How to Make Apple Cider - French Heritage Style

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by The Beverage People, last revised October 2021

Making Hard Homemade Apple Cider in the French Heritage Style

Learn how to make Apple Cider in the heritage French style from start to finish.  Homemade heritage cider is a great way to enjoy the bounty of the harvest!

Juicing apples for homemade apple cider

French heritage cider is similar to English cider. They are made from medium to high tannin crab apples. They tend to be noticeably sweet to balance the tannic astringency, from 2% residual sugar to above 4%, and tend to have an appreciable fruit character to them. This can be the result of backsweeting the ciders with fresh juice. Traditionally, this is the result of the French technique of defecation or keeving. Enzymes are added to the juice to minimize its nutrient content, and no nutrient additions are made. This slows the fermentation and makes it easier to stop the fermentation before all the sugars have been fermented. Less vigorous fermentation means that less aroma is driven away by the production of CO2. This results in greater retention of the fruit’s native character. Carbonation is commonly between beer carbonation to champagne-like, ranging between 2.6 and about 6 volumes of CO2, respectively.

They tend to be rather sweet, full-bodied and rich. The spicy, smoky, farmhouse character of MLF in the presence of tannins is most common, but is not required. Just as with English ciders, MLF character should not be pronounced and actually should be milder than most English ciders.

Our approach to this tradition does not involve the keeving process, which we would caution you against as an unpredictable process that may result in undesirable flaws and imprecise residual sugar level.  Instead, our approach is to allow the fermentation to complete, and then back-sweeten with some reserved apple juice.  Also, we recommend kegging as the best method of packaging---it will allow you to carbonate the sweetened cider.

 

VIEW OUR COMPLETE KEG SYSTEMS & INSTRUCTIONS

 

Apple Varieties: Nehou, Muscadet de Dieppe, Reine des Pommes, Michelin.

If you don't have these types and are instead using low tannin culinary apples, follow the instruction below with astrisks *.

For a more general discussion about how to make apple cider in the heritage French style, and comparison to other styles, click here.

For The Beverage People's step-by-step instructions, continue below.

 

  1. Crush the apples. Use tannic crab apples if you can. Sort out spoiled fruit.
  2. The crushed pulp should be sulfited right away. If your fruit is in good condition, add no more than 1/2 Campden Tablet per gallon of crushed fruit (32 parts per million SO2). Higher sulfite levels will inhibit a successful malolactic fermentation later in the process.
  3. Optionally, stir in Pectinase powder to help increase the juice yield. Use 1/2 ounce for every 5 gallons. Wait 2-4 hours before pressing for the pectinase to break down the pulp which increases the amount of juice that can be extracted. It will also aid in clarifying the cider to achieve a clear, bright cider.
  4. Press the pulp to separate the juice from the skins and other solids. Funnel the collected juice into narrow-neck containers that can accept an airlock. Top up the storage vessels to reduce air space.    Put the juice under refrigeration and wait 24-48 hours.
  5. Collect some additional juice that will be added back after fermentation to sweeten the cider.  HDPE juice jugs are very helpful for this step.  With these jugs, the juice can be frozen until needed.  You willl need about 20-35% fresh/frozen juice compared to the volume you are fermenting.  For example, if you will ferment 5 gallons, collect and store 1-1.75 gallons as juice.
  6. *If your apples are culinary apples rather than French varietals, add tannin such as StellarTan G Grape tannin to increase the tannin content of the juice.  For instructions, refer to our Key Compenents in Cider discussion.
  7. Remove a sample of the juice to test for total acidity (TA). Follow the instructions in your acid testing kit. If the acidity is less than .65%, add enough tartaric acid to bring it to this level. If you cannot do the test right away, refrigerate the juice and run the test later.
  8. Now test the sugar content of the juice with your hydrometer. Correct any deficiencies by adding enough sugar to bring the reading up to 12-16% sugar (12-16° brix).
  9. After the 24-48 hour settling period, transfer the clear juice into narrow-neck containers that can accept an airlock, leaving the sediment behind. Only fill them three-quarters full.
  10. Add your Yeast by sprinkling on the surface. A good choice of yeast would be Epernay II wine yeast for it's fruity ester profile and slow vigor. Attach an airlock or breather bung, and allow fermentation to proceed. After a day or two of fermentation, sprinkle in 1 tsp. of Yeast Food per 5 gallons. Agitate to disperse.  If you can, maintain fermentation temperatures that are on the lower end of the temperature range for the yeast you are using.  For example, if the fermentation temperature range of the yeast is 60° - 75°F, using fermentation temperatures around 60° - 62°F will ensure that less aromatics are driven off with the CO2 production.Add yeast to your heritage cider
  11. When visible signs of fermentation end - the foam flattens and the hazy appearance begins to clarify - the cider must be removed from the sediment. Use a siphon to transfer the cider to a sanitized glass, PET plastic or stainless steel storage containers that accepts an airlock. Fill your container all the way into the narrow part of the neck without touching the stopper. Close the top with a stopper and airlock.
  12. Add a malolactic bacteria culture and maintain temperatures at 65-80 degrees F.  Usually it takes 3-6 weeks for a successful conversion of malic to lactic acid.  We sell different cultures for different size batches and conditions.  Review our discussion of the "Mysteries of Malolactic" for help in determining whether you have successfully completed the conversion.  Note, however, that in French-style cider, the MLF (malolactic fermentation) character is generally less than in an English style.  Taste the cider as it develops.  If you choose to stop the MLF early, proceed as follows.   Put the cider in the fridge for two weeks, the MLF bacteria should go dormant. Add sulfites up to 50 ppm (Camben tablets up to 4 in 5 gallons) should help inhibit or kill the MLF bacterial.  EnartisStab Micro fining agent can be added to help stop further yeast and bacterial fermentation, but remember you will need to transfer off of the Stab Micro after 10 days. The combination of those three factors should halt MLF.  
  13. When you have determined that MLF (malolactic fermentation) has completed, rack your cider to a new vessel. Ensure it is topped up and, if you have not already done so in step 11, again add 1/2 Campden Tablet per gallon (32 parts per million SO2).
  14. Store for two or three months.
  15. Now it's time to back-sweeten and keg the cider. Thaw out the apple juice, if you have frozen it. Carefully rack the cider away from the sediment into a sanitized vessel where you can mix in the juice. If your cider is going into extended storage, add another half Campden Tablet per gallon (32 parts per million SO2). Due to the presence of high residual sugar, you should add Potassium Sorbate at a rate of 0.25 oz per 5 gal. to prevent the yeast from re-fermenting.  If you plan to drink all of it or a portion within a month or two, the sulfite and sorbate are unnecessary in that portion at bottling time so long as you intend to keep it under refrigeration.  Now, you need to decide the level of residual sugar you want.  We recommend a level between 2-4% residual sugar.  Here is a quick table to help you add the right amount of juice to accomplish your residual sugar goal. This table was calculated using Pearson's Square as the formula, which factors in the impact of changing volume.
    Brix of the Juice    If 2% Residual is Desired     If 4% Residual is Desired 
     12° Brix  Add 2 parts juice to 10 parts cider (12 parts total)     Add 4 parts juice to 8 parts cider (12 parts total)
     14° Brix  Add 2 parts juice to 12 parts cider (14 parts total)     Add 4 parts juice to 10 parts cider (14 parts total)
     16° Brix  Add 2 parts juice to 14 parts cider (16 parts total)     Add 4 parts juice to 12 parts cider (16 parts total)

    Go ahead and stir in the juice to the cider, taking care that everything is sanitized.  This juice addition will also result in a reduction of alcohol content, in keeping with the lower ABV French tradition.

  16. For carbonation, we recommend kegging this type of cider.  Instructions for kegging are linked below.  There is no difference between kegging beer and cider, except that you should generally avoid chromed brass parts such as shanks and faucets when serving cider due to the acidity.  Keg, chill, and carbonate the cider.  Carbonate to between 2.6 and 6 volumes (see instructions).  If you want it bottled, you can transfer from keg to bottle with a counter pressure bottle filler, and you will have a shelf stable French-style cidre!

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW TO KEG YOUR CIDER (OR BEER)