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Distilling hard cider


SilverSwede

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I have a local hard cider mill that reached out to me. They have about 700gal 7%ABV cider that they want us to distill so that they (or we depending on legalities) can turn it into Pommeau.  He said that last fall some sulfites were added and the concentration was 50 ppm. I have two questions

First and foremost Is 50 ppm of sulfites going to wreck my copper still?

What ABV should we shoot for from the still and how would this traditionally be distilled? (my guess would be two pot still runs)

 

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I distilled cider for a couple of cider marker's pommeau. The traditional way in Normandy would be either double pot still distillation or low-rectification continuous column depending on the region, and would work out to about 60-70% abv brandy. I distill ours at about 78% on a 3 plate pot still, our orchardist prefers that as it allows more apple must to be in the blend to hit the right mix of sugar and acid. The apple must seems to matter more than the brandy, if there isn't enough tannin or acid in the apples the pommeau will be very flat and blah. 

50 ppm is a lot to me, your still will survive but will likely need a good cleaning and acid refresh afterwards, and there will be quite noticable SO2 in the spirit. Apple cider can have other problems like acrolein, so I would certainly get a sample to distill before committing to doing it. 

If they have a winery license they can make pommeau, but on paper it must be a blend of fermented cider and brandy, not unfermented apple must and brandy (which is technically a liqueur and would require a DSP). So the producers I know initiate fermentation and then arrest it a few hours later with brandy .  

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We've done a fair amount of work with cider makers around town, distilling old batches and whatnot. 50ppm will be definitely be noticeable in the final brandy, but it will not wreck your still. We even tried a run that was over sulfited (~100ppm) and while it was horrific smelling (we ended up ending the run halfway through as nothing of value was coming out), we didn't see any issues.

Just clean your still well in-between your cider runs and whatever else you are producing.

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