When to add malic acid

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WadeNasty

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How long before bottling should I add malic acid to my cider or when is it to late? I plan to bottle in 4 days. I have started with 3 gallons of honey crisp cider and added 3 pounds of dextros. Fermented for 2 weeks. All the sugar was eaten. I'm sitting at 11.2 percent. I will add a half gallon of unfermented but pasteurized cider to backsweeten. And I want to add malic acid. It currently tastes (before any backsweetening) flat and watery but boozy.
 

Chalkyt

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I am not sure that extra malic acid will bring back fruit flavour, but it should improve balance and give the cider a bit of "bite" and "mouthfeel", especially if it is currently flat and watery. I have successfully added malic acid just before bottling.

It really would be good to know what the pH and TA are in order to get an idea if malic acid will help (it probably will).

As a first step you need to get the cider "in the zone" (i.e. pH something like 3.8 or less and TA around 7 g/L), then do some further acid adjustment to taste. The idea is to have the acid and sweetness counteract each other in order for it all to be in balance. If the cider is too high in acid, then backsweetening will help counteract this. If you can get a sample of the current cider to the taste you want, then knowing how much acid and/or sugar you added to the sample can be extrapolated up to the whole batch. Depending on the variety of apples and their ripeness, the backsweetening juice could have anything from 95 -125 g/L of sugar.

Although pH and TA sort of inversely track each other (i.e. TA up, pH down from adding malic acid) there is no guarantee that this will happen in a linear fashion. There are examples of apples with a pH of 3.6 but a TA of 3 g/L and others with a pH of 3.6 and a TA of 9 g/L. So, fiddle and taste, taste, taste.

A word of caution... the "pasteurised backsweetening cider" probably will contain sugar, so if your fermented cider isn't pasteurised to kill the residual yeast, then the yeast will simply ferment the new sugar, generating more alcohol and CO2 which can be a problem inside sealed bottles. (i.e. bottle bombs).
 
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WadeNasty

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Hey that's great if I can do it just before bottling, that was what I wasn't sure about. For now I'm gonna start with small amounts of malic acid and go by taste. And as far as the carbonation I'm wanting that to happen because I'm gonna pasteurize the bottles to kill the yeast.
 

Chalkyt

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For a cider with a touch of sweetness I will bottle at a SG around 1.010 to 1.012. After 7-10 days something like 2 volumes of CO2 should have developed in the bottles and SG will have fallen to around 1.006 to 1.008 which is about 15 -20 g/L of residual sugar (about the same as a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee)... just right for me, especially if I have added a bit of malic acid to a low acidity single variety cider. Generally, a SG drop of two gravity points will produce one volume of CO2.

Of course you can't measure the bottled SG, but having a plastic bottle of cider for the squeeze test will give you an idea of when to pasteurise and stop fermentation (i.e. when the bottle is firm the carbonation will be in the range 2 - 3 volumes of CO2. (I have a Grolsch bottle fitted with a pressure gauge to monitor pressure but the "low tech" plastic bottle squeeze test works quite well) .

The beauty of this approach is that you can open the test bottle and drink it, just to see if the carbonation is right... or you can just keep opening bottles. Yum!
 

Raptor99

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How long before bottling should I add malic acid to my cider or when is it to late?

For future reference, the best time to add malic acid is before you begin fermentation. As @Chalkyt said, you should check pH and/or TA first, then get them in a good range. But you can also add malic acid before bottling to adjust the acid "bite." Be aware that sometimes it takes a few days for the acid to full incorporate in the cider, so it is best to wait a day or two after adding acid and then taste again. Add a little at a time, because it's easy to add but you can't take it out.
 

Jacob_Marley

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With additional malic acid you could risk malo-lactic fermentation which will lower the acidity back down. While MLF is not a certainty, it could undo much of your having added that additional acid for taste in the first place (other spoilage issues too, potentially). You are at higher risk for this as well if the cider bulk aged on any lees bed at all.

Another couple possibilities are using citric acid or tartaric acid.

Citric acid is often used to brighten a wine. But also with a citric acid addition, technically *if* MLF occurs because of available nutrients and the malic acid from the apples, the citric also being metabolized by the bacteria could create acetic acid (vinegar) to detectable levels. Though I don't think the small citric dose you would assumedly be using is really much of a risk.

One common workaround would to use lysozyme and SO2 (k-meta etc) to prevent MLF, then you could go ahead with the acid additions and not worry about it ... but lysozyme is quite expensive and many don’t like sulfites in their cider and besides, the sulfiting will make your yeast too sluggish if you are going to bottle condition/carbonate.

Another way around this would be to use Tartaric acid as your acid addition. Technically, about 1 teaspoon per gallon should give you about 0.1% raise in Total Acidity. But especially if you are doing it by taste, I would go up in increments no larger than ½ teaspoon tartaric acid crystals per gallon at a time then re-evaluate.
If you are using 32 ounce test portions of cider to determine how much acid to add, then 1/8 or even 1/16 teaspoon increments (add-taste-add-taste-etc)
Test portions while figuring acid-to-taste is a very good idea.

In general, any time you adjust acid it is a really good idea to have and use a TA/Total Acidity test kit and also pH test tape ... I’d hesitate to raise TA above 0.5%.
If you don’t have the equipment and chemicals to measure TA, ... do it by taste ... but carefully.

For what it’s worth, in general, some variables to help prevent MLF in wine include ...
Insuring adequate levels of SO2 (particularly with low sulfite producing yeasts) ... this means keeping the pH a bit lower (i.e. more acidic) say around pH 3.4 ... and using the sulfites. (this can be an issue though if you are yeast carbonating however)
Insure there’s no extra nutrients from having added nutrients that were not used up in the initial ferment and/or nutrients that developed because the cider sat on the lees for too long.
Lower storage temps help.
Higher alcohol % helps ... though this is neither here nor there with regard to your already fermented cider.
And fine filtering to remove any residual nutrients ... but if you don’t have such a filter then this obviously would not apply.

What I would do?
First I’d be relying on testing as well as taste ...
I’d be using citric acid if the additional acidity I wanted was slight to moderate.
If the TA was really weak ... say 0.3% or below, I’d be using tartaric and citric. (I like the brightness citric imparts).
And I'd be shooting for a total acidity not higher than about 0.5%

All this having been said, *if* the cider is going to be drank fairly soon (within a month or two) and *if* after carbonating you are going to keep it in the bottom shelf of the icebox ... and *if* you did not introduce large amounts of unused residual nutrients by over adding yeast nutrient (or adding it too near the end of fermentation) nor by letting the cider sit on the lees during all that aging ... the odds are you could probably get away fine with adding the malic and not get MLF *if* that’s all you had and you were willing to take the slight risk.
 

Raptor99

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If you treat your apple juice with Kmeta before pitching yeast, or use grocery store apple juice, it is highly unlikely that you will experience spontaneous MLF.

Tart apples are high in malic acid, and the taste of malic acid contributes to the apple-like flavor. Malic acid is my first choice if the cider is not tart enough.

Insure there’s no extra nutrients from having added nutrients that were not used up in the initial ferment and/or nutrients that developed because the cider sat on the lees for too long.

As a general principle, it is a good idea to calculate your nutrient additions so that there are not a lot of left-over nutrients once the yeast has finished. Any number of unwanted microorganisms could make use of those extra nutrients.
 
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