Winemaker: Greg Failing has been making apple wines and hard cider professionally for the last seventeen years. He works for Green Mountain Cidery in Middlebury, Vermont, makers of the Woodchuck line of hard ciders.
Apples are far cleaner to work with than grapes in the sense that there are no tartrates or precipitates to deal with. To me, making hard apple cider is just a slightly different version of making wine. We focus on the standard of cider in today’s industry — cider with 5 percent alcohol — so there has been no sugar added. Apples have enough sugar (approximately 1.050–1.060 SG or 12–15 ºBrix) to get you a 5–6 percent alcohol content without adding sugar. The first question a hard apple cider maker needs to ask is: Do I want to start with fruit or juice? Home cider makers can easily get the equipment needed for crushing the apples, but if you don’t have a good press, it is really hard to extract good juice from the apple. Apples are very hard and compact. You need a way to grind the apple first. Then you can press it. Only then do you get the good extraction of juice.
equipment to properly press apples, I suggest buying the juice from
somebody with the equipment and the fruit. It’s important that the juice
be free of preservatives, which can slow down yeast and cause problems
during fermentation. The downside of purchasing juice is that you are
going to get whatever apples they throw in the mix. This can reduce your
creative abilities, but it is definitely a basic way to get your feet
wet in making hard cider.
Before adding the yeast, you want to
bring the juice’s temperature up to 65–70 ºF (18–20 ºC). This will
ensure a lively fermentation. Add cultured wine yeast once you have
reached room temperature. I suggest Champagne yeast or Killer Yeast like
K1. You might also try a brewer’s yeast, but it may add characters that
differ from your typical expectations of cider. Some brewers prefer
this, others do not.
Depending on the apples that were used for the juice, there may or may not be enough nutrients to push the yeast all the way through fermentation. To be on the safe side, I suggest adding a yeast nutrient. You should conduct the fermentation in a cool place. Fermentation — especially in the small, 5-gallon (19-L) containers — builds up heat. If the fermenting juice gets too hot, it results in off-flavors. A steady 60 ºF (16 ºC) is an ideal climate.
Jeffrey House is the owner of California Cider Company in Sebastopol,
California. They have been making Ace Cider for ten years.
If home cider makers have to choose be-tween using apples or fresh juice to make their cider, I’d definitely say start with the juice. You need all kinds of equipment to press apples. Using the juice is far simpler if you plan on making small cider batches. We are located in California’s wine country, so there is lots of emphasis on quality grapes in producing quality wines. The same is true for hard cider. If you put garbage in, you get garbage out. It is imperative, then, to focus on getting high quality, natural, filtered juice for the cider you are making.
It wasn’t always this way,
of course. The British, or perhaps the Normans, used to eat the eating
apples — by that I mean those apples that were pleasant enough to eat
were actually eaten, not fermented. It was the drop apples or the crab
apples they would use to make an alcoholic drink. They were not so much
interested in the taste of that cider, of course. It was more the
alcoholic kick that they had in mind. Times have changed: Making quality
and flavorful cider is important to cider makers and consumers. One can
make a nicely balanced cider by using a mixture of sweeter apples and
more bitter varieties. The European style still tends to use small
apples that are not fit for eating. I think if you want a fresh-tasting
cider, you should use an apple variety that is aromatic.
Drier style ciders need more acidic apples. American drinkers seem to prefer semi-dry styles. For this you would use something like Granny Smith, Fuji, or Gravenstein. I would suggest that home cider makers attempt to make their first batches using only one apple variety. This will allow you to distinguish the different characteristics behind the fruit and how it tastes when converted to cider. McIntosh, Empire and Cox’s Pippin are three ideal varieties to start with. I think the best ciders need to be in balance. Some cider makers will stray from this, preferring to lean toward sweetness, dryness or bitterness, but you can adjust these to taste.
Brewer: Ashton Lewis is the brewer at Springfield Brewing Company in Springfield, Missouri.
We make a hard cider annually as the local apples are harvested. Southwest Missouri has historically produced apples and there are several local apple orchards around our brewery. I choose to buy apple juice from an orchard that has a really nice press that continually wins ribbons at the state fair for their top-
quality preservative-free juice.
Herndon’s Orchard in nearby Marionville, Missouri grows a variety of
apples and is happy to blend tart and sweet apples together to give us
the must we want for making cider. They have a really neat press that
sends the apples through a hammer mill and then through a continuous
belt that expresses the juice and then discharges the apple pumice.
The must we buy is a blend of locally produced fruit and has a specific
gravity right around 1.048. No preservatives that inhibit yeast growth,
such as sorbates or benzoates, are added. We buy this juice by the
500-gallon (1900-L) tank load and drive it back to our brewery where we
pump it into a fermenter and pitch it with our house ale strain of
yeast. Fermentation is carried out at 68 ºF (20 ºC) and the gravity
cranks down to a specific gravity below 1.000, much like dry wine within
Southwest Missouri is also home to the largest oak
barrel maker in the U.S., Independent Stave Company, and we use new,
American oak barrels to age our cider. We use a medium (+) toast to age
25% of the 500 gallons (1900 L) of cider. These barrels impart a toasty,
vanilla-like flavor found in dry white wines like Chardonnay. The other
75% of the cider is aged in stainless steel tanks where we add another
special ingredient. . . this is a malolactic bacterial culture produced
by Wyeast and sold to wineries. We use this bacterial blend to subdue
the tartness of our cider by converting the mouth-puckering acid malate
(found in big doses in apples) to the rounder and less acidic lactic acid. The “ML” culture also produces a little bit
of diacetyl and gives our cider a full, rich flavor.
After the cider ages to balance, we do a final check before filtration. Cider contains pectin and excessive levels make it impossible to filter. We now perform a presumptive test similar to those that wineries conduct where one part of fermented cider is added to one part of ethanol. If a colloidal haze (pectin gel) forms, then we know filtration will be virtually impossible. When this occurs, we add a commercially available pectinase solution to the cider and confirm that the pectin problem is absent about 7 days later by repeating the test prior to filtration.