Feb 24

Stopping the cider fermentation and re-sweetening (or: How to brew hard cider, part 3)

partially-siphoned-ciderThe last post on brewing hard cider was on monitoring the fermentation. It was observed that after a week, the gravity was around 1.030 and it looked like it needed a few more days to reach the 1.012 range. Well, unfortunately, I fell sick and had trouble getting out of bed for a few days. By the time I was well enough again to get out of bed, I realized that my cider had over-shot the target and ended up at 1.010 — oh noes!

Fortunately, that’s not really a problem. It’s just an opportunity to talk about re-sweetening or back sweetening, as some people like to call it…

Since the cider was at 1.010 and was still bubbling away, it was time to stop the cider from fermenting. Normally, the recommendation for Campden tablets (Sodium- or Potassium-metabisulfite) is to crush them up and use 1 per gallon (~3.75 liters) to “purify” the cider of bacteria and wild yeast. But since the yeast is going full throttle, we need to do 2 things:

  1. Crush up 1 campden tablet per gallon (3.75 liters) and add to the fermenting cider
  2. Chill the cider to around 40°F (~5°C) to help fully halt fermentation and cold crash the yeast

TIP: When crushing up the campden tablets, don’t fully pulverize the tablets into a fine powder. Leave some small chunks to sink to the bottom to help kill the yeast living on the bottom of the fermenter. If you only use a fine powder, the majority of the sulfur dioxide will remain in the top half of the fermenter and you’ll have to manually stir up the cider to get even distribution.

After 24 to 48 hours chilling on my back porch (where it is winter time this time of year), the yeast were pretty much completely dead, the sulfur dioxide cleared from the cider, and the yeast had settled out nicely to the bottom of the carboy. In fact, the cider was a nice translucent color. Not quite clear, but definitely not murky or opaque like sweet cider.


Now it is time to transfer the cider to secondary. This is done partly to get the cider off the dead yeast, but also to prevent re-fermentation. Some of the yeast sitting in the bottom are still alive and if left to sit around long enough will re-start fermentation. To make things more interesting, two carboys were used and 1/2 of the 5 gallons (19 liters) was moved into each carboy. In the bottom of each carboy enough Potassium Sorbate was added to help prevent any remaining yeast from growing and restarting fermentation. Then an auto-siphon was used to transfer into the carboys.

two-carboys-of-cider+apple-juiceAt this point, a 1/2 gallon (1.9 liters) of supermarket apple juice was purchased and added to one of the secondaries. This brought the gravity up to 1.015 and helped give it a slightly darker, fuller color. At 1.015, it becomes a much sweeter cider. It also makes it a bit less alcoholic at ~4% ABV vs. ~5% ABV of the semi-dry cider in the other secondary.

resweetening-cider-equals-higher-gravity-1_015As an aside, if the 1/2 gallon of apple juice had been added to the full 5 gallons of hard cider at 1.010, then the end result would have been around 1.012 or 1.013, which was the original target. That said, I’m curious which of the two ciders my friends will like the most: the semi-dry cider (at 1.010) -or- the semi-sweet cider (at 1.015). I suppose we can always try mixing them at tasting time as well!




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  1. Dudley

    I have 2 cider brews on the go one is almost down to 1000 and one is at 1010. I plan to kill the yeast with camden tablets and transfer later to staorage of some kind possibly one lot into a polypin.
    Can I back sweeten with the artificial sweeteners like “Candrel” ? I have seen this recommended in the book by the late Dave Line, “Brewing beers like those you buy” as a way of back sweetening without the risk of secondary fermentation. Just wonder what your views are?
    Thanks, Dud

  2. Christopher

    Great blog post! I live in Florida where it gets down to 40 like 2 days a year. Do you think the Camden tablet would still work the same to stop the yeast at room temp (about 74F)?

    1. Pretzel

      Hi Chris,
      Yes, you can still use Campden tablets in warm temps. I tend to use double the amount then. 2 tablets per gallon. And recall that you need to wait 24 hours for the Sulphur Dioxide gas to clear. (I talked to a guy at Downeast Cider last week and he said 48 hours was really the best.) You’ll need to stir it up thoroughly, too. I would toss in the Potassium Sorbate at the same time to prevent any surviving yeast from re-starting, too. Alternatively, you can do it the way I suggested and just put your carboy/fermenter in the fridge. That works, too.

  3. Patrick

    How much sorbate do I add to the bottom of the carboy?

  4. Christina

    Hi there. I am new to cider making and just stumbled on your blog last night. Great resource and thank you. I just bottled my first two little mini-batches made with store bought apple cider yesterday. I back sweetened one with xylitol at the rate of 2gm/L. My pH prior to adding xylitol was 3.4. Afterwards I read that xylitol is alkaline, so I probably should have check the pH after adding it instead. Have you ever used xylitol? Do you have any ideal if the amount I used is likely to raise the pH to the point that the finished cider will seem flabby? Is Stevia any better in this regard? Thanks. -Christina.

    1. Pretzel

      > I back sweetened one with xylitol at the rate of 2gm/L.

      I’ve tried xylitol as a sweetener for other things before, but never for cider. If I ever backsweeten, I just use apple juice (or some other juice) and then toss in potassium sorbate to prevent it from re-starting. (I also keg my ciders and force carbonate.) I did try bottling once and bottle pasteurizing once. It worked well… except for the 2 exploded bottles.

      Oh, I should mention that xylitol can cause, um, loose stool. As such, I kind of avoid it.

      I don’t worry about pH. Maybe I should. Typically, my cider tastes right. That’s the great thing about fermentation. Usually things just work out right without concerning yourself with the science, but I absolutely respect your choice to take pH measurements. Guess I should add that to my list of things to start monitoring if I’m going to be an internet resource on cider. 🙂 I usually take gravity readings. Might as well take pH readings, too. (btw, Never tried Stevia, either.)

  5. Snady

    Hi, Pretzel, Thanks for your helpful and well-done article on making hard cider. I got a great wild fermentation going on fresh cider going by lucky accident.. Now I want to cut off fermentation at the same point you recommend, between SG 1.01 and1.02, but I would like to preserve the NATURAL effervescence without risk of explosions etc. Do you know any way to do that? It is sitting in plastic bottles in the fridge right now. I “burp” the containers in the sink every couple of days and they fizz all over. However, the bubbles are a big part of the appeal and I don’t want to give them up! This stuff is so tasty and orangy-gold beautiful I can’t believe it! Now I have a bigger batch of similar wild cider fermenting away, and it would be good if I could figure out a way to preserve it without having to keep it under constant refrigeration and remembering to release the pressure from each individual container periodically.

    1. Pretzel

      Pasteurization. Since you’ve put them in plastic bottles, it’s much safer to pasteurize. Put them in a bath of 130F water for 30 minutes or so. This should kill off the yeast, but keep the carbonation.

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