Making Cyser for the 2016 Mazer Cup
Symposia and Competitions
Recently, Matt Williams, of Winemaker’s Academy, and I, joined Allen and Tysen of Meadmakr in the first of what I hope to be several discussions about Cyser: the crossover beverage between cider and mead, containing both apples and honey. The result was a MeadMakr podcast episode: The Serious Cyser Symposium.
During that episode, the Meadmakr guys challenged Matt and I to make a Cyser for the 2016 Mazer Cup. This post documents our efforts to that effect, from sourcing cider apples in the Rocky Mountain West (not an easy task), to our process and recipe.
If you have any interest in adding honey to your ciders–or apples to your mead–read on:
Our overall process for making cyser–at least the version where you ferment the apples and honey together–was:
- sourcing apples
- sourcing honey
- grinding/pressing the apples
- determing the recipe
- making the cyser
It’s an unfortunate fact for me that the front range of Colorado is not the best region for growing apples–we have an abundance of late, blossom-killing freezes in the spring and occasional, precipitous temperature drops in the fall that can kill young trees outright. In addition, the small amount of fruit that is grown in the region is generally of the ‘table’ or ‘dessert’ apple varieties that, by themselves, aren’t ideal for cider.
Luckily, I had already planned a vacation to Western Colorado, which has pockets of good apple-growing land and is home to a friend of mine who grows cider fruit. So I stopped by my friend’s place in Cedaredge on the way back and and obtained about a half bushel each of Cap Of Liberty (below left) and Dabinett (below right) apples–not enough for a 5 gallon batch themselves, but enough to perk up the flavor profile of a subsequent blend.
Variety: Cap Of Liberty
Acidity: High (pH approx. 3.5)
Tannin Level: Moderate (slightly astringent by taste)
Sugar Content: Very High (1.068 SG, 9% potential alcohol)
Acidity: Low (pH approx. 4.0)
Tannin Level: High (quite astringent by taste)
Sugar Content: Very High (1.072 SG, 9.5% potential alcohol)
See The Beginnings Of A Cider Orchard for more specifics about my own efforts growing apples in the front range.
Luckily, I live about a 20 minute drive from a honey wholesaler, Jeff, at Colorado Honey Company. I’ve been stocking up over the last year or so as new varietal honeys become available. As such, I had several varietals on hand to choose from, namely:
- Cranberry (Wisconsin)
- Orange Blossom (California)
- Alfalfa/Wildflower (Colorado)
- Clover (Colorado/Montana)
Ultimately, we decided on a honey blend after tasting the honeys alongside the juice blend we created after processing the apples.
Grinding and Pressing The Apples
Here’s where the real fun started. Matt joined me on a Saturday afternoon to head to the farm where I process apples, then back to my place afterwards to taste, blend, finalize the recipe, and make the Cyser. As we were going offsite to get to the press, we had to make sure to bring everything else that we needed.
Grinding/Pressing Equipment List (‘out in the field’):
- food-safe buckets (for washing apples)
- food-safe plastic jugs (for storing apple juice)
- plastic funnel (for funneling juice into jugs)
- paring knife
- sharpie (for labeling jugs)
- sanitizer solution (Star San, in a spray bottle)
- paper towels
- trash bags
- stuff to drink…
I recommend transporting juice in plastic vessels during this phase–you can always transfer to glass to ferment in, but the possibility of breaking a glass fermenter full of juice in transit from the field is frankly terrifying and would result in the mother of all cleanup jobs. Do yourself a favor and avoid this possibility.
Our equipment in place, we proceeded to wash, grind, and press the apples as follows.
- Assemble and clean the Grinder/Press (we used an older Homesteader, made by Happy Valley Ranch (of which I’m an affiliate))
- Sort and rinse apples
- Grind and Press 1 variety at a time
- Capture the various juices in labeled, plastic jugs
- Clean the grinder/press
- Compost the pomace back onto the orchard
Even though we ultimately blended the juices, pressing the varieties separately allowed us to obtain some information about the unique qualities of each apple variety that will come in handy in subsequent years as we work with different varieties under different seasonal conditions.
Below are a few images of the grinding/pressing process:
Determining The Recipe
We returned to my place with juice in tow, and set about creating our recipe. We knew that we wanted a bit of sweetness in the final product to offset the acidity from the apples, and we wanted to find a honey flavor profile that would complement our apple juice base. We set about tasting the juices and the honeys that we had at our disposal, and landed on a combination of orange blossom honey through a more or less trial and error approach…I knew that I didn’t want an overly strong honey flavor, and these two honeys’ delicate, floral profiles seemed to do the trick.
This pre-fermentation flavor planning exercise is harder than it sounds–it’s easy to overwhelm the palate while sampling a series of very sweet honeys and very sweet juices. The aromas are a bit easier to work with, but still, it’s a challenge, and something I’ll need to work on over time.
Before you go down the rabbit hole…
From here, things get a bit more involved…if you haven’t made mead before, it would likely be useful for you to break at this point and review a basic tutorial of meadmaking. A few examples along these lines:
- How To Make Mead–my mead-making tutorial on cidersage
- The MeadMakr Guide–Allen and Tysen’s meadmaking page
- How To Make Mead–Matt’s meadmaking tutorial
Back to the nitty-gritty…
Knowing that we wanted a 5 gallon batch, and from my experiences with the Lalvin D47 yeast’s alcohol tolerance in my typical mead fermentations, we set a target initial gravity that we hoped would result in the targeted sweetness level in the finished mead.
We started with the MeadMakr Batch Buildr to determine the basic sugar content/alcohol targets. Knowing that I wanted about 1.015 as the finishing gravity, and that D47 often ferments as high as 15.5% in my slow, cold, fermentations with their staggered nutrient additions, and that we wanted a 5 gallon batch, the Batch Buildr determined that we’d need 18.8 lbs of honey:
That’s not the end of the story, however, since the apple juice contributes a lot of its own sugar to the picture. So I converted the pure sugar content of that target honey level by multiplying that target honey content (18.8 lb) by .796 (the commonly used factor to account for the fact that honey is about 80% sugar) to determine that we needed 14.96 lb of sugar overall.
From there, we used Sugar/Alcohol tables to determine the amount of sugar already in the 4 gallons of blended juice that we had (now lower in SG (1.062) and acidity (3.6) after blending the Cap of Liberty and Dabinett apples with a store-bought blend), determined the amount of honey we needed, and then divided that total honey amount up into some orange blossom and some raspberry.
18.8 lb honey X .796 = 14.96 lb sugar
From the sugar tables: 4 gal juice at 1.062 X 1lb, 6.4 oz / gal = 5.6 lb sugar
14.96 lb total sugar = 5.6 lb + .796 (honey needed)
honey needed = 11.76lb = 11 lb, 12 oz
Making The Cyser
With those numbers in hand, we proceeded to make the cyser using a process similar to that in my mead-making tutorial above. Below is the recipe and the process that we ended up with.
Matt and Dan’s 2015 Cyser Recipe:
“Dab Of Liberty“
- Batch size: 5 gal
- Target ABV: 15.5%
- Target OG: 1.132
- Target FG: 1.015
- FermentationTemperature goal: 52 F
- Yeast: Lalvin D47
- Juice base (OG 1.062, 3.6-3.7pH):
- .75 gal Cap of Liberty Juice
- .75 gal Dabinett Juice
- .5 gal crab apple juice
- 2 gal Sprouts Organic Juice
- 3lb, 12 oz Oregon raspberry honey (from Colorado Honey Company)
- 8lb California Orange Blossom honey (from Colorado Honey Company)
- Other (affiliate links):
- Batch Size: 5 gal
- OG: 1.136
- pH: 3.7-3.8
- Blend and sulfite juice as desired
- Determine required sugar content based on your desired end product
- Rehydrate Yeast with Go-Ferm (and or Fermaid K, and/or Fermaid O)
- Add honey to juice accordingly
- Mix honey into juice (power drill with stirring attachment)
- Measure starting SG
- Pitch yeast into must
- Ferment at desired temperature in a glass carboy or plastic fermenter
- Add staggered nutrient additions as desired (decrease quantities of nutrient vs. a standard mead)
- Degas as needed
- Rack/siphon to glass carboy to age (3+ months, the more the better)
As you can see, the gravity was slightly off, probably because the above assumes that the added honey and the juice blend would be exactly one gallon and four gallons in volume, respectively–neither were exactly correct, but we got pretty close…within .004 SG.
Another factor to keep an eye on is how well dissolved the honey is–it takes quite a bit of work to dissolve a gallon of honey into a must at room temperature, even with mechanized help in the form of a stirring attachment. If, like me, you ever take a gravity reading on a mead that’s several days into fermentation, only to find that the gravity is actually higher than your initial reading, this factor may be in play.
At this writing, our Cyser is still bubbling away, mid-fermentation, so I don’t yet know what the final outcome is going to be. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see what it turns out like, and to see what Allen and Tysen come up with for their own recipes. As you can see below, the Mazer Cup is coming up soon…
Countdown to the 2016 Mazer Cup
More To Come…
We’ll be sure to report on our Mazer Cup results, as well as lessons learned and other useful observations gleaned during our Cyser adventures.
Are you making Cyser? Cider? Are you going to the Mazer Cup? Leave us a comment below, and join the conversation.