As a craft hard cider maker, you actually have several cost effective means to make your hard cider clear or what is commonly called clarifying. Most of my hard cider recipes call for filtering but you may be wondering if you really need to clarify your hard cider.
The main reason you would make your hard cider clear is aesthetics. Most people prefer hard ciders that are crystal clear. I have to admit that I enjoy the color of hard cider and clear cider is generally more appealing to me than cloudy cider. You can see the effervescence bubbling up through the hard cider and it’s quite enticing to drink. Check out the clear bubbly hard cider and another slightly cloudy hard cider. Personally, I like the look of the clear bubbly one on the left but love the taste of the one of the right (okay, I like both of them but you get my point).
The second reason you might clear or clarify a hard cider is because you are trying to remove compounds in the cider. The first time I made a hopped hard cider, I used too much and I didn’t put the hops in a bag or mesh container. I had two issues. My hard cider was very bitter and it was very cloudy. I could have blended it to reduce the bitterness, but that wouldn’t have addressed the cloudiness. I needed to clarify the cider and make it a little less bitter
Remember that clarifying a hard cider does remove compounds that impart the aroma, taste, and flavors of a cider. The clearer you make it, the more “like” water it becomes. Don’t worry, you are not going to convert your hard cider into water by doing any of these methods. I’m just using that as an analogy so you understand that you are removing elements from your hard cider.
There are a number of ways a craft hard cider maker can clarify cider. In order of ease and cost, these are aging, cold crashing, fining, and filtering, Every hard cider recipe that I make includes at least one method of clarifying the cider. Let’s review each.
You should age every hard cider you make. It will only make it taste better. Therefore, using this process to also clarify your hard cider is easy and will happen naturally. Ideally, you are aging in glass or stainless containers like carboys or kegs. Aging has its own techniques and requirements, but the fundamental part for clarifying is that more yeast and solids will fall out of suspension the longer a hard cider ages. Some yeast may never completely clear, which is a measure of flocculation. The longer you age it, the clearer the cider will get. Generally, the better the hard cider will taste too.
If you are aging a hard cider to try to clarify it, you can also try cold-crashing it to further reduce the suspended solids. Placing a hard cider that is aging into a refrigerator will help to drop suspended solids to the bottom of the container. Known as cold-crashing, it’s another inexpensive way to make a clearer hard cider. Remember if you are aging with an airlock in place, cold-crashing will create pull-back through the airlock.
Fining is a process where you add compounds into a hard cider that attract the suspended solids and pull them out of suspension. These fall to the bottom and clarify the hard cider. The most common fining compound is gelatin. The gelatin acts a magnet and attracts the solids, which become heavy and fall out of suspension. You can get various fining agents from your brew store or Amazon. They all work in a similar way and you just need to follow the directions. I’ve used a couple different fining agents including gelatin.
Filtering is the final common process for clarifying hard cider. Filtering requires equipment. There are several system that you can find. Some work off gravity while others use CO2 or a pump to push the hard cider through the filter. Generally, you need to filter the hard cider through multiple filters of smaller and smaller micron ratings. If you start using kegs to store and process your hard cider, you already have more than half the equipment that you’d need.
My preferred method for making a clear craft hard cider is first aging followed by filtering. Ideally, the hard cider will fall clear while aging and I just use a 5 or 1 micron filter to clear up any remaining large suspended solids.
However, because I’m a craft hard cider maker and I prefer to use fresh pressed apples, fall apple picking season can be hectic. I simply don’t have enough kegs (or space) to age all my hard cider as long as I’d like. That’s where filtering becomes important. I can make my hard cider clear and then let it age in bottles. This allows me to have a clear pouring hard cider, still get the benefits of aging my ciders, and free up kegs for processing more juice and hard cider.
If you need more details about clarifying hard cider, you can check out my book. It goes through each process and step for making craft hard cider. It also includes hard cider recipes along with food recipes for hard cider. Pick your favorite hard cider recipe and make your first batch. It’s available on Amazon. Here’s the link.
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