Why prune fruit trees? Find out in this mini-video!
If you grow apple trees and have a nice sized harvest, you may wonder what to do with all the fruit – why not learn how to make hard cider? In Episode 13 of the Urban Forestry Radio Show, we sat down with Ben Watson, author of Cider Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions and Making Your Own. During the show, we talked with Watson about hard cider, including how to make our own.
Not long ago, most of North America’s hard cider was made on an industrial scale. However, North America has increasingly seen artisan ciders produced local micro- and home breweries. After all, alcoholic beverages are a common fixture in the modern artisan food movement, and hard ciders are no different. Watson knows a number of individuals who have built a second career through the making of hard cider in their own micro-breweries.
Watson became interested in how to make hard cider in the 1980s, when he met some cider-makers in New England. He was fascinated with how easy it is to brew quality beverages. From there his interest expanded through his own adventures in fermenting. In Episode 13, he shared some of his wisdom, and what he keeps in mind when preparing a brew – his secrets of how to make hard cider in a few simple steps which I outline below.
Buy a sweet, non-alcoholic, unpasteurized cider as a base. This “sweet” cider is essentially juice, which is perfectly fine for a beginner (or even an experienced brewer!) to use. You don’t need to go through the trouble of selecting pressing your own special cider apples – especially if just starting out. While Watson does go into a bit of detail about cider apples in Episode 13 of the Radio Show, he goes into much more detail in his book.
Take a large bottle or jug that can be sanitized and sealed. Pour the juice into this container, and leave it uncovered in a cool dark place until it gets frothy. The frothiness is the result of yeast in sugars beginning their work. After this initial burst of activity - which is the yeast feeding on the sugars - clean off the container’s outside and seal the air out with a cork or cap. After the frothiness ends, seal the container. This lets the yeast’s anaerobic – ‘oxygen-free’ – processes take place.
The third step in how to make hard cider is the simplest. Just be patient! You don’t want to rush fermentation. It can take months fermentation to reach a good point, and it’s not possible to speed it up. There is a point where your cider stops ‘improving’, but a hard cider can be left alone to take care of itself and keep for several months to a few years before going ‘bad’. So while you cannot rush fermentation, you also have a forgiving window of time to clarify and bottle the drink. To learn about the science of fermentation, read the side note below.
Yeasts are microorganisms in the fungus family. Some species occur naturally in apples, and are harmless and undetectable when the fruit is fresh. When the juice is left in an appropriate environment – somewhere cool and dark is most effective, that won't be disturbed by people bumping into the containers – the yeasts may begin to propagate, feeding on sugars in the juice and producing alcohol as a byproduct. This process is more or less the same for all alcohols, and different bases – apples, grapes, potatoes, or whatever – become different kinds of drinks.
As the yeast feasts, it reproduces, and in turn consumes more sugar, and produces more alcohol and carbon dioxide, which becomes the drink’s fizziness. Oxygen stops the fermentation process. This is why we seal the container, and prevent fresh air from getting inside. If this seal is broken too early in the fermentation process, oxygen will get in, the yeast will stop its activity, and the batch will be ruined. However, after alcohol reaches a certain percentage of the drink’s volume, the process will naturally slow, and from there the hard cider will be ready for clarifying and bottling.
As you can see, once you learn how to make hard cider, it is really quite easy. But you can also make things more complicated, and interesting, if you explore specific apple blends that you can press yourself instead of using ready-made juice. There’s a surprisingly deep level of nuance that you can explore when it comes to hard cider apple blends; how different varieties of apples produce different flavours and in turn different kinds of ciders. In his book, Watson lists over seventy varieties – a blend may be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Over time you will start to see how creating and brewing your own hard ciders can be an art.
If you’d like to hear more of what Ben Watson has to say about how to make hard cider, tune into Episode 13 of the Urban Forestry Radio Show on OrchardPeople.com by clicking on the podcast link below. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss other episodes.
Intern at OrchardPeople.com.
Kameron Chausse is a Windsor, Ontario based writer and student at St Clair College. He is currently an intern for the fruit tree care education website www.orchardpeople.com.
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