Tag Archives: Cyser

The Art of Racking

The 2017-18 cyders are racked off.


I’m always curious to see the patterns the lees make after racking. Generally everything drops right to the bottom, leaving clean sides and a watery, cratered surface.


Pretty standard stuff.

But the honey wheat left more of a vortex.


Pretty stuff.

Now that they’re racked, they’ll spend the winter conditioning and be bottled sometime in the spring.

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Not a Matter of Being Gluten Free

A few weeks ago I took a couple of bottles of cyder to my fencing club for the post-fencing pizza party crowd to try. One was the 2013-14 Solebury, Sugar, Raisins, and cider yeast (based on Smith’s 1728 receipt) and the other was the 2014-15 honey wheat cyser (from John Nott’s 1723 receipt).

Everyone (well, almost everyone) had nothing but nice things to say about both. But the honey wheat was the bigger hit, as judged by the flattering language used to describe it. Modesty (and a poor memory) forbids repeating them here.

Thus the honey wheat cyser continues to be a fan-favorite among family, friends, and strangers. Based on these unscientific surveys, it’s a good contender for Blackledge Winery to produce.

But alas, no. It can never be made for sale.[1] It contains wheat and according to Federal regulation Title 27 – §24.200 General it is illegal to have grain, cereal, malt, or molasses in a bonded winery space, much less in the wine (or cyder).

No idea why this is the case. Attempts to gain clarity from various government agents have so far proven futile. Needless to say, it can never be, no matter how tasty it is.



  1. Same goes for the Penn cider (based on a 17th-century receipt from Gulielma, William Penn’s first wife), which also uses wheat. And yes, we could make the honey wheat cyser without the wheat, but then it’s just cyser. Though a wheatless Penn is a possibility.

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Cyder Season 2015: 21.5 Gallons Going and New Tools For Old Cydermaking

Welcome to Pommel’s fourth cyder season! Last week I started several cyders, some old favorites and some new experiments. They are, from left to right:

2015 Class Picture

  • 6.5 gallons of the 1723 honey wheat cyser (so far this one remains a fan favorite) – Potential ABV 11.5%
  • 1 gallon unchaptalized raw juice (cause I hate to waste fermentable juice) – Potential ABV 7%
  • 6 gallons of the 1674 Penn spiced cyder – Potential ABV 8%
  • 5 gallons for experimenting with fortifying and royaling – Potential ABV 7%
  • 3 gallons raw Golden Russet (another house favorite) – Potential ABV 8.5%

All of them are fermenting with natural yeast only.

This season I’ve started using brew buckets. They’re certainly not historical, but they are more cost-effective than oak barrels. They allowed me to double production without doubling the expense. The juice will stay in the buckets for a few weeks before being transferred to glass carboys to condition for a few months.

Useful as the buckets are, I wish they

  • Had a clear side or top to show fermentation
  • Had their upper gallons marked (these are all 6.5 gallon buckets, but the printed markings only go to 5)
  • Were wooden barrels
Brewbucket Gallons

At least one of those wishes I could immediately grant myself. Seems a 6.5-gallon bucket will hold 7, so long as I don’t need too much head space.


I also purchased a digital scale which should cut down on the various mathematical conversions I’ve been doing. Though a stillard and scale would be more accurate (historically speaking).


The stillard (aka stilliard or steelyard) is the long object on the upper left and the scale is on the right.



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What Came Out of a Bottle of Cyser

I was my normal careful self. I pulled the bottle of honey wheat cyser off the shelf and tried not to shake it. I quickly poured it into two glasses, one for J. and one for me. As I put them down I noticed, because I was so careful, that they weren’t exactly similar.

The glass on the left is the first pour and the glass on the right is the second pour.  Though they look different, they tasted the same.

It’s not surprising that some of my cyders and cysers are cloudy. None of them are filtered. But I didn’t expect to find such a striking difference in a pint bottle.

In the name of science, we had to experiment. A second bottle was opened, but this one was gently shaken first.

Our Findings: These tasted just like the first two.

Historically many ciders were unfiltered, and such stratigraphy was probably not an uncommon part of the cider-drinking experience.

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Bottling Cyser When There Are Not Enough Bottles

As we’ve said before, one of the Cydery’s goals is to do things as inexpensively as possible. Which is why this spring’s bottling presented a bit of a challenge.

The six gallons of honey wheat cyser started in December was finally ready to bottle. Last year’s big batch required 43 bottles. This year’s cyser was fuller than that, so I’d probably need more.

A very full six-gallon carboy.

Between last year’s and this year’s cyders, there weren’t enough empty bottles in the house to hold it all. I use pint-sized bottles. They come in cases of 12. I have six cases of blue (72) and two of clear (24), for a total of 96.

Like monsters and crazy aunts, they live in the attic waiting…

My first thought was I needed to buy another case or two. But then I realized I had 16 one-gallons jugs laying about, most of them empty. So instead of spending money and space on new bottles, I decided to transfer three gallons into the jugs and put the rest in the flip-tops.

This cyser will keep here until they’re bottled or there’s one helluva party.

This batch is the third honey wheat cyser I’ve made so far. Unlike the previous batches, I was heavy-handed with the honey this time around. It fermented out to 11.5% ABV. Which is fantastic, but I really shouldn’t keep drinking it by the pint.

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Six Gallons of New Cyser, an Update on the Gravenstein, & the Legality of Unpasteurized Juice

The juice wasn’t preserved, but it was pasteurized. So I was told by the orchard who made the six gallons of juice I just got from the local homebrew shop. In my further attempts to experiment with natural yeast, I was happy to hear that there weren’t any preservative, but the pasteurization might be troublesome.

Pasteurization kills microorganisms in liquids. Heat pasteurization, when the juice is heated to between 160 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit, kills every microorganism, including natural yeasts. Any juice that’s been heat pasteurized needs to have yeast introduced into it, but it’s still fermentable (so long as there are no preservatives). However, UV pasteurized juice can still be fermented with its own wild yeasts, though it will take longer to start and for the yeast colony to grow (for some science on this check out page 70 of Pasteurization of Apple Cider With UV Irradiation by Nazife Canitez). Fortunately, the orchard used UV.

I finally decided what to make with these six gallons. It’s the honey wheat cyser from John Nott’s The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary; or, The Accomplish’d Housewifes Companion (1723):

I know I’ve made one batch before and have another going at the moment, but there are good reasons to do this one again so soon – I had the honey and wheat already.

Sometimes pragmatism trumps all.

Speaking of pragmatism, despite my interest in adhering to period accounts, I won’t be following this receipt perfectly. For instance, I’m not going to rack it off after only a week. Also, because of the bottles I use, I won’t be putting a lump of sugar into each when it’s time to bottle everything. It will be safer that way.

Neither the homebrew shop nor the orchard could tell me which apples were used for the juice. What I do know is that before any sugar was added it measured a potential ABV of 7%.

Based on Nott’s ambiguous receipt, I decided to mix up five pounds of honey with 10 ounces of wheat and stirred that in to the juice. After chaptalization there was a potential ABV of 11.5%. I may have gone a little overboard. We shall see.

I was away for most of this week, so I’m not sure when it started. When I got home on Friday the juice was clearly fermenting. By Saturday morning, seven days after i mixed everything together, large bubbles had formed, covered with what looks like a fine white powder.

Just for fun I shined a light across it to get a better view, and it looked like this:

J. thinks it looks like spiders are about to crawl out it. Fortunately, by tonight the bubbles have all popped and the surface is covered in fine, white bubbles. She shouldn’t have to worry anymore.

Last month I started two batches of single-varietal ciders – one golden russet and the other Gravenstein. The Gravenstein was Whole Foods juice. Based on erroneous information, I thought the Gravenstein would ferment naturally, but it turns out that it was heat pasteurized. I had to add cider yeast. It’s been happily fermenting away since then.

Speaking of pasteurized juice, not long ago I got into a conversation with someone who strenuously argued that Pennsylvania (my home state) doesn’t permit unpasteurized juice to be sold. He was trying to tell me that it was impossible to get and thus my attempts at making historical ciders are a fool’s errand. In response, I just want to leave this here for him to peruse:

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Our Two-Year Anniversary & Two New Cyders

It was just two years ago this week that I started my first cyders. It began because the museum I work at holds a Harvest Day event every October and one of the farmers, who had been pressing apples, asked if I wanted any raw juice. I said yes, thinking maybe I would finally try one of the eighteenth-century receipts I had. Who knows, I thought, maybe it’ll be drinkable.

Such are the humble origins of Pommel Cydery.

And so two years and one more Harvest Day later another cyder season begins. This year’s first cyders are encores of previous experiments.

I was beginning to despair of ever finding fresh pear juice and was about to give up on making perry. But then, by chance, I saw IMG_1091that a local orchard was selling locally-grown, fresh-pressed, and unpreserved pear juice. So the experiment is happily renewed.

My previous perries were store-bought juice and pitched yeast. The resulting drink was thin and bland. This time I decided to add a little light brown sugar, enough to raise the potential ABV to almost 9%. Not all of the sugars in pear juice are fermentable, so it’s likely that the final ABV will be less than 9%, even if it ferments out fully. Either way, hopefully this one will be better than its predecessors.

Earlier this year I made a honey and wheat cyder (cyser, really, since it used honey). It was based on an eighteenth-century receipt which didn’t specify how much of each to use. I chose to put in a very small amount of honey and wheat. So small in fact, that they probably had no effect on the final content. That cyser came out similar to a dry white wine and at about 6%, which is generally what unaided apple juice will ferment to. Clearly I didn’t add enough honey.

Using a gallon of raw juice from this  year’s Harvest Day pressing, I added half a pound of wildflower honey and 2 oz. of wheat flower. The hydrometer reading came out to a potential ABV of 6.5%, lower than I wanted. So I added the rest of the honey, bringing it to a possible 8.5%.

l – Pear juice & 1/2 lb. of light brown sugar – potential ABV 9%
r – Apple juice, 1 lb. wildflower honey, & 2 oz. wheat flour – potential ABV 8.5%

Within twelve hours the pear juice was fermenting away with large, airy bubbles. The honey wheat cyser took almost twenty four to get going. Both are covered by cheese-cloth for now to provide enough air for the yeast to multiply and grow. In a day or so the cloth will be replace by vodka-filled air locks.

These are only the first cyders of the season. I plan to make additional varieties, focusing on eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century styles. Among other things, this means fermenting with raw (or as close as possible) juice and natural yeasts. I’m not pitching lab yeast because science is nice and all, but Pommel Cydery’s mission is to experiment with history.

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Update On Trader Joe’s Cyser Take 3 and Bottling the Ceres Perry

It’s been quiet at the Cydery these last few weeks because I’ve been busier drinking tasting cyder than making it and I’ve been sharing some of the cyders with interested friends. The sharing is new for me for a couple of reasons.

First, up until this spring I’ve only done one-gallon batches, which produces six pint bottles per jug. That doesn’t leave a lot to cellar and share. This spring I made a six gallon batch which amounted to 43 pint bottles – more than enough to keep some AND serve some.

Secondly, and more importantly, this is only my second year of cydering and I still feel a novice (but only because I am). It’s taken a while, but I’m finally comfortable letting other people try what I’ve made. I guess it’s a lot like writing, painting, or performing: you never really want to show anyone your first attempts for fear that your work will be laughable.

Although things have been quiet that doesn’t mean the Cydery has been inactive.

The Trader Joe’s cyser (Part III) has spent four weeks in primary fermentation and lots of lees have fallen out.


Lots of lees.

As mentioned before, I’m making this again to see if I get the thick viscous goo layer that developed during secondary fermentation last time. That cyser came out well enough, but I lost volume to the foggy bottom.

I moved the jug so I could rack it off into secondary and let it alone so the solids could settle to the bottom again. When I came back to it a few hours later it was lightly bubbling again.

IMG_0871The previous TJ cyser seems to have carbonated slightly in the bottle which meant it was still fermenting. So it’s not surprising that this is still going a little. I’m waiting until these bubbles stop before racking it. Maybe that will help prevent or limit the cloudy layer. Or maybe it won’t. These are experiments after all.

IMG_0893After six months of secondary fermentation I bottled the Ceres perry I started back in November. Like the Trader Joe’s cyser, it developed a foggy bottom, but in primary.  Since I tried not to transfer any of the goo I wound up with a lot of headspace in the jug. I didn’t fill it with water to make up the difference because I wanted to see how it came out as it was and because who wants weak perry.

We got four bottles of perfectly drinkable common perry. By drinkable I mean it wasn’t vinegar but it wasn’t the perry I expected it to be. My reaction seems to agree with one cider writer’s response to his own perry attempts:

Thus far… I’ve been underwhelmed by my own experiments with fermenting juice from dessert pears. The resulting “common perry” is drinkable enough, but seems rather thin and innocuous compared to the excellent traditional perries that are made from European bittersharp pears. [1]

Now I’m curious to try the perries I started in December, which I’m bottling next month.

As I look back over everything it appears the unfiltered juices (three of the pear juices during primary and the first TJ cyser in secondary) developed the viscous bottom layer. I wonder if they should be filtered before fermentation. Guess I’ll have to make more and see.


1. Ben Watson, Cider Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own, 3rd ed. (Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press, 2013), 129.

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