For my first ever taste of ice cider, I picked up a bottle at the local liquor store during a typical all-day New England snowstorm on my way home from work. I was intrigued — I like icewine and I like hard cider, so ice cider seemed like the best of both worlds. The label on the bottle instructed me to “serve well chilled,” so, like a typical Vermonter, I slid the slim 375-mL bottle up to its neck in a snow bank and let it cool down as I headed inside to make dinner.
After dinner, my roommate and I rescued the bottle from the blizzard, uncorked it and poured two small tastes. “It looks a lot lighter than I thought,” she remarked at the bright amber-gold color. “Smells like a cold apple orchard,” I responded. We took a sip. It was tart but sweet, the chilled dessert drink burst with a complex apple cider flavor that permeated my mouth and lingered on my palate. “Yum,” my roommate said with a smile. “Yum, indeed,” I answered. And with that first sip, I had to learn more about ice cider.
Originally from Québec, where it is known as cidre de glace, ice cider is made from sweet juice extracted from frozen cider, just as icewine is made from the juice from frozen winegrapes. Christian Barthomeuf, the owner of Clos Saragnat and the cidermaker at Domaine Pinnacle, both located in Frelighsburg, Québec, is credited with making the first ice cider in the early 1990s.
Unlike hard cider, which is simply fermented fresh-pressed apple cider, ice cider is fermented from the sugary solution of the fresh-pressed apple juice that has been separated from the water in the juice by freezing it. This can be done either naturally by leaving the fruit on the trees to freeze and then pressing the juice from the frozen fruit, or by freezing juice and separating the concentrate from the ice (known as cryoextraction). The concentrate, because of its sugar content, has a lower freezing point than water. When the cider is frozen, the concentrated juice is separated from the ice crystals, warmed, inoculated with yeast and fermented.
Ice cider is similar in many ways to apple jack — hard apple cider that is frozen and concentrated by removing the ice crystals. The difference between the two is that, when making ice cider, the apples or juice is frozen first, then fermented. Apple jack is fermented first, then frozen.
To figure out the process for making ice cider on a home scale, I contacted Eleanor Leger, co-owner and cider maker at Eden Ice Cider Company in West Charlestown, Vermont for some advice. Eden’s first ice cider trials were made using 5-gallon (19-L) polyethylene terephthalate (PET) carboys, which they filled with cider, left out in the Vermont winter to freeze, and flipped upside down to extract the concentrated juice.
Start with Cider
First and foremost, for homebrewers’ purposes, the easiest way to make small batches of ice cider is to freeze fresh-pressed cider since not many homebrewers are equipped to press apple cider, especially from frozen apples. Eleanor explained that you can make ice cider from any kind of cider apples, but you don’t need to overthink the varieties.
“For hard cider aficionados, it is tempting to use lots of cider apples,” she explained, referring to some of the heirloom varieties that go into commercial artisan hard ciders, “but I would use those judiciously in ice cider as it would make it bitter, and that’s something you really want to avoid.” Whatever your local orchard is pressing into their sweet cider should work for your own ice cider. You can always experiment later with different varieties if you would like. One caveat — be sure that the cider you use is not pasteurized — you don’t want it to be heated. Heat will change the character and flavor of the juice. A local orchard will very likely be willing to sell you fresh-pressed or UV-pasteurized cider if you contact them ahead of time.
Equipment and Space
For every 5 gallons (19 L) of cider, you will yield about 1.25 gallons (4.7 L) of cider concentrate, so plan your fresh cider processing and equipment accordingly. For example, if you want to make 5 gallons (19 L) of finished ice cider, you will need to start with 20 gallons (76 L) of fresh cider. Not everyone has that much space, enough carboys or the right equipment for that amount of raw product, so keep that in mind as you plan your first batch. Your home brewery may be better suited to make smaller batches. In addition to PET carboys or plastic buckets for freezing the cider, you will need a primary fermenter with an airlock that can accommodate your concentrate with a minimal amount of headspace. You will also need a refractometer that can measure from 20 to 60 °Brix (which can be a challenge to find. Two refractometers that can cover that range works, too) as well as a hydrometer, a racking cane and tubing, a means to test for sulfite and total acidity (TA), and a supply of 10% sulfite solution. (All of the necessary items are likely readily available in the winemaking section of your local homebrew shop.) To make the sulfite solution, dissolve 10 grams of potassium metabisulfite, into about 50 milliliters (mL) of distilled water. When it is completely dissolved, dilute to 100 mL total with distilled water. You may also want some kind of inert gas — such as nitrogen, CO2 or argon — to keep your container topped off and prevent oxidation. Cleanliness and sanitation are also just as important here as in any brewing project.
Freezing the Cider
Space and equipment is also an issue for freezing the fresh cider. Probably the easiest way to freeze the cider is in a PET carboy, which will be the easiest to lift and handle so that you can turn it over and collect the extract in another container as it comes out of the neck. (Be sure to leave space for the juice to expand when it freezes. Somewhere around 4.5 to 4.75 gallons/17 to 18 L should be fine). Therefore you will need a means to freeze at least one 5-gallon (19-L) carboy — or more if you plan to make a batch larger than 1.25 gallons (4.7 L). In cold climates this is easy, and the obvious reason why people make ice ciders in these parts of the world — you can put the carboys outside to freeze. If you aren’t in that kind of climate, you will need to find a way to freeze the cider solid — such as a chest freezer. According to Eleanor, a typical 5-gallon PET carboy filled with cider will freeze solid in a week at 25 °F (-4 °C), and a chest freezer will be much colder and faster. To be sure your cider is frozen, move or shake the carboy to see if there is any liquid movement. If there is no movement, the cider is frozen.
Once the cider is frozen solid, you can begin to slowly melt it to separate the ice from the extract. This is easily achieved by inverting your carboy over a sanitized container to collect the extract. This is where you will need your refractometer, and you will also need to know your target Brix before you start melting. Brix is a measure of the amount of sugar in solution, much like specific gravity. (One degree Brix is equal to roughly 0.004 specific gravity “points” above 1.000, although this approximation get progressively worse at gravities over 1.040.) Since you will be working with samples that are too small to measure with a hydrometer, it is easier to work in Brix as this is the standard scale for winemaking refractometers. Eleanor explained that Eden follows Québec’s guidelines for making ice cider, which requires the pre-fermentation sugar concentration must be at least 30 °Brix (~SG 1.130). (See the sidebar on page 56 for Québec’s guidelines). At home, shoot for a range of somewhere between 30 and 40 °Brix (~SG 1.130–1.180), depending on what style of finished ice cider you would like to make. Eleanor explains that, just like making beer or wine, higher sugar means greater potential alcohol. “The higher the starting Brix level of the cider concentrate, the greater the residual sugar and alcohol potential of the final product. Using the rule of thumb that 1% sugar by weight converts to 0.55% alcohol, 30 °Brix (~1.130 SG) means that an ice cider with the minimum 13% residual sugar will have at most (30-13)*.55 = 9.35% alcohol. Starting with higher Brix means you can produce an ice cider with more residual sugar and/or more alcohol.”
However, know that even though you will measure a high potential alcohol, the yeast will start struggling and stop fermenting anywhere between 9 and 12% alcohol, depending on the initial Brix. The high sugar content causes a lot of osmotic stress on the yeast. This is important because if you are considering shooting for something like 12%, you might not be able to achieve that. Usually anything over 36 °Brix (1.160 SG) is asking for trouble.
When the cider starts to melt, begin taking samples with your refractometer as it flows into the sanitized collection container. As the ice melts, the Brix levels will drop, so shoot for the range of 30 to 40 °Brix (1.130 to 1.180 SG) in the bulk sample. You can collect extract into the high 20s in Brix (1.080+ SG) as long as you have a sufficient amount collected in the 40s (1.200+ SG). Keep measuring the average of what you have collected in the bucket with a hydrometer to be sure you are meeting your target. You can also test for acidity at this point with a home winemaking acidity testing kit. Eleanor says that Eden shoots for a higher total acidity in their finished ciders than most — 1.2 to 1.4% — but because apples are high in acidity, they don’t have to add acid. Regular sweet cider from your local orchard will have a lower acidity than Eden’s because Eden uses a specific blend of higher-acid apple varieties, but you as the cider maker can decide what acid level you prefer based on taste. You can add acid if you so choose, but it is not necessary.
Once you have your extract collected and tested, you are almost ready to ferment. Eleanor explains that you can use a variety of yeasts for ice cider — Eden uses a Riesling wine yeast strain, and Champagne yeasts also work well. She cautions strongly, however, against using any strains of S. bayanus yeast, which are commonly used for cidermaking. This is because unlike making hard cider, you are going to stop the fermentation at a certain point to retain some residual sugar. Hard cider, in contrast, is fermented to dryness. Bayanus strains, she says, are notoriously difficult to stop, and can even restart after you have purposely stopped fermentation. Also, be sure to allow your extract to warm up to pitching temperatures before adding your yeast. The extract is colder than freezing, and it is not unusual to measure extract temperatures at around 22 °F (-5 °C) when it is first collected. Let it warm up to just over 55 °F (13 °C) before adding any yeast, otherwise you risk inhibiting the yeast. If your extract is not already collected in a sanitized primary fermenter that will accommodate the liquid with a minimal amount of headspace, transfer it.
A note before pitching the yeast: apples don’t tend to have a lot of yeast available nutrient (YAN), so adding yeast nutrients is very important. Eleanor recommends using Go-Ferm Protect from Lallemand (not to be confuse with the similarly-named Go-Ferm. Go-Ferm Protect is specifically designed for difficult fermentations). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. This is a rehydration nutrient, so it needs to be hydrated, then the yeast is added to it, then it is all pitched into the juice. Also, some cidermakers add pectic enzyme to their cider at this point to prevent haze in the finished product. Eleanor says that she does not use pectic enzyme in Eden’s ice ciders because of the long, slow process of fermentation, followed by filtering, but you may choose to add pectic enzyme if you would like.
Once the yeast is added to the cider extract, monitor the temperature of the fermentation to maintain a range of 55 to 60 °F (12 to 16 °C). It should take around three or four days to see signs of fermentation. If the temperature of the fermentation gets too warm — more than 62 °F (17 °C), cool it back down. If the fermentation gets too hot it will ferment too fast, which will not only change the flavor characteristics of the finished cider, it will also make it more difficult to stop the fermentation.
Take measurements from your fermentation every few days. Once the lag period is over and fermentation is underway, the cider should fall one to two degrees Brix (.005 to .010 SG) per day — you don’t want the gravity to fall too far too fast. For example, if you read 35 °Brix (SG 1.154) one day, you want to see something in the range of 33–34 °Brix (SG 1.144–1.149) the next day. If it is falling faster than that, cool the fermentation down a few degrees. Since the fermentaion will slow as it progresses, it will take at least six to eight weeks to reach the point where you will want to stop fermentation, so you will need to find a place in your home winery where you can maintain a constant temperature for that amount of time. Be sure to prevent oxidation by topping up with inert gas, and always use sanitized equipment to test.
Once your readings come into range for the amount of residual sugar (RS) you would like (for example, Eden’s flagship ice cider is 14% RS, 11% ABV), it is time to stop the fermentation. Eleanor says, in her opinion, the best way to stop it at this point is to add some more sulfite solution and make it cold again. When the ice cider is at this point, the environment is pretty hostile for yeast, so a cold temperature like 25 °F (-4 °C) with a dose of sulfite to protect the wine (around 2.5 to 3 mL of the 10% solution per 5 gallons/19 L) should stop the yeast within a day. The yeast will fall to the bottom and you can rack it off the yeast that has dropped to the bottom of the fermenter. After that first racking, keep the ice cider in the cold temperatures for another two or three days and rack it again. You will also filter before bottling and aging, which will further stabilize the cider. Again, be sure to prevent oxidation at this end stage.
Bottling and Aging
At this point you are ready to filter your cider and bottle, or you can age in oak before bottling. Commercially, ice ciders are frequently sterile filtered before they are bottled to be sure they are stable. Without filtration, you run the risk of refermenting in the bottle. Most homebrewers are not equipped to sterile filter. Your best bet, if you don’t normally filter your homebrews, is to borrow filtering equipment from a local home winemaker or rent from a local homebrewing supplier. Filter the ice cider down to the lowest possible pad rating you are able to get for your home filter. You can filter at home either with the small plate filters, such as those made by a company called Buon Vino, or you can use a vacuum-style filter, which can also help degas the finished ice cider. It is not a bad idea to add sorbate (2–4 g per 5 gallons/19 L) before bottling. This will prevent any remaining dormant yeast from becoming active agin. Be sure to prevent oxidation by topping up with inert gas if you age in a small barrel or top up your carboy if you use an oak alternative. Once your cider is in the bottle, if you did a good job of preventing oxidation, your ice cider should be good for about five years, and will be best in the first two to three years.
Serving and Pairing
Ice cider is an excellent dessert beverage. In Québec they are commonly served with a cheese course, and pair very well with aged cheddars and blue-veined cheeses. Ice cider is excellent paired with apple-based desserts, crème brûlée or even savory dishes such as duck or pork terrine, and of course . . . foie gras. And don’t forget, serve your ice cider well chilled!
Betsy Parks is the Associate Editor of Brew Your Own magazine. For more information about Eden Ice Cider, visit www.edenicecider.com.