From: Jim Proctor
Subject: Clarity of my cider
After 4 days of stage 1 fermentation, I have a hydrometer reading of 1.040 SG. I believe that I am ready to do my first racking. I am trying to achieve a nice clear cider. Please explain what I will be observing after the cider is put into the carboy. I anticipate seeing the cider gradually clarify itself and the lee’s settling on the bottom. Of course I will use an airlock on the 5 gallon carboy and I expect to still see some fermentation activity, but it will be decreasing. Should I continue to take hydrometer readings during this process? Also, I would like a hint of honey flavoring in my finished cider and I would like about a 6% alcohol level. How can this be achieved? (I probably should have prefaced all of this by saying this is my first year attempting to make hard cider and I using an heirloom apple variety called Pierce’s Pasture which I have growing in my meadow in Vermont.)
Thanks in advance for any advice and comments.
Wow Jim, lots of questions here, so let’s take it one at a time.
Firstly I would like to address your point about wanting a 6% cider. Your alcohol level is worked out by calculating the difference between the reading before the yeast started working and the final reading. Since your reading was taken after four days fermentation I am afraid I cannot help you on this one. Personally I never aim for a specific percentage in a final brew. I let nature do its thing and generally get a cider somewhere around the 7% mark when I bother to actually check it.
If you want a hint of honey flavour then you need to add a bit of honey, but not let its sugars ferment out. Again I usually let my brews go fully dry (let them continue until the yeast stops because it is all dead) however, you will have to try a more advanced method. Read up on keeving and you will see what is involved.
On to your point about clarity. We are so used to clear apple juice and clear beer, so when a homemade cider turns out cloudy there is a temptation to assume that something has gone wrong. In 99 percent of cases a cloudy cider is perfectly good to drink and should not be thrown away. Let your palette be your guide. If it tastes good, it is good.
However, if you want a clear cider, here is what you do.
To clear a cloudy cider the best thing you can give it is time. Cider always starts cloudy and over a period of weeks or months should clear naturally. So, yes Jim, you should expect that when you transfer to your secondary fermentation vessel you will at first see a cloudy mix which should slowly clear. Cloudiness is caused by particulates of apple and yeast and these should eventually settle to the bottom of the barrel, carboy, demijohn or whatever vessel you are keeping your cider in. The speed of clearing is highly variable. It depends upon the temperatures, apples and yeast used as well as how much of the lees get transferred in the siphoning process. Again, just be patient.
If there is lots of obvious gunk settled at the bottom of the vessel, then you can rack off the clearer cider above into a new vessel and that will clear faster. Do this every couple of months if the cider is not yet cleared.
The other methods of clearing cider is to borrow a beer brewing technique and use isinglass or gelatine or other treatment specifically designed to clarify the brew. This is usually in the form of a powder that is sprinkled onto the top of the cider. It joins together into a sort of semi-permeable parachute which drops slowly through the cider, pulling the particles with it to the bottom of the vessel.
Then there is the “cold crash” technique. If you have a huge refridgerator you can put the whole barrel in there for a couple of days. This will apparently cause the yeast to drop out to the bottom, but living in a normal house I have never had the opportunity to test it.
So, as I said at the beginning, your best bet is probably just to be patient and let time do the clearing for you. Oh, by the way, if you boiled your apple juice before adding the yeast you will have set the pectin so the cider will never clear… But if you boiled your apple juice then you are probably a bit confused already. Remember our motto “Drink responsibly… And often”