Beer makers don’t know how to make cider

December 31, 2009

My husband showed me this forum called Home Brew Talk. There happens to be a forum on wine, mead, and cider there. I’ve been following all three, learning when I can, and helping others if I know.

What I have learned is that beer makers don’t know how to make cider. Yes, I’ve probably made some enemies stating that, but I have my reasons.

First off, beer makers try to have cider drinkable within weeks because that is how beer is made. Because it is made out of fruit like wine, apple needs to be aged like wine. It is possible with the right materials in the right environment to bottle cider in a month, but it needs time to age.

Secondly, partly because there was an Apple Wine recipe that gained popularity on the site, they think they have to add sugar to make cider. This process is called chaptalising, where sugar is added out of fear there is not enough natural sugar in the grapes or fruit being used. My generic wine recipe calls for it, as wine is at least 10% alcohol. Cider is around 7% naturally, and adding sugar raises the alcohol, and therefore bumps it into the wine category. One person on the forum responded that commercial cider makers do add sugar. My rebuttal is simple – craft cider makers spend soooo much time figuring out what kind of apples to grow, caring for the trees, picking the apples, grinding them, and pressing out the juice that they are not going to add sugar after all that work. They want to taste their labor, not cover it up. It is the ciders who use concentrate juice are the ones that are going to add sugar.

Last of all, there is the idea of cold crashing. It is possible with some strains of beer yeast to kill off all the yeast by cooling the beer in a refrigerator, allowing the brewer to add back sugar without fear of it starting to ferment again. For starters, some craft cider makers working out of their home or sheds or whatever have their tanks outside or in unheated buildings. If it freezes, no big deal – it will start fermenting again when it thaws. In fact, they embrace the lower temperatures, claiming it improves taste. There is even a method called keeving where they strip the juice of its nutrients, and then ferment it at 5⁰C, which is 41⁰ F – about the temperature of a refrigerator. Point to all this is, cider doesn’t cold crash, and so these naïve beer makers attempt it and then wonder why their cider exploded when they added sugar as a sweetener.

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