Ahh, hard cider! What a wonderful beverage! Whether it is next to a warm fire reading a good book, or celebrating with friends and family, hard apple cider is one of my favorite drinks to tip back. While I do occasionally purchase a commercial brand of cider such as Strongbow, Samuel Smith’s or Angry Orchard, hard cider can only be truly appreciated when you have had a hand in its production. While nature does do most of the work, human intervention can make this beverage truly superb.
Back in about mid September, we helped our good friend and neighbor John, harvest his abundant crop of apples. Using my apple picker, and a son who would not get out of the tree, we picked two – 5 gallon buckets, and a bushel basket worth of truly beautiful apples. We kept the best, blemish free ones for eating and a bit of baking, and the rest John juiced up in his juicer. He ended up with close to three and a half gallons of raw cider.
Once the raw cider was ready, John brought it over to my house so I could perform a bit of alchemy. Since I knew that I would be helping with the fermentation, I had already propped up some of my favorite Belgian Ale yeast that I have been using for over five years (more about this in a future post)! We pitched the yeast into the raw cider, and let nature take over. And take over nature did! In all my years of home brewing and cider making, I have never seen a batch of hooch take off like this one did! It was a good thing that we only had three and a half gallons, it almost overflowed my 5 gallon carboy. After 3 or 4 days of hard fermentation, it calmed down a bit, and continued for another week and a half. At this point it got racked into my bottling bucket, primed with a bit of sugar for carbonation, bottled up, and put up on the cellar shelf for two weeks to finish its fermentation journey.
This last Saturday we tried our first bottle (okay two, and while writing this tonight my third & fourth) and were completely blown away! The first words that come to mind are bubbly, dry, tart and a slightly astringent finish. This is definitely not a sweet cider – there is almost no trace of sugar in the taste or the mouth feel, and there are subtle hints of anise (in the nose and initial taste), raisin, and grape. It is a bright golden color with an alcohol content that I am guessing is around 5%. As a single varietal cider, made with an apple of unknown origin, this cider is excellent. While I think it could be improved by just a bit of sweetness to balance the tartness and astringent finish, this is no detriment to the overall quality of this cider . The good news is this – in the next year or two, a bunch of my apple trees should be coming into decent production. This means we will be able to start fermenting and blending ciders with multiple varietals and this will add character, depth, varying degrees of sweetness vs. tartness and terroir to our neighborhood cider. Along with my trees, there are also a handful of other neighborhood trees that will hopefully start to be harvested and used in the production of our cider. Like most good things we are starting small – 3 ½ gallons this year. Next year I hope to more than double that by using more of the available apples, and also improving our cidering equipment (stay tuned for details!!). Happy cidering to all you Homesteaders out there… Wassail, Peace, & Cheers