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Jan 3, 2023
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TL;DR: I wound up with 55+ gallons of sorbated cider by mistake. After searching I saw mixed answers on wether or not you could make wine with it. Thanks to encouragement and advice on forums here and a Facebook group, I tried. After about 25days of fermentation I'd say it turns out you can. Wether or not the finished product is great remains to be seen, but it smells great and I have high hopes.

Day one: my grandmother contacted me and told me a local store had cider that was (one day) past the "sell by" date, and rather than tossing it, they were giving it away. That they had two pallets in the parking lot. Asked if I wanted any. I had a free 14 gallons demijohn so I told her I'd take fifteen gallons, if it wasn't too much trouble.

She pulled in about a half hour later and said "I got you fifteen cases. I don't know how much is in each but they looked heavy so it should be at least a gallon."

She had them load up fifteen cases. Of 9 half gallons. 4.5 gallons per case. For a grand total of 67.5 gallons. Lucky enough to have an empty refrigerator collecting dust, I loaded it all in, and managed to give away enough to bring my total down to 55 gallons.

"No problem", I thought. I really like applewine. Look at the ingredients. 'pressed apples, potassium sorbate'. Oh no.

Day two: look through the forums here, post on a winemaking group on Facebook. Mixed answers. Ranging from "no chance, freeze it for later if you can, and use it for backsweetening" to "easy peasy, it's just gonna take extra yeast" with no freezer space, two 32 gallon food grade barrels, and nothing to lose I decided to go for it and called the friend who I make wine with.

Day three: we rack our blackberry wine out of the second barrel, into a 14 Gallons demijohn, reserving the blackberry pulp to use as a yeast starter (figured my blueberry pulp made a fantastic skeeter pee, without waiting to let the preservatives in the lemon dissipate, so it ought to work here.) We split the blackberry pulp and the murkier part of the blackberry wine evenly between two 32 gallon barrels and added 27.5 gallons of cider per barrel.

Day five: no signs of fermentation. Hydrometer hasn't budged. Remember seeing something about using bakers yeast as a sacrificial yeast in sorbated cider, here on the forums. Took an unopened jar of bakers yeast and split it to make two starters in two gallons of store-bought apple juice.

Day six: pitched the very active bakers yeast starters into the barrels.

Day seven: activity. I think this means the yeast bound up all the sorbate. I make new starters with EC 1118

Day eight: add starters, along with nutrient and Energizer (3 T nutrient 1 T Energizer)

Day Nine: bubbling away.

Day eleven: probably partly because the small starters I made had a lot of work to do, and partly because the basement I brew in is very cool, there is plenty of co2 production, but the gravity is dropping very slowly. But everything looks good, everything smells good, and again. I really have nothing to lose on this batch. I try to relax and just monitor the situation.

Day 12-20: bubbling away, gravity slowly dropping. Went from about 1.045 down to 1.02 from pitch day to day 20. I decide that when I'm finally ready for my step additions of sugar, I'm going to want the liquid level in my barrels to be lower, and I buy another barrel.

Day 21: my friend and I rack and stabilize a blueberry wine that we'd finished clearing, and since I have another pair of hands in the brew dungeon, we rack one third of each barrel into the third barrel (it just occured to me, I should clarify when I say barrel, I mean a food grade hdpe drum. Not a wooden barrel. I'm not that fancy yet.) I prepared three more EC 1118 starters, in advance for this, to see if it will help with the sluggish fermentation. We pitch them into the three barrels along with another dose of nutrient and Energizer.

Day 30: the additional starters have really done their job. In the nine days since adding them (along with nutrient and oxygen) all of the barrels are sitting at 1.000 give or take. I did my first step addition of sugar. (A little less than 30 lb per barrel.)

I went off the weight of sugar for my desired Gravity for the overall batch, then figured out the percentage of each barrel weight to the total weight, and split the sugar by those same percentages.nmy intention is to ferment it to a high (17-18%) abv. (The volume I started with, plus the starters and sugar additions should leave me with 70 gallons) and rack it to 5 different 14 gallons demijohns. Each one being done in a different style (straight apple, applewine/stout graff, apple pie, salted caramel apple, and cran-apple.) Letting clear and diluting to 13% abv and backsweetening with apple juice, apple concentrate, and other flavor additions, depending on the style, before bottling and aging for at least a year, I'd imagine. Tasting all the while... For science.

I'll be back with progress updates and pictures once I get all my ducks in a row.
Jan 3, 2023
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Edit: I went into this experience with a patchwork of advice from different forums and comments. I also had an equal, or greater amount of people (very kindly) telling me success was highly unlikely.

I was very unsure of myself and my methods in the beginning, and a little lost on what to do. All the advice helped, though, and despite the snags it worked out for me.

Because of that I wanted to post more simplified, and concise information on the process I used, and clarify some of the info from the OP, in case somebody else finds themselves in a similar predicament.

I'm the very definition of an amateur, so don't take my process as the advice of a seasoned vintner, but...

Here's what my method would be, knowing what I know now.


if I were to do this again (and who knows, I may if I find another deal like this) I'd do things differently.

1. no pulp/slurry starter. This is applewine, not skeeter pee.

2. Do the bakers starter. It was effective and did what it was supposed to.

3. Make a large vigorous yeast starter of EC 1118 to the specifications of yeast to gallon ratios listed on the packet, or at least half that amount. I often do fifteen gallon batches with just 1 that go a-ok. (I think 3-4 packets in a 1-2 gallon starter, per 27.5 gallon barrel would've done the trick. Definitely would've done better than just one packet.)

4. Nutrient and Energizer at pitch, and throughout fermentation (haven't dialed in a specific schedule yet)

Disaimer: I know a lot of instructions say energizer should only be used for stuck ferments, but once upon a time I read that EC 1118 did better with the more complex nutrient profile in the energizer. I have yet to have suffered any ill effects from it, and it does seem to help, so I do it. I have yet to have done a side by side experiment. Maybe some day.

Other than that I'd treat it as a usual ferment. Really the only difference is pretreating with the bakers starter.

The long version.

The op awfully long, and convoluted. blame the ADHD.

I forgot to add my takeaway from all of this.

1. The sorbate likely bound with my "pulp starter" and the yeast died before any meaningful fermentation could occur

My reasoning.

When I used blueberry pulp as a starter for skeeter pee, It was all the blueberry pulp from a 15 gallon batch of pure crushed blueberry, no additions but sugar to raise OG. (About 150 lb of blueberries used) I used it to make another 15 gallon batch.

When I used the blackberry pulp for the applewine, it was only from about 50 lb of blackberries, with sugar, white grape juice, and frozen apple juice concentrate to bring it up to 15G. And I used it as a starter for a LOT more must.

2. The Sorbate also ate most, if not all of the bakers yeast starter, however it had more live yeast cells than the blackberry pulp, so it showed signs of fermentation before dying off, without reproducing.

My reasoning

The "bakers starter" had far more live yeast cells than the "pulp starter" I used about half a jar of dry active bakers yeast per starter, while I don't remember the weight offhand, it was easily more than 5 packets worth of wine yeast, by weight. And it had 24 hours to reproduce before adding.

However, when I added my ec1118 starter it still wasn't fermenting the same way ec1118 normally does in my brew room, with the same temps and relative nutrition.

3. There was enough sorbate left after the bakers starter, that the ec1118 starter still got partially wiped out. This is partly my fault. I should have made a larger, more vigorous starter.

My reasoning

Fermentation was sluggish compared to similar projects with the same yeast strain. I forgot to take into account each barrel was nearly 6 times the recommended must for the single yeast packet I used in my starter.


The pulp starter was negligible.

Sorbated cider isn't Sulfited lemon juice and I shouldn't have treated it as though it was.
It didn't hurt anything, but it was extra work for nothing.

The Baker Starter was highly effective.

The baker starter did it's job.
It added enough yeast to temporarily overpower the sorbate.
It didn't bind up all of the sorbate, but enough of it that a portion of the undersized EC1118 starter was able to reproduce and slowly build a population.

The EC1118 starter failed, because of my own mistakes.

The Ec1118 starter did what it was supposed to. for the most part. When I added a second starter per barrel (after dividing into 3) it behaved as ec1118 should in my experience. If I had put in even half of the yeast reccomended on the packet per 5 gallons of must, it would've performed on par with any other fermentation I've done.
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Jan 29, 2014
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Food Industry - - Retired
Benzoic acid is a normal ingredient when the food industry produces shelf stable/ room temperature storage, lemon juice. ie The skeeter pee recipe starts with a large yeast population to fight this inhibitor. (yes pH also is a preservative in lemon)
Sorbated cider isn't Sulfited lemon juice and I shouldn't have treated it as though it was.
It didn't hurt anything, but it was extra work for nothing.