This hard cider recipe combines two of my favorite American apples. One is an American heirloom variety, Arkansas Black, and the other a modern American apple developed at Purdue University called GoldRush. Both are late season apples that can be quite firm. They have wonderful aromas and some tannins along with medium acidity. They usually have good sugars with a specific gravity from 1.055-1.065 and both can make wonderful pies if you like your fruit to keep its shape. I include peels from both apples in the primary fermentation process to add tannins and color. As far as color goes, the Arkansas Black apple can look black and GoldRush can be a vibrant yellow. Using the peels also makes the cider a vibrant orange.
I fermented this using White Lab’s English Cider Yeast (WLP775). It was the third pitch I had done with this yeast, meaning I had harvested it from two previous batches. In his book, Chris White advocates that yeast require three generations before they reach their peak performance. He is talking about beer but I’ve been trying to reuse more of my yeasts to see how it evolves. In general, I really liked WLP775. It created a dry but fruity cider in all my fermentations. As is my usual, I fermented at 72F.
As noted, I used peels from both apple varieties. However, I also included some heavy toasted oak. I had both American and French so I mixed the amount with half of each. They do impart slight differences as I noted in my earlier comparison on oak aging. Instead of just aging it on oak, I decided to include the oak in the primary fermentation and I carried these cubes through to the aging as well. Fermentation will use and metabolize some of these compounds so fermenting on oak will create different results from just aging on it. There are always so many options and things you can try and even small variations can impact the results. You can expect this batch to finish in under a week but I usually let mine settle for another week. Larger batches can take longer.
I increased the fruit weight to 20 pounds for this batch because I am recommending that you clarify your juice with pectic enzyme prior to fermenting. This will increase the fruity esters that are produced. It will also remove some of the nutrients from your juice. You lose a little more juice in this process unless you ferment the pectin dregs. Note these will most likely produce more methanol because of the increased level of pectin if you ferment the dregs. Pectin is a source for methanol production during fermentation. As far as nutrients, I don’t use them, especially in smaller batches. I have not found a need and I personally would be fine with a fermentation that stuck with some residual sugars. I don’t see an issue with stuck fermentations in cider, especially if you are using culinary apples that lack balancing tannins. With the peels, oak, and yeast, this cider should produce a dry but fruity and complex cider that doesn’t need much sugar. The orange color is an additional bonus that makes you think it might have some citrus notes.
As always you can adapt this hard cider recipe to your preferred method. As is my normal, I don’t use sulfites or sorbates in my ciders. If you want, you can always add sulfites 24 hours before inoculating with yeast and both sulfite and sorbate before packaging if you are back sweetening with fermentable sugars. I just try to avoid additional preservatives whenever possible. You might check out my article on killing your juice if you are interesting in exploring this more. Hard ciders will naturally produce some sulfites as they ferment. Different yeast varieties produce more than others.
I also filter my hard ciders but you can simply age them longer, cold crash them, and/or use fining to help clarify your hard ciders. Check my tips section out for more details in these items. The same is true for carbonation. If you want to bottle condition this cider to 2.2 volumes, you can add 19 grams of priming sugar per gallon (4.75 grams per liter). This should give you the additional volumes CO2 that you would need to reach 2.2. This assumes you didn’t degas the hard cider, which means you should have around 0.85 volumes of CO2 already suspended in it.
If you are not using kegs, always remember to limit your oxygen exposure by limiting your headspace when aging. If you are looking for some variations on this recipe, consider the following.
- More Peels: I used a middle amount of peels since I included both varieties. This should increase the intensity of the color and add more polyphenols. You could use all the peels or reduce them slightly. I personally recommend more versus less. If you have these apples, you can also peel a bunch and freeze them for use in other hard ciders. I find these two varieties add very favorable polyphenols to hard ciders.
- Other Wood: While I like oak, I have also used hickory and ash. You could try various different types like maple, cherry, apple or something local to your area. Toast level is also a consideration. Higher toast usually imparts more wood sugar and may impart less of the tannins or bitter compounds. Explore other types of wood and toast levels to give your cider some unique flavors.
- Yeast Alternatives: Consider using a different yeast. I have recently acquired different non-Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts to try. These have been shown to leave some residual sweetness as they often don’t ferment all available sugars. One I have tried was Torulaspora delbrueckii. Like all yeast, it creates a unique aroma profile and adds complexity over most Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains that I have tried. You could also try a wild fermentation. Just realize that you might get aromas you like or you might get ones that you don’t enjoy as much. They are not bad, just different and they can be a fun area of hard cider to explore.
- Back Sweeten: If you desire a sweeter hard cider, consider adding 40 grams per gallon (10.5 grams per liter) of organic erythritol to the cider before bottling. Erythritol is a non-fermentable sugar alcohol.
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