Storey colleagues share their cidermaking tips.
Each year on the first weekend in November, a small pack of us from Storey attend CiderDays in Franklin County, Massachusetts. It’s a celebration of all things apple — there are apple tastings at orchards, apple-based menus at local restaurants, and all kinds of talks and workshops. Hartley (Storey’s prepress specialist), Mars (our photo and video editor), and I are usually just focused cidermaking.
For CiderDays, Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain, Massachusetts, offers unpasteurized cider mixtures that are specifically blended with the right mix of apples for making hard cider. We’ve met people at CiderDays who have driven from as far away as New Jersey to fill up 50-gallon barrels with the mixture for their local homebrew club. By 9:00 a.m., there’s usually a line, so we arrive early and hope the “good stuff” doesn’t run out before it’s our turn to fill up our buckets.
Over the years, each of us has developed a different way of going about the cidermaking process. Sometimes I tease Mars for being so fastidious and Hartley for being so “freestyle,” but in the end everyone’s cider tastes great (and distinct!). This year, we’re once again taking our own paths. Here’s a peek at what we did with our individual batches-in-progress.
Hartley: Flavoring Last Year’s Batch
“I have a bit of a love/hate thing with seasonal flavored drinks, so I thought I’d try to make one I actually like. I liked a previous batch I’d made with honey and wanted to get something with about that level of dryness, but with more flavor. I have tasted this one and it is very pie-like — not as dry as previous batches but still on the dry side.”
Fermentation Notes: Hartley used campden tablets to kill existing yeasts 24 hours before adding Nottingham ale yeast. He keg-carbonated it with a tablespoon of cinnamon, a cup of brown sugar, and a can of apple juice concentrate (for a 5-gallon batch).
Mars: Making Cyser
“This year, I got three 5-gallon buckets and one 2-gallon bucket of cider from Pine Hill. I turned one of them into a cyser [a kind of mead made from honey and cider]. I didn’t add campden tablets this time before pitching the yeast; I read in Claude Jolicoeur’s book, The New Cider Maker’s Handbook, that they can dull some of the apple flavor. He only uses them when he has a cider that has a really low pH and is at risk for spoilage. He said that if your apple pressing is done properly and you pitch the yeast quickly enough, you don’t really need campden. He did say there is some risk of contamination, but with modern yeast strains and good sanitation practices, it’s not too high.
“I didn’t make a starter so I could pitch the yeast sooner, and it seems to have worked. I also started degassing the cider to get rid of CO2. The CO2 is toxic to the yeast, and you can get rid of it with a cheap hook tool you connect to a cordless drill.”
Fermentation Notes: Apple mixture included 36% Redfield, 18% Fuji, 18% Jonathan, 16% Blue Pairmain, 12% Golden Delicious. To 5.5 gallons of cider he added 7.5 pounds of wildflower honey. Mars didn’t use campden tablets and simply rehydrated Lalvin ICV-D47 white wine yeast with nutrients for 15 minutes before pitching it. He also oxygenated the juice for 1 minute with pure oxygen before pitching the yeast.
Carleen: Inoculating Juice with Active Cider
I couldn’t make it to CiderDays this year, so I decided to work with what I had at hand. For the first batch, I used juice that was pressed at our local homesteading festival from an assortment of donated apples. For the second batch, the juice came from apples around our neighborhood, a few leftovers from the festival, and some crab apples given to me by Storey editor Gwen Steege. I realized too late that I didn’t have any yeast in the fridge (whoops!), so I experimented with inoculating the second batch of juice with active cider from the first batch. It seems to have worked!
Fermentation Notes: For the first batch, I added campden tablets with 3 cups of maple syrup 24 hours before pitching wine yeast (KV1-1116) mixed with 3 cups of pasteurized cider. For the second batch, I added about a pint of actively bubbling cider from the first batch.
Stay tuned — we’ll check back next spring, when all the cider is ready to taste, to let you know how it turned out!