Brewing Style: Apple and Pear Ciders

A discussion about ciders and perries and some of the technical aspects of making them.

Hi all,

Apple and pear ciders are produced by pressing one or more variety of apple or pear, and fermenting the juice (or more accurately, the must). Cider has always been the drink of the people and has a long history in Europe and the UK where it was produced in substantial quantities on farms. Every farm would have a variety of apple trees, for cooking, eating and making cider. In the 18th Century, cider would often for a portion of  a farm labourer’s wage, with a typical allowance of 3 – 4 pints per day. Labourers were rated by the amount they drank; one comment was that a 2 gallon a day man was worth the extra he drank!  In the western counties of England in particular, a farm worker could receive perhaps one-fifth of his wage in cider.

STYLE

Cider is a fantastic drink with lots of variability. Traditionally, It can range from bone dry to sweet and from still to highly effervescent. Also, a quick note: those sugary, cloyingly-sweet drinks that are passed off as cider couldn’t be further from the delicate and flavourful ciders that our forebears enjoyed. However, if you want to make one, who am I to judge (Note: I will judge you silently from afar).

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) gives the following information:

AROMA AND FLAVOUR
  • Ciders and perries do not necessarily present overtly fruity aromas or flavors — in the same sense that a wine does not taste overtly of grapes. Drier styles of cider in particular develop more complex but less fruity characters. In fact, a simple “apple soda” or “wine cooler” character is not desirable in a cider or perry.
  • Some styles of cider exhibit distinctly NON-fruity tastes or aromas, such as the “smoky bacon” undertones of a dry English cider. (Note: Bacon cider, delicious!)
  • The sweetness (residual sugar, or RS) of a cider or perry may vary from absolutely dry (no RS) to as much as a sweet dessert wine (10% or more RS). In sweeter ciders, other components of taste — particularly acidity — must balance the sweetness. There are three categories of sweetness:
    • Dry: below 0.9% residual sugar. This corresponds to a final specific gravity of under 1.002.
    • Medium: in the range between dry and sweet (0.9% to 4% residual sugar, final gravity 1.002 to 1.012). Sometimes characterized as either ‘off-dry’ or ‘semi-sweet.’
    • Sweet: above 4% residual sugar, roughly equivalent to a final gravity of over 1.012.
  • If a cider is close to one of these boundaries, it should be identified by the sweetness category which best describes the overall impression it gives.
  • Acidity is an essential element of cider and perry: it must be sufficient to give a clean, refreshing impression without being puckering. Acidity (from malic and in some cases lactic acids) must not be confused with acetification (from acetic acid — vinegar): the acrid aroma and tingling taste of acetification is a fault.
  • Ciders and perries vary considerably in tannin. This affects both bitterness and astringency (see “Mouthfeel” below). If made from culinary or table fruit, tannins are typically low; nevertheless some tannin is desirable to balance the character. The character contributed by tannin should be mainly astringency rather than bitterness. An overt or forward bitterness is a fault (and is often due to processing techniques rather than fruit).
APPEARANCE
  • Clarity may vary from good to brilliant. The lack of sparkling clarity is not a fault, but visible particles are undesirable. In some styles a “rustic” lack of brilliance is common. Perries are notoriously difficult to clear; as a result a slight haze is not a fault. However, a “sheen” in either cider or perry generally indicates the early stage of lactic contamination and is a distinct fault.
  • Carbonation may vary from entirely still to a champagne level. No or little carbonation is termed still. A moderate carbonation level is termed petillant. Highly carbonated is termed sparkling. At the higher levels of carbonation, the “mousse” (head) may be retained for a short time. However, gushing, foaming, and difficult-to-manage heads are faults.
MOUTHFEEL
  • In general, cider and perry have a mouthfeel and fullness akin to a substantial white wine. The body is less than that of beers. Full-sparkling ciders will be champagne-like.
INGREDIENTS
  • The apple and pear varieties are intended to illustrate commonly used examples, not dictate requirements when making the style. In general, adjuncts are prohibited except where specifically allowed in particular styles, and then the entrant must state them. Common processing aids, and enzymes, are generally allowed as long as they are not detectable in the finished cider. Yeast used for cider/perry may be either “natural” (the yeast which occurs on the fruit itself and/or is retained in the milling and pressing equipment) or cultured yeast. Malo-lactic fermentation is allowed, either naturally occurring or with an added ML culture. Enzymes may be used for clarification of the juice prior to fermentation. Malic acid may be added to a low-acid juice to bring acidity up to a level considered safe for avoiding bacterial contamination and off-flavors (typically pH 3.8 or below). Entrant MUST state if malic acid was added. Sulfites may be added as needed for microbiological control. If used, the maximum accepted safe level for sulfites (200 mg/l) should be strictly observed; moreover, any excess sulfite that is detectable in the finished cider (a “burning match” character) is a serious fault.
  • Sorbate may be added at bottling to stabilize the cider. However, any residual aroma/flavor from misuse or excessive use of sorbate (e.g., a “geranium” note) is a distinct fault.
  • Carbonation may be either natural (by maintaining CO2 pressure through processing or by bottle-conditioning) or added (by CO2 injection).
  • More on adding these kinds of things later.

HOMEMADE CIDERS AND PERRIES

Cider is one of those drinks that lots of people try to make at home. Lots of people I’ve talked to complain about their homemade cider being yeasty, having harsh solventy alcohol notes and not really “tasting like apple”. It’s often one of those things that people try once with less than optimal results, then abandon.

I’ve found terrible results comes down to three main things: Yeast choice, fermentation temperature and residual sweetness.

YEAST

There are numerous recipes out there, often calling for a range of yeasts. Look, all yeast will ferment your juice and give you a fizzy, alcoholic drink broadly known as cider. But to make a good cider, a truly delicious, have-another-pint-woops-one-too-many-pint kind of cider, takes a knowledge of what kind of yeasts make the best drop.

CvilleKevin over on the forums of homebrewtalk.com has run a wide range of experiments using different kinds of yeast. Below, I summarise his findings and add a few notes of my own. I will also say that my favourite yeasts are Nottingham and Safale S-04

Best cider yeasts:
  • Nottingham – Works well for sweet ciders and cysers (juice with honey) with pasteurized juice, although not so well for unpasteurized cyser. It cold crashes well with any juice. With just juice, no sugar, and cold crash around 1.004, it is outstanding. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. You have to do either rack or cold crash to keep it from drying out all the way, as it tends to strip out the flavor if it goes all the way dry.
  • Safale S-04 – Has a little fruitier taste than the Nottingham. It cold crashes well with any juice. If you use sugar and bump sg up to at least 1.060, then you can stop fermentation with pasteurized juice by racking. With unpasteurized juice, if you don’t cold crash and just let it ferment out to dryness, it leaves more of the apple taste than the Nottingham. It also works better for unpasteurized cysers.
  • Saflager S-23 – This lager yeast has a similar flavour profile to Nottingham. It doesn’t do as well with unsweetened juice, but is good if you add sugar to bump the sg up to about 1.060. This is one that definitely improves with age. Cold crashes well.
  • Safale US-05 – This yeast imparts an interesting taste to the cider which reminds me a little bit of a pale ale. It works better with pasteurized juice – with unpasteurized it tends to knock out some of the body.
Good Cider Yeasts
  • Wyeast 3068 – Has a nice smooth taste and lots of body, but not much tartness.
  • Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead Yeast – Good, although the best with unpasteurized juice boosted with sugar.
  • Wild yeast – Generally pretty good until the sg dropped below 1.020 and then starts picking up nasty flavors. Cold crashing keeps them stable for a little while, but not for long. Picks up some interesting tastes.
Average yeasts
  • WLP002 – Tasted nearly the same as using Nottingham, which is very good, but they were similar enough that I would say its not worth the extra hassle and cost of a liquid yeast
  • WLP300 – Very slow to start fermenting. It had a nice body and flavor but a really sour finish, even though I cold crashed it. Mixed with the Wyeast 3068, it was really good though.
  • Windsor – Finishes out really sour, but has a fruity taste. Adding sugar before fermentation makes it taste worse.
  • Coopers – Ferments out more tart than Nottingham and has a woody taste some might like. If you like Blackthorn dry commercial cider, you’ll probably like working with Coopers.
  • Lalvin 1118 – Ferments very fast and very dry. Tends to strip out flavour if it goes all the way dry. Can give off harsh solventy notes, especially if the fermentation temperature isn’t especially low.
Yeasts to avoid
  • Wyeast 4766 Cider Yeast – Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened unpasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely.
  • WLP720 Sweet Mead – Tested with pasteurized and unpasteurized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. Of these, only the sweetened pasteurized juice was drinkable, and just barely.
  • Safbrew WB-06 – I’ve just used this with pasteurized juice, with and without extra sugar. They were both really bitter.
  • Lalvin-1116 – I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, butter taste.
  • Red Star – Cotes de Blanc – I just tried this with pasteurized, unsweetened juice. It left a real bland, buttery taste.
  • DV10 – Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, no extra sugar. Both were drinkable but somewhat bland.
  • Safbrew S-33 – Tested with pasteurized and unpasturized juice, sweetened and unsweetened. All tasted pretty crappy. Basically sucked all the flavor out of the juice.
Fermentation Temperature

I’ve found that fermentation temperature is the next most important thing when making ciders and perries. If you’ve ever had a cider that tastes more like an ale with lots of fruity esters and hot alcohol notes then you’ll know what I mean.

Whenever I make a cider I ensure I look up any information I can on that particular yeast strain. The most important information is its fermentation range and/or optimal fermentation temperature. Yeast is a strange thing, give it conditions on the warmer end of its temperature range and it will ferment really quickly, but often with a lot of esters; ferment on the cooler side and it will be much slower, but often taste much cleaner. In my experience, and judging by the number of pints that my friends will drink, the best ciders I’ve produced have been from cooler ferments. With this in mind and depending on the yeast you are using, you may want to consider making a starter for liquid yeasts or using more packets of dry yeast (although generally, I’ve found that the dry yeast amount is sufficient).

Generally speaking, I ferment my ciders between 14°C and 17°C.

Residual Sweetness

Now everyone has their favourite level of sweetness; some like it sweet, others dry. Making a dry cider is easy, just let the cider ferment until all of the sugars have been consumed. Be warned though, fermenting all the way does tend to strip out all of those lovely apple or pear flavours you’ve worked hard (and presumably spent a bit of dosh on) to have in your final drink. If you like sweet cider (or anything in between) and that’s what you want to make, then its a bit more difficult.

If you have kegs then you’re in luck; making sweet cider for kegging is simple. Simply ferment you cider to your desired sweetness (I usually shoot for the lower end of sweet, between 1.010 and 1.014), then cold crash (or not, but the first few pints will  be burners) and run into a keg. After it has been packaged in a keg, and provided you keep it cold (1°C – 5°C) the gravity should stay the same. I have the benefit of having kegs, so whenever i decide to make cider I keep it chilled, safe with the knowledge that it will stay at this level of sweetness without becoming any drier.

However, if you bottle you brew and you want sweet cider then you have a limited number of choices. There are two main things that can be added to stop fermentation: sulphites and sorbates. Sulphites are used as a biological control agent and are often added to kill wild yeast in the apple must before cultured yeast in pitched. It can be added to your cider to kill your yeast, but be warned, it only takes a few yeast cells to survive for it to become a problem in bottled cider. The next ingredient can help with that problem. Potassium sorbate can be added in addition to sulphites. Sorbates don’t kill yeast, but rather inhibit yeast from reproducing or “budding”. The only problem with adding these chemicals is that they wont leave any yeast around to consume the priming sugar in the bottle and carbonate the drink.

So really, you only have a few choices is you want bottled cider

  • Choice One: Still Cider. Still (non-sparkling) is one way to enjoy your sweet cider. Use Sulphites and sorbate to halt fermentation.
  • Choice Two: Sparkling dry cider. As the name suggests, ferment out the cider dry, add priming sugar to the bottle and then add the cider, wait for it to carbonate and hey presto!
  • Choice Three: Lethally-alcoholic sparkling sweet cider. Yeast can be pretty temperamental organisms living in a very specific comfort range. If you increase the sugar content of your cider, the yeasties would eventually be unable to tolerate the high-alcohol and die. If you bottled just before this happened, then you could create a carbonated sweet cider naturally. The only problem with this is that by this stage you might end up with a drink that is up to 17% ABV. That’s 4.4 Standard drinks in a stubbie! Use with caution.
  • Choice Four: Counter-pressure bottles filled from a keg. This only works if you have a keg obviously. The method would be: Ferment to desired level. Halt fermentation with sulphites and sorbates. Keg and force carbonate. Counter-pressure into bottles. I always use this method, but leave it in the keg. This way, if someone asks for a bottle, I can fearlessly give it to them without the worrying that it will explode a la Simpsons April Fools Day style.

Anyway, there you have it: my ramblings and some discussion on cider. My next post will include my two favourite recipes.

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