Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sour Cider Tasting

Late in 2009 I "brewed" my fourth annual batch of cider, it was fermented with hefe weizen yeast plus a variety of souring microbes from the slurry of our first barrel aged beer.  Without the unfermentables of a beer I expected a light tartness at most, with more funk (I've noticed that Brett seems to be able to do its thing without much to work with, something lactic acid bacteria are unable to do).  There is some precedence for wild and funky ciders from Spain, although I've been underwhelmed by the few Basque ciders I've sampled (regrettably I didn't get the chance to try any more while I was in Madrid/Granada/Seville last week).

A sour cider doesn't look any different than a standard hard cider.Sour Cider

Appearance – Perfectly clear “cider” yellow (love that pectic enzyme). With a hard pour it is initially able to inflate a half inch head, which quickly recedes.

Smell – Some fresh tart apples, but more reminiscent of going to a pick-your-own orchard after half the apples have been knocked to the ground. There are aromas that are earthy, hay-like, yeasty, and toasty, really complex (but not wholly appetizing).

Taste – The flavor is more restrained than the nose, and only slightly tart. The apple flavor is mild, but cleaner and fresher than the aroma. There is some of that toasty/yeasty character in the finish, but it is at a level that adds complexity. The finish is dry, but not bone dry.

Mouthfeel – Prickly carbonation pierces through the light body. Certainly more carbonation than many ciders (especially the Basque version which are generally still to petillant), but not to the point of being Champagne-like

Drinkability & Notes – Worth the wait, it has really improved over its first five months in the bottle. Hopefully the aroma continue to evolve and mellow between now and the fall. I think this sour cider concept has some merit, but I would probably go with a milder strain of Brett like claussenii the next time I brew one. I might add some malto-dextrin as well to encourage the production of more acidity.


  1. Relative to a normal apple cider you make, how much more sour is this one?

    I agree with you about the Basque ciders, the last one I tried reminded me of green olives!!

  2. I make cider (your method doesn't make me cringe like most beer makers do when making cider). My husband loves/makes sour beers.

    We went to a Basque cider tasting the other day, and Isastegi Sagardo Naturala is the funkiest we have come across stateside.

    Anyway, he and I got into a debate once about "sour." See, there is a MLF fermentation that could happen in wine and cider, where sharp malic acid is converted to smoother lactic acid (one less "acid" compound per molecule). This boggles his mind because you add lactic acid to beer to make it sour, but I'm saying MLF makes cider smoother and raises the pH and lowers the total acid by increasing the latic acid. Anyway, maybe you need to try a controlled MLF (you can buy it) and THEN try the lactic bacteria. I don't think MLF would do anything to beer because there isn't malic acid in grain.

  3. Malolactic fermentation might be worthwhile in a cherry beer or another fruit beer, but you're right that there aren't many times it would accomplish anything. The problem with cider is that if you wait too long to do the lactic fermentation there won't be anything for the bacteria to eat. Next time I might try splitting the fermentation, adding yeast to some and Lactobacillus to the rest, then blending back.

  4. I've actually done several batches of sour cider by adding lacto to half and straight yeast to half and re-blending with GREAT results. You should try this for your next anniversary cider.

  5. what about British ciders? i've had some mad funky ones at a pub in London. The folksy Hereford cideries appear to use inoculated barrels that they reuse over and over in addition to the yeast/bacteria on the apple skin.

    Apologies if i'm way off the mark, i'm new to your site and have been making cider in a bit of an information vacuum.

  6. I've only had a handful of English ciders, and no funky ones yet. I really need to make it over there.

  7. New to your blog and was almost in love with it. Well, maybe I still am, but knocking basque cider???? If I want funky cider, thats what I look for. Basque, and maybe more so, Asturian cider(2 provinces west of western basque land) inspired me to make cider.

    I just pressed 80 gallons of cider last week and perviously haven't had much luck getting things very sour. I find that MLF waks down the acid(heather, I was totally confused too) and am working on how to get brett to do more work, maybe not use EC-1118 and leave a little sugar? My wild ferment ciders have a little more funk than innoculated ones, but not much. It's tough when you gotta wait a year to try over!

    I think the best sourness in ciders is all about the fruit. Start off with good malic acid end up with good acid/sourness. Unfortunately it is not easy to come by great cider apples and I think this is the key. I am resorting to growing proper varietals myself.

    I am all about the acid and am happy to see another sour head looking to make good cider. I will keep watchin what you do.

    Thanks for the treasure trove on homebrew lambics!

  8. That seems to be the big difference between making beer and cider/perry/wine. The fruit bases drinks are so much more agricultural based, I can get the same malts and hops the best brewers use, but it is next to impossible to get the best of the best fruit without growing your own.

    The knock is only that I’ve only had a handful, and still haven’t had one with a flavor that backs-up the wonderful funky aroma. How about a 100% lactobacillus fermented cider?

  9. I have to put a word in for an Asturian cider, El Gaitero, which is one of the nicest ciders I've had. I suspect, though, it's a matter of style; I prefer light, easy-drinking, apply ciders, like you get from Normandy and Brittany. Too many British ciders are either too confected and bubbly (most of the mainstream brands), or too sour and strong (a lot of the rustic ones).

    Incidentally, my first attempt at cider 18 months ago was so very sour, with no residual sugar (I only used pure juice and yeast, no added sugar), that the only way to drink it was mulled - heated, with sugar, honey, and spices. Mind you, when resweetened, it tasted just like the apples it was made from.

  10. I'm attempting a sour batch now using 100% lactobacillus, added various amounts of acids prior to pitching the yeast. Less than a week into fermentation now and it's definitely sourish, but at this point lacks the complexity or level of sourness I'm aiming for in the final product. I'm debating whether to add more acid just prior to bottling, probably lactic if anything. Last year I made an amazing batch that was super acidic and was still drinkable, but lacked the traditional "sour" profile. Could have been from using an ale yeast, but I'm not entirely sure.

  11. i've brewed a cider using wlp665 yeast, mostly from granny smith apples(14L), some pommegranate juice(3L)and honey(1 kg), the fermatation is crazy, if it will be bone dry will it mean no flavor as well?

  12. Dry just means no sweetness, the aromatics from the fruit (and honey) will still be there. It may not taste as fruity without sugar, so some people like to kill the yeast and then sweeten with sugar or concentrated apple juice.

    Good luck!

  13. Hello, doing my research on soured beers and trying to grab verbiage that feel sexy for sours.I have produced 7 commercial soured ciders. Multi barrel multi aged lambic fruit finished style, a berlinerweisse homage, a dark cherry kriek, and three rounds of spanish style Sidra made here at Finnriver Cidery, USA. I have found great sucess with pitching bacteria separately and blending a brett ferment with a lacto- ferment with a mead yeast ferment. I like honey as a chapatalizer to feed the party, and a fresh wooden spoon in your first blend will lend itself well in the second.. family paddle style.I also play with temperatures to achieve variation in ferments which thenallows for layering of complexity in the finished product.

    just thoughts,

    Duke of Tanks,
    Finnriver Cidery