Sunday, January 2, 2011
Hard Cider - America's Underdog Home Brew
I believe prohibition and the urbanization of the country were the 1-2 punch that set cider back. It is beginning a resurgence with the import of European labels and drafts and the growing number of artisanal ciderys springing up across the country. The biggest detractor is that many of the mass market ciders regularly available aren’t much more than apple flavored wine coolers.
Ciders come in a variety of styles from fully dry to very sweet, still or carbonated, and ranging from 2% to 12% alchohol. Like a wine, the cider is dependent on the fruit it is made from, but the finished product bears the signature of the maker, with the handling, choice of yeasts, decisions on oaking and aging all coming into play.
This batch of cider started out on Thanksgiving weekend with 3 gallons of an acidic blend of unpasteurized cider grown in Zillah Washington, and pressed and bottled in Gervias, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. While it tasted refreshingly tart, there was enough sugar to reach 6% alcohol, but it was masked by the acidity. That’s a good thing, because without a strong acid backbone, cider tends to come out tasting insipid. Typically a 3-4 Ph is where you want to be.
The yeast you choose has a surprising impact on the finished product. Ale yeasts produce something of a beery quality that I tend to equate to some of the English scrumpy style ciders. Use of a white wine yeast like Montrachet produces a more winey cider something like a Saxon Hausen Apfelwein from Germany. For this batch, we chose a Wyeast Laboratories Dry Mead yeast. Why? Because we’d never used it before and I wanted to see what it would do.
At the end of December, the cider had cleared and was a beautiful amber-straw color. It was time to bottle.
As with all things fermenty, cleanliness is next to goodlyness. I picked out 30 12 oz. beer bottles, inspected them for cracks, chips or encrusted gook inside and then washed them in the dishwasher on sani-rinse. I then soaked them in an ammonia bath to further eradicate any unwanted microbes, then triple rinsed each bottle to get rid of any hint of ammonia or soap.