Article

Cider for Beer Lovers

BYO 2160811 16 CAPSince first discovering the simple magic of turning a few gallons of apple juice into a few gallons of hard cider, I’ve done my fair share of experimenting. I’ve attempted traditional Spanish sidras and toyed with British-style scrumpy. I’ve made enough perry (pear cider) and cyser (cider with honey) to last me for years. I’ve thrown everything from July peaches to smoked black tea in the fermenter just to see what I might get.

But by far, one of my favorite things to do with cider is to treat it like beer. By which I mean, thinking of the apple juice as a blank canvas and then using hops, beer yeasts, spices, and fruit to imitate some of my favorite beer styles. The goal is not so much to trick the taste buds into thinking cider is beer, but rather to borrow the signature flavors and aromas of classic beers and apply them to hard ciders. This is how we can create a cider with the hoppy aromas of an IPA, or the fruity nature of a Belgian strong ale, or even the spice of a winter warmer.

By all accounts, I’m not alone in my thinking. Mark McTavish, President and Head Cider Maker at 101 Cider House in Los Angeles, California loves getting craft beer drinkers to try his India Pale Cider. “They get the aroma of hops, but not the bitterness,” he says, “We’re pulling the flavor and character from the beer and showing it back to the beer drinker in a different way.” Other cider makers are also playing around with beer-style ciders: Citizen Cider in Burlington, Vermont makes their popular Wit’s Up cider using Belgian witbier yeast, while the cider makers at 2 Towns Ciderhouse in Corvallis, Oregon made a limited-release saison-style cider this past spring by throwing sliced peaches and French saison yeast into the tank.

These beer-influenced ciders are a win-win situation for all parties involved. Diehard beer lovers get an entry point into the world of ciders via some familiar flavors. Our gluten-free friends are reunited with a grain-free version of a beloved beverage. And we homebrewers? We get the challenge of crafting something that perfectly merges our love for beer with our love for cider.

Best Beer Styles for Cider

In many ways, apple juice is like beer wort — it’s an unfermented base for good things to come. Also like beer wort, the flavor and character of the juice changes dramatically from start to finish. Apple juice starts off very sweet and somewhat syrupy, and by the time fermentation has finished and the yeast have eaten all the available sugars, it becomes fairly tart and dry. The exact character of your finished cider will vary based on the specific mix of apples in your juice, but understanding this basic progression of cider from sweet to dry is key to making a good cider for beer lovers. (Commercial ciders that taste sweet have most often been pasteurized, sweetened, and force carbonated when bottled.)

Since we know that cider naturally finishes quite tart and crisp, it’s best to veer toward beer styles that share some of those characteristics. Hoppy American IPAs and pale ales, tart and tangy styles like saisons and witbiers, and most light-bodied beers are all great candidates for ciders.

Hard cider also has an amazing affinity for fruit and spice — real fruit and spices, not just the estery and phenolic byproducts of ale yeast fermentation. This puts the whole family of Belgian abbey-style ales on the table. If you’ve ever described a beer as having notes of dried cherry, fig, apricot, or any other fruit, then chances are good that it will translate well into a cider.

Last but not least, let’s not neglect the sour beers. Hard ciders are traditionally all wild-fermented with the yeast and bacteria that happen to be present in the cider house and on the apples themselves, and so they already share many of the same flavors and aromas as wild-fermented ales. If words like “horse blanket,” “barnyard,” and “leather” make your mouth water, then you’ll be right at home here. We can push these ciders even more in the direction of sour beers like lambics, gose beers, and Berliner weissbiers by adding fruits and spices during fermentation.

What about all the other beer styles out there in the universe? I’m not going to say that you can’t make a dark porter-style cider or something as rich and malty as a Scotch ale, but these styles of beers run counter to the essential nature of a hard cider. Go for it if you have a vision for something great, but just know that you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Get Your Apple Juice

When making a good beer-style cider — or any cider — aim for a good blend of apples. Ideally, you want a balance of sweet dessert apples (the kind you eat) and acidic culinary apples (the kind you put in pies), plus a few bitter cider apples, crab apples, or quince to add some body and complexity. If you’re buying apple juice instead of pressing your own apples, try to get juice that reflects this flavor balance. Fresh-pressed juice from the farmers market or a nearby orchard is usually a good bet, but even good-quality juice from the grocery store that has no sorbate added will make good cider. Bottom line: don’t overthink the juice too much. And definitely don’t let it keep you from making cider.

There’s no need to do anything to your juice, even if it’s fresh-pressed or unpasteurized, other than keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to use it. You can add sulfites (1 Campden tablet per gallon/3.8 L) if you’d like to clear the path for your beer yeast and inhibit bacterial growth, but it’s not strictly necessary for good cider or healthy fermentation. You also don’t need to boil or pasteurize your juice before making cider; the fermentation process will take care of any bacteria that would be harmful to humans.

Beer-ing the Cider

There are two main ways that I like to add some beer character to my cider: the first is with the choice of yeast, and the second is with adding extra flavoring ingredients.

The whole vast collection of beer yeast is open to you as a cider maker. Yeast is an equal-opportunity organism and will feast on the sugars found in apple juice just as happily as it will on those found in beer wort. Besides turning sugar into alcohol, each strain of yeast leaves its own particular mark on a finished beverage, like the clean finish of beer made with California ale yeast or the mellow fruitiness of one made with wheat beer yeast. Just by using the yeast associated with a particular style of beer, we can start bringing a little of that beer’s character into our cider.

If you have Celiac disease, an extreme gluten sensitivity, or are making cider for gluten-free friends, double check that your yeast is gluten-free before using it. Many yeasts, especially liquid yeasts, are cultured on barley malt extracts. I generally use only dry yeasts, like those from Fermentis, when brewing ciders for friends since these are usually cultured on molasses or other gluten-free sugars. This information should be available on the yeast company’s FAQ page on their website.

The flavor nuances of yeast can be fairly subtle, so to round out the beer attributes in a batch of cider, I turn to the kitchen. Dried and fresh fruit, herbs and spices, whole vanilla beans, coconut flakes, cacao nibs, and even flavorful sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are all at your disposal when it comes to crafting your cider. Think about the specific flavors you want to bring into the cider and which ingredients in your fridge, pantry, or spice cupboard might best contribute those flavors, and experiment from there.

You could make a saison-inspired cider, for example, with black peppercorns, whole coriander seeds, and fresh lemon zest. For a fruitier, more full-bodied Belgian-style cider, add fresh or dried cherries, apricots, or plums. If you’re looking for something that will give your Märzen- or ESB-style cider a “malty” backbone, try buckwheat honey. I love the nutty, caramel notes that just a small amount of this strongly-flavored honey will add.

Hops are certainly an ingredient in your pantry as well. You won’t extract much, if any, bitterness from them when making a cider (more on that in a minute), but you will certainly get some incredible hop aroma and flavor. Just as with beer brewing, hops add just a dash of interesting complexity to a cider when used in small amounts, and they’ll give you a big face full of hoppiness when used in larger quantities.

How and When to Add Flavoring Ingredients

Add any flavoring ingredients to your cider after active fermentation has finished. The alcohol present in the cider by this point will help extract their flavor while also protecting the cider from any bacteria or yeast accidentally introduced alongside. If you add fruit or sweetener like honey, you’ll get some re-fermentation; just wait for this to finish before bottling.

Start by adding just a small amount of the ingredient you’re using. You can always add more if you’d like a stronger flavor, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there. For a 5-gallon (19-L) batch, start with a few tablespoons of spices, a few cups of dried ingredients (like dried fruit or coconut), or a few pounds of fresh fruit. Taste after a few days and add more if needed. Keep in mind that the flavor of many ingredients, especially spices, will become stronger the longer they infuse in the cider.

Tasting is really the name of the game with cider. It’s the only way you know how your cider is progressing and if any adjustments need to be made. Underscore. Period. Fullstop. Taste your cider before you add any flavoring ingredients at all, taste it again a few days after adding the new ingredients, and then again the next week, and so on. Continue tasting the cider every week or so until you’re happy with the flavor, and then rack it off the ingredients so the cider doesn’t become over-infused.

Also, if you feel like your cider tastes bland or lackluster as it ages, add acid blend (a mix of citric, tartaric, and malic acids) to give it some bright acidic notes, or add powdered tannin to give it some astringency and complexity. Add these ingredients the same way you add the other flavoring ingredients: Start with a little, wait and taste, and then add a little more if needed.

Another option for flavoring your cider is to add the flavoring ingredients before fermentation begins. The best way to do this is to bring about half the amount of your cider to a rapid simmer, add the flavoring ingredients, and simmer for about 10 minutes to extract some flavor and make sure everything is sanitized.

The simmering step combined with the yeast activity during primary fermentation tends to scrub more delicate aromas from the cider, but this can sometimes be desirable since it leads to a cider with softer, mellower, and more blended flavors. I also sometimes like to do a brief 10 to 15 minute hop-boil to pull some extra hop flavor in the cider. (However, I don’t recommend a full hour-long hop boil. It concentrates the juice too much, giving it a cooked flavor, and doesn’t add as much hoppy bitterness as you might hope.)

Start Cidermaking Like a Brewer

One final piece of advice before I leave you to your own experiments: Keep it simple. Once your mind starts bubbling with bigger and grander ideas, you might feel like doing the exact opposite, but less is always more with cider. Too many ingredients thrown into the mix and you’ll wind up with muddy, indistinct flavors and a disappointing cider.

The three recipes on page 86 and 87 make a good introduction to the various means and methods for adding fruits, spices, and hops to ciders. Start with them, and you’ll be well on your way to giving all your ciders a beer-kissed personality.

Recipes

Sorachi India Pale Cider (IPC)

(5 gallons/19 L)
Estimated OG = 1.060
Estimated FG = 1.000
ABV = 7–8%

Swap the Sorachi Ace hops for any other favorite hop. Citrusy, piney, and fruity hops all work well with cider.

INGREDIENTS

5 gal. (19 L) apple juice blend
0.35 oz (10 g) Sorachi Ace pellet hops (dry hop)
5 Campden tablets (if juice is unpasteurized)
2.5 tsp. pectic enzyme powder
yeast nutrient, added according to manufacturer’s instructions
2.5–5 tsp. acid blend (if needed)
0.75–2.5 tsp. tannin (if needed)
Safale US-05 or a favorite American ale yeast
1 cup corn sugar (if priming)

STEP BY STEP

Pour the juice into a sanitized fermentation bucket. If using unpasteurized juice, crush the Campden tablets and whisk into the juice. Snap on the lid, attach an airlock, and wait 24 hours for the juice to sanitize. If using pasteurized juice or if you prefer not to use sulfites, skip this step.

Add the pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and yeast. Whisk vigorously until the ingredients are dissolved and the juice is frothy. Seal the bucket, attach the airlock, and place somewhere away from direct sunlight and at room temperature, 70–75 °F (21–24 °C) for primary fermentation.

Primary fermentation will take 1 to 2 weeks. Wait at least another 2 weeks (or up to 3 months) before bottling or kegging to give the cider time to clear and complete any remaining fermentation. If aging longer than 1 month, transfer the cider off the lees to a carboy.

One week before bottling or kegging, taste the cider; add the Sorachi Ace hops for dry-hopping, and add acid blend or tannin if needed. Taste periodically and adjust if needed.

Bottle with priming sugar or keg and set to 3 volumes CO2.

Cranberry Perry Wit

(5 gallons/19 L)
Estimated OG = 1.060
Estimated FG = 1.000
ABV = 7–8%

Perries tend to finish with a slight sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel, perfect for making a witbier-style cider to celebrate the winter holidays.

INGREDIENTS

5 gal. (19 L) pear juice
20 oz. (0.56 kg) fresh or frozen cranberries (chopped)
3 medium oranges (zested)
3 cinnamon sticks
5 Campden tablets (if juice is unpasteurized)
2.5 tsp. pectic enzyme powder
yeast nutrient, added according to manufacturer’s instructions
2.5–5 tsp. acid blend (if needed)
0.75–2.5 tsp. tannin (if needed)
Safbrew S-33 or a favorite Belgian ale yeast
1 cup corn sugar (if priming)

STEP BY STEP

Pour the pear juice into a sanitized fermentation bucket. If using unpasteurized juice, crush the Campden tablets and whisk into the juice. Snap on the lid, attach an airlock, and wait 24 hours for the juice to sanitize. If using pasteurized juice or if you prefer not to use sulfites, skip this step.

Add the pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and yeast to the juice. Whisk vigorously until the ingredients are dissolved and the juice is frothy. Seal the bucket, attach the airlock, and place somewhere away from direct sunlight and at room temperature, 70–75 °F (21–24 °C) for primary fermentation.

Primary fermentation will take 1 to 2 weeks. When active fermentation is complete, roughly chop the cranberries and strip the zest from the oranges with a vegetable peeler. Secure the cranberries, zest, and cinnamon sticks in a large sanitized mesh bag and add to the primary fermenter.

Wait at least another 2 weeks (or up to 3 months) before bottling or kegging to give the cider time to clear and complete any remaining fermentation. If aging longer than a month, transfer the cider off the lees and the fruit. One week before bottling, taste the cider; add acid blend or tannin if needed.

Bottle with priming sugar or keg and set to 3 volumes CO2.

Krieky Cherry Cider

(5 gallons/19 L)
Estimated OG = 1.070
Estimated FG = 1.000
ABV = 8–9%

If you have unpasteurized apple juice, you can also let this cider ferment on its own with whatever wild yeast strains are present in the juice. Skip sanitizing the cider with Campden tablets and do not add the Belgian yeast; add Lactobacillus culture during secondary fermentation if a stronger sour-tart flavor is desired.

INGREDIENTS

5 gal. (19 L) apple juice blend
3.1 lbs. (1.4 kg) Vintner’s Harvest cherry purée (more if needed)
5 Campden tablets (if juice is unpasteurized)
2.5 tsp. pectic enzyme powder
yeast nutrient, added according to manufacturer’s instructions
2.5–5 tsp. acid blend (if needed)
0.75–2.5 tsp. tannin (if needed)
Safbrew S-33 or a favorite Belgian ale yeast
White Labs WLP653 (Brettanomyces lambicus) or Wyeast 5526 (Brettanomyces lambicus) yeast
Wyeast 5335 (Lactobacillus) or White Labs WLP677 (Lactobacillus delbrueckii) culture
1 cup corn sugar (if priming)
Champagne yeast (if priming)

STEP BY STEP

Pour the juice into a sanitized fermentation bucket. If using unpasteurized juice, crush the Campden tablets and whisk into the juice. Seal the lid, attach an airlock, and wait 24 hours for the juice to sanitize. If using pasteurized juice or if you prefer not to use sulfites, skip this step.

Add one 49 oz. (1.5 L) can of the cherry purée, the pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and Belgian yeast to the juice. Whisk vigorously until the ingredients are dissolved and the juice is frothy. Seal the fermenter, attach the water-filled airlock, and place somewhere away from direct sunlight and at room temperature, 70–75 °F (21–24 °C) for primary fermentation.

Primary fermentation will take 1 to 2 weeks. When active fermentation seems complete, transfer the cider to a carboy and add the Brettanomyces yeast and the Lactobacillus. Continue aging the cider for another 3 months (or even up to a few years) to develop the flavor, occasionally transferring off the lees. Add acid blend, tannin, or additional cherry purée for a stronger cherry flavor at any point during secondary fermentation.

Bottle with priming sugar and Champagne yeast, or keg and set to 3 volumes CO2.

Issue: October 2016