We set out to answer some of the most asked cidermaking questions out there. Making cider can be easy, but making good, drinkable cider is an art form. To seek out the truth, we didn’t just want to do some research and spit out some technical language. Instead, we asked one of the biggest brains in US cidermaking, Rev. Nat West, to provide some of his heralded wisdom. He asked several of the questions our fans asked about the cidermaking process.
What to do if your cider isn’t bubbling?
Add more yeast! Seriously though, apple juice will ferment very easily with yeast. Make sure you are adding viable and fresh yeast, properly rehydrated (if using dry) and the temperature isn’t too cold. Something above 55F and less than 100F will ferment.
What to do if my cider is sour?
There are a few kinds of sour:
Tart/acidic/sharp, like a Granny Smith apple or like lemons. The only thing to do here is add some sweetness when you’re serving it. Acid and sugars balance each other on your palate, so you can reduce the effective “sourness” by adding some sugar of some kind, be it apple juice or sugar or honey or whatever.
Soured, like a sour beer, sauerkraut, etc. This comes from the presence of lactobacillus, which is fairly common in the natural world and pretty easy to get into your cider. There’s nothing you can do to hide this! But in the future, make sure your fermentation vessel is clean and sanitized before putting apple juice in it, and try giving your apples a rinse before grinding and juicing.
Vinegar, from the presence of acetobacter. Vinegar used to be called a “second fermentation”, and was considered a natural end state in alcoholic fermentation. But it’s easy to avoid by keeping air and fruit flies out of your cider. You don’t have to be militant about keeping air out. Just make sure you have a tight fitting lid and if using an airlock, keep it full of water.
What is the best yeast for hard cider?
That’s like asking, “What is the best color for painting?” Yeast selection is where the art of cidermaking really shines. Try everything – ale yeasts, white wine yeasts, saison yeasts, sake yeasts, and find what you like.
When does hard cider go bad?
Pretty much never, unless it goes to vinegar by extensive contact with air. It is literally preserved fruit and will last forever without making you sick or anything. After a few years, it can have a flatter flavor, usually due to natural oxidation. A few years ago, I drank 15-year-old cider and it was delicious.
How do you sweeten hard cider after fermentation?
There is no way to effectively, consistently and safely sweeten hard cider on a home scale beyond adding some sweetener at the point of service. Bottle cider completely dry (i.e. no sugar left) and when you crack one open, add some simple syrup, fresh juice (not just apple!) or other sweeteners to your liking. Treat it more like a cocktail.
How long does it take hard cider to ferment?
Anywhere from a few days to many months depending on what kind of picture you’re painting!
Can hard cider skunk?
No. Beers skunk due to the presence of UV light interacting with hops. Since ciders typically don’t have hops, they won’t get skunky. But all my hoppy ciders are bottled in amber-colored glass, which protects against UV light.
Is hard cider difficult to make? Is cidermaking difficult?
Nope! In fact, you only need apple juice and time. You can literally buy a jug of fresh apple juice from the farmer’s market (unpasteurized), pour it into a pitcher at home, cover it with a dish towel and wait a few weeks. The wild yeast on the apples and in the air will inoculate the juice and turn it into alcohol. That being said, good hard cider is very difficult to make.
How do you carbonate hard cider?
On a home scale, the best way to do it is to bottle-carbonate with some priming sugar during bottling. You add a small amount of white sugar to your dry cider, and maybe a little fresh yeast depending on how long you aged the cider, then bottle it up tight. The renewed fermentation of that little bit of sugar will produce CO2 which will be dissolved into the bottled cider, making it carbonated. For the exact amounts, do a web search. Too much and you can blow up your bottles! Don’t do that.
How do you bottle hard cider?
Homebrew stores will sell you an inexpensive piece of tubing connected to a plastic wand with a little depressing tip. This cheap rig, combined with a hand-capper and a bunch of bottles are all you need to get your cider into bottles. It’s very easy and quick, but bring a friend to the party because extra hands are useful.
What do you love about cidermaking?
I love the diversity of cider and how the smallest changes can have a huge effect. I also love making unusual ciders: beverages that challenge people’s expectations about what it should taste like. When someone tells me they “don’t like cider”, I usually tell them “that’s like saying you don’t like sandwiches”. There are so many different kinds of cider from sweet to dry, simple to complex, austere to quaffable. Drink more cider!
We appreciate all the help from Rev. Nat West. If you want to learn more about the Rev. and his cidermaking business, find out the history here.