We are just about at the 9 month mark from when I started the cider keeve experiment. It was bottled at the 6 month mark and so has been conditioning in the bottle for the last 3 months. As a recap, "keeving" is an old French cider making process that removes nutrients from the cider. This results in a slow fermenting environment in which I applied lambic yeast/bacteria with the goal of emulating a typical lambic fermentation in cider, and it worked.
When I bottled the cider, I anticipated it would take up to 3 months to carbonate as that is common amongst lambics. I opened a bottle after about a month and a half, and it was dead still. Though slightly worried, I gave it some more time. Last night, as we approach the 3 month mark, I opened a bottle to check on it. The cork was stubborn, but came out with a faint "psht". No head formed as I poured the cider, but some bubbles did accumulate briefly on the side of my glass.
It is not nearly as carbonated as I would like, but nice to see something form. I will continue to let this condition, but am thinking about how to correct this for next time. The critical element in this cider is that there is a lack of nutrients. While this is beneficial to getting saccharomyces and brettanomyces to ferment in tandem, at the point of bottling, I am afraid that there just isn't enough nutrients to properly carbonate the cider. Next time I might try adding some yeast nutrients along with the priming sugar.
The cider is a very pretty color and crystal clean when poured in a glass. There is, however, some yeast sediment that accumulated at the bottom of the bottle during conditioning. Because of how crystal clear this is, I think the riddling and disgorging process of Champagne might make a nice finish. Its a lot of work, but I might consider doing this on part or all of the next batch.
The plan as of now is to fill 2 barrels with keeved cider juice and ferment it the same way this batch was done. Adding barrel aging and fermentation will certainly be beneficial, but this has to be one of the most labor intensive and expensive ciders to produce. Custom pressing, risky keeving process, lambic-style fermentation, extended barrel aging, long bottle conditioning time, and possibly adding riddling/disgorging finish....yikes. At least the final result is worth it!
Aroma: Smells of apples and pears. There is a brett funk that is subtle but definitely noticeable.
Appearance: Very attractive appearance. Crystal clear with some bubbles forming ever so slightly. I can imagine this would be beautiful with bubbles cascading up.
Taste: Apple "juice" flavor is very mellow, but the apple skin tannin flavor is more pronounced. I am pleasantly surprised with how tart it got. Earthy and musty flavors are the biggest contributions from the brett. As I said earlier, I think Brett brux dominated the fermentation. I used a Wyeast smack pack this time, but next time I will definitely be sourcing a lambic blend from East Coast Yeast and hope to have a more diverse brett presence.
Palate: Again, the carbonation is still low at this point, so it is not as effervescent as I targeted. Aside from that, there is a great body on the cider. It is light and fresh without feeling thin.
Overall: I am very happy with how balanced and funky this cider is. I am thrilled that the experiment worked and look forward to making some slight refining shifts when we produce a lot more of this. I think barrel aging will add a lot of complementing aroma and flavor characters, but even as is this is a very nice cider with a lot going on. I'm looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop in the bottle.