Cider Technique – Keeving

301767726_b0236dc328One of the things I love about cider is that one size does not fit all.  England, Spain, France and United States all have their unique style and techniques for producing renowned ciders.

As I covered the riddling process in a previous post, today we will discuss  the keeving technique mastered by French cider makers.  When I decided to write this post I wanted to find an American producer using the not so simple keeving technique.

Summing up the keeving process is no easy task but here is a brief description. I will try not to confuse you.

The best way to understand keeving is to understand the purpose of keeving altogether.

Keeving – The Purpose

To produce a naturally sweet conditioned sparkling cider by halting the fermentation before dryness.

How is this achieved?  The cider maker must reduce the nutrient level in apple juice so it ferments more slowly.  Sound simple?  I will let you believe that.

The Fruit

For best results, late season fully ripened bittersweets, with low nutrients and high tannins.  The sugar level should be at least 12% and a Specific Gravity of 1.055.

The  ‘maceration’ 

After washing and milling, the pomace is packed into barrels to stand for up to 24 hours. This process is also known as cuvage. The pomace develops color through oxidation and pectin seeps from the cell walls. The pomace is pressed and run into clean, previously sulfited barrels.

The Gel Cap

Kept at a cold temperature, yeast fermentation does not occur in the first few days. Natural pectin esterase enzymes change the pectin to peptic acid and reacts with calcium forming a brown cap  (chapeau brun) forms on the surface.  In modern techniques,  instead of relying on an unpredictable natural process, calcium and pectin methyl esterase (PME) enzyme are added. The cap catches yeast and nutrients.

The Fermentation

The juice between the cap and bottom sediment is pumped into a fermentation vat and ferments slowly under air-lock with no added yeast.  The slow fermentation and lack of nutrients produces a natural sweet cider. With the slow resulting fermentation it should be no problem to make a
naturally sweet cider.  The cider is finally bottled and slowly conditions in the bottle.

To further understand the process I reached out to Shawn Carney from Blossomwood Cidery. He described his keeving technique and shared his inspiration.

Me – For a process that has died out in England but is still used in France, what inspired you to keeve your ciders?
Shawn – I don’t remember there being one specific inspiration that led me into keeving, I think the allure was that it is a method of making cider that was almost extinct and a challenge to master.
Me– Did you learn the keeving techniques from cider producers in Normandy?  Are you using modern or classic techniques?
Shawn -Indirectly.  I use the 1928 french to english translation of La Cidrerie by G Warcollier translated by Charley (once owned by the Liverpool public library). As a base I suppose I use classic techniques but then tailor them to my own style.  I imagine everyone does things a little different, I don’t think keeving is something that works out by applying a formula.
Me– Briefly describe your process.
Shawn -I macerate the pomace over night and press the juice the next morning. The juice either goes into a 55 gal poly drum or a 250 gal IBC depending on the size of the batch. I add the PME during pressing and the calcium chloride about 2-3 days later. After I get a nice tight brown cap I pump the juice to an oak wine barrel (s).
Me – Do certain apple varieties affect the keeving process?  Mostly bittersweets right?
Shawn – Yes different apples work better than others. Bittersweets work better than eating apples, but also there are some apples that develop better flavors through the process. I don’t think Sweet Coppin tastes very good in a keeved cider, it seems to develop a cotton candy + diesel fuel taste.
Me – What varieties and apples do you use?
Shawn – I like Muscadet de Dieppe, Muscadet de Bernay, medaille d’or, and most of the frequins . Yarlington Mill, and Brown snout also make a good keeved cider.
Me – After the juice is oxidized and run into clean barrels, what barrels do you use and does that play a role in the overall process?  Are the barrels sulfited?  What does this do to the cider?
Shawn – I use old wine barrels (currently 2000 and 2001). I think the barrels help retain what little heat is generated by such a slow fermentation and keep the fermentation going through the colder months of the winter, I don’t think there is much oak tannin left in them though. I do sulfite my barrels but always wash them out before using, I prefer a good soak with apple brandy if you have 60 gal sitting around.
Me – Keeving is a tricky method.  What challenges have you run into?  What tips can you lend to new cider makers attempting the keeving process?
Shawn – Timing and weather are the biggest challenges, but like anything else the more you practice, the more comfortable you become it the easier it gets. As a tip for determining when to add the calcium, I suggest taking a sample (250 ml) and adding a tiny drop of calcium chloride to see if it gels before adding calcium to the entire batch.
Me – How long does the overall process take?
Shawn – 5 – 7 days would be average, it depends in the apples, how fresh your PME is and the weather.
Me – Is this taken place outside during the cold month?
Shawn – I do it outside, mostly late October through November depending on the weather. 
Me  – Please explain the bottling process and how the keeved ciders are stored.
Shawn – Currently I just rack the cider into a bright beer tank around March and let it ferment for another 30 – 60 days until it is at the sweetness level I like and has good carbonation and then bottle it.
Thanks to Shawn from Blossomwood Cidery for making it look easy and keeping a classic technique alive.

3 comments on “Cider Technique – Keeving

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