This time around Christmas usually finds me straightening things up in
the cider cellar. With my day job generally off for a couple of weeks,
and the first of the 'oh yeah it's here' winter settling in, time can be
found to wash bottles, rack carboys, check airlocks, wash bottles,
bottle a little Christmas cider, wash bottles, you get it. Today I
cleaned six cases of bottles, racked and topped a bunch of cider, and
did some general tidying up. A little concerning was the 'big tank'
variable fermenter that I usually do keeves/sweeter ciders in. I knew it
was there, but just today got around to pulling the trash bag off the
(open) top and setting the sealed lid in place. This should be BAD...an
open top fermenter two months after squeezing, kept in a cold,
slow-fermenting area is a textbook oxidation case. Yes, the cider tasted
a little off, even acetic a bit. This may be the closest I have come to
unintentional vinegar making. Of course, I sell vinegar, and always
make extra cider so that my 'lesser liquids' can be converted for sale,
so that's not too bad...I just wasn't counting on an extra 12 cases this
After dinner I visited the cellar again. Last year I had a similar
problem, but instead of forgetting to put the lid on, I failed to check
the seal, so the resulting 25 gallons of cider got pretty oxidized, and
tasted a bit acidic, a sign of volatile (acetic) acid buildup. I kegged
it up this past summer to make carboy/tank space, but planned on
pitching it in the vinegar tank this winter. As a quick test, I pitched
a pack of malo-lactic bacteria each in two kegs and set them in the
furnace side of the basement. ML bacteria convert sharp-tasting malic
acid to softer lactic acid, this technique is used in many wines.
Tonight I compared a snort of the pre- and post-ML ciders, and damn if
they both weren't pretty good. Not great, but not ready for the salad
Which brings me to my point. People often ask me about how long to wait
to drink their cider, and I tell them a year. The truth is, all sorts
of things can happen over time, and given a robust, tannic, balanced
juice blend, time is generally your friend in cider (or wine) making.
Rough flavors tend to mellow, sharp acids tend to soften, subtle notes
open up. Time will often help a funky cider, but if after a year it's
still off, open up the vinegar tank. This pertains generally to
unbalanced, maybe over sharp, sometimes slightly oxidized ciders. A
truly nasty one should be tossed at any time.
Even though I'm considered a big 'cider guy', I admit that I'm not great
with my precise cider analysis- ethyl acetate vs diacetyl and the like.
I like my customers, and friends, to feel that a good cider can be made
without a bunch of expensive words and equipment. Start with good juice,
ferment it clean and cool, minimize any messing with it, and enjoy in a
year. Works for me.