Monday, October 8, 2012

First Cider of the Fall

My homebrewing club, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale (CAMRA), has been taking part in group cider purchases for several years now.  Central Virginia has a long history of apple growing and there are a number of established orchards here.  In recent years, there has been a growing interest in heirloom apple varieties that were historically used to make cider.  This interest has fueled the use of such apples, including one of my favorites, the Albemarle Pippin, by small-scale cideries.  CAMRA is fortunate to have established a relationship with one of these, Showalter's Orchard, located in Harrisonburg, VA, and we purchase bulk cider from them several times through out the fall.

For those who have not tried it before, the cidermaking process is simpler than making beer.  On a typical day when the cider is purchased, a few club members leave in the morning with vehicles full of empty carboys and buckets.  The cider is back and ready for pickup locally in the early afternoon.  Because the cider is fresh and unpasteurized, it must be picked up and handled immediately.  If not, the wild yeasts in the cider itself will be fermenting it by the next morning, which leads to unknown results (either good or bad).  The easiest method to process the fresh cider is to pull some of the fresh cider off the top, as there is no head space when it arrives, and pitch yeast directly into it.  If for some reason, the cider needs to be stored before pitching, you must refrigerate it and/or metabisulfite it to kill the wild yeasts.

Just like in beer, yeast selection plays a large role in the resulting flavor of the cider.  However, given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, the cider maker can use either beer or wine yeasts to ferment it.  These lead to drastically different flavors, depending on if you use a white wine yeast that produces subtle and nuanced mouthfeel to the phenolic characters produced by a Belgian yeast.  My personal favorite is the use of an English ale strain, like Safale S-04, as it produces a balanced and quafable product.

Once the yeast strain is pitched, the cider maker's main other job is determining when to halt the fermentation.  Given that cider is comprised of simple sugars, it will ferment out completely, below 1.000 specific gravity.  Cider that dry is abrasive to drink, in my opinion, and does not have much taste or mouthfeel, and certainly does not taste like apples.  To leave residual sweetness in the cider, the cider maker must either let the cider ferment out and backsweeten it or stop the fermentation early.  I prefer the latter, as it is simplest for my homebrewing set-up.  Basically, I test the specific gravity of the cider and when it gets between 1.017 and 1.020, I crash cool the cider in the fridge.  This makes the yeast go dormant and I can rack the cider off of the yeast several days later.  However, using this method, the cider must be kept cold in a keg afterwards, because with fermentable sugars and live yeast still in the cider, it will start fermenting again if it warms.

There has been a resurgence of interest in cider recently and many smaller cideries are springing up all across the country.  I suggest you consider making your own cider, as it is an easy and fun process to do.  I also suggest you try any local hard cider you can purchase and see what works in your area.



No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...