Friday, November 27, 2009

Cider and Perry Make Me Merry

Last weekend, we drove out to Fieldstone Enterprises in Overbrook, KS and bought 15 gallons of apple juice & 10 of pear. The apple blend we got was made from four varietals: Spitzenburg, Seek No Further, Neuho, and Bramly. The pear juice is made from four varieties of Asian pears.

With our 25 gallons now in our possession, we dug out 5 fermenters while the juice thawed. We'll do a dry (still) and a medium-dry (sparkling) for both apple & pear, leaving one apple batch that we'll split in the summer when other fruits are ripe. I'd like to add blackberries to one split batch; the other one is still TBD but I think we might do persimmons.

So how do you make cider? At the easiest end of the spectrum, you can buy preservative-free apple juice at the store, put it in a sanitized fermenter, add yeast, and let it go. Done right, it'll ferment completely into a very dry apple cider that is much less sweet than the commercial ciders on the shelves today. However, if you want a cider with a balance of sweetness, tartness, and tannin, you can do a few things to manipulate the outcome.

First, get preservative-free 100% juice and check its pH. A quality cider that has enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the apples will be somewhere around 3.2 -3.8. Any lower than that will likely be too acidic, and higher than that will lack the tart finish, depth, and complexity good ciders possess (it'll be "insipid"). Malic acid, calcium carbonate, and low-acid juice are common approaches to altering pH. As a side note - malic acid stinks. I spilled a little on the floor (maybe 1/2 tsp) and it got wet; a few minutes later, the entire area smelled like a gym bag. Not awesome.

Once you have your pH set, check your starting gravity. It should be between 1.045 and 1.070 and can be manipulated via dilution or the addition of sugar. Our starting gravities all hovered around 1.042-1.048 which were lower than we wanted. The addition of simple syrup to each carboy put all our starting gravities around 1.055-1.060.

Next, kill off wild yeast & bacteria to avoid bacterial infection and to ensure only the yeast you want are fermenting your juice. We added potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets) which is probably the most accessible approach. The juice's pH will determine how much sulfite to add and we followed the guidelines laid out by Andrew Lea in his book. You can find similar information on his website.

Since apple juice is nitrogen-deficient and yeast need nitrogen to thrive, I also added yeast nutrient and energizer per my mead measurements:  1 tsp diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 1/2 tsp Fermaid-K per 5 gallons. I won't be doing staggered nutrient additions; a one-time addition for cider & perry should be fine.

That's pretty much all the hard work and requires about as much precision as you want to give it. The more precise you are, the closer your end result will be to what you want. The sulfited juice needs to sit for 24 hours before the yeast is pitched so that you don't kill off all your cultured yeast along with the wild stuff.

I used all Lalvin wine yeasts; for the apple ciders, I selected 71b-1122, K1-V1116, and EC1118. The 2 perrys are fermenting with 71b-1122 and EC1118. Specific properties of these yeasts can be found on Lallemond's site.

Unfortunately, there just isn't much information at all on making perry. About the only information I've gleaned is that it's similar in process to making cider, but has a higher starting pH. For more information on making cider, the best resource I've found to date is Andrew Lea's book, "Craft Cider Making." I got another book by Proulx and Nichols and it's perfect for learning more about specific apple themselves - growing, harvesting, pressing, etc. While the authors do cover cidermaking to a good extent, the Lea book was much better. With those two books, you'll be familiar with dozens of apple varieties and how to take them from seedling to cider.


  1. This looks really easy and fun! When I get to finally brewing I definitely want to give this a try. I do like a good cider every now and then. Thanks for the write-up.

  2. It was really easy. It took quite a while for the ciders to ferment, but they're coming along. Our basement temp varies with the weather, but is typically around 60F.

    I'd HIGHLY recommend getting Andrew Lea's book before you get into it. It'll answer any questions you might have, and gives you a great resource for making sure you're starting off with what you need for your final product.


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