The Booze Bag – Making Cider
When it comes to making hard cider, this year I know what I’m doing… well I keep telling myself that anyway. Fermenting, much like any controlled experiment, is one part measuring, one part skill and one part luck (does that equal three parts fun?). The reality is, that for all of its mystique, fermenting/brewing are probably most similar to baking… lots of measuring and recipe following, and much like baking you can have the recipe right in front of you but it takes a couple of practice attempts to get it just right.
Also like baking with fermenting there are so many factors that are beyond your control…temperature, bacteria, light etc. You’re never going to get 100% optimal conditions for everything. All you can hope to do is get more things in the optimal column then not and then hope your end product comes out both tasting good and with the right alcohol content.
One thing you can control are your inputs; and in that category this year I think I have a lot of things set to go well. I have good equipment. My glassware is clean and ready to go. I have several 3-gallon carboys and many 1-gallon jugs, toppers for everything and all the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrients I will need for the season. I have learned about better kinds of yeast to use with cider and optimal ways to start the fermentation so that it occurs gradually like a bell curve. But the single most important input that I have going for me is the cider itself. I am using cider that I picked up directly from a local apple orchard. The cider that I was using from Whole Foods was good (for a beginner) and the hard cider that it produced was a solid ‘B’ but this fresh pressed cider almost looks like a different ingredient altogether (color clarity, taste etc).
Despite having all of that going for me, a couple things still have me a bit apprehensive. I have started three one gallon batches of hard-cider; and even though I started all three gallons at the exact same time using the exact same yeast and stored them all in the exact same conditions, they have all begun fermenting at different rates…and I have no clue why?
Unlike last year where I kept the fermentation process going as long as possible, in an effort to produce alcohol levels above 5%, this year I am not going to add more sugar at each rack; no flavorings or post sweetening either. All in my opinion a waste of time. (Fussy’s cider is going au-naturale?)
How is it going? Well I am off to a good start, I am two racks in and about to bottle. How did it come out? Well we should know by Thanksgiving, but even the preliminary non-aged taste is better than any batch I produced last year. That’s the hardest part about fermenting; you are basically running a controlled experiment with multiple variables but you don’t know how it all turns out for months. And in my case, you don’t get to try again until next year.