small doses, making it create carbonation).
For ham and other really good iberic pork you can go to Salamanca, around 5-6 hours from here, but completely different in cuisine.
I'm not sure I understand your concern about the juice. As I saw on your article, you're creating it from the apples? One of the owners I use to talk to here, once told me he could give me away some KG of apples to try doing my own cider, and told me it's enough if I just use the blender.. of course the proper way is pressing, but who owns a press? I didn't have the chance to do it, and I can't ferment at the proper temperature either.
Maybe the problem is you don't get enough juice from those specific apples?.. Anyway, do you have some filter for the beer mash? I use this one:
Maybe you could place all the blended apple there, and press it manually with something to get as much juice out as you can?
As I understand, the process (briefly) could be something like this: blend the apples, put the result somewhere with little holes, press somehow. Maybe you already did something like that, sorry.
Anyway if you ever try it and get something good, feel free to drop me a message as I'm curious to know the result.
@mgudmastad: I don't know about cider in Galicia. I know about the one in Asturias. Some say it's almost the same, but it depends as there are different types. I find it more sweet and a bit more champagne-like in carbonation. Some others are similar to basque. And even being basque you can go to a market, buy 6 different brands, and they also will be different... body, aroma, taste...
About where to go. Well, if you come around here I guess San Sebastian is a must-visit place. And if you go there, Astigarraga is 20mins away in urban bus, and here you have many many traditional ciderhouses. One of them almost 500 years old, and still family business.
if 1 lb of sugar raises gravity by .040 in 1 gallon, then 1 oz will raise gravity by .0025. So your final gravity of 1.006 represents more sugar than you would normally prime with if you prime with 1 oz /gallon. In other words, I suspect that your cider will be more carbonated than you might imagine if you allow the bottles to condition for several weeks.
@Irreo My concern with the juice is just that I am using a small, countertop extractor and doing a large volume takes a long time and I'm afraid it might burn out the motor. I did several batches last year where I extracted 10 pounds of fruit. I have actually seen cider presses at the home brew shop, but they're expensive (relative to how much I would use it). With my little extractor, though, I can take the pulp/skins and put them in a cheesecloth bag and drop them into the juice for the first 24 hours to help impart more flavor. It works okay for small batches.
I did a Google map search for where you are...what a cool looking location. I understand The Basques consider themselves somewhat independent, though technically part of Spain. But it looks like you are very close to the border of France. I would LOVE to try the food in Astigarraga! And right by the ocean...not too far from mountains. I can see why the apples there would be awesome!
@mattmmille: Ok, sorry. I'm relatively new to brewing but wanted to contribute with the little theory I know about cider. I see you did your homework well, as a cook :)
Oh, and by the way I checked your site couple days ago and added it to my bookmarks to take a better look someday with time, I guess it will be good for increasing my brewing skills.
About the area I live, yeah, it's really nice, and also as you guessed I feel basque, even if politically we're spanish territory. And I don't have problem with Spain, many friends there, and been on many places too, tasting different foods, drinks, etc. from different places!
Indeed the France border is just around 20 minutes away from me (driving on highway). Lots of green mountains, and sea. What else could you ask for.
Now, even a bit more offtopic, here's a pic of my grandma, who passed away last october (88 years old), and loved to go to ciderhouses on cider season with family. She always wanted to get pics with the group of men who sing on some ciderhouses, and there she is, with her glass on hand.
Also, this is another good old ciderhouse very near to my home (I use to go walking..):
The meat we had my mom, uncle, and me that day (amongst some other things :D
My mom picking cider with the owner just about to close the barrel:
And this is just the bottle I had for dinner yesterday, from that same place:
@Irreo I've been to Astigarraga! When I went to the Basque Country, I was with a Basque dancing group from Boise called Oinkari Dantza Taldea. We were invited by the Onatz Dantza Taldea, and were able to travel through quite a bit of the Basque Country. We spent one evening at a Sagardotegia in Astigarraga and it was definitely the best meal I've ever had in my life. The Chuleta was amazing! I can't remember the name of the Sagardotegia, but we spent a lot of time at the barrels saying "txotx" and filling up our glasses two fingers high. I can't wait to get back to the Basque Country and eat some of their great cuisine and drink their delicious cider and wine!
Your links worked! Sorry about your Grandmother passing. She looks like a great lady and was obviously having a grand time! I love the looks of the cider houses...old, traditional. Such a tradition and history.
Don't apologize for your contributions here! You have given interesting information and given a perspective from another part of our world with an amazing cider tradition. Very much enjoying it! And if I ever make it to Spain, I am DEFINITELY going to make sure I devote some time to experiencing the Basque Country's people, cider and cuisine!
@millhouse9: wow! surprised, not only to find so many people that knows about basque country, but also who has been on my little town! haha. No offense, it's just that we are so "small"... Some years ago on a friday night I flirted with a couple girl from USA, not sure now I think they were from Wyoming, and on saturday I brought them to a restaurant here (not ciderhouse, but it has many different local bottled ciders on the menu), and they loved it, and I think they didn't even know this existed! I mean, they were just visiting San Sebastian (the capital city on Gipuzkoa), and were surprised to see the mountains, sheeps, etc. just 6km away ...
By the way, and I say this with a smile, here we always call it "txuleta". It's the same pronunciation as in spanish, but in basque "ch" does n't exist (not even "c"), and it's replaced by "tx". Feel free to start looking on google images for "txul..." and you'll see what I mean ;)
About the "txotx" call you say, which is also said "txurrutx" in some places, it's what they shoud everytime a barrel is going to be opened. If you go on a heavy day, like friday or saturday, it's full of french people, or young people just getting drunk or like in a party (it's not very crazy, but can be bothering if you go on a more relaxed mood). And in those days, you get a big queue of people for the barrel.
If you go on a normal day (even on cider season I mean), like tuesday... thursday... even if the ciderhouse is full or almost, it's more relaxed, it's "grown up" people, and it's a better "atmosphere" or "environment" (sorry, I don't know the proper word, I hope you get what I mean).
@mattmille: Thanks Matt, it's just that I didn't want to sound like some kind of smart-ass :) I see you know what you're doing, but sometimes it's hard contributing to someone with lots more experience. I just brew beer (learning) and do stupid things on my kitchen trying recipes, but nothing else. And if you ever decide to come around just drop me a message if you need something and I'll see if I can help.