Batch 5 – Primary

As mentioned in the Intro for Batch 5, I’ve decided to do a high ABV batch with some residual sweetness.  This batch will involve lots of sugar, ale yeast, and gravity math.

First step is to add pounds of sugar.  I’ve poured out some base juice into a large pot and I’m heating it up to add the sugar.  Not to the point of boiling (I’d prefer not to heat the cider at all to avoid messing with the pectin), but enough to create a supersaturated solution with the sugar.  Once I had 3 lbs added, I poured everything back into the carboy and mixed it up.  The gravity comes out to be 1.035 – right about where we want it.

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This will theoretically be above 18% alcohol if all the fermentable sugars were fermented.  I’m still expecting a 12-14% ABV with some residual sweetness – but we’ll see where the nottingham ale yeast takes it.

I’m guessing fermentation will take a bit longer due to how much fermentable sugar there is.  I’m also strongly considering a secondary for this batch to let it clear up and mellow out.

 

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EDIT:  After 5 weeks, the airlock is still bubbling every 15 seconds or so.  Going to let it go for another week or two and rerack it.

Batch 5 – Intro

After the very successful backsweetening of batch 4, I’m going to try another method of obtaining a sweet cider.  That is, I’m going to push the ABV higher than the yeast can survive.  I’ll be using Nottingham Ale yeast, as it has a lower max ABV than EC-1118s.

So the OG of my starter tends to be around 1.050.  That produces a cider that is ~5.5% ABV.  The max ABV of Nottingham Ale yeast was hard to find, but seems to be around 14% (which is high for a beer/ale yeast).  In order to maintain some sweetness, I’m going to aim for enough sugar to make 18% ABV if it was all fermented.

From this site and other sources, it sounds like each pound of sugar adds 0.046 to the gravity.  In order to get 18%, I need an OG of 1.133 that ferments until dry.  Except my cider will ideally ferment until 1.040-1.050 or so to reach ~14% alcohol and have some residual sweetness.  To reach an OG of 1.133 however, I need to add 3 pounds of sugar.  Oh boy.

I’m definitely going to have to heat up my cider as I mix in sugar to create a super-saturated solution.  Its going to be quite interesting, as thats A LOT of sugar for a single gallon.

My main concern is actually going to be headspace.  I’m guessing the yeast will go CRAZY over this amount of sugar.  I probably should be using a blow-off tube, but I think I’ll increase the headspace a bit and simply keep an eye on it.

This batch will probably better be described as an apple wine rather than a cider.  I’m excited to see how it turns out though.  Especially when comparing the sweetness to that of batch 4.

Bottle Caps

I’m planning on starting one last one gallon batch before I go on a trip for a bit.  When I get back it’ll be orchard season and I’ll be switching to cider from a local orchard.  I’ll also be upping the size with a 6.5 gallon brew bucket.  Yay for scaling up!

However…

The pop top bottles that I like and have been using aren’t going to do so well with scaling up.  A dozen 16oz bottles costs over $30.  It takes about 7 of those bottles to cover a one gallon batch.  My 6.5 gallon brew bucket will likely end up with 5 gallons of cider when its all said and done.  Thats about 40 16oz bottles.  Given that I’ve got some aging and some cold crashed in the fridge, I’d basically need to order 3, if not 4 dozen more sets.  Thats basically $100 for empty bottles.  It also will just barely cover the 5 gallons.  If I start a new batch, I’ll need more unless I’m drinking 5 gallons of cider in a month.

So we need different bottles.  Something that will scale.  The answer is really easy actually.  Reuse regular 12oz bottles.  A 6 pack is about $10.  I need ~54 bottles to fill 5 gallons.  I’ve decided to aim for 48 bottles to start with, knowing I should have a few pop tops to cover the rest.  Thats 8 six packs for ~$80.  Its already cheaper than buying pop tops – not to mention all of those bottles come with cider/beer in them!  Add in that its very easy to ask friends if they’ll save you some of their extra bottles.  It’ll probably cost you far less.  You could even scrounge around in recycling bins and whatnot if you’re really desperate.

So now we’ve got 3 problems we need to solve.  Unlike pop tops, we need new caps for each bottle.  Also unlike pop tops, we need something to actually secure the cap on the bottle.  And finally we need (want, really) some way to store these bottles.  The good news is all these solutions are easy to solve.

Bottle caps are cheap.  You can find a pack of 144 caps with apples on them for ~$7.  You can probably get plain ones for cheaper with a bit of looking around.  I bet its also not expensive to get custom-printed caps.  Grab an artistic friend and make some logos to give your cider a professional look!  Given that I’m still using numbers written on tape, I don’t think I’m ready for custom caps – but the apple caps are a good compromise.

Now that we have caps, we need a capper.  Heres the one I picked up for ~$13.  Theres several other colors and brands that are less than $20.  Its really easy to use too.  Put a cap on the bottle, and use the arms to lock it onto the bottle.  Nice and easy.

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Finally I wanted some way to store this set of bottles.  I was envisioning a plastic crate that is used to hold bottles/cans/glasses – but I found something slightly different.  I found a drying rack that holds 48 bottles, perfect!  It comes with a tray to catch liquid, and 2 stackable racks that hold 24 bottles each.  According to the manufacturers, you shouldn’t stack higher than 2 – so I might pick up a second set if I get too many bottles.  Or continue looking for crates that might work.

So now that I’ve got all the pieces lined up, I just need to drink a lot of bottles of cider and beer (and convince my friends to as well).  Good stuff.

 

Batch 4 – Cold Crashing

So after 3 days of carbonization, I decided to pop open a maple (4.2) cider and see how it turned out.  The crisp pop and release of pressure when I opened it was awesome.  I may have to start carbonating all my ciders.  The maple cider still tasted great, but the maple flavor had been toned down a bit.  I’ll have to over-sweeten it with maple if I want to keep that same flavor we originally had.  I decided to move all of my remaining bottles of 4.2 to the fridge to be cold crashed.

Before moving on though, a warning about drinking actively fermenting cider.  Don’t do it.  Your stomach will not be happy.  Its not particularly dangerous to ingest yeast – we eat and drink plenty of things with yeast.  Theres yeast in the air.  Normally, our stomach will break down yeast and sugar long before the yeast has a chance to get started.  I found out first hand, that this isn’t the case for active yeast.  The cider I drank was in the process of being fermented, so the hour or two that my stomach needed to digest the yeast didn’t help.  My stomach was basically fermenting cider for a small bit, which means CO2 was being created, and I got a stomach ache.  It wasn’t terrible.  I felt like I needed to burp, and it went away after an hour or two as the yeast got digested.  Its still not an experience I would recommend.  The good news is that drinking a cold crashed cider should be fine.  The yeast will be dormant and will be digested before it becomes active again.

Given the overly-apple flavor of 4.1, I decided to let it go for a 4th day before cold crashing it.  Since then, I’ve popped open a few and the apple flavor is much subdued from what it was originally, and it tastes pretty good.  Its sort of tastes like an unfiltered angry orchard.  This is definitely the method I would use to recreate the flavor of most generic sweet ciders.

Overall I’m very happy with the backsweetening process.  I could certainly have left my bottles out longer for more carbonation, but it would result in less sweet (and slightly more alcoholic) cider.  Given how easy it is to sweeten individual bottles, I can easily sweeten just part of a batch – so I can have some sweet and some dry cider at all times for when people come over.