Making Great Cider
“It is not the cidermaker who makes the cider; the cider makes itself from the apples.” - Claude Jolicoeur.
* Cidermaking is much more like winemaking (or meadmaking) than brewing.
* Great cider requires great apples, just like great wine requires great grapes.
* Great cider requires time. It takes cider months or years to become drinkable, just like it takes wine years to mature.
* The skill of the cidermaker lies in choosing the right apples and controlling the process.
levels greater than .45%, making them sour and somewhat bitter or Part 1 - Making Cider astringent. These varieties of apples are very rare and are only used for Choosing The Best Apples: The best cider apples are very blending for cider. A cider made only with extremely bittersharp apples different from commercial apples! They will be small, often scabby and would be almost undrinkable due to its sourness and drying, mouth-wormy, and will come from old, under-fertilized, ―standard‖ (i.e., full-puckering character. Crabapples are commonly used as ―bitter-sharp‖ sized) apple trees. They are best picked and pressed when they are apples by home cidermakers. ripe or slightly overripe. For some varieties of apples and pears, it is Bittersweet apples have tannin levels greater than 0.2% and acid necessary to ―sweat‖ the apples for a few days to a few weeks before levels of less than 0.45%, giving them a sweet and somewhat pressing them, to allow them to ripen and soften, and to allow some astringent or bitter taste. water to escape from the apples. Sharp apples have tannin levels of less than 0.2% and acid levels Good cider apples also have higher sugar levels than greater than 0.45%. Some varieties of sharp apples can produce supermarket varieties. Cider apples will have 15-20 Brix, compared to excellent ―single varietal‖ cider, but usually must be blended with other 12-14 Brix for typical apples. They will also have relatively low nitrogen, varieties of apples to avoid producing cider which is too acidic. Apples and have unique flavors and aromas which carry over into the finished described as ―cooking apples‖ are likely to be sharper than sweet cider. Just like wine doesn’t taste like Concord grapes, cider shouldn’t apples, but not as sharp as some sharp apple varieties intended for taste like apple juice! blending for cider. Depending on the apple varieties, good cider might have floral or Sweet apples have tannin levels of less than 0.2% and acid levels citrusy notes, fruity notes reminiscent of fruits other than apples (e.g., less than 0.45%. They are sweet and can sometimes seem bland. They pineapple, strawberry). Ciders made from apples high in tannins can must be blended with other apple varieties to produce good cider. Early have earthy, smoky, roasted or bitter notes and seemingly fuller body. maturing apples (i.e., varieties available in August and early September) Still other varieties can have salty, steely or mineral-like notes. are often sweet. Varieties described as being good to eat fresh (―out of By contrast, large commercial apples contain more water, hand‖) are usually sweet apples, but some are Sharp. meaning lower sugar content and reduced flavor. Likewise, the strong What Varieties Are Best?: Late-maturing apple varieties (i.e., floral and fruity estery aromas which are desirable in dessert apples can those which mature from late September to the end of October) are contribute off flavors and smells to finished cider. best for cider. Early maturing varieties tend to be low in sugar, acids Finally, apple varieties which are easiest to grow and yield the and tannins. most juice don’t necessarily produce the best cider. Big commercial Commonly Available Apples Varieties: In Upstate NY, the cider and apple juice producers like apple varieties which grow quickly following varieties are commonly available and are recommended for and easily and yield a lot of juice, but they might not have the best cidermaking: flavor. Likewise, commercial growers of dessert or cooking apples grow Sweet: Delicious, Empire, Golden Russet, Honey-Gold, Liberty, early-ripening, high-yielding apples which store well and are attractive Macintosh, Northern Spy, Spartan. to the eye. These varieties seldom make great cider. Sharp: Paula Red, Roxbury Russet. The Four Types of Cider Apples: In cidermaking, apples are Bittersharp: None commonly available, substitute crabapples. typically divided into four classes: Sweet, Sharp, Bittersharp and Bittersweet: Cortland, Ida Red. Bittersweet, based on their levels of sugar, acids and tannins. Occasionally Available Apple Varieties: Other apple varieties Bittersharp apples have tannin levels greater than .2% and acid which grow in Upstate New York a listed below. Those recommended
for cidermaking are starred:
Apple Juice vs. Cider Bittersharp: Fox Whelp*, Kingston Black*, Porter’s Perfection*,
Stoke Red*, Tremlett’s Bitter*, Yarlington Mill*. Also various varieties of Outside of the U.S. and Canada, the word ―cider‖ means
crabapples might be suitable for blending. fermented apple juice. For the sake of convenience and historical
Bittersweet: Ashton Bitter*, Binet Rouge*, Brown Snout*, Bulmer’s accuracy, I use that terminology in this handout.
Norman*, Chisel Jersey*, Dabinette*, Ellis Bitter*, Frequin Rouge*, In the U.S. and Canada, the term ―hard cider‖ is used to
Medialle D’Or*, Stembridge Jersey*, Somerset Redstreak. describe fermented apple juice, while ―sweet cider‖ or just ―cider‖ is
Sharp: Bramley’s Seedling*. used to describe unfiltered ―farmhouse‖ apple juice. This confusion th Sweet: Akane, Ashmead’s Kernel*, Calville Blanc*, Cox Orange originated when late 19 century Temperance advocates managed
Pippin*, Empire*, Fuji, Goldrush, Idared, Jonagold, Liberty*, Macoun, to convince people that unfermented apple juice was ―cider‖ while
Mutsu, Reinette Zabergau*, Saint Edmund’s Russet*, Spigold. fermented cider was poison. Quite the trick, considering that before
Note: English or French apple varieties grown in the U.S. can about 1840 cider was the drink of choice for most Americans and
differ from their European ancestors, since the U.S. climate is hotter was considered to be a temperate alternative to distilled spirits!
and drier in summer, sunnier in the autumn and colder in the winter.
―English style‖ or ―French style‖ cider made from U.S. grown English or Apple Blends: A few apple varieties, such as Kingston Black or French apple varieties can vary from authentic European ciders. Northern Spy, make great single varietal cider. In most situations,
Another Way of Looking at Things: When blending, you want a however, you will need to blend apple juice from different varieties (or mix of high sugar apples and low acid apples so you can create a blend press different varieties of apples together) to get the best taste. of apples with O.G. 1.050 to 1.080, and T.A. % (as Tartaric) of 0.6-0.8% Typically, you want a base of sweet apples for fermentability, but also
some apples which are higher in tannins and acids to balance the acidity.
High Sugar Apples: These have SG > 1.060, with medium to very sweetness. As a very rough rule of thumb, you want a mix of high acidity. These provide the alcohol and base flavor to the cider. approximately 50-60% ―sweet‖ apples, with about 25-30% ―sharp‖ and
High sugar varieties include some cider apples (e.g., Porter Perfection), about 10-25% bitter or bittersweet apples is a good start. most russets (e.g., Golden, Roxbury, Belle de Boskoop, Ashmead’s Even if you must buy your apple juice, you can still get a sense of Kernel), many well-grown late-maturing apples (e.g., King of Pippins, what the final cider will be like if you know the varieties of apples which Sandow, Ribston, Honeygold) and some mild crabs (e.g., Bilodeau). went into the juice blend and if the juice seems ―balanced‖ with a fair
Low Acid Apples: These have T.A. % (as Tartaric) of less than degree of tartness and bitterness.
0.5%, with varying amounts of sugar. They are essential for blending Essential Elements of Apple Juice: To make great cider, your
with high sugar apples which usually contain too much acidity. They are juice must have four things: high sugar, low nitrogen, and balanced also often rich in tannins. Low acid apples include sweet and acidity and tannins.
bittersweet cider apples (e.g., Bulmer’s Norman, Tremlett’s Bitter, Sugar: Sugar content directly relates to final gravity. Small, late Yarlington Mill), most wild seedlings, and most pears. season apples tend to be highest in sugar. High sugar tends to occur
Medium Sugar Apples: These have low to medium sugar (SG when nitrogen in the apples is low. Apple juice typically has O.G. 1.040-1.045 - 1.055) with medium to high acidity. They can substitute when 1.050 and will ferment to about F.G. 1.010-1.005, producing a cider of there aren’t enough high sugar apples. Examples include many sharp 5-6% ABV, but a good blend of apple juice for cider will have a and bittersharp cider apples (e.g., Brown’s Apple, Breakwell Seedling, minimum SG of 1.050 (12.5 Brix, 6.2% potential ABV). If your SG is Stoke Red), many late and mid-season eating apples (e.g. Frostbite, lower than this, try to find better apples rather than adding sugar, since Honeycrisp, Lobo, Wealthy, Haralson, Alexander, Winter Banana, low-sugar apple juice is likely to have other problems (e.g., high Freedom). nitrogen, excessive acidity).
Special Apples: These are apple varieties which add special If that isn’t possible, since low-alcohol ciders tend to be less
character to a cider (e.g., aromas, flavors, colors) even if they aren’t stable and more vulnerable to infection by microbes, you must add otherwise desirable for cidermaking. They are typically blended with sugar to bring the base apple juice up to a S.G. of at least 1.045. 2.25 more suitable apples. Examples: Dolgo or Kerr (acidity too high but ounces of sugar (or 3 ounces of honey) will raise the S.G. of 1 gallon of wonderful aroma), SG 1060, TA>2%) very special, various red flesh juice by 5 points (e.g., from S.G. 1.045 to 1.050).
apples are usually low in sugar and high in acid, but can impart a nice Any fermentable sugar will work, but sucrose (table sugar) is the pink color. cheapest and easiest to work with. When added to apple juice, the
Useless Apples: These apples are useless for making cider. Eat acids in the juice immediately convert it into invert sugar (a mixture of them, cook them or use them to make sweet cider or vinegar, instead. fructose and glucose) which is ideal for fermentation. They have very low sugar (SG < 1.045), high or very high acid (TA > It is possible to increase the potential alcohol by adding any other 0.8%), high nitrogen levels, and low tannin levels. Examples include sugar, such as fruit sugar (fructose) or corn sugar (dextrose AKA most early season apples (e.g., Yellow Transparent, William's Pride, glucose). Fruit or maple syrup, brown sugar, molasses or honey can Redfree, Duchesse, Melba) and most mass production eating apples also be used to increase sugar content, but these impart their own (e.g., McIntosh). flavors, turning ordinary cider into a specialty cider.
Generally, specialty sugars added to apple juice lose much of the
character during fermentation. If possible, add these sugars once Blending Your Juice fermentation has slowed or stopped.
Sugar Ranges for Apples and Apple Juice Blends
Sugar Content S.G. Brix Potential Alc. % Comment
Too low 1.040> 10 > 5> No good for cider
Low 1.050 12.5 6.2 Minimum for cider
Medium 1.055 13.5 7
High 1.060 15 7.8 good
Exceptional 1.070< 17+ 9+
Acidity: Acids determine how ―sharp‖ the cider will be and is Crisp, sparkling ―champagne-like‖ ciders can be at the top of the
expressed in terms of pH and total acidity. A sufficiently low pH (pH 3.0-range (i.e., 0.8% TA), while still English-style ciders are at the lower end 3.8) is necessary to inhibit bacterial action. of the limit (i.e., ~0.55%).
Ciders with low total acidity (below 0.3%) ciders taste insipid, Sharp apples might have up to double the desired level of acidity while those with too high an acid level (above 0.7-0.8%) can taste for a balanced cider, and some varieties of sharp apples might be too unpleasantly sour. The acidity of your juice blend should be between acidic to used in cider, except as a small part of an apple blend. 0.45-0.9% Total Acidity (T.A.) expressed as tartaric acid. Too much Ideally, you won’t need to adjust the sourness of your apple juice, acid gives a tart cider. Too little acid leaves the cider vulnerable to since the blend of apples will already contain enough acid. If necessary,
however, you can make your apple juice sourer, or give it a more infection during fermentation and can lead to oxidation and other ―off‖
flavors. For safety sake, your apple juice must have a pH of 3.8 or lower. complex sourness, by adding some combination of malic acid, citric
acid or lactic acid. Malic acid is the major acid naturally present in
apples, so it should predominate in any acid blend. As a rule of thumb, lactobacillus bacteria. This process makes the cider taste smoother and 20 grams of malic acid per 5 gallons will increase acidity by 0.1%. can give it a ―nutty‖ or ―bacon‖ flavor. MLF is desirable in some styles of
Extremely sour ciders often mellow with age, due to Malolactic cider (notably English Cider).
Fermentation (MLF), where malic acid is converted into lactic acid by
Acid Ranges for Apples and Apple Juice Blends
Acidity % TA Tartaric