I am extraordinarily lucky to have an aunt who has an apple tree on her farm. I’m additionally blessed that she has no interest in using the apples from her tree. The story goes that the previous owner of her farm planted the tree in order to make wine. I am not sure if he ever achieved this dream, but I am happy to take up his mantle. The tree sits in the middle of what used to be a pig pen. It hasn’t been attended too for several years and has been allowed to grow more or less wild. My aunt admitted that she has not sprayed the tree, so it is just about as organic as you can get. With all of this in mind, I started my journey by picking the apples from the tree.
As I was collecting apples from the gnarled old tree, positioning my precariously placed ladder to pick the best fruit, I felt connected to the spirit of cider making. When you are not only juicing the apples, but actually picking the apples from the tree, you are truly starting from scratch and taking the cider into your own hands. On that day I was able to collect about 60 lb of fruit. I was unable to pick from the highest branches, but still felt good about my yield. From what I had read on line, you will get approximately 1 gallon of cider from 15 lb of apples, so I was looking at around 4 gallons of potential juice.
Upon arriving home with my haul, I had to determine how I would extract the juice from my apples. Unfortunately, I do not have a cider press handy, so I had to be creative with my extraction. From a previous health food kick, I had a juicer handy and decided that it would be the best way to extract my cider. With the help of my friend Kevin, I was able to juice around 1.5 gallons of cider… until the motor died on juicer. After a moderate amount of cursing and general messing around with the juicer, I gave up and decided to try another method. I took my handy food processor and shredded my apples. I then “hand” pressed them in my fruit bag (the nylon bag I use for the pulp when brewing fruit wine). With one of us holding the bag and the other squeezing, we were able to extract a good amount of juice from the pulp. While this method worked, I would recommend working with the juicer to avoid some headache and aid in your yield. One note is that the cider produced from the juicer was more tannic and structured than that produced by the fruit bag method. Since tannin is what gives backbone to cider, I was happy to have this component in my juice. Finally, after Kevin went home for the evening, I was able to get the juicer working again and finished extracting the juice.
With my juice in hand, I had to decide what to make with it. Since I may not have the opportunity to ferment from whole apples again this year, I wanted to brew at least 2 different apple beverages. After waffling between English cider, Wild cider, French cider, New world cider, New England cider, Cyser, Applewine, Ice cider, and Graff; I settled on a simple new world style cider and a classic applewine. After tasting the juice I decided that the apples were somewhere between sharp and bitter sharp variety (For more information on Apple Varieties Click HERE). I was elated at this discovery, since it meant that I would not have to tinker too much with acidity and tannin.
For my cider, I went with my classic cider fermentation process which I have used in the past with quite a bit of success. Two and a half gallons were dedicated to this half of the project. I pasteurized the juice with 2 1/2 campden tablets, while adding 1 1/4 teaspoons of yeast energizer and 1 1/4 teaspoons of Pectic Enzyme. I transferred to the carboy and allowed the sulfate gasses to disperse for 24 hours. I then pitched 1 packet of belle saison yeast. While this is not a classic strain to use in a cider, I wanted to give the cider a bit of a unique funk. Additionally, I wanted this to cider to ferment quickly and clear rapidly, so this yeast fits the bill perfectly. The plan is to rack to secondary after 2 weeks, then bottle to approximately 2.75 Volumes of CO2 in Champagne bottles.
For my applewine, I decided to follow the basic instructions from EC Kraus with a few changes. Instead of using Cane Sugar, I went with Corn Sugar in order to dampen the possible off flavors of the latter sugar. Additionally, I decided to let the acidity and tannin stay where they were and not add any additional acid or wine tannin. If later on I find that the tannin is too low, I will put the wine on oak or add some liquid wine tannin. I pitched Lavlin EC-1118, a yeast which has a very good reputation in both dry white wines and ciders. The goal is to rack to secondary after 2 weeks, age for a month, dose with metabisulfite and sorbate, age for 2 more weeks, then bottle.
I think that what this project has taught me is how easy it is to make cider, even if you are starting from scratch. Lets be honest, our ancestors fermented this beverage successfully with much less equipment and far fewer resources than we have today. If they could make some refreshing cider, there is no reason why we cant do the same. Go out, find a friend with an apple tree, and do your best to make some tasty cider.