We made 50 litres of apple cider last monday night, so about 7 days ago, it has been bubbling away happily and has cleared and scum gathered around edges of bucket, today it seems to have stopped and tastes a little fiery not sweet as juice. I think it has finished fermenting, but wondering if it is ok to leave in the bucket until this friday? We are going away tomorrow until friday, but don't want to risk losing the lot! would it be ok? Thanks
Its almost certainly ok to leave it until Friday, my main concern would be the chance for infection from wild yeast. I prefer aging in bottles to limit the chance of wild yeast infecting the batch.
I'm a fan of "slap-packs" which ensure that whatever yeast you pitch has already had several hours to grow, and will overwhelm any wild yeast that my have gotten in your fermenter. In my experience, if you wait too long to bottle/keg, its easy for the yeast to either die (no carbonation) or be infected (bad flavor) either in the fermenter or during the bottling/kegging process.
I would suggest bottling/kegging Friday, and allowing the cider to age in the bottles. This allows the yeast that is currently there to continue dominating other wild yeast, which will prevent infection. Unless you are aging in oak barrels, there is virtually no difference in aging in the primary fermenter and aging in bottles.
I’m sure you know and are using a food grade plastic bucket. Never ever let cider come in contact with metal, not buckets not taps barrel taps or pipes. Quite simply they react and poison the cider.
The best way to make cider is to mash and press cider apples or if you can’t get them then a mix of 40% eating apples (Cox orange pippins are excellent) and 60% cooking apples (Bramley apples are perfect).
Press the apple juice directly into freshly emptied oak rum or whiskey barrels (rum barrels make amazing cider), these can be purchased from various ex -distillery outlets who sadly cut them in half and sell them as water barrels and flower tubs. They hold about 45 - 51 gallons but with cider juice you don’t have to fill them to the brim. Add 2 lbs of raw Demerara sugar per gallon and nothing else. There are some 40,000 natural apple yeasts and one of them will very quickly get going and take control in a fairly violent way! For the first couple of days just lightly cover the bung hole and let the fresh fermenting juice bubble and chuck out the bits and pieces of apple stalks and so on.
Once it’s slowed down use a water primed airlock in the tightly fitted bung and leave it. It will eventually slow right down to a dormant stage during winter but come spring will restart keep the airlock fresh and primed with water.
After two years you will have a still, clear vintage cider such as you’ve probably never tasted! It doesn’t need racking off as cider digests it’s own sediment. Beware though, it is mighty strong at about 12 -14% and to be drunk like wine rather than beer - a pint would knock you sideways or poleaxe you - I’ve seen that happen. In short cider alcohol is a different beast and at this strength to be treated with considerable respect. It is wonderful in moderation and a tremendous alcohol to cook with too, a small glass full on a roast changes everything.
You can syphon from a 50 gallon barrel and float carbon dioxide down on top of the cider expelling lighter oxygen from the barrel, this will keep it fresh. In Kent 30 years ago I had 800 gallons of different ciders and perry ciders (you need to add a lot of citric acid to pear juice) in a 16th century cellar full of barrels.
Hope this helps.