One of the first homemade brews I made last year when the bug for fermenting things caught me was a jug of hard apple cider. I played it safe that first time out of fear and trepidation, which in hindsight could have entirely ruined those good bottles of expensive, unpasteurized, organic cider had it not worked out in the end. The process I followed had me boil the cider to kill off any naturally occurring yeasts and then add grains of commercial yeast. The reasoning behind this process is that the commercial yeasts are a known quantity, while allowing the cider to ferment from the yeasts that naturally occur in it and the air in your home is an unknown that can result in a nasty, undrinkable batch of hooch.
Since then every natural yeast brew I have made in this house has turned out wonderfully so I’m moving away from a dependancy on the commercial stuff and prefer to give over to the magic and surprise of the unknown.
Despite those early fumblings, my first batch of hard cider was a hit with friends and I was eager to make more this fall. Unfortunately, local apple crops suffered this year due to an abnormally warm early spring followed by a sudden and severe cold snap. Cider hasn’t hit any of the markets that I frequent yet. Fortuitously, I discovered a couple of large crabapple trees on derelict land this year. The fruit had recently fallen off of the trees but were still in very good shape with only light bruising and few that were too far gone or rotten to bother. They smelled sweet and were only slightly sour — not great for eating, but certainly worth foraging and brewing into some kind of apple wine/cider-like drink. Worst case scenario I waste time, but the actual cost to try is pretty much negligible.
I don’t have a cider press and did not have the ambition to construct one. My goal with this brew was to go as simple and straight forward as possible. No fuss and minimal work. I consulted my country wine making books and found Andy Hamilton’s Sort of Cider in his fantastic homebrew manual, Booze for Free [Note that this is a yet-to-be-released paperback and Kindle edition. I was able to get the original on Kindle but could not find it on Amazon.]. You can see the ‘Sort of Cider’ recipe online here. I did not follow Andy’s instruction exactly. I did not want to use packaged yeast and I did not want to add flavouring (although the ginger does sound good).
Here’s how I did it:
RECIPE: Almost Free Foraged Hard Apple Cider
- 1 kilogram foraged apples
- 4 litres of warm filtered water (Since I was using tap water, I boiled mine first and let it come down to a warm, not hot temperature)
- 500 grams sugar
Wash and sterilize a large fermentation bin. I used a plastic food-grade fermentation bucket that I purchased for $5 at my local wine supply shop.
Wash and scrub the apples to remove any dirt from the crevices. Cut out blemishes or particularly nasty bruises and rot.
Using a standard-sized metal grater, grate all of the apples (skin and all), right down to the core. Following what I know from years of making homemade apple sauce, I decided to toss both the core and the seeds.
Add the apples to the bucket along with the water. [I should note here that this is where I screwed up. It was late, I wasn't thinking and accidentally added the sugar. Fortunately I had not yet added the water and was able to remove most of the sugar without incident. What I have learned through wine making is that it is better to let the yeasts feed on the available sugar in the fruit first before adding more.]
Cover lightly with a clean, cotton kitchen towel and set aside in a warm spot for about 10 days. I do all of my initial ferments in my dining room because the light there is dim and the temperature is warm and stable.
Stir the brew each day and re-cover with the cloth. Eventually you will start to see bubbling and the brew will smell boozy and delicious. There should not be any mould. It should look like something this:
At this point you can go ahead and strain out the grated apple bits through a cheesecloth. Pour the liquid into a sterilized demijohn (aka carboy) affixed with an airlock. Add the sugar. Andy’s instructions suggest leaving this to ferment for a further 10 days before siphoning into bottles. I am not at this step yet and since I am not using a commercial yeast, I can’t say from personal experience if 10 days is accurate for my brew.
Andy also says that the brew is volatile and should be drunk while young. Again, I am not there yet so I’ll have to update you when I arrive. I am using wild yeasts which may not be as volatile as the commercial brands tend to be. I know from last year’s brew that it tasted better with some aging. I was hoping to age this too, but again, I’ll figure out what is best when I get there.
Of course, all of this could turn out horribly, but since it cost almost nothing to make, it is worth the fun in trying. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have you tried making a foraged apple brew in the past? How did it work out for you?
Update Oct 2013: A year has passed and while much of this brew has been consumed, I do have some left that has aged and is fine, at least according to friends. All of the times above were accurate. The only thing I will change in the future is the quantity of sugar — it was simply too sweet for the apples I used. If your apples are tart I would stick with the quantity above. If they are sweet and good for eating, I suggest reducing the quantity somewhat. Friends liked the cider, but I found it to be too sweet for my palette.