It’s time to have a beer alternative on tap for the fall that’s still fun and refreshing to drink. A cider is perfect for mid-week brewing with a busy schedule, requiring minimal effort and no boiling (unless you count the yeast starter). Cider also serves as a great playground for yeast, from NEIPA East-Coast or London strains, to Belgian strains for dry esters and phenols, or maybe a lager for a clean, crisp taste with a longer ferment. The plan for this one will also use just a small amount of fruity dry hops, and maybe some French Oak in secondary if that seems like a good idea when the time comes to rack it.
For this first trial, Imperial A38 Juice is being used since we needed to kick up the store-bought pack into a fresh sample for storing in the yeast library, so it was easy enough to overbuild a starter and pitch it into the apple juice.
The BrewUnited Yeast Calculator to build a 1.4 L starter of about 280 billion yeast cells. I’ll need 230 billion cells to ferment the cider and will be cold-crashing 250 mL of slurry with about 50 billion cells to save for the library. This was started 24 hours before pitch. The yeast became very active within a few hours at 68 F, forming a 1″ krausen within the 2 L Erlenmeyer flask.
Supposedly this is the same or similar strain to Wyeast 1318 and White Labs 095, but we’ve brewed with those two quite a bit at this point and they each have very distinct characteristics, so I’m hoping A38 brings something unique to the table. I’ve read other people having great success with ciders using English yeast strains, so if A38 is anything like 1318, it will likely fare well. Of course, we will need to ferment ciders with the other strains for a true comparison, so stay tuned for future experiments.
Since a key feature of this recipe was simplicity, a shopping trip was made to our local Trader Joe’s for some unfiltered apple juice. The hope was the Honeycrisp Apple Juice would be in stock, but it wasn’t so instead a fresh apple juice was chosen, “Trader Joe’s Flash Pasteurized Apple Juice 100% Freshly Pressed Apples“, which needs to be refrigerated. Since they only had five 64 oz. jugs of that one in the fridge, five 64 oz. jugs of “Trader Joes Certified Organic Pasteurized Unfiltered Apple Juice” were also purchased that did not need to be refrigerated. These would be used to create a 50/50 blend in the carboy. Both had 30 g of sugar per 8 fl. oz. serving, which comes out to 2400 g of sugar in 5 gallons of “wort”.
Since Brewer’s Friend is how we record all of our brew session logs, 2400 g (85.71 oz.) of cane sugar was temporarily plugged into our recipe fermentables which showed 49.29 gravity points in a 5 gallon batch. Using this gravity number and deleting the cane sugar, a custom fermentable for the recipe was created for “Apple Juice” which has a guesstimated Lovibond of 2.0 (according to what some others have used) and a PPG of 6.15 to net 49.2 gravity points for an estimated OG of 1.049 or so, which with these yeast should come out right around 4.8% ABV. (Edit: OG measured as 1.051.)
Note: If using BF for cider, you will also have to make sure your efficiency is set to 100%, your boil time is set to 0, and that the batch and boil sizes are set to the same number, in this case 5 gallons.
Once the carboy was ready and all the tools were sanitized, 2.5 tsp. of pectin enzyme was mixed into 1 cup of the cold juice just in case of any pectin haze and dumped it into the carboy. Then, the room-temperature juice and the refrigerated juice was simply dumped into the carboy and once mixed, the temperature was 65 F which was the exact pitching temperature we were shooting for. 100 mL of purified water was headed with 2.2 g of yeast nutrient and dumped that on top of the juice. We then added the yeast starter slurry (after pouring off a library share). After capping the carboy with an airlock, the carboy was gently shaken up a bit to incorporate all the ingredients and put it into the fermentation fridge at 65 F.
The plan is to let this thing continue fermenting for a week or so, dropping in 2 oz. of dry hops, then after another week or so racking to secondary. At that point, a decision will be made for whether to add a touch of French Oak to give the cider a hint of vanilla, spice, and perfume. If the cider doesn’t look very clear after a day or two of cold crashing, gelatin will be used to clean it up a bit.
Update [+4 hours]: After only a few of hours, a lot of trub has formed on the bottom in a thick layer, which looks like a conglomerate of yeast and apple matter. The airlock has already started popping and so far, this yeast is impressive. There are large yeast globs already floating on a layer of foam on top. There is a noticeable amount of movement in the juice and some yeast seem to be globbing to the carboy glass as well.
Update [+12 hours]: The yeast are in full swing now. The yeast floating on top how now become a complete surface of orange-yellow goo. There is movement in the juice and the bottom 2/3 of the carboy is a slurry of yeast + juice. There is a still a smaller sediment layer on the bottom, and the upper 1/3 of the juice doesn’t appear to have a yeast slurry, but the yeast are visible swimming through it. The airlock isn’t bubble as fast as expected, but it’s going at a good rate. Maybe fermenting it on the cold side of the yeast temperature range has tempered the yeast a bit, or it might just need to build up some more until the yeast gets to their peak activity level.
Update [+14 hours]: It appears that the yeast have reproduced enough to fill the entire carboy now, the upper 1/3 layer has disappeared and the entire cider is a slurry now. The airlock is bubbling at a rate of a beat every second or two, and there is a great sweet fermenting apple juice smell. The krausen on top continues to thicken and there is a small (~0.5 cm) layer of clear juice right below it. There is still a small sediment layer on the bottom of the carboy. This is a very active looking fermentation going on at this point. I can’t tell if the layer in the bottom is yeast or just apple sediment from the juice. Either way, the yeast appear to be happy and ready to chew through all that sweet sugar.
Update [+16 hours]: The yeast floatilla on top of the krausen is starting to break up since the krausen is growing. The krausen is expanding quite a bit upward and airlock bubbling is every second or less. Activity is fast and furious inside the body of the cider with the yeast visibly moving around. These yeast are in full ferment mode, it will be fun to use them in a beer.
Update [+24 hours]: The fermentation is still going strong, airlock bubbles every second or so. The krausen rose high then became foamy white and went back down. Then the yeast covered the foam until it was a foamy orange yeast mess floating on top. The fermentation fridge smells amazing. The carboy thermometer has been hovering around 68 F or so.
Update [+60 hours]: The fermentation has tapered off with airlock bubbles every three to four seconds. There is still a 1″ layer of thick yeasty krausen and the yeast are visible swimming around when shining a flashlight into the cider. The smell is great, hints of bourbon and dank apple. The carboy temperature is around 67 F.
Update [+10 days]: The fermentation is just starting to slow down with a bubble every 5 seconds or so. The krausen still looks the same although it’s a thinner layer now. Bumped the temperature up to 67 F on the fermentation fridge, the carboy reads 68 F.
Update [+12 days]: The fermentation is finally starting to die off with an airlock bubble every 8 to 10 seconds. The krausen yeast layer is now very thin (less than 1cm). I can still see the yeast actively moving around in the body of the cider but it appears as though they are almost done.
Update [+13 days]: The airlock bubbles every 14 seconds. The krausen yeast layer has now dissipated and I can finally see the cider at the surface, except a few patches. Bumped temperature to 68 F.