While pondering my next batch of hard cider, I thought about an ongoing discussion. Should fruit, berries or any other flavor addition be added to cider must before pitching yeast or after initial fermentation has neared completion? 

The question comes from the idea that flavor and/or aroma will be lost if fruit, berries or other flavorings are added pre-fermentation because initial fermentation can be aggressive. Therefore, the fruit, berries or whatever flavor addition desired, should be added once initial fermentation has begun to slow or has stopped completely.

I have read many posts where people have made a new blueberry or peach cider only to be disappointed with the lack of fruit flavor in the final product. Typically, someone will quickly comment that the fruit should be added in secondary which seems to be a generally accepted technique. Even I suggest it, although I have never done a side by side comparison. 

So, I decided that I would try a cider experiment!

two glass carboys with airlocks on top filled with fermenting apple cider

When Should Fruit Be Added to Cider?

The goal was to take a closer look at how flavors are affected by fermentation and whether fruit additions should be made before fermentation or after initial fermentation when making hard cider. Or, if it even matters at all.

Ingredients and equipment for making blueberry hard cider

The Setup:

To do this experiment, I prepared two, one gallon batches of cider using the same apple juice with a 1/2tsp yeast nutrient and a 1/4 packet of Nottingham Ale Yeast in each. 

One fermenter received 2 cups of frozen blueberries while the other remained plain. After fermentation slowed, nearly two weeks, I added blueberries to the plain cider and let them both age for a few weeks.

Once I was confident that all of the sugars in the berries had been consumed, I racked both of the batches into clean and sanitized fermenters. At this stage, I wanted to make sure all of the sediment settled before I moved on to bottling. 

About one month later, I cold crashed and bottled both batches of cider making sure to label each bottle so they didn’t get mixed up. 

I also had to take a quick taste to see if anything incredible was happening! 

A clear one gallon glass fermenter with blueberries inside

Did They Add Additional Flavor to the Cider?

My first reaction to the two ciders was that they are almost identical. There were only very slight differences between the two but nothing big enough to say one was better or worse. 

Overall, I knew that it wasn’t straight apple cider, but I’m not sure I would have been able to pick out the blueberries. 

I thought more time aging was needed. Afterall, time generally makes cider taste better.  

Six months later, I have finally finished another tasting and can confidently write that I don’t think there was much of a difference in taste, but there was slightly more aroma in the post-fermentation batch. 

If there was any difference in flavor, I would say that the pre-fermentation batch was slightly more tannic which I can only attribute to the whole blueberries being in the fermenter for two weeks longer. I guess that was a flaw in my experiment…

As for the color, I couldn’t see a difference at all. Both did not hold the blue color they acquired in the fermenter but they did clear very well.

two sample glasses filled with blueberry hard cider that look identical

When Should Flavor Additions Be Added To Hard Cider?

Overall, I personally like to add fruit, berries, or any other flavor addition after initial fermentation is complete.

This experiment made me look at the process a little differently than I expected though. 

Since I don’t always know how long initial fermentation will take, adding fruits or berries later will allow me to control the time that they are in the process. I believe the tannic properties in the pre-fermentation batch came from the extended exposure to the berries so that maybe my next experiment. 

I also think this should be tried with other yeast and fruit additions as they will all change this experiment in their own way. 

Do you have any thoughts? Please leave a comment below!