Overcoming Common Cider Sensory Deviations

Last updated: 11/2023

Applies to: Cidermakers looking for strategies to prevent and treat volatile acidity, oxidative damage, and sulfur off-odors in cider. This article serves as an introduction to three best practices guides addressing each of these challenges.


Volatile acidity, oxidative damage, and sulfur off-odors are three of the most common cider sensory deviations (faults) that can arise during production. These sensory deviations are often the result of microbial and/or chemical spoilage. Spoilage can exist on a spectrum of severity; it can be subtle (covert spoilage) or obvious (overt). When covert spoilage takes place there are no obvious indicators, but the ciders may lose some fruitiness and the color may appear more golden. In general, spoilage starts subtly and, in most cases, can be prevented before obvious damage occurs.

If spoilage is not prevented, sensory deviations may arise and faults may be detected, compromising quality unless appropriate treatments are used. Understanding the underlying mechanisms behind faults, as well as how to both prevent them from occurring and treat them once they have occurred is crucial for every cidermaker who seeks to produce exceptional ciders consistently.

Best Practices Guides


Acetic acid, a major contributor to volatile acidity (VA), is a naturally occurring compound that can impart a sharp, acidic taste to cider. This is why elevated VA is often referred to as “vinegar taint.” Beyond sensory impacts, acetic acid can be inhibitory to yeast at concentrations greater than 0.6 g/L and cause sluggish fermentations at concentrations greater than 0.8 g/L. Additionally, there are legal limitations in the United States for VA concentrations in cider, please see

Acetic acid is produced by various microorganisms including bacteria (acetic acid and lactic acid) and yeast at all production stages (fruit, fermentation, and aging). Therefore, diligent antimicrobial and sanitation practices throughout the cidermaking process are key to preventing volatile acidity.

Click below to learn more about how to prevent and treat volatile acidity:



Oxidative damage occurs when juice or cider is exposed to excess oxygen during the production process. Oxidation can result in a loss of aroma, the development of off-aromas (bruised apple/sherry), and browning. For more information on the exact mechanisms of oxidative damage, click here.

Click below to learn more about how to prevent and treat oxidative damage:



Cider can develop sulfur off-odors which are largely attributable to hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Terms used to describe sulfur-off odors include rotten egg, reduction, burnt rubber, onion, skunky, garlic, and funk.

There are several sources of sulfur-based compounds in juice which come naturally from apples or cidermaker inputs.

During fermentation, yeast require these compounds for normal cell functions (including the production of essential amino acids like cysteine and methionine). However, when yeast become stressed they can utilize these same sulfur compounds and generate off-odors.

Click below to learn more about how to prevent and treat sulfur off-odors:


Learn More

For more resources on cider production see our 2022-2023 Cidermaking Handbook. Download the complete book below.