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The Cider Experiments - Part 1

Years ago, I purchased a kit called "Spike Your Juice" from ThinkGeek.com.  The kit included packets of yeast, instructions, labels, and an airlock with stopper.  The instructions suggested buying a pasteurized (non-refrigerated) 100% juice with a high sugar content, then pitching the dry yeast into it and popping on the airlock.  In a few days, the yeast would produce an alcoholic wine or cider.  The results from these fermentations always seemed to range from sour to dry in flavor profile, often tasting like an unripe version of the fruit the juice was made from.  It's not too surprising that I stopped using the kit before I used up all the yeast.

While reading online about that kit, I saw some people suggest that Champagne Yeast would be a good substitute for the stuff the kit included, as it would ferment more of the sugars and give the finished product a bit more fizz.  I tried this with some juices a couple of months ago.  The results were tart and mildly carbonated.  The best of them was a peach mango juice blend which kept the peach aroma and much of the fruit flavors. It was also more dry than the others, and less tart.  It was an interesting experiment but I decided not to repeat it.

I recently picked up a copy of Mary Izett's Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast-Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads, and More for my Kindle.  As of this writing in early December, I am still working my way through the book but enjoying it.  Izett has done a nice job organizing the material and explaining what to do.  As the title suggests, it provides information and recipes for brisk beer, short mead, cider, boozy buch and kefir beer, spirited soda, and more.

While reading the chapter on ciders, I saw Izett's table of the different yeast types and how they affect the flavor of an apple cider.  I'll summarize the chart here because I think it's useful stuff.

  • Champagne Yeast:  Gives a tart, clean, almost apple-free aroma.  The flavor is tart with low to medium apple flavor, dry, and clean.
  • American Ale:  Gives a strong apple aroma, hints of candy apple and other fruit.  The flavor is fruity, sweet, and definitely retains the apple.
  • English Ale: The aroma is green apple, bright, fruity, and slightly bubble gum like.  The flavor is bright, clean apple with some green apple and mineral notes.
  • German Wheat Ale Yeast:  Aroma is sulfury, with low to medium apple aroma, and maybe some honey or spice.  The flavor is phenolic, earthy, and applesauce like.
  • Belgian Ale Yeast:  Aroma is sulfury, funky, floral, and lightly apple-like.  The flavor is sulfury, floral, dry, funky, and a little tart.
  • Saison Yeast:  A light apple aroma with some mineral, floral, and herbal elements.  The flavor is balanced, slightly tart, floral, dry, and medium levels of apple.
My experimentation with the Spike Your Juice kit and the Champagne yeast told me that the best result I'd gotten was from the Peach Mango juice blend and apple juice, with a berry blend having a great aroma but simply being too tart.  I wanted something sweet, or at least not so tart.

Izett's chart suggested that American Ale yeast would yield a sweeter cider, and probably a sweeter version of the peach mango blend and berry blend.  When I visited a nearby grocery, I picked up a gallon of 100% apple juice, an Ocean Spray Wave Berry Medley with White Cranberries, and a bottle of peach mango juice blend.


Berry Medley fermenting on the left, Peach Mango in the middle, and a custom recipe cider on the right

Over a week later, the yeast had settled out of the Berry Medley jug.  I put that in five 12-ounce bottles along with a carbonation drop in each to hopefully carbonate the finished product.  I tasted some of the "trub" in the bottle and it was still very sweet.  At this point I don't know if that means the yeast didn't ferment the juice at all, or if Izett is right and the American Ale yeast does leave the cider sweet.  We'll know on December 17 when the stuff is ready to open.

The Welch's Peach Mango stopped bubbling next, and was bottled on December 7.  A sample of the trub showed that it, too, was sweet but also slightly tart.  It was a nice flavor and I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like when it's tested on December 21.

The two plastic jugs in the photo received only Safale S-05 American Ale yeast, sprinkled right on top of the juice in the jug.  A sanitized airlock was immediately placed on each.

The glass jug on the right has a recipe of my own concoction.

I'm tentatively calling it "CRAVE Cider" based on the ingredients (Cinnamon, Raisin, Apple, Vanilla Extract).  The recipe is:

  • 1/2 cup of raisins, chopped into pieces
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon of bourbon bean vanilla extract
  • 1 gallon of pasteurized apple juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon of yeast nutrient

The raisins, cinnamon, yeast nutrient, and vanilla were covered with tap water and boiled for 5-10 minutes on the kitchen stove to sanitize them and release their flavors (and great aroma).  The liquid was strained off of the other ingredients and poured into the sanitized gallon jug.  The jug was then filled with the gallon of pasteurized apple juice and capped with the stopper and airlock you see in the photo.  This was done on approximately November 23, 2015.  As of this writing on December 12, some 19 days later, there are still bubbles going through the airlock about every 45 seconds.  I'm planning to let it ferment until the bubbles seem to have stopped completely, then bottle it.  It remains to be seen/tasted if the concoction lives up to its name.

I'll share tasting notes on these when they're ready to drink.

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