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Is my cider ready to drink?

At its simplest cider is ready to drink when it tastes good. But being ready to drink and being ready to store are not the same thing when it comes to cider making. The simple guide below will help you to determine whether your cider is ready for bottling and decide which of the options for storage is right for you.

Your cider must have finished fermenting either naturally or by pasteurisation.

A natural finish...

As a general rule, fermentation must have finished before you store your cider. Usually this will mean waiting for the cider to complete its fermentation naturally. This can be checked by:

  • Looking for bubbles passing through the airlock. No bubbles indicate that fermentation has finished (though it might be stuck – see later). This is not foolproof so you should also follow the next step.
  • Checking the SG (specific gravity). If the cider is fully fermented this should be less than 1.000, e.g. 0.995. Use a hydrometer and jar to test your cider.

If the cider stops fermenting at an SG much higher than 1.000 then the fermentation is ’stuck’. Andrew Lea in his excellent book Craft Cider Making gives some excellent advice on how to remedy this using yeast nutrient to stimulate further fermentation.

Finishing by pasteurisation...

If your cider has got to a point where you particularly like the taste you can stop fermentation in its tracks by pasteurising it using our purpose made pasteuriser. This will kill off any remaining yeasts that cause fermentation and allow your cider to be stored safely. For more information about pasteurising please see How to pasteurise sweetened cider.

Taste your cider

If you have let your cider finish its fermentation naturally, now is the time to have a taste. If it is particularly acidic (which can often happen when a large proportion of cooking apples have been used) then you have a couple of options:

  • Leave the cider in the fermenter (which needs to be a high quality, thick walled fermenter like Speidel) to encourage a malo-lactic fermentation. This is where sharp malic acid in the juice converts to 'softer' lactic acid. Usually this will happen in the spring at the same time as the apple trees blossom, both being naturally triggered by the warmer weather - see pages 72 & 73 of Craft Cider Making.

  • Sweeten your cider with natural products e.g. sugar or apple juice. You will first need to rack the cider from the lees (see below), add sugar or juice to taste and then pasteurise the cider to make sure the added sugar doesn’t start of another stage of fermentation (see above). Our purpose built pasteuriser is perfect for this job.

Now your cider is ready to store

By the time that that your cider is ready for storing most of the apple solids and yeast, called the lees, should be well settled out at the bottom of your fermenting tank. The cider may be clear or hazy.

The next step is to rack (syphon) the cider off the lees into another fermenter. Moving large amounts of cider (anything over about 30 litres) is best done using the drill pump or the electric centrifugal pump. Smaller volumes of cider can be racked from one fermenter to another using syphon tubing.

The most important thing to remember when considering how to store your cider is that it must be kept in full, airtight containers. Once air gets to mature cider there is always the risk that it will spoil. The two most popular ways of storing cider are:

  • Clean glass bottles with airtight caps. Fill the bottle fairly full to exclude air but always leave a little space for the expansion of the cider with temperature fluctuations. Cider that is packed in good condition will keep for several months but once opened the bottle must be drunk within 2 days (not usually a problem!).

  • Bag in Boxes: The ingenious thing about these bags is that as the cider is drunk the bag collapses without letting in any additional air. This means that cider can be drawn off as required and any remaining cider keeps in good condition. These bags (5 litre and 10 litre) can be put in the pasteuriser to give cider that will last between 6 and 12 months. Without pasteurising dry cider can last an impressive 3 to 6 months.

By now you should have a full cellar of cider to enjoy throughout the spring and coming summer. At Vigo Presses we stock a full range of all of the products mentioned above and we are always very happy to advise on the best options for you. You can contact us at sales@vigopresses.co.uk or on 01404 890093.

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