Here are the basics of Keeving and the French production methods we have gleaned so far in our trip to France and England.
By David Takush, 2 Towns Ciderhouse
We have found that only approximately half of the producers actually try to achieve a 'chapeau brun' -the 'brown hat' that forms at the top of a juice tank and results in an over-clarified must essential for a keeved cider. We found both large and small producers using the chapeau brun method as well as the alternative method of 'sedimentation'. Only larger producers are pasteurizing their final product in bottle, however many of the smaller producers have issues with over carbonated cider, undercarbonated cider, or cider that is slightly off of the ending target gravity.
In general, we have seen chapeau brun achieved by harvesting mature fruit from the orchard floor. Most growers are letting fruit naturally fall off the tree, and making up to three harvests under each tree. Sometimes the tree receives a shake if needed. This fruit is usually processed the same day or the following day of harvest. Some producers have a slightly extended storage time for apples, but usually just a few days. The number one aspect of achieving chapeau brun was said to be the maturity of the apples, but we have no quantitative measure for this level of maturity, only visual inspection of seeds and taste, and the fact that most of the fruit has fallen or is falling out of the tree.
After washing, sorting, and grinding the apples, the pomace is left to sit for 1-4 hours (usually while the previous press is finishing). This time of maceration seems dependent on temperature and process flow through the cidery. Larger operations trying to achieve chapeau brun will actively mix the pomace for oxidation purposes before pressing. Some English producers will leave the pomace to sit overnight.
We have seen three types of presses in use: belt presses, wine bladder presses, and bucher-type pneumatic presses. The wine and bucher type presses take 1.5-2.5hours to press a batch. It has been suggested that belt presses press too quickly and do not allow enough oxidation to occur, however we saw people achieving chapeau brun with belt presses, usually in conjunction with extended maceration (though sometimes not).
The juice after pressing is usually cooled (if cooling equipment is available) in a mixing tank or a tube and tube heat exchanger down to 8-12c before pumping into a tank. Sometimes juice is sulfited in minor quantities of 5mg/HL. PME (pectin methyl esterase) is added upon the filling of the keeving tank at a rate of 1L per 300hL (depending on concentration of enzyme and manufacturers suggestion). Usually the next day CaCl is added to the tank at a rate of 15L per 300L (again, dependent on manufacturer's recommendation) then sometimes mixed by pumping 20min-1hour.
After 1-3 days a chapeau brun (coagulated and aggregated pectin) begins to form in the juice and 5 days and up to 2 weeks later (depending on temperature, which is usually 8-12c) the chapeau brun has fully formed at the top of the tank and clear juice is ready to be racked out the middle of the tank.
Another form of clarification known as sedimentation can be used to achieve a clear and nutrient deficient juice. Pectinase (polygalacturonase) can be added in-lieu of the PME and CaCl, which will drop all sediment and degrade pectin causing the particulates to drop to the bottom of the tank. The clear juice is then racked off the top.
Once a clear juice has been achieved and racked to a fermentation tank, sulfites may be added in very small quantities of 5mg/hL, if desired. After a number of days depending on temperature, fermentation will begin. Optimum temperature is 8-12c. The optimum rate of fermentation is 1-3 gravity points (specific gravity, aka density) per week. The slower rate the better and 4 points/week and over is too much. This rate of fermentation is managed (slowed) by temperature and racking from tank to tank, centrifugation, or by filtering 90% of the liquid (DE or cross flow).
The regrowth of new yeast generations after each subsequent racking or clarification uses up yeast available nitrogen, the lack of which will play a part in allowing residual sugars to remain in the unpasteurized finished product.
One remaining question is how to know when to do the racking or filtration steps during fermentation. Some producers have specific density readings: such as 5 or 10 points of gravity loss, some observe the fermentation getting too cloudy or going too fast.
After fermenting and reaching the ending density required for Demi-sec, brut, etc., a final crossflow or DE filtration or plate-and-frame step may be applied along with an optional 3-5mg/hL of sulfites. This usually occurs between 2-4 points above their final target gravity, allowing for a drop during re-fermentation in the bottle to hopefully arrive at 2.5-3.5vol co2. Some producers do more extensive bottle conditioning testing or final YAN counts, most do not. Some producers, especially those who do a final crossflow step, may need to add an extremely small amount of commercial yeast to their cider for proper bottle conditioning to occur. Most bottle conditioning is around 3+ months in bottle at 8-12c.
YAN levels at juicing are usually 40-60. 80ppm appears to be too high. Yan levels at bottling appear to be 20-40 depending on ending gravity (less for brut, more for demi-sec).
Most producers prefer pH not to go over 3.84pH and will sometimes add malic acid to lower their numbers. 3.7pH seems to be optimum. Some producers track Malo-lactic fermentation, most assume it will complete all the way, but hope it will happen later in the fermentation process or in the bottle.
We have been told a variety of ranges of pH you can keeve at. Some said down to 3.4-3.5. Most said the lowest pH for keeving was 3.6. Most producers in France and England do not seem to track total acidity, nor care. It has not been answered whether T.A. also plays a role in the formation of chapeau brun, but it is assumed that too high of total acidity and/or too low of pH can inhibit chapeau brun formation. One note is that multiple English producers appear to be getting chapeau brun formation with a significantly higher proportion bittersharp apples than what the French commonly use, which is no more than 10% sharp apples and a majority sub-acid apples. Additionally it has not been answered if tannins are a required part of the formation of chapeau brun, since nobody ferments without tannic cider fruit in France or England.
NWCA'S CIDERMAKER GROUP ON KEEVING TRIP, 2017.
While many of the cideries we visited in France and England were integrated working farms that raised cows and sheep, they did seem to be legitimate cider production facilities, with all the amenities you would expect at an artisan winery. Wilkins cider seemed to be quite a different story in that most of the operation seemed to be geared around cows and other types of farming, while cider was just a natural by-product of living off the land. The facility shares a wall with the cattle pen, and the FDA would have a heart attack if they ever saw the facility, however I believe it is one of the truest views into the traditional style of making West Country cider that still exists.
The cider is produced in the most simple means possible. The apples are harvested off the ground, crushed and pressed, and put into plastic and wooden vats and barrels of various sizes. That's it. Fermentation happens naturally without any intervention. The cider is served directly out of wooden vats as a still, cellar temperature 'rough' product. It is served alongside whole pickled onions (regular or spicy) and some of the best sharp cheddar cheese you have ever had. It was unclear how the cider was packaged for sale outside the farm, but we did see it in a number of country taverns.
Words cannot do justice in describing Rodger Wilkins or his facility, but it is absolutely an adventure and worth visiting.
Heck's cider in Somerset, U.K. has produced traditional farmhouse cider and perry for six generations. Their long history was evident by the large wall filled with award plaques and newspaper articles of their journey. Andrew Heck was a warm and welcoming host, though not one to speak at length. Their cidery has a retail shop that sells produce, local goods as well as their cider. The facility was made up of a number of stone buildings with tanks and supplies packed in just about every available space.
They produce a number of single varietal ciders and perries, which was unique compared to the other cideries we visited. Most of the cider for sale at their cidery is stored in wooden casks and bag in box containers. Customers are encouraged to blend any of the ciders and perries together to their liking. These ciders are sold in plastic jugs of varying sizes, the largest being about 2 gallons. In addition to cider and perry they also produce 18 varieties of apple juice.
Heck's was not an orchard based cidery, though they do grow most of the apples and pears used in their ciders at off site orchards. They grow 18 varieties of perry pears. Since there was no orchard tour here the discussion of orcharding practices and fruit characteristics was minimal.
Their fruit processing area is under cover but not enclosed in a building. When fruit is received it is washed in a voran elevator grinder and is pressed on a Voran belt press. It looked to be about a 3' wide belt. They can process about 3 tonnes of apples per hour, a bit slower when pressing perry pears. When pressing cider apples they average about 130 gallons per ton.
All of their ciders are 100% juice and wild fermented. Keeving is not a part of their process. He did not mention the use of sulfites at any step in their process. From the press, juice is transferred into Rotoplas black HDPE tanks roughly 500 gallons in capacity. These were the largest tanks they had on site and not a one was stainless steel. They have no bottom port, just a manway at the top in the center. The tanks were originally used for transporting orange juice. When fermentation is complete and the cider is ready to be finished, they utilize sucralose for their medium and sweet ciders. He uses roughly 7 to 7.5 grams of sucralose in 50 gallons of cider. For some ciders that will be pasteurized and packaged in bag in box they will use sucrose to sweeten.
Annual production is about 50,000 gallons of cider and perry. Most of Heck's ciders are sold in bag in box format. Some ciders are bottled and carbonation is done with the bottling machine they use. They do not utilize any brite tanks for carbonation. Some of the varietal ciders on hand when we visited were Morgan Sweet, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Browns, Port wine of Glastonbury, Slack Ma Girdle, Kingston Black and Tom Putt. Varietal perries on hand included Blakeny Red and Hendre Huffcap. All of these were still ciders/perries.
Our host, Martin, showed us around his cider facility in England. His cidery was much younger than most, if not all, of the others we had seen, and thus carried less of a traditional air to it. Pilton Cider, created in 2009, produces about 50,000 L of cider a year. He, like us, took on a French keeving expert for advice in order to perfect his technique. All of his ciders are intended to keeve. Any one that doesn’t work out is fermented dry into and English style cider. Apples are sourced and pressed by other farmers and he only buys the juice at a rate of 45-50 pence per liter. He’s not exactly in tune with which varieties of apples he uses. A catch-all of “old bittersweets” will suffice for him. He doesn’t measure the TA of any of his juice, but rather just aims for a pH of 3.7.
His style of production incorporates maceration at anywhere between 2 to 24 hours. If it’s warm out he prefers to juice it sooner. The juice is circulated in a heat exchanger and chilled to 8 degrees C. The fermentation rooms are kept cool with refrigeration fans. He’ll add PME to the juice, mix thoroughly, and wait 2-3 days before adding calcium chloride. He tests the cap formation by taking a sample each day into small tubes and put them in the fridge. When one of them turns cloudy, that means that it was time to rack YESTERDAY.
Our host only keeves the amount of juice that can be pressed in one day. He never adds more juice to a process that has essentially already started. He noted that keeving can sometimes only remove 20% of the inherent nitrogen. At Pilton, they do utilize a bit of filtration to control the fermentation rate. Martin will filter out 90% of the yeast (juice), but only after fermentation has peaked and the yeast cells have been properly built up. It is safe to bottle when the gravity has not dropped more than one point over 3 weeks at a temperature of 10 degrees C.
We had some questions about his use of IBCs used for some of his cider. We found that he uses steel inserts that circulate cold water to provide a cold ferment. He also had a current fermentation going in a whiskey barrel, post-keeve, but has not tested any of the product yet. He added that whiskey barrels needed to be neutral for him. If it imparted any detectable whiskey flavor his duty would increase from 40 pence per liter to about 2.60 pounds per liter.
I thought Pilton’s Cider was one of the more desirable English products we came across. Everything was clean, woody, earthy, properly balanced with acid, fruity, tannic and toffee-like.
Tom was in town for the Royal Bath and West Show, so while we weren’t able to visit his farm and cidery as a group, he graciously agreed to come to our hotel and talk with us for an afternoon to discuss the mysteriously fickle art of keeving.
What is keeving? A sub 5.5% ABV cider, that is naturally sweet, unfiltered (only racking), and then bottle conditioned. The reason for this is that if it is over 5.5% then you have to pay the high duty rate of champagne.
In Tom’s opinion, keeving has a high failure rate – so here are some keys to consider:
- Ambient Temp of 10°C – better at 8°, even better at 6°, 12° is alright but 8 is best
- Minimum intervention – DO NOT BULLY!
- Old Trees, Traditionally Grown (only because traditional orchards mean old)
- Bittersweets (for their gentle and soft characteristics) and some bittersharps – NO HARD TANNIN FOR KEEVING!
- Stay away from acids
- Fruit is key! (Doesn’t measure YAN – just knows from many, many years of keeves)
- Maceration: time fruit spends after milling is crucial – 24-48 hours
- This will lend you less problems down the road
- Longer chain tannins come back to haunt when bottling (create snow globes)
- USE A PACK PRESS!
- Find out what your fruit requires
- Tools, apples, resources: “Whatcha got, is whatcha got”
- Poo is a crime
In Tom’s opinion, a true keeved cider happens naturally but these few things help the process:
- Picking apples between Oct – Nov
- PME (producers: STDANA, SANICO) and then Calcium Chloride flakes (powder) or liquid when it Floculates (3rd Day)
- Take 1L, mix in the Calcium Chloride, wait until it becomes the texture of semolina
- Ferments in 1000L totes (IBC), the plastic allows you to shine a Halogen light on the side to track the process
- You want Fermentation to start but just barely – Never above 14°
- Rack a couple times heading into Christmas, maybe once over New Year’s
- Rack when Barometric pressure is high, 3-4 times before the cold weather comes
- “IF A KEEVE IS A KEEVE IT’S A KEEVE!”
- Should be 1.020 when you bottle, in the bottle it will drops to 1.016 (no yeast into bottle!)
- Use cidre bouche corks – small, non-mushrooms short corks
1 Route de Plas an Dans, 29500
Ergué Gaberic, FR
Phone: 02 98 59 63 45
Cidermaker/Guide: Joseph (co-owner)
Fruit: Uses multiple varieties of traditional French cider apples including Kermerrien, Marie-Ménard, Prat-Yeod, Douce-Moen, Kroc'hen Ki and Douce-Coêtligné.
Orchard: 35 HA owned/operated by cidery, accounting for approximately 1/3 of total volume used (remaining grown under contract).
Harvest practice: All fruit is allowed to drop. Harvesting by mechanical sweeper. Harvest proceeds from September through December. Harvested apples are sorted on-site by orchard and (where applicable) type, allowing at-press blending by varietal and/or fruit classification.
Fruit processing: At-press blending generally used, with target pH of 3.7 or lower. Peak processing uses 250 tonnes apples/day. Milling and pressing takes place at ambient (indoor) temperatures ranging from 5 to 20º C. Shredder-style mill. Pomace fed into one of two piston-style presses, sized at 3-tonne and 5-tonne. Joseph reports 75% yield, each press cycle takes between one and 1.5 hours to complete. No maceration procedures per se.
Juice preparation: Juice cooled to 10º C prior to intake. Uses PME (Pectin Esterase Enzymes) and calcium chloride, former added per manufacturer instructions at 1L/300 HL, added to tank approximately 24 hours after tank fill without deliberate stirring or blending. 5 mg/l SO2 added for nominal microbal control.
Keeve process: Naturally-occurring yeast for all fermentation with yeast metabolics used to raise cap. Cap lift and development are tracked with aid of translucent tanks.
Fermentation process: Fermentation occurs at target 10º C. Slow fermentation pace maintained as required using racking and centrifuge filtering. Cross-flow filtering seen as too complete for stage filtering, reserved for final filter cycle.
Maturation/Conditioning: Completed cider packaged with large monoblock carbonation/bottling machines. 75º C/20’ in-bottle pasteurization cycle used for finished product (30 PU). Bottles are stored on-site in ambient temperatures for aging/conditioning prior to labeling and sale.
- Orcharding and production practices conforming to Cornouaille AOC.
- Château de Lézergué produces approximately 200 KL cider per year, or between 2-3 million bottles).
- 25 yr old father to son transition company
- 10 hectares of M106 orchards
- 20 main varieties
- Buys in local fruit
- Uses no acid fruit
- Common to grow the local powerful varieties and buy in more general fruit (70 varieties known locally)
- 10 tons of apple/hectare with no management and 20-25 with management
- Intensive cultivation will produce 65 tons/hectare, though there is a clear perception that high density does not produce good flavored apples / cider
- 200,000 btls cider /yr (AOC)
- 2000 btls Lambig /yr
- 6000 btls Pommeau (AOC)
Notes on the region and the orchard:
- The soil is shallow so the trees are a bit smaller, and there is not much nitrogen in the soil.
- Pruning for light air flow purposes
- Sprays copper sulfate and magnesium, for scab and bacterial control
- Very high acid soil so each 3 yrs add Lime to raise the pH
- Makes use of the communal weather station to time sprays
- All mechanized from Sept to November
- Apples stored in apple bins 2 weeks to sweat (if hand picked)
- Machine harvested fruit is presses the next day
- Apples are piled in 4 variety groups
- Wash, sort, grind
- Macerate in a tank for 1-2 hours sometimes overnight! To calm the tannins and only with low overnight temps.
- Maceration is judged by total browning of pomace.
- Pressing for 2 hours in a large bladder press (slow clear extraction)
- Pump into 10,000 L tanks at 8-10 degrees C.
- Add PME at pump in
- When tank is full (2 days of pressing) add CaCl and pump cycle to blend for 1 hour.
The Brown hat cometh:
- 2-3 days after CaCl the hat forms and between 5 and 12 days to be completely formed.
- When hat is big and strong they will rack of the clear juice underneath.
- 5g/hL SO2 as juice fills tank and 5g/hL more when tank is full then 3 more g at bottling
- As yeast blooms cider is repeatedly racked to maintain a rate of S.G. 1.002 / week
- All at 8-10 degrees- if rate is too high then will use filter to reduce yeast population
- Usually stabilizes at 1.030
- Crossflows at 1.028 and pitches commercial yeast for bottle conditioning
Then we went to meet the Mayor.
Cidrerie Leroyer - Cidermaker Stephen Leroyer
La Poulardière, 61350 Saint-Fraimbault, France
+33 2 33 38 31 96
- 440 acre farm
- 25 acres dedicated to standard apple tree production
- 415 acres dedicated to pasture and milk production
- 100% Organic
Leroyer produces 150-200 tons of fruit per year from the 25 acres which are on traditional high-stem trees. Of that production, 50% are apple and 50% are pears, all for the production of cider and perry. As is traditional, cows are grazed under the trees during the growing season and taken to pasture six weeks before harvest.
Apples are harvested by machine in two picks. The first is said to be for the production of calvados and the latter for the production of cider.
Apples may be stored for a few days in wood bins. Leroyer uses a water bath for cleaning and a grater for milling. They prefer no maceration time before loading into a bladder press (Bucher RPF22 closed cage). Total time in the press can be up to 2.5 hrs and maximum pressure in 2 bar.
Leroyer utilizes 5000L variable capacity fiberglass tanks for keeving. He suggest investing in stainless for new cideries as the fiberglass is under scrutiny and may not be allowed in the future.
Leroyer prefers bittersweet apples at the ripest stages to produce the chapeau brun. Higher pH ranges produce better chapeau brun. Target pH’s are 3.7-3.8. Acids, as malic, are often used to adjust the pH if it is too high. Fermentation temps to produce the chapeau brun are kept under 10 degree Celsius.
This was one of the more idyllic orchards we visited. We started in their standard orchard on a gently sloping hill. It was very serene, widely spaced, tall trees with a green grass floor and birds singing all around. The top portion of the standard orchard was planted in 1999, the lower part two years later. Their operation is focused on apples and pears, no livestock or other farming ventures are a part of their cidery.
Their orchard contains 16 hectares of apples and 4 hectares of pears in both standard and bush systems. Their standard orchards are 120 trees per hectare while the bush orchards are at 650 trees per hectare. In their orchard they grow 30 apple varieties and eight pear varieties.
Currently all of their orchards are organic and have been since 2009 after a three year transition period. Though they started by planting their standard orchard, all of their new plantings are in bush style. They plan for harvest in 7-8 years in their bush orchards and 15-20 years in their standard orchards. When it comes to fruit quality between the two growing systems they do not see any noticeable difference. They believe that more fruit quality variation comes from the soil type rather than the rootstock or growing method.
Their most problematic disease in their orchard is apple scab. They use sulfur and copper to manage this as both are approved for organic production. All new plantings however are done with scab resistant varieties. Another method they use to mitigate scab is to mow after leaf fall to reduce the leaf matter available for the spores to overwinter on.
They typically mow their orchard five times per year. As of the end of May they have already been through two times. They prefer the grass to be 3-4” at harvest.
All of their fruit is machine harvested between September 25th and December 15-20th , including pears. They typically harvest three times. The first when the first fruit starts to drop, then eight to ten days later. During the final harvest they shake the trees to remove all the fruit.
In their orchards they average 15-20 tonnes of fruit per hectare. Some varieties will produce 35-40 tonnes per hectare one year but nothing the following. They will pick 200-250 tonnes of fruit per year from their orchards each year. Much of their orchards are young so the yield is lower than what it should be. Plant de Blanc is one of the most used varieties for perry in this region very small, round. The tree has a strange growth habit, lots of blind wood and areas of large fruit clusters.
They process apples the day after they harvest, with pears they harvest in the morning and press in the afternoon. They harvest by variety, but blend at pressing. 10-12 tonnes of fruit per day is their capacity and they typically achieve a 60% yield. They use water channels to move fruit from bulk storage areas to their elevator and to the press. All fruit is hand sorted as it passes on the conveyor to the mill. They macerate for 1-2 hours, but this is just while the pomace is waiting to be loaded into the press. Sometimes they macerate the pears, but this is done in the press. If they hold the pear pomace for any time prior to pressing it will become very difficult to press the juice. Their press time is about two hours, it is a three tonne press
They test nitrogen levels in the juice and at bottling. They look for 20-40 ppm at bottling, 80 at bottling is too much. If the juice comes in with very low nitrogen they may not even test at bottling.
Fermentation is carried out in fiberglass tanks. Once the juice is in the tank he adds PME, then racks off when the chapeau brun forms. Optimum rate of fermentation is 2-4 SG per week. If the rate gets to 5 degrees per week they will filter to slow the fermentation with a DE filter. This will only be a partial filter, not the entire volume.
Their building was 4 years old, built into the side of the hill to facilitate temperature regulation. It was insulated but not temperature controlled. All wood from their prunings is chipped and they use the chips to heat their home. They also use wood around newly planted trees to keep the roots cool and reduce weed competition