Hard Cider

Yeast, air, carbon dioxide. All different chemical components in the process of hard apple cider making. In this segment, we take a behind the scenes look at how the Nine Pin Cidery in Albany, New York uses chemistry to brew cider.


Yeast, air, carbon dioxide, all different chemical components in the process of hard apple cider making.

In this segment, we take a behind-the-scenes look at how the Nine Pin Cidery in Albany, New York, uses chemistry to brew cider.

Our partner, 'Science Friday,' has the story.

Cider making is about 50 percent chemistry, and the other 50 percent is the art.

I mean, it's like the Wild West.

We've got everything that's cool about wine making, and we've got the freedom that's in the culture of craft beer making.

My name is Alejandro del Peral, and I make Nine Pin Cider for a living.

We probably have about 750,000 to a million pounds of apples in the cidery at any given time if you were to translate all our liquid into physical apple weight, which is a lot of fruit, and it gives you sort of an idea of how many apples we process.

A lot of cider making does involve chemistry and an understanding of chemical reactions that occur during fermentation.

Fermentation is the conversion of sugar by yeast into carbon dioxide and alcohol, and the gas coming out of there is carbon dioxide.

You know, you can make alcohol out of anything with sugar in it, so any apple will do, but, you know, the type of apple you use will obviously influence what your final cider is going to taste like.

New York, we're number one in the nation for apple varieties, so we grow more types of apples than any other state.

That's a huge palette of little nuanced flavors to work with, so this is essentially a cider maker's dream place.

When you bring in the sweet juice, fresh pressed from the orchard, a lot of times there's so much sugar in there that it's hard to judge how sour the fermented version of it will be, so we test acidity by doing an acid-base titration, which essentially you take a known quantity of base and then you add cider to it, and then you add a base back to that, and based on the difference, you can calculate what the perceived sourness of your final cider is going to be like.

The yeast is another great aspect in the cider making process that you can tweak to come up with different cider styles.

We use predominantly a commercial white wine yeast.

It gives our cider sort of a Prosecco, Moscato, sparkling wine-like quality, but we also make a cider with a Belgian yeast, which will give the cider... The aroma is sort of banana-esque and tropical fruity.

There's tons of natural yeast that is in cider.

It's all found on the skins of the apples and the juice and the air in the cidery, and the problem with natural yeast is that there's no controlling what kind of flavor they'll impart on the cider, so sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, helps prevent those microbes from establishing themselves and allows the cider to age and mature without essentially turning to vinegar or generating other off flavors.

We do things like co-fermentation, so that's where we actually will ferment the cider with other ingredients.

Take blueberries, for example.

It's not like you're adding blueberry flavoring.

You're actually allowing the yeast to consume the sugar within that blueberry and produce whatever blueberry flavor the yeast decides to produce, so it results in like a really well-integrated blueberry note.

So it goes from fresh-pressed juice to our full alcohol content in about 7 days.

Then we transfer the cider into a newly sanitized secondary fermentation vessel, and it will sit in that vessel for anywhere from 3 months to a year.

Then it gets transferred into our package and sent off to the market.

You know, because it's such a new category, there's no real expectation.

There's no real tradition.

Not only can we be experimental like a wine maker would be with the types of grapes they use and, you know, aging practices, but we can also be experimental in the way a craft brewer would be in terms of infusions and fermenting with other non-apple ingredients.