Cider Time
0 comment Saturday, August 23, 2014 |
Before I came to the UK, I had no idea what cider was. Cider in the US is apple juice, thanks to general puritanical leanings. In extreme cases - bless you - it's Strongbow, which invariably gives you a headache after about two glasses of the stuff. Horrible plonk.
Cider here, however, is an institution. Tart, a hint of suphur, like distilled autumn. I'm a huge fan of it; sparkling, sweet, still and sour. I have a favourite local cider maker and I always watch for her offerings with enthusiasm, and I'm looking forward to the offering for this year.
Ex is a very good amateur brewer; I think this has to do with being a mathematician. Brewing is science. He is also obsessive, however, and he brewed beer in massive amounts, almost more for the enjoyment of the process than the end result. We'd often have hundreds of bottles of very strong lager, bitter, stout and specialist brews sitting in our garage for Christmas, to barter with friends, what have you. Since I'm storing most of his things, I have loads of brew buckets, racking tubes, bubble airlocks, bottles (and more bottles, I actually recycled half of what we had, just too many of them!), caps, finings, yeast, mashing get the idea.
Brewing is science...but cider and wine is art. And that's my speciality.
Ex's ciders never quite came off; too much sulphur or too bubbly and invariably it burst the bottles. The fruit wines were hit and miss; some too sweet, some too much finings. He eventually gave up, but I decided to try my hand, and I think I've got it sussed.
I'm actually quite capable of putting alcohol away with no ill effects - I've only been drunk maybe once in my life - but I don't like having too-strong-a-tipple. Most of the past creations have hovered around 10% alcohol range. They've just been much too strong, so I wanted a cider round the 4% range and no higher. I wanted to really lower the sulphur smell and taste as well as it has nearly ruined our batches in the past.
Enter strawberry cider - fruit cider is something I've really taken to. I'm sure it would make proper cider drinkers faint in coils; or call it the "Alco-pop of cider". But I love berries; a hint of berry in my ginger beer, berry wines, berries from the freezer eaten like candy. I recently discovered a Swedish version of cider which blends berries with apples, and I've fallen in love with the stuff. It is quite sweet, but there's still the tang of apples therein.
I don't have the sort of equipment to make my own cider, so I leave that to the pros, but the kit I purchased seems to have done the trick. I mixed it with a third of the required sugar - again, to keep the alcohol content low, I want the taste, not the headache! - and set it fermenting away. A trick most home-brewers don't know about is the scraping off of the old "crust" of dead yeast; this can give your beer the slightly "off" taste, or in the case of cider, the smell (and taste) of eggs that have gone off. I scraped off morning and night, and I've been watching the hydrometer.
What a great colour! And the scent is amazing; I can smell the fermented apples, but there's hardly any hint of sulphur; just the sweet tang of strawberries. This is just about due to bottle, so the bottles will go into the dishwasher today with my disinfectant powder and get a good and proper wash. I'll allow the cider to settle, then I'll add some sugar (I want sparkling cider), give it a stir, let it settle a bit to allow the sediment to subside, and then into the bottles it will go for a second ferment. And then, into the outbuilding to stay cool - otherwise there's the risk of exploding bottles.
I've got my hopes up for this batch as the scent is so much like summer I feel the urge to go sit outside with a glass and absorb some sunshine. A pity it's supposed to snow in a few days - ! But hope for spring is eternal.
Later on this year I'll be trying my hand again at rosepetal wine (we managed it a few years ago, so I'm going to try again) and then elderflower, elderberry, strawberry, raspberry and, if I'm lucky, cherry (the most expensive to make, usually, and the most fiddly). Fruit wines are fun. Maybe not considered "real wine" by the afficianados, and turning fruits into wine horrifies some of my more teetotal friends ("Why don't you just make jam, instead of *sniff of disdain* alcoholic drink?").
I don't think people realise - unless they have a fruit tree themselves - just how MUCH fruit a tree can produce. A lot. A WHOLE lot, more than you could possibly eat or turn into jam, and my son doesn't like jam. After you've made all the preserves you can possibly make, after you've given as much to livestock as you dare - this would be when free range pigs would come in handy but such is life - there's still loads of bruised fruit lying about all over. Just a few boughs from the neighbours apple tree overhangs into my garden and you should see all the fruit which still lies on the ground after I've done my gleanings. What else is there to do with it, but make a little fermented cheer?
Fruit wines are to me frugal and delicious; any surplus fruit I can't cram into my somewhat smallish fridge goes into a bottle. I cook with the stuff, using it as marinades or adding a splash to desserts. I make salad dressings with it for summer barbecues, add a bit to sparkling mineral water for light spritzers for guests to enjoy when the last light of day fades out and the solar lights outside just start to glow. In the depths of winter when I've all but forgotten what summer is, I can open a bottle and remind myself, and friends are always pleased to receive bottles of my brew as gifts for the holidays.
I suppose in my own way I love the process as much as the end result, just like Ex; it takes up a lot of wine bottles, and they need to age at least a year before they're ready. But I've a big wine rack to store them in, and bottles aplenty, as well as glass fermenting jars to keep the wine in for a while until I want to bottle them - we kept one of our berry wines in one of the jars for ages, topping it up with half-bottles and the very-last-little-bits of other berry batches until we had enough to put into two bottles, and I honestly think that was one of the best we made.
Waste not, want not - there's a use for bruised or surplus fruit, and it certainly tastes wonderful.