Thursday, November 21, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Making the Perfect Cider

In North America, we think of apple cider as a non-alcoholic drink available for a few weeks in the Fall.   Before prohibition, most cider was fermented to 4-6% alcohol as a means of preserving it.  Cider was available from casks throughout the year.  John Adams drank a quart for breakfast every morning.   Puritan laws urged moderation and suggested no more than half a gallon of cider be consumed per day!

When I use the term cider, I mean fermented cider.

Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in craft ciders from such producers as Farnum Hill (Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH), West County (Colrain, MA), and Julian (San Diego area)

Having tasted dozens of craft ciders, I know that creating the ideal Unity Farm cider will require significant experimentation.   I've read 5 books about traditional cider making and their collective advice is to balance a blend of sweet, sharp (tart), aromatic, and bitter (tannic) apples using this template

Sweet (30-60%)
Sharp (10-40%)
Aromatic (10-20%)
Bitter (5-20%)

The Unity Farm orchard yielded some apples this year, but not enough to press a batch of cider, so we purchased apples from local farms in Sherborn.

Last weekend we pressed 400 pounds of apples as follows

Sweet - Empire (1.5 bushels), Baldwin (1.5 bushels), Cortland (1 bushel), Spencer (.5 bushel), Macoun (.5 bushel)

Sharp - Stayman Winesap (1.5 bushels), Northern Spy (1 bushel), Granny Smith (.25 bushel)

Aromatic - McIntosh (1.5 bushels)

Bitter - although we wanted to add crab apples or Newtown Pippin, none were available

This mixture created 18.5 gallons of juice with a ph of 3.65 and a specific gravity of 1.055.  Using the template above, our distribution of apple types was

Sweet  54%
Sharp  30%
Aromatic 16%
Bitter 0%

I sterilized the cider with 50ppm of Potassium Metabisulfite (appropriate for a cider with a ph of 3.65) and let the sulfite decline for 48 hours before inoculating with Champagne yeast and yeast nutrients.    I used a 60 liter Spiedel fermenter.

The initial fermentation will take 2 weeks and then I will rack the cider and allow 2 additional weeks for the end of primary fermentation.   I'll assess the flavor and ph at that time and if necessary will encourage a secondary malolactic fermentation to reduce total acidity.

This batch will be still cider (not carbonated) so I will sulfite again and bottle into 22 ounce brown glass bottles.  I'm using an early 1900's cast iron bottle capper to ensure a good seal.

At Christmas time, I'll taste our sparkling and still cider experiments to gain a better understanding of the apple blending art.

We're looking forward to the output of our 33 apple trees in the next few years.    Using the sweet, sharp, aromatic, and bitter template we planted these trees in the Unity Farm orchard:

2 Empire (sweet)
  Braestar (sweet)
  Northern spy (sharp)
  Whitney Crab (bitter)
  Ben Davis (sweet)
  Winesap (sharp)
  Granny Smith (sharp)
  Cox Orange Pippin (sharp)
  Pink Lady (tart)
2 Red Delicious (sweet)
  Fuji (sweet)
  Macoun (sweet)
  Arkansas Black (bittersharp)
  MacIntosh (aromatic)
  Gala (sweet)
  Roxbury Russet (aromatic)
  Rome Beauty (sweet)
  Honeycrisp (sweet)
  Sheep nose (sweet)
  Cortland (sweet)
3 Kingston Black (bittersharp)
  Ashmead's Kernel (aromatic)
  Newtown Pippin (bitter)
  Golden Russet (aromatic)
2 Wickson's Apple (tart)
  Nehou Apple (bittersweet)
  Baldwin (sweet)
  Blacktwig (tart)

Most are heirloom cider apples from the UK and France.

To me the perfect cider is crisp, complex, and never cloying.   In a month, I'll have a better idea how close I've come.


Christopher B said...

If you are ever in Iowa, I enjoy Sutliff Cider...

R said...

I'd suggest considering fermenting with ale or cider yeast rather than champagne yeast. They are more likely to leave apple flavors and can be readily cold crashed to stop fermentation at a specific gravity that yields a sweetness/dryness profile that appeals to you and shouldn't require as long of an aging period. This approach also negates the need to sulfite after fermentation.

Some of the most useful information I have found has been from this thread on Homebrew Talk.

Overall I've been pleased with how easy it is to make decent cider. It isn't nearly complex as beer making and doesn't require much specialized equipment.