A Study in Color: Making Cider Silver

In my original post on the color of cider, I asked the question what color hard cider should be. I described cider in the context of wine. Should cider be white and red or something different. I did this because in both cases, you are using fruit juice. While there are some natural variances in juice color, the main driver of color in wine is when the juice is macerated and fermented on the grape peels. This is how red wines are created. It’s interesting that there is a historical record of hard cider being different colors and those colors being important. Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy’s Histoire de la vie privée des Français depuis l’origine de la nation jusqu’à nos jours, includes a chapter on hard cider and in that chapter he has a section on color. In it, he noted that the colors are nuanced and while some are weak of color, they are excellent. He also noted others are amber in color. However, he goes on to identify ciders that are transparent yellow, straw-colored, as well as red.

With cider, traditional methods may include some maceration of pomace post-grinding and before pressing. However, it has not generally been fermented with the pomace or peels. The lack of discussion around the color of hard cider makes me wonder if we didn’t lose some traditional methods or if there was a conscious shift in what was deemed desirable. If you wanted to make a clear cider, or what I call a silver cider, how would you do that? I will again use wine as the context for this discussion because I think it is the most relevant. I am sure there are some specific hard cider characteristics that we just don’t understand at this time but looking at how white wine is made white should provide insights into how to affect the color of hard cider. So, how would you make a silver cider?

Silver Sun Cider Color
Silver Sun Cider: Example of a “silver cider”

There are several key characteristics that will impact your ability to make a clear, silver cider.

  • Apple Variety and Tannins
  • Nitrogen and Proteins
  • Pectin and Carbohydrates (Polysaccharides)
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Peel Color

Apple Variety and Tannins

The biggest impact to making a silver hard cider is the apple varieties you use. Just like grape varieties, the amount of tannins found in your apples have a big impact on whether your cider would naturally be more silver or more amber. The color of the flesh can impart color. You can use red fleshed apples and many apples can have a yellow, white, green or tannish flesh color. I find that whiter fleshed apples, like Ambrosia, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Mutsu, and Shizuka that are also lower in tannins, will more readily create a clearer or silver hard cider. However, you have to consider the level of tannins. An apple like Pumpkin Sweet can start white but quickly turn an extremely dark brown because of the tannins when juiced.

Tannins are phenolic compounds that add complexity to many cider. They create that drying sensation at the end of a drink. They also can impart bitterness. Both can be great additions to a hard cider when in balance with sweetness and acid. Tannins oxidizing are what creates that dark brown color in apple flesh or juice so they are what will often give a hard cider the deep amber color. They combine with proteins, oxygen, and other compounds during the fermentation and maturation process. If you want a silver cider, use apples that are low in tannins and don’t macerate your apples after grinding very long.

Nitrogen and Proteins

There are a couple different types of hazes that can form in hard cider. One is from when soluble proteins are suspended in the cider. A contributing factor to soluble proteins is nitrogen. High nitrogen levels in the apple can promote the formation of soluble proteins. As with many elements of hard cider and even life, balance is important. This is because nitrogen is also needed for yeast to ferment sugar into alcohol. Lack of nitrogen will often result in a stuck fermentation. While apples grown in warmer weather will tend to have higher sugar and lower acid, they will also tend to have higher proteins. It should be noted that tannins can bind with proteins, which will reduce this haze.

Like white wine, silver cider will tend to have fewer tannins, which makes them more susceptible to haze. Also, adding too much or the wrong type of nutrients can increase nitrogen and thus, the amount of proteins that cause haze. Using apples from highly fertilized orchards will also increase nitrogen and protein. The good news is that fining agents can be very effective in removing proteins, which can turn a hazy silver cider into a clear silver cider.

Pectin and Polysaccharides

The other common haze that occurs in hard cider is a pectin haze. Pectin, which naturally occurs in high levels in apples and is negatively charged can pull positively charged materials like solids and polysaccharides (carbohydrates) into a protective colloid. This can keep them suspended and cause haze. Pectin bonds with hydrogen when in water also making it difficult for them to dissipate. This is where pectic enzyme can help to break these down and remove them from suspension. Fermentation also naturally does this but it may not eliminate all of the pectin. This can turn your otherwise clear silver cider into a hazy one.

Hazy Cider
Hazy Cider

Sulfur Dioxide

Another compound that can impact the color of your cider and especially your silver cider, is sulfur dioxide (SO2). SO2 is what you get when you add Campden tables to your juice before fermentation and after fermentation. Many people do this out of habit or because they read somewhere you need to do it. I would encourage you to review some research papers but I also covered this topic a little in my cider tip on sulfites and sorbates. Sulfites can provide some benefits and do have a place. However, if your goal is to create a white wine or a silver cider, adding Campden to your juice before fermentation could be detrimental to that goal.

SO2 applied before fermentation can suppress the oxidation of readily oxidizable tannins. SO2 is a preservative in that it prevents oxidation. Oxidation is that brown color you see when you eat a apple that is high in tannins. It is also that amber hue you see in hard cider. Adding Sulfite to your juice will prevent some of these tannins from oxidizing. The problem is that they are not stable and will most likely oxidize post fermentation. This will make your hard cider more amber versus more silver. Because of this, it is not recommended to add sulfites to white wine juice before fermentation. You actually want to encourage these highly oxidizable tannins to oxidize before fermentation so that they dissipate during the fermentation process.

The best example I have is the time my masticating juicer broke and I used a centrifugal juicer to finish juicing. I was juicing Granny Smith apples. The juice that went into the fermenter was highly oxygenated and very brown. Granny Smith juice is usually clear and slightly greenish in color. However, post fermentation, the juice was some of the clearest silver cider I have ever made. If I would have added sulfite and protected the juice, I would have probably ended up with a slightly yellow to light amber hard cider post fermentation.

Where you might want to add sulfite is post fermentation. This treatment can help preserve the color and avoid in bottle oxidation that might happen. This is the true use of sulfites. It seeks to stop or preserve the hard cider in its current state by reducing the ability of bacteria and yeast from further evolving your hard cider. It also prevents oxidation by binding free oxygen. Just remember that if you want a silver cider, avoid pre-treatment of sulfites and consider post-treatment if you are interested in preserving the color.

Peel Color

The last key characteristic that can impact cider color is peel color. You can transfer the color of the apple peel to your cider. This is the same process used to make red wine red. This is done through three processes, maceration, pressing, and fermentation. Maceration is when you grind the apples prior to pressing and then let this sit. Maceration can help break down pectin and reduce pectin haze but it also helps with tannin transfer from the peels and seeds. The longer you macerate, some cideries might macerate for 48-72 hours, the more tannin and color transfer will occur.

This is similar to pressing. If you are using a traditional grind and press operation, you can get free flow juice or juice from the initial pressing. This juice will tend to have less tannins and color transfer. If you continue to press under higher pressure, the second or third flow of juice will tend to have more tannins and more color. This is similar to maceration but assisted by the force of the press.

Peels and Cider Pre-Post Fermentation
Peels and Cider Pre-Post Fermentation

Lastly, you could ferment with the solids or in my case, with the peels. If you left the ground pomace for longer and let it begin to ferment like red wine, you would get even more of the tannins and color transferred to the wine. Pressing the solids after ferment has started or adding peels to the primary fermenter will result in significant color transfer. This would not be ideal if you want a silver cider.

In summary, to make a silver cider, do the following.

  • Use low tannin, white fleshed apples.
  • Minimize nitrogen addition and use unfertilized apples.
  • Use pectic enzyme in your juice and clarify it before starting your fermentation.
  • Do not treat your juice with Campden tablets or sulfite. Save that for post fermentation if desired.
  • Aerate your juice prior to fermentation in order to oxidize as many tannins as possible.
  • Avoid prolonged Maceration and contact with the peels and seeds. Consider using only first flow juice versus juice obtained from by adding more pressure to your press.

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