To paraphrase William Shakespeare, who probably quaffed his fair share of hard cider: “To hop, or not to hop, that is the question?” At least, that’s the going question for modern cidermakers looking for new methods of enhancing their ciders, while simultaneously attempting to attract craft beer drinkers to the cider fold.
“It’s something a little bit different for your craft beer drinker looking for familiar flavors,” says Devin Britton, Cidermaker of the Highland, New York-based Bad Seed Cider Company. “There is a huge demographic of craft beer drinkers. We needed to make something for them. It was an effort to bridge that gap.”
Britton’s ciders are but two of a double handful of hopped ciders now found in the United States. Some brands attempt to emulate traditional beer IPAs with big, floral-forward notes and citrus-packed aromas, while others simply highlight or add complexity to an already flavorful product. Many former beer drinkers have also discovered hopped cider as a gluten-free alternative beverage. The hops provide the essence of beer in the cider, without the prohibitive gluten.
“You’ve got the floral, citrusy and grapefruit notes (of an IPA), but it’s missing the malt,” Finnriver Farm & Cidery Cidermaker Keith Kisler says, a fact he proudly advertises on his cider. “It’s the next best thing for people who can’t drink beer anymore, but still want that (hoppy) flavor.”
The idea of dry hopping cider originated with Salem, Oregon’s Wandering Aengus Ciderworks — planted by a Washington brewery that blended its cider with an IPA. This introduced beer drinkers to the idea that hops “worked really well with the sweet apple character of the cider,” explains Wandering Aengus founder Nick Gunn. When a brewer suggested adding hops to cider, Gunn initially thought it was “a little crazy,” but after a few attempts, the results “really blew us away.”
“When you drink a good cider, you’re looking for those subtle lemon, citrus, grapefruit notes in the background,” Britton explains. “Hops work naturally with cider because you’re infusing those flavors into it. It enhances the key flavors you’re looking for in a cider.”
“We were after something unique and interesting in our cider,” Kisler concurs. “It was like, well, let’s put some hops in there. And we all were surprised at how much we liked it.”
The concept of dry hopping cider works on the same principle as dry hopping beer. Once the cider has aged and is ready to be bottled, that’s the time to add the hops. Hop selection is crucial to development of balance and flavor components that highlight a cider. Use the wrong hops and the apple flavors can get masked or off-flavors can compete with the central cider taste.
“We’re looking for hops that would come through but also allow the apple aromas to come through, and we found that a challenge,” says Citizen Cider Works Head of Product Development Bryan Holmes, who is based in Essex, Vermont. “Sometimes you get a lot of hop aroma, but that apple aroma gets masked. Finding that balance is a delicate thing for sure.”
Looking at the hops and what they’re traditionally used for in brewing beer is not really that helpful. Hops used in dry hopping do not impart bitterness since they are not heated and no isomerzation of alpha acids takes place. Instead, only hop aromas and flavors are imparted to the cider. So before tossing just any hops into the carboy, it’s important to determine the desired hop characteristics of the finished product.
The key is lining up the right hops with the apple flavors present, which varies with apple varieties used. As many ciders tend to be floral, citrusy, lemony and crisp, popular hop choices typically fall along the lines of the fruity
hops IPA beer makers gravitate towards. These include Cascade (most commonly used), Citra®, Palisade®, Amarillo®, Simcoe®, Galaxy, Sorachi Ace, Nelson Sauvin and Centennial.
“We’ve been playing around with some Galaxy, Simcoe®, Citra® and other designer hops,” Gunn says. “They do some real knockout things to cider.”
Interestingly, traditional bittering hops like Galena or Fuggle are also be utilized by cidermakers. Since isomerization does not take place, the normal bitterness attained in beer production isn’t added. Instead, these ciders benefit from the earthy or nutty tones they impart.
“That’s kind of the trick. It all depends on what you want that end aroma to be,” adds Marcus Robert of Tieton Cider Works in Yakima, Washington, who uses three hops — Fuggle, Cascade and Palisade® to add complex notes to his hopped cider. “If you want it be more earthy and round, you might use an older variety like Fuggle or a noble hop.”
Of course, the idea is to have fun experimenting with these hops. Most cidermakers recommend breaking down a finished cider into smaller sample sizes and adding different hops to each, taking notes and then using the varieties that best suit the maker’s palate. What this entails is simply pouring small samples of cider in wine glasses, adding a pellet or two of hops and covering them with a plate to allow the hops to dissolve and then smelling the headspace to evaluate the hop aroma.
“We’re constantly playing around and trying new (hop varieties). Some of them we put on the paper: ‘Never again,'” Britton says with a laugh.
Both pellets and whole cone hops can be used. An advantage to pellets, Gunn explains, is the increased surface area, which imparts more hop aroma. Other cidermakers swear by whole cones for the freshness and crispness they impart. Either should do the job, though one consequence of using pellets is the mess they leave behind when they dissolved.
“As long as you rack carefully,” Gunn says, laughing about the mess he encounters with pellets, “you can get some amazing extraction.”
Dump Them In
The next question to address is the best method for putting the hops on the cider. As with homebrewing, it’s a personal choice. To avoid the mess mentioned above, Britton puts his pellet hops in a large, weighted grain bag that he floats in the middle of his tank. A lot of other cidermakers simply throw hops into the cider.
A third option is using a hop back. Tieton uses a “Torpedo-like” device, similar to what Sierra Nevada Brewing uses in its Torpedo beers, which speeds up and enhances hop oil extraction.
Gunn, however, doesn’t think any fancy equipment is necessary to achieve solid results, at least not on a homebrew scale: “You can try filtering through Torpedos and all kinds of things,” he says. “As far as homebrewers go, you don’t need any high tech materials, just toss them in.”
How Much for How Long?
As with hopping methods and varieties in brewing, the volume of hops used for hopped cidermaking is also subjective. Most cidermakers recommend approximately 2 ounces (57 g) per 5-gallon (19-L) batch. Hops varieties like Citra® or Simcoe® are more pungent than say, Cascade, so a little goes a long way. Again, it all comes down to final flavor.
“Cider is a little more delicate than most beers. It’s like working with a Pilsner or a lager, very light, crisp and clean,” Robert explains. “(Hops) can overwhelm the cider.”
Once the hops are in the cider, most cidermakers agree the best thing to do it just let them sit.
“We’re careful about opening the tanks,” Britton says. “We’re careful about oxidation because we don’t want to use sulfites (like SO2 used in winemaking) to combat it.”
Another hopping idea is the two-step hop, which Gunn employs for some ciders. Add a portion of the hops — half or more — at the start, then add the rest for the final three days for a floral blast right out of the bottle.
The duration the hops sit on the cider also plays a key role in final flavor. Too long and the hop essence can take over, not long enough and the subtleties are lost. Yet, there is no “set time” to leave the hops on the cider. Cidermakers soak between three days and three weeks. The key is regular sampling to get the flavor you want.
Cider doesn’t carry the malt base to balance much bitterness, but it doesn’t mean a little bitterness can’t work in some ciders. To do this either heat a portion of the cider, or all of it, to between 170–190 °F (77–88 °C) and add some hops. There’s no set time to leave the hops in — 30 minutes should be sufficient — but be careful not to boil the juice.
“Stay away from cooking because you can denature some acids and caramelize sugars during the cooking process,” Robert says, which leads to burnt sugar flavors.
In the end, hopping cider all comes down to your own preferences. If you understand how to dry hop a beer,
you also understand how to dry hop a cider. From there it’s a matter of experimenting with different hop varieties
at different quantities until you get the desired flavor profile, then bottling the cider.
Holmes sums it up simply: “Let soak, taste, soak, taste. Just keep tasting until you hit that point to where you’re like, ‘this is good!'”
Dry-Hopped Hard Cider Recipe
by Bryan Holmes • Citizen Cider, Essex, Vermont
(5 gallons/19 L)
OG = 1.060 FG = 0.998 ABV = ~8%
5.5 gallons (20 L) sweet apple cider
1.5–2 lbs. (0.7–0.9 kg) sugar
1 package dry Champagne yeast
Fermentation nutrients (e.g. Fermaid K, DAP)
Yeast rehydration nutrient (e.g. Fermaid Protect)
Potassium metabisulfate (KMS) or Campden tablets
Cascade Hops (whole or pellets)
Potassium sorbate (optional)
Step by Step
Sanitize your equipment using a product such as Star San. Do not use halogen-based sanitizers such as Iodophor. As soon as the cider is pressed and in the sanitized carboy, stir in 0.6 grams (0.12 grams per gallon) of potassium metabisulfite (KMS) for a target of 30 ppm free sulfites. Alternatively, you can use crushed Campden tablets to achieve 30 ppm free sulfites in 5 gallons (19 L).
To remove pectin and clarify the juice, add pectinase enzyme. Leave overnight and rack the juice into a sanitized carboy, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the first carboy.
Using your thermometer, rehydrate the dry yeast in 104 °F (40 °C) water with the yeast rehydration nutrient, following your yeast rehydration nutrient manufacturer’s instructions. You do not want to add the yeast to your cool cider if the difference in temperatures of the yeast and the cider exceed 15 °F (8 °C). To avoid temperature shock, you should acclimate your yeast by taking about 10 mL of the cider and adding it to the yeast suspension. Wait 15 minutes and measure the temperature again. Do this until you are within the specified temperature range. Do not let the yeast sit in the original water suspension for longer than 20 minutes. Now pitch the yeast/nutrient/cider combination into the main volume of cider.
At the beginning of the fermentation, add a nitrogen source, such as Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) or Fermaid K. Follow the directions on the package. Often cidermakers will add half of the total needed nitrogen at the beginning of the fermentation and the second half after 1⁄3 of the sugars have been depleted. Use your hydrometer before the yeast is added to determine the initial sugar concentration and make measurements daily to know when to make the second nitrogen addition. A 10% sugar. Give the carboy a stir daily to rouse the sediment off of the bottom. Once the airlock has stopped bubbling and your hydrometer readings have stabilized just below 0.000 units, the fermentation has finished. Using a siphon, rack the dry cider into a clean, sanitized carboy. Add KMS or Campden tablets to bring the free sulfites up to 0.5–0.8 ppm molecular SO2. 0.8 ppm will give you about 99% protection against spoilage where 0.5 ppm is the minimum for protection. The trade off is that sulfur aromas (matchstick) may be detectable at the higher molecular SO2 levels. The amount of KMS or Campden tablets you need to add is based on the pH of the dry cider, so you have to measure the pH using a pH meter or with test strips. Alternatively, you could ask a local cidermaker, winemaker or brewer to make the measurement for you. Use an online sulfite calculator to calculate how many grams of KMS or Campden tablets you will need to reach your target SO2 level (http://www.winemakermag.com/guide/sulfite). Initially, multiple additions may need to be made to get the target level. Do not make more than one KMS or Campden addition per day.
Allow the cider to age, settle and clarify. After it clarifies, rack the dry cider into a clean, sanitized carboy. Aging time can be two or more months. Maintain free/molecular SO2 levels by using SO2 test kits (e.g. Accuvin) every few weeks and adding KMS or Campden tablets as necessary.
After the cider has sufficiently aged, add around 1.4 oz. (40 grams) of Cascade hop cones or pellets to the carboy. Sparge the carboy with an inert gas to displace the oxygen in the fermenter. Carbon dioxide is a good choice if you already have it in your homebrewery for kegging.
After four to seven days, rack the cider off of the settled hops and bottle or keg. Continually taste the cider until you’ve reached the desired aroma/flavors/ Since hop compounds are especially sensitive to oxidation, keeping oxygen at a minimum by sparging for a few minutes with CO2 will increase the shelf life and preserve aroma. To carbonate, shake the keg under about 30–40 PSI of head pressure for about 5 to 10 minutes while the keg is at refrigerator temperature.
For an off-dry or sweet cider, add about 50 to 400 grams (1.5 to 14 oz.) of sugar to the cider in a Corny keg. This should be done to taste. For off-dry, it is recommended here to start around 15 grams (~5 oz.) To prevent refermentation, add 3.5 grams (0.05 oz.) of potassium sorbate to the cider and refrigerate it at around 35 °F (2 °C) or below overnight. This cooling step must be done since the yeast must be dormant to prevent refermentation. To carbonate, shake the keg under about 30–40 PSI of head pressure for about five to ten minutes while the keg is at refrigerator temperature (between 35-38 °F/1.7-3.3 °C).