Cyser, which can be considered a hard cider or a mead(honey wine) brewed with apples, is produced by fermenting apple juice and honey together. The end product contains flavor and aromatic qualities of each in a delicious combination. This article presents a home brew recipe for a dry, apple-dominant Cyser--more of a cider with honey notes--which can be modified for your tastes. Enjoy!
- 5 gallons of unpasteurized apple juice
- emphasis on unpasteurized because sulfites or preservatives in your juice will prevent the fermentation you want to achieve
- ideally use a sweet apple cider produced by a farm in your area--these are likely to contain a good mix of sweet and tannic apples, which produce a much better, balanced cider than a single variety of apple
- read Cider: Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols for much more depth on this topic
- 2 lbs/4 cups honey
- different varieties of honey (wildflower, orange blossom, etc) will product different effects in the aroma of the finished product
- if you want a sweet cyser, go heavier on the honey, dial back the apples, and either get your gravity high enough for the yeast not to be able to eat all the sugars or stop the fermentation at your desired sweetness with potassium sorbate
- Tannic Acid Extract (2 tsp) (optional)
- if your apple juice lacks cider apples (the tannic, bitter, and sharp varieties that you generally don't see at the grocery store), adding a bit of tannic acid extract pre-fermentation will enhance the cider character of your juice and nudge it toward the flavor characteristics of an English Dry Cider and away from bland table apples
- Pectic Enzyme powder
- Potassium Sorbate (optional)
- 2 tubes of White Labs English Cider Yeast (WLP775), or a yeast starter (see How to Brew by John Palmer for yeast starter instructions)
- alternately, there are various dry yeasts available for wine and mead which may be reconstituted in water and used for brewing, but White Labs liquid yeasts can be pitched straight from the tube
The equipment list below can be obtained individually from your local home brew store or online, but for convenience's sake, a home brewing kit from the likes of Northern Brewer or More Beer are a great way to start. With only a few additions to one of these kits, you can make beer, hard cider, honey wine, or wine.
- 1 6-gallon glass carboy and one 5-gallon (or larger) glass carboy, for primary and secondary fermentation, respectively
- 1 large bottling bucket
- 1 rubber carboy bung (if using glass carboys)
- 1 plastic airlock
- 1 wine thief (plastic device for siphoning small amounts of liquid for hydrometer testing)
- 1 auto-siphon with tubing
- 1 bottle filler
- tubing for bottle filler
- bottles (22 oz or 12 oz)
- bottle capper
- bottle caps
- sanitizer solution (e.g., Star San)
- 1 hydrometer
- 1 test jar (to use with hydrometer)
- PBW cleaner (for cleaning fermenter)
- 1 carboy funnel
- 1 carboy brush
The process below is basic. Ideally, read up on the basic home brewing process before you begin--see the book references above--though the below should be sufficient provided that you: 1) sanitize, sanitize, sanitize to prevent infection of your fermenting product with bacteria or undesirable amounts of wild yeast; 2) pitch a large volume of yeast so that the yeast you do want are dominant in the fermentation; and 3) don't over-prime your bottles when bottling.
Using the instructions on the sanitizer, prepare a large volume of sanitizer solution in the bottling bucket. Pour the solution through the funnel into a clean 6 gallon carboy. Shake the carboy to distribute sanitizer. Let sit for a few minutes, and pour the solution back into the bucket. Soak the funnel, bung, airlock, hydrometer, test jar, and wine thief in the solution so that all your components are sterilized.
Creating the Must(unfermented liquid):
Remove the apple juice from refrigeration and allow to warm while completing the other steps. Warm the yeast in the same manner, following the instructions on the package. Heat 3 cups of water to a boil; dissolve the honey into it completely and let cool. Pour the apple juice through the sanitized funnel into the carboy, stopping between gallons to agitate the liquid (this introduces oxygen needed by the yeast). Take a sample using the wine thief; measure the sugar content using the hydrometer and test jar, then calculate the end alcohol content assuming a full fermentation (this should ferment all the way to 1.0 on the scale, removing all sugars from the liquid). If it needs to be stronger, add more honey using the above method until you have the right concentration.
Add the yeast from the vial or starter; seal the carboy with the bung and airlock (which should be about half full of sanitizer liquid). Place the fermenter in a cool, dark place and monitor the fermentation by checking for bubbling in the airlock as CO2 is generated and passes up through the airlock. Refill airlock with sanitizer as needed. Primary fermentation should be vigorous for a few days and may last up to 2-3 weeks.
Should you want to harvest some of your yeast for future batches at this point, see Harvesting Yeast From Home Brewed Beer--it applies equally well to cider, cyser, or mead.
When the fermentation has died down, use the wine thief to take a sample. Measure it using the hydrometer. If all of the sugars have fermented out (1.0 or close on the hydrometer), you're ready--prepare another sanitizer solution and sanitize your other carboy, auto-siphon, tubing, and another airlock.
Add 1 tsp pectic enzyme to the carboy; then, siphon the cyser from the first carboy to the second, taking care not to siphon the particulate matter in the bottom of the first carboy to the 2nd (you want to leave this behind to clarify your product in the secondary). Hint: Watch a YouTube tutorial or two on siphoning before first attempting this--it's worth the 10 minutes.
Allow 1 month or more in the secondary fermenter before bottling, to allow the malic acid to break down. Longer is ideal, but too long and you might have trouble making sparkling cyser at bottling time as the remaining yeast will be very dormant.
When finished siphoning, clean the first carboy with PBW and then rinse it with sanitizer solution before storing.
When you've decided to end secondary fermentation, sanitize your bottling bucket and auto-siphon, then siphon the Cyser into the bottling bucket. If you're making a still (uncarbonated) Cyser, you can proceed to transfer the Cyser to sanitized bottles using tubing attached to the spigot on the bucket and a bottle filler attached to the end of the tubing. If making a dry, sparkling Cyser, you can either siphon to a key and force-pressurize it with CO2, or add a little bit more sugar (look this up--it's around 5 oz of honey if you're going that route) before bottling to set off a small fermentation in the bottles that will carbonate the Cyser. If making a sweet, hard cider, at this point you'll need to prevent further fermentation by adding potassium sorbate and then adding apple juice to taste before bottling (still) or kegging (force-carbonating).
Warning: Do not use a lot of sugar when bottle carbonating., or your bottles could explode under too much CO2 pressure building up.
When finished bottling, clean the carboy with PBW and then rinse it with sanitizer solution before storing.
Age your Cyser in the bottle for at least 4-6 months before drinking. This allows carbonation to build for sparkling Cyser, and allows the malic acid from the apples to break down and leave the end product much smoother. Treat this like a wine, not a beer, in terms of aging (though store right-side-up, not on its side). A higher alcohol content--above 7%--will facilitate long-term agin and will allow your Cyser to last up to several years and improve with time.
When you can't wait any longer, give your Cyser a try. Take care when pouring to avoid pouring the sediment from the bottom of the bottle into your glass, as this degrades the flavor. Note the floral and apple aroma, and evaluate the taste. Each batch will vary depending on aging, the varieties of apples and honey, and many factors. Experiment with proportions on future batches--maybe you like honey more and want to increase the relative honey proportion, or maybe you'd like to try different apples or press your own juice from a blend of apples before fermenting. In any case, the possibilities are many, and best contemplated while sipping your own, home-brewed Cyser.