Saturday, June 11, 2011

cider variations

after that first test batch that went so well we've never looked back. i adopted some big water cooler jugs from a neighbor who had them out for recycling (silly people, if you return them yourself you get $10 each and i'm going to sterilize them anyways) and now i try to always have at least 2 batches on the go at any given time. the jugs hold just over 4 gallons each which translates to filling 8 2-litre pop bottles per batch, for about $20. not too shabby at about 10% alcohol. the basic batch tastes a lot like big rock cider or strongbow, but less watered down (the commercial ones taste like mine if you mixed it 50/50 with soda water).
of course we get tired of the basic stuff after a while so i've been experimenting with flavors in a few ways: adding vanilla beans to the mix, which added little black flecks but otherwise had little effect. swapping 25% of the apple juice for a different fruit has had mixed results. the guava and cranberry turned out nice but a bit subtle. the raspberry turned out a touch bitter and very subtle. we also tried adding maple syrup instead of some of the sugar while bottling as well as a little almond extract at that time. the almond flavor came through a lot more then i was expecting but the maple barely at all. that batch also didn't really carbonate for some reason. wild sugars like maple syrup and honey are very unpredictable. it might have carbonated if i'd left it longer. most recent experiments have been with adding concentrated juices. so far the only one that we've tasted is one i emptied a full litre of blackcurrent concentrate into (was supposed to be mixed with water at 1:5 ratio) which was incredibly surprising as it started out smelling strongly like blackcurrent and being a deep purple colour, but by the time we bottled it was only slightly darker then our regular cider and had lost all of the flavor. it also didn't really carbonate for some reason. :( i do plan to try that one again but i think i'll add the blackcurrent juice at bottling time as that seemed to preserve flavors better. i've got one with concentrated peach juice and one with concentrated white grape still finishing up, we'll how those are in the next few weeks. i still haven't bottled the dry sage flavored experiment i started months ago, lol. next one i'm trying i'll be throwing in a handful or two of lavender in, just for shits and giggles.
little things i've learned along the way: you don't need fancy equipment. it's nice and makes your life easier but it's really not necessary. you can produce just as lovely results with recycled and repurposed items as you can with a $300 setup. you can always replace with nicer stuff as you get more into it. i am very happy that i bought a decent auto-syphon and bottling rig. i tried to do it with just a piece of aquarium tubing and a standard suck-on-the-end syphon at first and it can be done but it's not very sanitary and it makes an unholy mess. the whole rig cost me about $15 and it's totally worth it. it's also a pain in the ass to sterilize. the easiest way i've found is to do so as you're sterilizing another carboy as you've already got a big container full of sanitizer solution that you can just syphon out instead of dumping and then do the same with plain hot water to rinse.
you can use hot water with a touch of dishsoap and a bit of bleach to sanitize. just be sure to rinse really well. plastic holds the bleach smell a lot more then glass, which is why i want to get good glass carboys one of these days. the glass ones also last longer since they don't get all scratched and nasty. i'll be scouring craig's list for cheep ones instead of paying $40 each at bosa grape most likely. if you fear bleach you can also use vinegar followed by peroxide (don't mix them together first, that makes a scary chemical) but you really shouldn't water it down. a spray bottle might do the job. you can buy special "no rinse" sanitizer but i have no idea what chemical they use in that and i've seen it cause scary amounts of bubbling while bottling so i think i'd give it a rinse anyways, but one rinse would be much less annoying then 3 or 4 for bleach
baloons with a few pinholes poked in them work just as well as "proper" airlocks and will fit on the top of almost all containers. if you do get the proper ones, the type that comes apart into several pieces are easier to use and more effective then the S shaped ones with the two chambers
fancy expensive wine/beer yeast doesn't work any better then regular champagne yeast but you don't want to use baking yeast.
don't bottle in glass if you plan to carbonate. it will explode. technically that's possible with plastic too but at least pop bottles were designed to take the pressure. besides, exploded plastic bottle is a mess. exploded glass bottle is a dangerous mess. some people keep all their filled, carbonating bottles in large tupperware containers just in case. i'd like to look into getting swing-top bottles and seeing if that would work better. you can bottle in glass if you're sure it's done fermenting and wont carbonate. save yourself some hassle and use screw-top bottles instead of corks.
overall remember that this isn't rocket science. yeast plus sugar plus time equals alcohol and CO2. humans have been doing this for a long time and the worst that's likely to happen is something tastes bad. you're not going to kill yourself and it isn't that hard. have fun with it and tell me about your experiments!

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