I have made moderately terrible wines from grapes. I have made a few lovely beers with my brewing wife (thanks to my wife). I have never toyed with hard apple cider. With Fall upon us, nature throws an emergency-opportunity my way:
If you have baked an apple pie, you know sweet apples for eating will not work. You need tart apples. Hard cider similarly requires these “sharps” for acidity, as well as “bitters” for structure.
I have no clue what type of apples these are. So I cheat. I pick them while underripe. My morning harvest yields over 60 pounds.
Chopping apples and cutting out worms sucks. After an hour of ear-ringing I read the gravity (sugar density for potential alcohol).
Once the fizz settles, it reads 10 Brix aka a mild 5% if it ferments completely dry. Fine. Curious, I check the pH with a fancy meter.
3.3 pH, roughly the acid of white wine. Good. I chuck in a packet of Mangrove Jack M02 Cider Yeast, a strong English strain favoring attenuation and fruity esters.
My one regret: I should have picked over one hundred pounds however. The only fermentor I have is for five gallons.
That tub on the right has an egregious amount of head space. Will the yeast produce enough Co2 to shove out oxygen? Or will I have apple vinegar?
After two weeks in the dark, cool closet, apple juice has become hard cider. I rack clear juice off of the sludge below into a keg. It looks and smells clean, tastes dry, mouthwatering, with flavors of granny smith apple juice, wax, clove, with a mild alcoholic warm.
We could stop here. But we love for sparkling French ciders. So, I borrow my wife’s Co2 tank to carbonate the keg.
Then our cooler breaks. I add bags of ice but in vain. Without refrigeration to slow time and oxidation, the lovely hard cider has gained a slight sourness. It is still quite drinkable, but now a bit wild. Lesson learned: temperature control makes or breaks a product. Time to buy a new cooler.