In the latest issue of Zymurgy Magazine, there is an article in which different strains of beer yeast are compared for making apple cider.
The article points out a common misconception (one that I held until I read the article) that dry champagne yeast is what’s commonly used to ferment apple juice into cider.
Apparently in England (and where else would we look for guidance on how to make cider?) it is a common practice to use beer yeast instead. While champagne yeast will ferment cider very dry and leave little if any body (imagine the tart crispness of sparkling wine), the right strain of yeast for making ales will produce a cider that is off-dry and retaining a juicier mouthfeel.
For this experiment, I bought 6 gallons of “fresh pressed” Kirkland Signature Apple Juice from Costco, total price out the door was $27, which makes it comparable to a cheaper batch of home-brew. If it is successful, in the future I might consider sourcing something that’s been kept under refrigeration and left unpasteurized for a truly special batch of cider.
I tasted the juice and like it very much. It has a nice level of acidity and is not over sweet. The juice is not from concentrate and made from apples grown in the U.S. I used 5.25 gallons for the batch, and put the rest in the fridge. We never buy fruit juice for the boys to drink, except for “Saturday Morning Breakfast” when we have orange juice. The jug of apple juice will be gone by tomorrow.
Someone has also already thought of adding hops to cider for flavoring. Two commercial ciders are reviewed in the same issue, featuring dry hop additions.
Hops are most usually added at the point when it’s time to boil the liquid (“wort”) that ultimately becomes beer. “Dry-hopping” is when you add more — dry — hops to beer that has already been completely fermented. Unlike hops that are boiled during brewing (boiling causes the “alpha acids” in hops to be released, which makes beer bitter), dry-hopping beer doesn’t make it more bitter; only the “volatile compounds” (i.e., flavors and aromas; mostly aromas) present in hops are released into the fermented beer.
The idea with dry-hopping a cider would not be to make it bitter, instead it would be to impart some some additional fragrant and flavor characteristics, making the cider at least smell like a hoppy, apple-y beer.
And I have way too many hops, which is why I’ve been dry-hopping everything (also, I LOVE hops and I love the flavor and aroma boost you get with dry-hopping) and doing beers with huge “late-hop” additions, so making a cider for Thanksgiving that is off-dry and featuring some floral, fruity aromas from a few ounces of Calypsos sounds just right to me. I pitched a Wyeast French Saison that I would not have otherwise used now that summer is over, which in beer throws off some really fruity esters.
The cider will actively ferment for at around a week and then will mature for several additional weeks before it is transferred to a keg, carbonated, and served. It should be ready by Thanksgiving. We’ll see what happens with this interesting project.