Hard Cider Batch #1 – Back Sweeten Using Potassium Sorbate and Metabisulfite

By Hard Cider Project

Nottingham Yeast for Hard CidersIt’s time for an update on Hard Cider Batch #1. First lets Recap.

Batch #1 – Nottingham Ale Yeast – By Danstar – 6 gallons of  Country Acres Premium Apple Cider

    • Original Gravity – 1.055
    • Final Gravity – 1.008
    • Current ABV: 6.17%
    • Started 01/14/14
    • Racked to 5 gallon secondary 01/27/14
    • Date of adding Potassium Sorbate and Metabisulfite: 2/19/14, 23 days old.

Why Nottingham Ale Yeast for my first batch? Because this yeast strand is highly regarded as overall very balanced. I personally will continue to recommend Nottingham Ale Yeast for any beginner’s first batch.

Cider for Making Hard Cider

The Cider used.

Hard Cider Batch #1

Post Nottingham Ale Yeast pitch. Hard Cider fermenting.

Now it’s time to get this batch finished. I plan on carbonating via CO2 and keg, and ultimately putting the cider into bottles via beer gun (yet to be purchased). I have already added a kegging system to my brewing supplies (a post to follow). I’m using “Old Orchards 100% Juice” apple concentrate for my back sweetener, to give it as much of an apple taste as possible. I would love to have some homemade apple concentrate in the future, but for now this will have to do.

The important part here is that I stop the yeast entirely, so that the yeast does not ferment the new sugar added. This is a very common issue when it comes to making back sweetened hard cider and there only a few methods to accomplish it.

One method is that you can cold crash (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit ) the cider indefinitely. The issue with this method is that you have to keep the cider cold or you will risk major issues with re-fermentation.

The second method is to back sweeten, bottle the cider, allow fermentation until a desired carbonation, and then pasteurize the hard cider. You basically have to continue to open bottles to see their progress and determine when you want to stop it via pasteurization. You can also fill a plastic bottle to feel how tight it gets from carbonation. It’s important to note that this method leaves sediment at the bottom of the bottle and some people claim it gives the hard cider a “cooked taste.” If you do use this method, it’s important to keep the temperature as low as possible, but high enough to kill the yeast, and you definitely don’t want to boil the hard cider. Note that Crispin (a major hard cider maker) uses the pasteurization method.

The final method is to treat the cider with potassium metabisulfite (same as campden tablets) and potassium sorbate. This is the method I will be using.

Potassium Sorbate and Metabisulfite

Potassium Metabisulfite is use to prevent oxidation in wines and prevent wild yeast and bacteria.

Potassium Sorbate makes sorbic acid which prevents the current yeast from multiplying. Potassium Sorbate is also referred to as a wine stabilizer.

Potassium Sorbate and Metabisulfite in Hard CiderThere is much debate to whether or not Potassium Metabisulfite is even needed for this process, but because I want to keep this cider potentially long-term, and I believe the Potassium Metabisulfite will act as a great protector from infection, I will be using it. Also Midwest Supplies clearly states that it should be used in conjunction with potassium sorbate to stop re-fermentation, and who I am to question them.

To prepare my chemical compound, I boiled some water and let it cool (to sterilize, although technically Potassium Metabisulfite itself is a sanitizer) In this 5 gallon batch, I used 5 campden tablets (also known as potassium metabisulfite) and 2.5 tsp of potassium sorbate (recommended amount). I stirred the solution until dissolved.

I then took a sanitized carboy and poured the solution into it and racked from the original carboy (fill with hard cider) to the one with the compound solution in it. The main reason I did this, was I had some lees from the secondary, and I would ultimately want to stir this compound into the hard cider. After racking, I used a drill and a drill bit stirrer to mix the solution, while trying not to splash the top of the solution as much as possible (to avoid some oxidation). The hard cider itself will release CO2 from this process.

Hard Cider Siphon Transfer

Hard Cider Siphon Transfer


I then put the airlock back on the carboy and waited three days to make sure it had time to settle. I think three days is probably overkill, I would guess that overnight is fine. Note that up until this point, no sweetener has been added. I am trying to get the yeast out of the picture before adding any sweetener.

I then poured in two thawed out store bought containers of “Old Orchards 100% Juice” apple concentrate. In hindsight I almost wish I would of taken 2 more gallons of the original cider and frozen them outside and gotten apple concentrate from them (you do it by tilting them and allowing the sugary water to escape before the rest of the water). The taste just isn’t the same as the original cider, and this is when a lot of the favor is developed (via back sweetening).

Also to be on the safe side, I decided to put the sweetener into carboy directly, stir, and let sit. I want to make sure that re-fermentation does not occur via checking the airlock. In theory this cider should be ready to keg up. It is sitting at about 1.01 and has remained cloudy. There are ways to treat this cloudiness, but I feel that it almost adds to the character.

I will probably give this cider some more time, because honestly it is still a very young hard cider.



Planting an Orchard for a Commerical Hard Cider, What to Consider

By Hard Cider Project
Hard Apple Tree Orchard

Hard Apple Tree Orchard

I have been toying around with the idea of getting some land and planting a small orchard. For anyone else thinking about planting an orchard for hard cider, here are some things to consider.

It takes about 15 to 20lbs (closer to the low side of this range) to make 1 gallon of cider. The yield per acre of mature apple trees is anywhere from 12,000 to over 50,000lbs (when using extreme growing methods).  Therefore in theory, you could produce about 800 to 3,333 gallons per acre of apples.  Hitting the mid-range of both of these stats, I would guess around 25,000 lbs of apples per acre would be a realistic goal without extreme growing measures. Remember that yields in the first few years are a tiny fraction of this amount.

The first question you should be asking yourself is, “where would I put 25,000lbs of apples or 1,666 gallons of cider?

The second question you should ask is, “how will I even harvest and move 25,000lbs of anything?”

Both great questions, but there is one final even more important question, “What am I going to do with it?

Many of the questions can be answered with one word, infrastructure. Tractors, trailers, machinery, storage refrigerator, packaging, farmer markets and stands are the first few things that come to mind, but heck we didn’t even talk about actually growing or harvesting the trees.

Well there is good news, you can take it slow. 

You will need equipment and possibly labor

hard cider bladder press

hard cider bladder press

A large scale press and grinder will be needed. If you are commercial size, you might have to look into a “bladder” juice press (uses pressure from water, available here). Most of the equipment you will need is sadly not very cheap. Maybe you have an existing structure for storage or are already driving a truck, these things will help you save. When it comes time to pick, be prepared to hire labor if you have a decent amount of fruiting trees. You only have so much time, and the trees will only wait so long. This of course is all on the premise that you want a larger scale operation. Also don’t forget irrigation (more later).

You need to learn to Graft, Long-term for larger scale

No way around it, you will need more trees, and if you constantly buying trees you are going to have a bad time. That isn’t to say it isn’t profitable to buy pre-made trees, but you don’t have everything in place anyhow. Consider finding a supplier that will sell you a lot of varieties. Maybe start with 100 or 200 trees in total, expect to be paying around $6 to $12 per tree for these smaller orders. Let’s call it roughly $1k to $2k investment in trees per acre. Avoid any nursery that comes in around $20+ per tree, unless you are dealing with a very small order, rare tree, or more developed tree.

Planting a couple of hundred trees isn’t as daunting as it sounds (they probably are about 2-4 feet tall and fairly small). Designing the long-term layout of your property is arguably a scarier task.

Before talking long-term layout though, you need to have a goal. What is your long-term play? If you are looking for a few hundred gallons of cider a year, you honestly don’t need a full acre or much of any equipment or additional labor. Maybe you would rather design your orchard as a hassle free, no irrigation orchard where some years you get a crop and some years you get nothing. It’s not a terrible idea since the time commitment and cost would be minimal. Just know that planting trees is a long-term commitment.

This weekend I attended the 35th Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association Conference (OEFFA). At this conference, we heard a lot of techniques and strategies for farms and homesteads, and some are really interesting.

Speakers like Mark Shepard, Author of “Restoration Agriculture.” Mark grows a variety of plants, including nuts, apples, and berries (to list a few). Mark has a few big messages mainly talking about water management, eco-structures, and permaculture. The overall idea is you want to do as little as you can, with lower infrastructure. The water management is probably the most interesting aspect of his message. By creating a system of water ponds and underground “lines,” you can slow waters movement on your property and allow it to be absorbed. This is not a new technique, but seeing how it is accomplished is really interesting. You establish a pond or lake at a high point, and then use a tractor with a big hook called a sub-soiler, and drag lines in your property for your water to follow. You grade these lines so that the pitch is very low, but enough to allow gravity to do all of your watering. It’s a concept worth checking out if you are interested and thinking about a large scale operation. Water can be a very large cost for any form of agriculture.

Interesting enough, Mark Shepard has a hard cider operation, and it sounds like business is good. Also it’s important to note that Mark has a cattle on his property to complete a permaculture model (provide nutrients to plants).

Tree variety is important, but Confusing

Hard Cider Apple Variety Black Dabinett

Hard Cider Apple Variety Black Dabinett

A lot of people talk about “English and French varieties of trees” being superior for making hard cider, but frankly taste is so subjective, that this statement is laughable. I’m not saying you shouldn’t explore these varieties (often higher in tannin levels), but most hard cider producers use an unknown blend of apples. I would argue that more experimentation is needed on what blend is most desirable here in the United States. The real question is, Where do you think Angry Orchard’s is getting their juice? My guess is they are very generic apples and juices. From a consumer standpoint though, I’m not sure that having unique varieties will produce high enough of a premium on the retail side, as many home brewers might assume. Also you can always buy imported English and French hard ciders, and some of them are dirt cheap.

As for what varieties you should plant? Check out research for your specific state and region to see what is even viable. A big trend is to brew with crab apples, being that they have a large tannin level, similar to those “English and French varieties.” If you want to experiment with crab apples, get on craigslist and see what you can come up with, where I grew up there were crab apples everywhere that went to waste. The bottom line is here is, you will need a blend of apples. A post on tree variety and blending is coming soon.

My personal goal

My personal goals are still blurry. Do I also want to sell fruit at local farmer’s markets? Do I want to brew on a semi-commercial scale? Is there even enough “value-add” to invest in a larger scale operation? I sadly think that profitability on breweries is overstated, but wouldn’t it be cool if you could turn a decent profit on 4-5 acres and a brewing facility? You would be looking at approximately 7,000 – 8,000 gallons of hard cider. That would be roughly $70k – $80k if sold via kegs (most profitable route), but you have a lot of up-front investment (brewing equipment, building, etc.), overhead, and labor costs. I would have to believe it would be near impossible to make a profit more than $10-$20k on that scale.  I actually don’t think hard cider is profitable at that low of a scale in actual practice. It might be more lucrative to have a one or two acre smaller scale fruit operation (honeycrisps, gala, berries, etc.), sell at farmers markets, and just take whatever fruit you want.

Let’s not also forget that you can have a bad fruit season, labor issues, etc.. You also need to carry considerably more insurance and buy a lot of equipment. That $70k-80k revenue also implies that you sell all of your cider via 500+ kegs directly to the retailer. Per hour, your income would be dismal (blogger dismal). I think there are only three stops for hard cider producers, small personal orchard (not intent of profiting), massive commercial (20+ acres), or strictly brewer. Strictly brewer would buy bulk cider, avoiding the hassle of being a farmer. This might be the best route if you are looking to get in the game. Maybe buy a building in a cheaper location, get the federal and state permits (easier to get than beer permits, in most states), and hit up all of the local orchards. Try to grab cider for around $3-$4 a gallon and convert it into $10-12 per gallon hard cider. After your overhead, I bet you could get it down to $3-$4 net per gallon, meaning you would only need to produce about 15,000 gallons of hard cider to make a $50k living. Also noting that the first years wouldn’t show a profit due to tank and building investments.

One final note, I actually had a chance to try an Ohio made hard cider at a bar (Brews Cafe, Grandville, OH) when going to this OEFFA convention. It was about $12.50 for what appeared to be a 18oz blue glass bottle. The labeling was terrible, and it was a higher proof (in the teens I think). If the brewer sold that bottle to the bar for even $6, that’s $.33 an ounce ($42.66 per gallon minus bottling). That seems like a solid concept, but it really wasn’t very good, in fact it was one of the worst hard ciders I’ve ever had. Also, how many $12.50 bottles of cider does the average drinker consume? Just a thought.

Regardless, follow this blog and see how my goals and ideas develop. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with that land and have my own orchard.

Home Brewing Hard Cider, What Malic Acid Does

By Hard Cider Project

Malic AcidThere are several acids when it comes to home brewing, but when talking about hard cider, you are usually talking about a couple specific acids. The biggest player when it comes to Hard Cider is Malic Acid. Here are a few things to consider when home brewing hard cider in regards to acids.

Acids Play an Important Role in Hard Cider

Acids add to the taste of hard cider, although it’s personal preference to how acidic, usually it adds a more complex flavor and a tartness. More importantly it protects your hard cider, that’s right the acid that many home brewers try to avoid, protects your hard cider from spoilage and exposure to bacteria. Just a small fact, most wines look for about .5% to .7% volume of acid. You can buy acid testing kits if you really want to know, but I believe that taste ultimately will be your best guide. Also, most home brewers and even commercial home brewing suppliers would suggest anything under .3% is too low. The amount of acid that is in juice and ultimately your wine or hard cider is dependent on factors such as climate, soil, and nutrients of the fruiting plant or tree.

Hard Cider with Too Much Acid Can Be Saved

Before you take any of the steps below, give your hard cider or wine some time to age if it is younger. A lot of the times, the favors, tartness, bitters, tannins, etc. will mellow out considerably.

If you taste an older hard cider or wine with still too much acid, there are correction methods. There is a method called Malolactic Fermentation that takes Malic acid and converts it into a milder Lactic acid, but it’s something I wouldn’t personally approach as a home brewer. It involves using a specific bacteria to convert the Malic into two types of Lactic acid to calm the wine or hard cider down. Too much involvement for me.

The easier way is to treat the hard cider or wine with Potassium Bicarbonate (available at Midwest Supplies or most LHBS). For beginners, make sure not to confuse this with Potassium Sorbate (which is used to prevent fermentation). Note that after treating your hard cider with Potassium Bicarbonate, you need to cold crash (also called “cold stabilize”). The process of cold crashing drastically helps the reduction of acids.

Hard Cider with Too Little Acid Can Be Saved

Remember how acids are important for taste and protection? Well if you have too little of acids, you need to correct that just as much as too much acid. The tough part of this however is determining too little acid via taste. I personally would probably prefer lower acid taste wise, because I don’t have as developed as a palate as an experienced taster. That being said, if you prefer the taste of a lower acid hard cider and plan on consuming it in the short-term, I personally don’t see any issues with that. You add acid via acid blend or malic acid to boost any hard cider or wine.  Acid blend is a combination of both malic, citric, and tartaric acid. The one sold on Midwest supplies is 50% malic, 40% citric, and 10% tartaric acid.