The simple question about whether someone’s hard cider looks okay usually occurs during two specific times. The first is during fermentation when yeast form what can be called a krausen or a white or brown yeast cap. The second time is after fermentation has completed and the cider is aging or maturing. During the aging process, the question is usually asked when a thin film forms on the top of the cider or globular masses form in an otherwise clear cider. If you are asking due to the first situation, the answer to whether your cider looks okay is “yes”. If the question is because of the second situation, the answer is “probably”. As with most questions about cider, the answer to simple questions is rarely a simple answer. Let’s explore why.
If you have never fermented (we have all been there), you may not realize that many yeast are considered top fermenting. The yeast process the sugar found in the juice and turn it into ethanol and CO2. The CO2 adheres to the yeast, solids, and other compounds like pectin and tannins and, all this floats to the top. This forms a foamy cap or krausen on top of the cider. If you have a lot of solids and compounds along with a small headspace, that foamy yeast cap can soon be squirting out of your airlock and all over your fermenting closet walls and ceiling. I speak from experience. Juice clarity impacts the formation of this cap. So, if you are wondering whether that foamy often brown or white colored mass on top of your juice is okay, you now can feel good that it is. Give it a few days and the vigorous release of CO2 during the fermentation process will break up this cap and start moving everything around.
Yeast cap formation is part of the stages of fermentation.
The second situation occurs during aging or maturing of your cider. The primary fermentation has completed and whether you intended it or not, your cider is now evolving and developing new flavors. In the first condition, you may start to see a white or tan film forming on top of the cider. You may even notice a crystalline structure occurring. This usually starts with small crystal structures forming on the surface that look like rafts, which is what they are often called. This is generally a film yeast at work and it indicates that your cider is being exposed to oxygen. While not usually desirable, the impact is on taste and not spoilage. Cider doesn’t spoil, it just evolves. If oxygen is present, that evolution can include vinegar (acetic acid) formation. This is generally an undesirable condition. You will want to siphon the cider out from under the film yeast, add some sugar for bottle conditioning, and bottle the cider. This will help eliminate any remaining oxygen and create some carbonation as well. On this situation, the question about whether your cider looks okay is answered with a probably. It’s probably okay but you should take some action to address the current situation and consider it for future batches.
Film yeast form during aging when oxygen is present.
The last situation also occurs during aging but instead of something forming on the top of the juice or cider, it’s floating around inside it. Often the cider is crystal clear and there is gelatinous mass that often looks like a brain in jar. It’s what I affectionately call a “pectin brain”. That is because the fermenting aging process has cleaved the pectin from the cider and the ethanol is forcing it to flocculate. This forms the masses that seems to float around like a creature from science fiction movie. This is a natural process that depends on how much pectin was in your original fruit, the yeast, and the level of alcohol present. Using pectic enzyme can break down the pectin and reduce this or pectin hazes. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with your cider. It just had a lot of pectin in it. You can place it in front a neon or black light for some exciting visual effects or sell tickets to the neighborhood kids but, simply siphon off your cider seeking to leave behind as much of the pectin mass that you can.
Consider pectic enzyme when pectin forms gelatinous masses in your cider.
Hopefully, this helps you identify when your cider looks okay and when it might look a off and need some action.
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