"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cider, Revisited

As I wrote in my last post, our neighbors J. and L., our pastors and friends, are leaving town. In exchange for Homero fixing up their car, they are giving us all of J.'s homebrewing equipment - and a couple of lessons. On saturday, I went over to their house with a few gallons of freshly pressed apple cider to get my first lesson.

Wow, J. has a lot of stuff! He's a fairly serious homebrewer - meaning, I guess, that he brews several times a year and consistently turns out a yummy product. The pile of equipment he is giving us was enough to almost cover their kitchen floor. Three carboys of varying sizes; yards and yards of various types of tubing; airlocks, small buckets, mesh bags, filters and funnels of all descriptions. Large stainless steel kettles. A stainless steel chiller - which is a really cool item that enables to cool down five gallons of boiling mash to room temperature in short order. A stand-up bottlecapper. Bags of bottlecaps. And several boxes of bottles.

the bottle-capper

the chiller

When I arrived, J. had a batch of dandelion wine in the smallest carboy that was ready to bottle. So we did that first, and I learned how to sterilize bottles and tubes, siphon the liquid off the top of the carboy into the bottles and how to use the bottlecapper. We sampled the wine, of course, and it gave the rest of the proceedings a certain golden, summery glow - which I believe is the whole point of dandelion wine.

Some of the equipment...

J. has not actually tried making cider before, probably because he doesn't have a cider press. Believe me, when you have ten or fifteen gallons of fresh cider on hand, turning it into a storable product - a storable alcoholic product - floats to the top of one's mind. Winemaking, let us not forget, is one of the preservation arts, no less than smoking or drying. Originally, in fact, winemaking was most likely a semi-accidental by-product of preserving fruit. The pleasant effects of alcohol were probably a felicitous side-effect, one that was only afterwards studied, harnessed, and turned into an art in its own right.

God bless the internet - in under five minutes, we had located a simple recipe for hard apple cider. We added two cups of sugar per gallon of fresh cider and brought it to a temperature just short of boiling. Then we let it cool to blood temperature, more or less (we didn't use the chiller, because it needs to be well-washed and sterilized), and poured it into the carboy. At this point, before you add the yeast, you want to aerate the product, so we shook it up real good.

Then J. put in the yeast - a champagne yeast which I bought at the Four Corners brewing supply in bellingham, and capped the carboy with an airlock. Today, not quite 48 hours later, he called me to let me know that the cider is bubbling away. In a week or so, we will decant it into another carboy for the secondary fermentation, and a week after that I will bottle it. Probably by myself, since I think J. and L. will be gone by then.

I hope this batch comes out better than my single past batch, which was wholly undrinkable. I'm very much looking forward to adding brewing to my small but growing repertoire of traditional skills. I can think of no other ability that has the ability to add so much cheer to a long dark winter.

I read in the paper today that there is a new La Nina system forming in the pacific, meaning another wetter and colder than usual winter around here. Here's hoping that we will have plenty of hard cider to keep our spirits up!


Olive said...

Hic-hic !! lol

Looks like some serious brewing happening at your place, will you have a party? Can I come? lol

Laura said...

What fun!! My BIL brews beer and wine - and they are really, really good.

I want to make mead - the initial process is a little easier, but you age it for a year. I'm not sure I could wait that long!!

I'm looking forward to hearing how your cider turns out - I'll bet it's yummy!!

The Idiot Gardener said...

I must admit that unless the brew is very scummy, I tend to not bother racking it off after the first week. I do the same with beer, cider, wine and fruit mashes.

I tend to leave it alone until the fermentation has stopped, and then I rack it into another barrel and degas it before clearing it.

I've never had any problems doing it this way, but I have had a few brews turn sour because they've been messed about with during the process.

Although very beer-biased, for a good bit of brewing background I always recommend John Palmer's How to Brew!

Penelope said...

I saw a really funny nature show once where a whole bunch (like over 100) of animals of varied species (like 15) were all stumbling over eachother drunk and eating fallen fermented fruit, they had clearly travelled from long distances, there were elephants giraffes baboons...all silly silly drunk...I'm sure that must be where people learned about alcohol...The animals looked like they were having a really good time...

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