I am a fan of cider, and I like my ciders dry. A challenge in making dry cider is achieving enough body and acid-balance to make for an enjoyable, apple-forward cider. Lacking these, a dry cider can be rather bland, and even unpalatable. My usual approach is to add wine tannin (for a near-flavourless body addition) and acid blend to achieve this end, with good success to date. But this year I decided to split my batch, brewing half with my traditional recipe (cider, nutrient and Nottingham yeast), and the other with a different approach.
In place of Nottingham I used London Ale yeast, which is supposed to be a little more fruity. I hoped that this would provide a sensation of sweetness, and thus balance out the dryness of the cider. The second thing I added was a subtle dose of oak – 12 g of medium-toast cubes in 12 L of cider for 3 days. The idea there was to get some tannins for mouthfeel, and some additional vanilla and caramel notes to help balance out the otherwise dry cider.
Tasting Notes – Oaked Cider
Appearance: Clear, cider-coloured and effervescent.
Aroma: Apples and yeast. Very “bright” and “sharp” in aroma.
Flavour: I did not get quite as much oak character as I had expected, so the vanilla, caramel and tannin notes are not as prominent as I has planned. That said, I think I may have accidentally made a better cider as the balance is fantastic. Between the oak and yeast, there are enough sweet/fruity flavours to balance out the dryness of the underlying cider. Likewise, the body of the cider is on the dry side, but is not the near-flavourless dryness of a straight-up cider + yeast + nothing else cider. Apple is the dominant flavour, without being overwhelmed by yeast or oak character. More oak character could work, but it could also easily overwhelm the other characters in this cider.
Mouthfeel: Dry, effervescent and modestly acidic (like a dry white wine). Is dry enough to be extremely refreshing and whetting on the palate, but not so dry as to be astringent or to leave you thirsty. After taste is a lingering apple flavour with a subtle (as in you may miss it if you’re not looking for it) oak character.
Overall: This is a great oaked cider – balanced and not overly dry/astringent, with a complex mix of cider, oak and yeast character. Everything is in a good balance, without either the yeast or oak character dominating. If you love dry cider, you’ll likely love this recipe. But its not one for the sweet-cider lover.