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I haven't been able to find any reliable recipes or even rules-of-thumb when deciding the amount of sugar to juice ration in cider and perry.

I'd like to know some approximations for sweet and dry versions.

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3 Answers

I find that nearly whatever I ferment, wine, apples, peaches, pears, cherries... That starting with one lb:gallon is always a fair bet. I have had good success with up to 8lbs:gallon for sweeter concoctions. I am a fan of champagne yeast, but I also like to ferment high octane drinks. I might start with a lower tolerance yeast, but a little high tolerance yeast to finish the fermentation and very it out a bit works for me.

If it is too dry, wine and cider are very forgiving. Just add more sugar and let it sit again. What is the rush? :)

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The technique I use is to pick a yeast that has a low tolerance for alcohol and the ferment will extinguish itself as the alcohol content rises above the yeast's tolerance. Whatever sugars are left over after the yeast dies off determines your sweetness.

For a "spiked" semisweet cider I add 5 pounds of brown sugar per 5 gallons of juice and ferment with White Labs English Cider yeast. The yeast tops out around 10% alcohol (!), but leaves a noticable amount of sweetness behind. The same yeast in straight juice ferments to dryness since apple juice doesn't normally have enough sugars to push the alcohol content beyond the yeast's tolerance.

Since the yeast has not been killed off by sulfites or heat, it's still available to help carbonate the cider in the bottle. Bottling agitates the mixture and aerates it somewhat which wakes up the yeast just enough to carbonate. Make sure the primary fermentation has run its full course and is fully dormant before bottling or you run the risk of exploding bottles!

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The amount of sugar isn't going to change the output sweet/dry result much. Most yeasts used for cider will completely ferment out ALL of the sugar they're given access to. That means that the addition of more sugar than what's in the apple juice originally is for additional alcohol and any flavor the non-fermentable bits of the sugars leave behind.

For instance, honey and brown sugar will completely ferment out, but leave some interesting flavors behind. However, most of the yeasts will eat it all, resulting in dry cider.

Sweet ciders are usually achieved by either using a yeast that specifically is a bit lazy or by backsweetening. An example of a lazy yeast is "Sweet Mead" yeast, which will leave a bit of sugar behind when they're completely done.

For backsweetening, it's a bit trickier because you have to stop the yeast activity and add some sugar. Chemical or heat pasteurization is a sure bet, and cold-crashing can work, but the yeast are still slightly active and they'll return in full force if the liquid warms up.

To that more "inert" liquid, you add sugar or apple juice concentrate and you'll get some sweetness. That's what the sweet commercial ciders, like Woodchuck do.

That can be a problem if you want to bottle condition/carbonate because you want live yeast to eat sugar to carbonate, but you want them to leave your backsweetening sugar alone, which doesn't exactly work.

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+1 for lazy yeasts. –  dthorpe Nov 9 '10 at 22:41
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