Cider, Fermentation and Sugars
Everyone asks us about the general rules of making cider, how to make a sparkling, sweet drink, so we decided to include in one blog the main processes that take place during the fermentation of cider.
Of course, making sweet cider, compared to dry cider, is related to more complicated processes, and you will read somewhere that in many cases, sugar is added, but it is not so easy, so we will try to explain what is happening.
Usually, during the fermentation of the juice (be it apple, pear, grape, honey or others), the yeasts and bacteria present in it convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). So adding more sugar doesn’t make the cider sweeter, it just makes it more alcoholic. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the drink takes to ferment. Even the smallest amount of sugar in a drink can be critical to both mouthfeel and flavor, and they can provide a balance of acidity and tannins.
If you add sugar to the juice, this process is called chaptalizing abroad, and this process is used in wineries in various countries in regions where the grapes have difficulty accumulating enough sugar to reach the alcohol level you want. However, it is our opinion that Georgian wine, regardless of whether it is grape or apple, should be made with natural sugar content, without the addition of extra yeasts and sugar.
In short, we can add sugar, but we need to ask why we do it and know what we need it for. Typically, the average alcohol content of cider ranges from 3-8%, and we have yet to see an apple in Georgia that does not naturally produce enough sugar to fall within that percentage. You may get more, but these will be special and rare cases.
To sum it up, if you add sugar to apple juice, you will definitely increase the alcohol, but you won’t get a sweeter drink.
If you want to have sweet cider, you will have to “interfere” and one method is to stop the fermentation of the sugar, for which there are various natural and chemical methods. In other words, you’ll have to do something to stop the yeasts in the liquid from converting the sugars in the drink into alcohol. The second method is “back-sweetening”, i.e. adding sugar after primary fermentation, where you can also use sugar that does not ferment.
Before we continue, let’s talk about what essential supplies you need and what essential chemical processes you will need to control.
Refractometer: Used to measure sugar levels in juice and cider
Hydrometer: Used to measure density in juice and cider during fermentation
Let’s first go through the methods of stopping the fermentation of sugar in the drink:
Adding sulphites and sorbets: Cider, like wine, contains natural sulphites, but to neutralize the yeast and prevent fermentation, you can add sulphites (e.g. Camden tablets) and sorbets. Basically, this process is done at the end of fermentation, when there is a process of sweetening or adding sugar, which is used by enterprises in many different countries. I will point out that you only need this method if you want to get sweet, not dry cider. If there is still sugar left in the cider at bottling, you will need to add these preservatives to prevent further fermentation in the bottle, which would cause CO2 to build up and cause the bottles to “explode” under pressure.
In general, our recommendation is that everyone in Georgia should produce cider, without adding preservatives, although we also understand that the cider industry in the local market is just getting its footing, and getting naturally good cider requires some time and experience, therefore, at this stage, the main thing is that many people start production and experiments in order to To further achieve high-level natural cider production.
Pasteurization: If you have sugar in your cider at bottling, but don’t add sulfites, it’s best to pasteurize it. This is done by heating the cider to a certain level (there are different experiences, but according to our experiments you can achieve results by heating it to 60-70 degrees and stopping for 10-15 minutes) so that the yeasts in it “die”. The downside is that great care must be taken not to crack the bottles, and pasteurization can also affect the taste, although in many cases the cider still retains those vitamins and flavors.
Filtration: The last way to prevent sugar from fermenting is to filter it. The job is to remove the yeast that turns the sugar into alcohol to make sweet cider. However, there are risks that the yeast will still remain in the liquid, so the fermentation process may continue, relatively slowly (due to the lack of yeast).
There is also another way to make sweet cider, where there is sugar that does not start to ferment when touched as yeast. Yes, there are indeed sugars and/or sweeteners that do not ferment. Let’s go through this topic as well.
Back-sweetening: This is the process of adding sugar to the drink after fermentation, before bottling. We must remember that our task is to prevent the yeasts in the drink from converting the sugar into alcohol. For this, you can use sugar (can be natural or organic) that does not ferment when it comes into contact with the yeast. These are stevia, which comes from plants, and lactose, which comes from milk. You can also use xylitol and erythritol, which are organic and not genetically modified. Keep in mind that stevia has a strong flavor, lactose can be viscous, and xylitol and erythritol can cause digestive problems if too much is consumed. However, they are known to have a cleaner taste. Also, most artificial diabetic sweeteners do not ferment and are often used as sweeteners.
Pear Juice: The most natural way to sweeten cider is by adding pear juice. One of the sugars found in pears is sorbitol, a natural sugar that does not ferment. It will also solve the problem of cracking the bottle. Note that if you make cider from 51-100% pear juice, it’s technically not cider, but “perry” or pear cider. Perry and cider are “friends” and that’s why they are often mixed together when both are made.
Keeving: A process commonly used in both England and France. The purpose of this method is to extract all the nutrients from the cider. At this time the yeast is starving, and although there is sugar available to feed it, it cannot because the cider does not contain enough nutrients. However, at this time, the fermentation process is going on in the juice, and by frequent “keeving” or removing it from the lees, you will be able to get sweet cider. In some cases, calcium chloride is added during pressing, which, after 24 hours, will bring the nutrients in the juice to the surface of the juice in the form of a liquid, which you can remove.
In short, if you want a sweet cider, simply adding sugar to the juice will not give you the desired result. Our recommendation is to add the natural sweetener sorbitol, which is present in pear juice.