For some reason this year I am very excited for the onset of fall. All I can think about is apples and pumpkins. A few weeks ago Suzi and I headed up to Julian with some friends of ours, in search of fresh apples. The mission: home brew cider.
Home brewing is a lot of fun, very rewarding, and there are times when it just gives you a warm glow over your whole body (like after you’ve drunk a few). However, it can be an awful lot of work. By contrast, cider is exceptionally easy.
I tried to make it once before, with a 96 oz jar of unfiltered (but pastuerized) apple juice. I simply opened the jar, threw in some spice, and pitched the yeast. But I made the rookie mistake of adding way too much spice. That experiment is currently undergoing secondary fermentation, turning into some hopefully delicious apple cider vinegar. This time I decided to play it straight up. No spices, no fancy yeast, no adjuncts.
We went to Julian, to a pick-your-own orchard, to find the freshest juice possible. Half the farm is dedicated to Gravenstein apples. Gravensteins are a highly prized, but fragile variety; famous for the quality of their juice. With thin skin and delicate flesh, they do not ship or store well. The farmer (who asked to remain anonymous since he’s not supposed to sell juice) had already juiced his entire crop of Gravenstein apples and froze it in 1 gallon jugs.
We secured 4 gallons of the frozen Gravenstein juice, then decided to get a little fancy. Normally a beer is made from a bunch of one grain, with little bits of a few other grains to add flavor and body. We wanted to emulate that in our cider. We had a nice walk around the orchard, picking (and tasting) the nicest looking Jonathan, Empire, and Gala apples we could find. In the end we picked enough to make another half gallon of mixed juice. I even milled the apples myself.
For the recipe I consulted my friend and Julian co-conspirator Larry Monasakanian; Assistant Manager of Home Brew Mart and home brewer extraordinaire. I asked Larry about adding spice, honey, or getting funky with the yeast. His advice, “I don’t like to step on the fruit.” He did recommend pectic enzyme and yeast nutrients. Pectic enzyme breaks down cell walls, improving both clarity and yield. Yeast nutrient provides vitamins and minerals, abundant in barley, but somewhat absent in apples.
So, to home. I did a quick flash pasteurization, heating the juice to 160 F for about 2 minutes. Then cooled and pitched as usual. I went with White Labs English Cider Yeast and fermented at room temp in my pantry. I just bottled it and it came out 6.5% ABV. Very dry and crisp with a nice tartness, and I carbonated the crap out of it. I can’t wait to enjoy it with a rich fall meal.