So, friends, I’ve been on a bit of a high.
This Monday night, I found out that I won best cider, best mead, best novice, and best brewer (tied), at the Victorian amateur brewing championships (Vicbrew).
That means that three of my creations are going forward into the National amateur championships next month, and considering that it’s only been about three years since I first tried my hand at fermenting booze, well I’m pretty happy.
In those three years, I’ve gone all Type A Virgo on fermentation. A lot of research, a lot of brewing, and lot of really dumb ridiculous projects all aimed at learning. If they work, great. If they don’t, I understand a bit more than I did going in.
This is one of them (and one of the winners at Vicbrew): my most ambitious small batch project to date. A particularly insane project seeing as how I live in Melbourne, Australia and ice cider is a Quebecoise invention. We never have ice. We barely have frosts. It simply does not freeze here.
Why Ice Cider?
Ice cider (cidre de glace) is a pretty recent invention, first made in 1989 when Christian Barthomeuf created a recipe inspired by the ice wines of Germany. I can’t buy it, but I watched Jeremy Olsen make it on Chop and Brew and man, it looked really good.
According to the romantic origin story, it’s made by apples that freeze on the trees, but in reality it’s kind of rare for apples to do so before they ripen and fall off. Most ice cider is made by freeze concentrating already-pressed juice down to a starting gravity between 1.130-1.180 (when you freeze juice and then defrost it, the sweetest part of the juice runs off first).
The juice is then fermented very low and slow, for weeks, and fermentation is stopped between 1.060 and 1.085.
The finished cider should have full body, a brilliant amber colour, a fruity smooth sweet-tart flavour and enough acidity that the high sweetness isn’t cloying.
Ideally, the starting juice is low in nutrients, to discourage the yeast from fermenting past this point. Ice cider makers also employ cold crashing and several rackings to force the yeast to a standstill. It’s not acceptable to backsweeten with sugar, and the alcohol level must remain between 7 and 13 (lest it be too fiery and lose body). This is the really hard part; if you’ve ever tried to stop yeast before they are ready to be stopped, you’ll know they’ll give it up about as easily as a Stafford puppy with a bacon flavoured dog treat.
I thought hey let’s give it a shot anyway, because did I mention Type A. The mountain was there, I wanted to climb it, and dammit I wanted to taste ice cider.
The following instructions are for experienced brewers and cider makers. There is no way I’d recommend this if you’re just starting out.
If you’re a beginner and the above sentence made you want to prove me wrong, we will probably be friends!
How to Make Five Litres of Good Ice Cider In The Wrong Place With The Wrong Ingredients
You will need:
- Sweet apple juice: not the tannic ‘real’ cider apple juice, because concentrating the tannins will give an unpleasant cider. Good news for those of us who can’t get cider apples anyway. I used a combination of Royal Gala, Fuji and Pink Lady juices from Summer Snow. Starting with 6L of each, I also needed a little more later to backsweeten.
- Pectic enzyme
- Yeast – I used 71B for its tendency to preserve aroma and soften malic acid in fermentation.
- I added nutrient which was the WRONG thing to do, don’t do this
- Potassium metabisulphate and sorbate, to stabilise
- A freezer with capacity to hold at least 8L of juice at a time
- A way to control the temperature. This one has to ferment low and slow, has to be cold crashed, and takes *forever* to really stabilise. You really need to be able to keep it cold.
- About two months when you don’t need to use the temp control for anything else.
Condense the apple juice by freezing and running the juice off, to 1.536. Primary (as always, for me) started in a 10L bucket.
Ferment at 15C for about 2mo; my fridge was a bit iffy so I think it got 18C for a while. Gravity was down to 1.130 a month after pitching and 1.090 a week after that. I highly recommend drinking the samples. So delicious.
It’s a strange and fun fermentation; so thick and syrupy that it degasses like a mead. Racked a couple of times to a new bucket.
A week more and the cider was at 1.070; it was still slightly sweeter than I wanted, but I was worried it would over-ferment; I racked and added sorbate and potassium metabisulphite, and crashed the temperature low as I could (about 4C).
When the gross lees had settled out a day or two later, racked again into a 5L and a 2L jug. Again, when more lees formed a week later, into 5L and 750; then into a 5L. Fermentation keeps on keeping on; it proved immensely hard to stop. This is when I watched Claude Joliceur’s presentation and realised my decision to add nutrient had been a really really bad idea.
Over the next two months, I kept the 5L jug in my shed, at Melbourne winter temperatures. These fluctuate from 0 at night to 20 in the day, and the ice cider moved up and down, fermenting a little, raising its hopes, falling back down. To be honest it was maddening. I dosed it again with potassium metabisulphite and a hint of sorbate. I stared at it. I cursed it. It finally fell into submission, but it had gone over what I wanted and was resting at 1.045.
You know what? I don’t live in Quebec. The BJCP says I can’t back sweeten with sugar. What I can do, as a homebrewer buying juice rather than pressing my own seasonally, is freeze concentrate more of the same apple juice and add it back in, which is exactly what I did to a gravity of 1.060.
And it is, as I had hoped, delicious.
Resources I used in putting this together:
- Jeremy Olsen on Chop and Brew
- The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Joliceur
- Ice cider presentation by Claude Joliceur
That’s literally all I could find that related to homebrewing ice cider. If you know of more resources, I’d love to know, because I’ll be making this again. Worth every minute.
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