Cider Aging Question

Cider is feremented fruit juice, such as apples and pears.

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Cider Aging Question

Postby poppo187 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 8:11 am

This is sort of a gloss on the standard cider newbie question about aging / waiting / etc. My first cider (mentioned in a couple of other threads - finished in about a week at .98) is sitting in a keg aging. Since I've got a free tap right now I've got it hooked up and am giving it a little taste each week to try to understand the changes that are happening as it ages. It's only been a month so there hasn't been that much, but I'm curious about a couple of things:

1. Appleness. Right now I'm actually getting more character from the champagne yeast I used to ferment than I am from apples. It's certainly appley on the nose (though not nearly as much as I'd like) and there's an apple character to it, but it doesn't scream "APPLE" the way I would think - particularly given the way the juice I used smelled and tasted. Is this pretty standard and the apple character will "come back" somehow as the champagne yeast character drops out a little bit, or was this a fermentation problem? If the apple character does "come back", how/why does this happen?

2. Sharpness. I'm not sure how to describe this character other than that it's kind of similar to the sharpness you'd get in a young mead if you took away the rocket fuel alcohol that young meads sometimes show. This has already started to mellow out and I'm assuming it's going to go through the same mellowing that you'd find in a mead, but am curious as to what causes this sharpness and why it mellows out over time. I guess that this is more of a brewing chemistry question than one specific to this particular cider, and I sure as hell won't understand a truly scientific answer, but if someone's got a layman's answer to this I'd love to hear it.

I appreciate all the advice on this from you guys. Even a month in this is better than most commercial ciders that I've had (granted I've only had a couple and they were either way too sweet or just plain bad, but still), but I think it does have a goodly way to go and I'm just trying to understand what's happening since I live very close to a heavy apple-growing region and wouldn't mind getting good at making some ciders.
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby thetooth » Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:20 am

I don't have a technical answer to any of this, but I'll share my layman's understanding of it.

As I understand it, the alcohol and tannins produced create a sharp flavor that overwhelms the rest of the apple flavor in the cider. Over a period of time (3-6 months in my experience), these tannins mellow and the alcohol integrates better with the cider creating more balance and letting the apple flavor come through.

I look forward to someone more knowledgeable chiming in with a real scientific answer. :)
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby poppo187 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 10:07 am

Thanks, Tooth - that makes a lot of sense. It's not really so much that the apple flavors "come back" as it is that the dominant but short-lived flavors die off. Sort of like what happens over time with cheap air freshener sprayed in a, shall we say, abused bathroom.

This kind of info is very helpful to me as I've never been good at not worry about stuff if I don't understand it. Case in point: StarSan. I don't care how many times I read "don't sweat the foam", I always sweated the foam until listening to a Brew Strong or Sunday Session or something in which a guy from StarSan explained that the reason you don't have to worry about it is that the acid in the foam gets so diluted in carboy or whatever when you fill it with beer/cider/water/etc. that it becoms meaningless. Now I don't sweat the foam. I think it's these little "why" questions that really make one a better and more confident brewer.
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby pclemon » Thu Oct 07, 2010 11:21 am

Apple cider typically ferments VERY dry. This is why you're not picking up nearly as much flavor as you would have thought. That flavor will not suddenly re-appear.

I know people that have added a 1/2 cup or so of frozen concentrate or added an amount of apple juice that has preservatives to the fermented cider to help re-inforce the apple flavor. You're in luck that yours is in a keg and doing so would probably be fairly easy to experiment with.
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby thetooth » Thu Oct 07, 2010 11:25 am

The apple flavor doesn't "suddenly reappear", but it is more evident as the harsher early flavors subside. Unless you are expecting it to taste the same as unfermented cider, I find that a few months of aging brings back plenty of apparent apple flavor.

But... if you are looking for a sweeter cider with more unfermented apple juice taste, adding some sweetener or apple juice back in at the end (often referred to as back-sweetening) will definitely accomplish that. My wife and I tried that with a batch and found it too sweet for our tastes, though.
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby poppo187 » Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:17 pm

Thanks guys - not looking for sweet cider by any means - just want to make sure I get some apple character.
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Re: Cider Aging Question

Postby thetooth » Thu Oct 07, 2010 12:36 pm

No worries. It's all personal preference. I just hate to see people sweeten ciders before they let them age a few months and find out how they are really going to taste. You can't really go wrong either way, it's just a matter of how you like your cider.

After a few months, you may very well decide that you desire more sweetness and/or apple flavor... at which point you should absolutely do as pclemon suggested.
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