Homemade Hard Cider: The Final Steps
The cider is separated from the lees- the thick sediment that settles on the bottom of the fermentation vessel, in this case the carboy. We did a second pressing after the first freeze in November, this cider we let ferment in much colder temperatures than the first pressing did. When racking you can transfer the liquid into a second ferementing vessel, storage containers, or bottle right away. We racked the iced ciders into another carboy, in case they weren't fully finished fermenting (we didn't want any bottles exploding!). This is officially the secondary fermentation. You can let the cider rest at this stage for as little as three weeks, or up to 3 months. If you would like to let it mellow out for more than 3 months I recommend racking it a third time after the first two months. Time allows the cider to mature and its flavor will become more balanced as the harsher notes are smoothed out by slow chemical and biochemical reactions.
Why Rack Hard Cider?!
The cider should not sit for long on a heavy crop of yeast, because the dead yeast will 'autolyze' (breakdown all or part of a cell or tissue by self-produced enzymes) which tends to give unpleasant flavors.
After you have racked your cider into a second sterile vessel you should taste it! The best part! You can now adjust the flavors all different ways.
1. Add spices- adding a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, or mulling spice bags can create delicious ciders. But remember, a little goes a long way!
2. Mix in other natural flavors. I am a supporter of all natural ciders- but some people have had success with adding "natural" apple flavors, other other fruit extracts.
3. Sweeten it up! Even though you have racked the cider off of most of the yeast cells there are still yeast living in the "filtered" cider. Yeast feed on fructose and sucrose, so just adding more sugar to the cider will reactivate the yeast and they will turn that sugar into alcohol. Meaning you will have a higher percent alcohol without making the cider any sweeter. However, yeast does not feed on stevia or xylitol-two natural sweeteners.
You can either choose to make these additions at the beginning of the racking process and let the cider infuse the flavors. Or you can add them halfway through, or right before bottling. It's all part of the experiment!
The cider we pressed first round was left in the primary fermentation vessel for so long...a bit too long actually. Since we knew the fermentation had officially stopped (and we double checked with a hydrometer) we bottled this straight from the primary carboy. We used a hydrometer and looked for a reading for specific gravity of 1.005 to .999 S.G. This means that almost all of the sugar has been turned into alcohol. The cider was siphoned out of the carboy and funneled into sterilized wine bottles. We then corked the bottles, most people advise using a bottle capper or champagne stoppers because quite a bit of pressure can build up in the bottle. We keep most of our cider still (non-carbonated) and have had pretty good luck avoiding explosions...knock on wood! They will be stored in a cool, dark area for months- or even years.
My favorite of the regular ciders was the Hard Lemonade Cider. We added a canister of Country Time lemonade with 2 pounds of white sugar to the 5 gallons of freshly pressed cider before the yeast was added. We also primed the carboy with corn sugar or dextrose. This is one of my favorite priming methods because it creates more of a fizzy feeling than an overpowering bubbly feeling.
According to How to Make Hard Cider Site, You can also use:
- 1/8 - 1/4 cup of brown sugar (for best mixing, dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup of boiled water, before you add it) OR
- 1/4 of a can of frozen apple juice concentrate, OR
- Corn sugar (dextrose)
1/8 cup dextrose per gallon of cider
OR 1/2 tsp. dextrose added into EACH PINT BOTTLE as you bottle.
OR 3/4 cup dextrose for 5-6 gallon carboy (jug)
After priming and bottling our cider should be bubbly and ready to drink in a couple of weeks! Then we will have to go through this entire process again when our iced ciders are finished with their secondary fermentation. And Clementine guards the corks...
Have you ever bottled your own cider? Was your process similar? What is your favorite kind of cider!?