Yellow Cat Sweet Cider (2014) Tasting Notes

Original Post: Yellow Cat Sweet Cider
Style: Sweet Cider
Brew Date: October 18, 2014
Tasting Date: October 23, 2014
ABV: 4.1%
It is Thursday and I am in the process of pasteurizing the rest of this batch as I write this. I started fermenting this on Saturday. It still amazes me how quick the turnaround on this stuff is. If you haven’t read the original post and/or done the math, the final gravity on this cider was 1.045. That may sound crazy high, but remember that the original cider was 1.055. I didn’t want to venture too far away from that and when I tasted a sample after work this afternoon, I knew it was time to bottle. Okay, on to the actual tasting notes.

This stuff looks just like the original cider, aside from some sparse bubbles. It is tan or light brown and cloudy as a mud puddle. Just right for what this stuff is supposed to be. If it gets clear, you’ve waited too long. Drink it fresh.

While I wouldn’t mind more carbonation, the bit of natural carbonation here just continues the theme of rustic, natural, no frills sweet cider.

The aroma is just about indistinguishable from the unfermented cider. There may be a faint hint of cinnamon in the background, but it is an afterthought and there is no fermentation character or alcohol detectable. Just apples.

The flavor is not a whole lot different. Kauffman’s makes a great cider and they get all the credit on this one. This recipe just gets out of the way and allows the cider to shine. Yes, there is some cinnamon, but I think without it, there would be some sense of fermentation character or hints of alcohol. The cinnamon covers that all up and fits into the Autumn in a glass theme perfectly. It is far from overpowering and comes in late, then washes away quickly.

Autumn. And Apples. And apples in Autumn. This tastes like apples that have been smashed, skin and all into a cloudy liquid. In fact, that is exactly what happened. I always think of apple cider as a Fall treat, but most hard cider does not fit that mood for me. The sweet commercial stuff tastes more Summery than anything to me. My own and other homebrewed spiced versions usually taste like colder weather drinks, often Christmasy. This does not. And that is why I make it every year. It is extremely seasonal and the extremely short preparation time lends itself to that perfectly. It doesn’t take much advanced planning to have stuff ready in time for a Halloween party. Or Thanksgiving day. Or a Saturday raking leaves.

I always think this will be too sweet, and it is very sweet, but it tastes natural and it is balanced by the tartness of the apples and slight spice of the cinnamon. It just works. If you have a good local cider, give this recipe a try.

Stovetop Pasteurization

I make a batch of Yellow Cat Sweet Cider every year and it always needs to be pasteurized. If you want sweet, carbonated cider in bottles without artificial sweeteners, it is pretty much your only option. While it can be a bit of a pain, this process is pretty simple.
In case you’re not sure what we’re talking about, I’ll explain the reasons for this chore. For this recipe specifically, I bottle cider while it is still fermenting. I want to maintain a low alcohol content and the natural sweetness of the cider but I also want the cider to carbonate. The continued fermentation carbonates the cider very quickly, but if it was allowed to continue past that point, the bottles would explode causing a serious safety issue and a huge mess AND a waste of some tasty cider. Pasteurizing uses heat to kill the yeast once it has completed the task you want it for and before it can create bottle bombs.

I also used this to stop the onslaught of infection in Hogun’s Mace Porter. Whatever wild yeast got into that beer carbonated it very quickly and probably would have dried it out to an extremely thin and sour mess. I was able to salvage it through pasteurization, though. Now, to get started.

You will need a pot. If you’re a homebrewer and not just a cider maker, your brew kettle will work fine. I usually use my canning pot because it has a wider base, allowing for more bottles. This time, I used that and a five gallon stainless steel pot I have to cut the time I needed to spend on the process.

Fill your pot or pots with enough water to submerge your bottles to the fill line. Remember that the bottles will displace quite a bit of water and the pot won’t need to be as full before hand as a result. With the water in place, it is time to bring in the stovetop portion of stovetop pasteurization.

Heat the water on the stove top to 180º. You can go slightly higher, but make sure you don’t hit 200º. If the water is too hot, it could cause heat shock and shatter the bottles when you stick them in. Once you’ve hit the target temperature, turn off the heat and REMOVE the pot from the burner. Even if it is turned off, the burner will still be hot and could shatter your bottles.

With your water at 180º and your pot off the stove, you can start adding the bottles to be pasteurized. Do not put too many in at a time. They shouldn’t be touching. Beyond that, you can use your judgement. When all the bottles are in, cover the pot and leave it alone for ten to fifteen minutes. I usually give larger bottles a bit more time. I did a couple quart bottles and a couple growlers this time and I decided to leave the growlers for last and just leave them in the pots overnight.

After that time, you can carefully remove the bottles. They will, of course, be hot. Use proper precautions. Sit them aside to cool off, still not touching. You can now start reheating the water for the next set of bottles. By the time that set is done, if you’re using twelve ounce bottles, the first set should be cool enough to be handled and put away, but be careful anyway. You can repeat this process as many times as necessary.
When you remove the bottles, they should be very cloudy. The yeast, if it was before, will no longer be settled at the bottom of the bottle. Everything will be mixed up, but don’t worry, it’ll settle back out and now your bottles will maintain the carbonation they had when pasteurized. You may still want to keep them separate from other bottles for a week or so just to be safe, but if the time and temperature were right, they should be fine.

Yellow Cat Candy Apple Cider

Today I mixed up a batch of this new recipe I have come up with. I initially had the idea when I tried a hard cider with vanilla and cinnamon at the last Lancaster Brewers club meeting. I got a caramel character from it, which I attributed to the vanilla. Despite being pretty dry, it still had a candy-like taste.

I decided to up the the caramel factor by using actual caramel in the recipe. I am, of course, making my own caramel as opposed to using store bought. Most caramel has dairy and other ingredients you probably don’t want in your cider. You can make a your own, brewing friendly, caramel with two simple ingredients, though: sugar and water.

IMG_4654Mix cane sugar and water at a one to one ratio in a pot and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Once it is boiling, turn down the heat to as low as you can while maintaining a steady boil and cover the pot. Keep it on the heat for about fifteen minutes, until it has been reduced by at least half.

This is what you should do. I didn’t think that was enough and decided to give it considerably longer to reduce and caramelize. It smelled great but it had basically turned to rock candy by the time I was done. I had to add cider into it just to get it close enough to liquid to get into the carboy.

IMG_4656For this recipe, I used three cups each of sugar and water. I dumped half a gallon or so of colder than room temperature cider into the carboy first, then the rest of that gallon into the caramel to help mix it, then dumped that into the carboy, too. I went for the second gallon and slowly added some to the pot, stirred it up and scraped off as much of the sugar as I could then added that portion to the carboy and repeated. With two gallons in, I added the rest of the sugar to the pot and began mixing it with cider, but not caramelizing it.

IMG_4657I mentioned in my tasting notes for last years Mulled Cider that I wondered how high I could push the alcohol and keep it hidden, so I wanted to take this a little higher than the 7% ABV in that cider. I had a pound of dark brown sugar left from the Sweet Cider I made this week so I decided to use that and another pound and a half of white sugar. I didn’t check the cider’s OG before adding sugar but it is the same stuff I used for the Sweet Cider less than a week ago and that was 1.055 OG. At the end, the OG was 1.080, but I think there is still a good bit of caramel in rock form in there that will hopefully dissolve over time. This cider should be well over 9% ABV, but the exact number could be hard to figure out.

With sugar in the pot, I added a gallon of cider and put it back over low heat while I stirred. I kept going until the sugar was dissolved and then dumped it in the carboy. I added some more cider and stirred some more to make sure I got all of the sneaky sugar and repeated this with the rest of the cider to be sure I got it all.

IMG_4660For yeast, I decided to go with Lavlin D-47 wine yeast. I have never used it before but I’m planning to utilize it for the upcoming Amy and Mitch’s Third Anniversary Mead. With all of the other flavors going on in this cider, I don’t think the yeast will have a chance to give much flavor, it is said to help retain body and sometimes residual sweetness, though which should be good here.

All the cider and sugar being in the carboy, I added the rehydrated yeast and gave the carboy another good shake before adding a stopper and airlock.

I plan to let the cider ferment out, I’m hoping in about a week. Once visible fermentation has subsided, I’ll rack it onto two vanilla beans and two cinnamon sticks. I’ll give this another two weeks or so and then get ready to bottle. I’m undecided about whether I’ll be back sweetening or not. The Splenda worked well last year, but I’m hoping it will retain some sweetness and have a candy like flavor from the caramel and vanilla so it may not need it. Only time will tell. The numbers for this batch are below.

Yellow Cat Candy Cider (2014)
Brew Date: October 23, 2014
Approximate Serve Date: November 27, 2014
OG: 1.080
Estimated FG: 1.01
Estimated ABV: 9.2%

Yellow Cat Mulled Cider (2013) Tasting Notes

Original Post: Yellow Cat Mulled Cider
Style: Dry Cider
Brew Date: Fall, 2013
Tasting Date: October 13, 2014
ABV: 7%
Cinnamon and some mild citrus are the predominant aromas. It also gives off some vaguely “old” character. As soon as I take a sip, though, that mild unpleasantness is gone. Sweet, spicy, orange and maybe a little bit of apple. Yes, the apple is not one of the stronger features of this cider.

I remember it had too much orange initially after using only the mulling spice on it, thus I added some vanilla and cinnamon. That cinnamon is strong and welcome. It blends with the orange, without completely overpowering it. The combination tastes like Christmas.

This stuff is very sweet. I back sweetened with Splenda, which I was nervous to do, but it seems to have worked out fine. I liked the initial results but I was afraid it wouldn’t age well. The Splenda doesn’t seem to have changed the way the cider has aged at all, though.

There is a lot of carbonation, but the tiny bit of head that rose when I first poured it disappeared almost immediately. Aside from the lack of foam, the cider looks great. It is crystal clear, though I don’t remember that being the case when it was fresh. The color is pale yellow. This began as dark brown, cloudy cider but it now looks a lot more like apple juice. I’m always surprised by how light cider gets when it has cleared.

There is a lot more spiciness going on here. The cinnamon and orange are the immediately obvious flavors, but clove, nutmeg and all sorts of unidentifiable spices are lurking behind. I was surprised last year how much this stuff reminded me of Christmas time. Most of these spices are much more associated with Fall and Pumpkins, but somehow, the orange brings it straight into Winter.

I mentioned that age came through in the aroma, but as I drink more, I can tell its age in the flavor a bit, too. It is not bad, but things seem a bit more muddled and less bright than they did last year. The spices have certainly not died down much, if at all but they have lost some of their liveliness.
This was one of my most surprising batches. It did not turn out how I expected, but it turned out quite well. After close to a year in the bottle, it is a little worst for the wear, but I didn’t leave much for this year anyway. There is so much going on in this that the 7% ABV is never the least bit noticeable. I would be interested to see how high the ABV could be pushed before it became more of a presence in the cider. I’m not planning to brew this exact recipe this year, but I am going to use it to guide me in another sweet cider I’m planning.

This bottle is about done for. Stay tuned for details on the new batch I am planning for the coming weeks, though.

Yellow Cat Dry Cider (2012) Tasting Notes

Original Post: Yellow Cat Dry Cider
Style: Dry Cider
Brew Date: Fall, 2012
Tasting Date: October 3, 2014
ABV: 7%
This stuff is remarkably clear. It is an off-white, extremely pale yellow color. Similar to a white wine. The aroma is fantastic. It is well carbonated, but the foam dissipated extremely quickly. Other than the small stream of bubbles from the etched glass, there is already no head left.

As soon as I popped the cap I got a good whiff of apple. It only got stronger as I poured it out. It is all apples in the nose, but they strangely seem like the tart Granny Smith variety. I guess it makes sense because it is extremely dry, but the original cider was definitely not tart.

It is mouth puckeringly dry. The first sip reminds me of sour apple candy, without of course, the sweetness. It is still all apples. The tartness is still surprising me. I think that this cider has aged very well, but it is so crushingly dry that it is almost hard to drink.
Every sip seems to dry my throat out. I want some water to go with the cider. It has been a long time, I think that this has gotten better with age but it still is not really my thing. It isn’t quite as one dimensional as I remember, but it is far from refreshing. There are no off flavors to speak of, there is nothing specifically wrong with it. I really think that it is well made, it just isn’t for me. Amy and a few other people have given it glowing reviews. This is not a stat based overview, though, it is my own opinion and I’m just not crazy about this cider. It was still a good experiment and I’m glad I made and glad that I saved some for a couple years.

Yellow Cat Sweet Cider (2014)

First of all, in my post from Sunday, which I wrote on Friday, I mentioned that I’d be starting my batch of Sweet Cider later in the day on Sunday. Well, I ended up starting it on Saturday, because realistically, this gives me a better chance of getting the tasting notes done by next Saturday, which is the whole idea for this week of blog posts.

Now, onto the actual brew day. Or whatever you call starting a cider’s fermentation. Anyway, there is not much to add to what I’ve said before about this cider’s recipe. One thing that I do think I should mention, though is that I used Dark Brown Sugar. I normally buy Light Brown Sugar just for general use, but this time, I purposely bought the more flavorful dark stuff. This is what I used the first couple times I made this cider, before I kept anything in the house for cooking, or especially baking needs.

Beyond that, I just followed the count, as I previously described. I will, of course, explain again here, though.
1 pack of ale yeast.
2 cinnamon sticks.
3 pounds of brown sugar.
4 gallons of fresh, no preservative apple cider.
5 days of fermentation.

And if that isn’t enough, here is the step by step:
First, I let the cider get to room temperature. You don’t want to start with very cold cider, but since there are no preservatives, your cider will most likely start to ferment on its own after a couple days sitting out. I find that it normally takes about a day to go from the cold cider you buy to room temperature.
Take a gravity reading for the plain cider. Mine was around 1.055. I use that for a guide, though I’m shooting for the final gravity to be quite a bit lower.. I want the flavor to be similar to the fresh cider, but between the alcohol and carbonation, it doesn’t take as much sugar to taste sweet after fermentation.

Once my cider is up to room temperature, I add the first gallon to a pot on the stove top with the two cinnamon sticks. The heat should be around medium, although it won’t take long to do this step, so it isn’t too important how hot it is. Start adding the sugar slowly, stirring the whole time. You don’t want to scorch the sugar, but the heat will help dissolve it.
Once all the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat down, or off. I like to add another gallon to the fermentor, then add the sugar loaded one with the cinnamon. Just in case the sugar isn’t as dissolved as you thought, this will help mix it a little more. And dump those cinnamon sticks right along with the cider. This portion of cider was barely any warmer than the rest, this time. You don’t want to get it too hot, as it will ruin the fresh flavor.
With two gallons in the fermentor, I add the third to the pot to make sure there is now sugar left, then add it to the fermentor along with the last gallon. Now, take another gravity reading. Mine was up to 1.076.
After you have recorded the gravity, it’s time to add the yeast. Normally, I use a packet of Nottingham dry yeast, this time though, I happened to have some S-05 yeast left from fermenting Moist, though and used that instead. I think this will get it done even quicker than normal.

The cider was visibly fermenting within an hour. I will be checking the gravity and flavor around Tuesday. The plan is to bottle on Thursday, but that could be moved up or pushed back. The fermentation went crazy and I’m nervous that it will be too dry.

Check back later this week for more updates on this batch.

Cider Week II

Here is the plan: I’m going to start a batch of Yellow Cat Sweet Cider tonight and post about it tomorrow. Then, around Thursday, I’ll bottle it and pasteurize it the next day. I’ll write about the stovetop pasteurization process and write tasting notes on that same day (to be posted the next day). The rest of the week, I’ll be posting tasting notes for a bunch of the other ciders I’ve made. I have extra, so if something goes off the rails with the new batch, I’ll be able to patch in extra tasting notes. This should be fun, here’s hoping I get a good batch of sweet cider for next weekend.