With the pears out of the way for the moment it’s time to turn to what’s become an annual ritual, pressing the apples.
Unlike beer, I only get one shot a year at this. Loosing a batch of stout might be annoying but I can have another batch on the go in days, loosing cid/cys/er sets me back a full year and a whole lot of work.
It’s not been a good year for apples, I was concerned we wouldn’t get many this year. A lot of fruit has dropped and rotted before ripening but we got enough – twenty minutes picking and half a day of mess and back ache makes three gallons of apple juice.
In previous years I’ve split the batch and made both cider and cyser – the mutant offspring of mead and cider. This year I’m not doing cider. Without access to actual cider apples I’m putting in a huge amount of effort for a merely ok reward; the cyser on the other hand consistently comes out great – but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve.
This is a slow process – I won’t be bottling until March at least and it’ll be a year before I remove the sediment but it’s worth the effort.
If you want to play along here’s a quick summary of the process
- Acquire apple juice
- Add Campden tablets ( optional )
- Add yeast ( slightly optional)
- Wait ( not optional)
- Add honey
You could easily do a small batch with cartons of ‘not from concentrate’ apple juice ( the other stuff tastes cooked ) and jars of supermarket honey – it would work. I’ve seen recipes online that insist you should boil the apple juice and honey to ‘sterilise it and remove toxins’ – utter baldercrap – it’ll ruin the flavor. The high acidity of apple juice keeps contamination under control and adding a good dose of yeast certainty helps. Many commercial ciders don’t even bother with yeast and let the random selection of bugs on the fruit do the fermenting.
Cider is prone to off flavours ( mostly gluey, nail varnish stuff) if you are going to try, keep the temperature as low as you can ( well OK, don’t freeze the bloody stuff) I keep the bathroom door shut and the windows wide open. Be warned that fermenting apple juice smells like dog fart for a few days – it has not gone off!
My juice has a SG of 1050 – that’s a lot of dissolved sugar but it still tastes sharp, with a pH of 3.5 that’s hardly surprising. Such a high acidity definitely holds back any spoilage bacteria but it’s on a par with lemons and I could do with it being a little less corrosive – the other side of 4 so we’ll tweak that a little bit.
I always ferment out the apple juice for a while before adding honey – if it goes awful then at least I didn’t waste two resources. After two weeks most of the sugar has been used up and we have an S.G of 1002. Three teaspoons of chalk gets the pH up to 4 and six teaspoons of tannin compensates for the lack of it in the apples, it tastes like cider but a little harsh – that will change as malic acid ferments to lactic acid over the months of storage.
Two kilos of honey are going in, all I have is set honey but gently folding it with half a litre of the cider gets it runny enough to mix in ( no bloody boiling!) and a good stir gets the yeast back into suspension and the whole lot bubbling away.
The initial ferment has already hit around 6% alcohol, the yeast will take a while to use up the sugars in the honey but after another couple of weeks it’s ready to go into kegs and sit at the back of the cool dark workshop until March next year.