Tag Archives: Experiment

New Ciders & a New Year

The last time I made cider was two years ago. And the previous vintage was two years before that. Happily, I made so much both times that there was plenty of cider to get through the off years. I don’t like the lulls though. The whole idea of being a cidermaker is to make cider.

So I am happy that in November I started five batches of new ciders, which I racked into secondary yesterday. They include:

  • Cherry cider (6 gallons; potential ABV 7% )
  • Penn cider (6 gallons; potential ABV 8%)
  • Brown Sugar (3 gallons; potential ABV 8%)
  • Medaille d’Or single varietal (1 gallon; potential ABV 9.5%)
  • Raw blend (2 gallons; potential ABV 7.5%)
Top: Raw Blend * Brown Sugar
Bottom: Penn * Medaille d’Or * Cherry
Everything is now racked into secondary.

I’m hopeful there will be a few more ciders added, particularly Golden Russet. I’m waiting on the orchard.

While I’m not crazy about off-years, it does offer a little time to think and plan. This was especially helpful as these last two years offered a few unexpected opportunities, which have helped me refine my thinking about my cidering and cider history research.

One of the things I was noticing over the the last two vintages is how “bready” some of the ciders tasted, even a year after they were bottled. While it wasn’t all of ciders fermented in plastic, all of the “bready” ones were fermented in plastic. I decided to drop the plastic fermenting buckets this year and see if that changed anything.

Perhaps the worst offender of “breadiness” is the boiled cider. Since it’s so commonly referenced in historical sources, I was excited to try it. However, whether it was through the processing (you reduce the volume of sweet cider by half and then ferment that) or the plastic fermenters, or something else altogether, these ciders have not aged well. J. pointed out that I usually find something good to say about all of the ciders I’ve made. Not this one. It is unpleasant to drink.

Along with making goals, there are some research goals for the 2020. I want to continue to expand my archive of period recipes. Since we’re in the middle of Prohibition’s centennial, I want to get back to the “Did Prohibition Prohibit Cider?” series. And, after a heated conversation with someone on a cider Facebook group, I want to explore the desire to connect the Founding generation to cider. There might even be a survey.

Lastly, I want to get out into the world more. I’d like to increase the number of cider talks I give, particularly the Prohibition talk. I also want to finally make it to Franklin County Cider Days.

For now, I’d better call the orchard back and see if the rest of the juice is ready. Here’s to a productive 2020!

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The Art of Racking

The 2017-18 cyders are racked off.

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I’m always curious to see the patterns the lees make after racking. Generally everything drops right to the bottom, leaving clean sides and a watery, cratered surface.

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Pretty standard stuff.

But the honey wheat left more of a vortex.

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Pretty stuff.

Now that they’re racked, they’ll spend the winter conditioning and be bottled sometime in the spring.

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What Did Historic Cider Taste Like?

Whenever I give someone a bottle of cyder, I ask them to let me know what they think, good, bad, or indifferent. I sincerely want to hear their reactions. Usually I get back the bland, overly-nice, “it was good,” or “I liked it.” If they didn’t like it I usually hear things like “it’s not my taste, but I’m sure it’s good,” or, if it was too sharp or sour for their taste they might say “something must have been wrong with the bottle.”(1)

I gave a bottle of cyder to a casual acquaintance. I expected he and his wife would try it and say something similar to the above. Instead they held an informal tasting with friends. They even made comment cards, which they shared with me when they returned the bottle.

As you can see the general consensus from their tasting is the cyder was somewhere from spicy to sour.

This is not an uncommon reaction to my cyders. Especially since I don’t arrest the fermentation to leave a residual sweetness or back sweeten.  Most modern commercially-produced ciders are heavily back sweetened, which is what most people are used to.

But the charm of historical cider is that it’s generally what nature gives us and nature can be on the tart/sour side. At least that’s what my cidermaking experiments suggest. But what do historic sources say cider tasted like in the past?

Before looking at the records, it’s important to say people back then weren’t asking the same questions we are.(2) To them, cider tasted like cider. They didn’t see the need to parse flavors and there was no flavor wheel to consult.(3) They did refer to ciders as being too acidic or sweet. Common as they were, those are relative terms. For example, today what Americans think of as dry cider is not the same as what the Spanish think of as dry cider.(4)

What I’m looking for is a more direct explanation of cider. The earliest I’ve found is from Ephraim Chamber’s Cyclopædia, or, An universal dictionary of arts and sciences (1728), which defines cider as

…a brisk, tart, cool Liquor prepar’d from Apples.

The Cider Makers’ Manual (1869) says

When cider has been properly prepared in this manner, it will possess a pleasant acid, agreeable taste…

Zell’s Popular Encyclopedia, Vol. II (1883) described cider in less glowing terms, calling it

Acid; sour; harsh; rough; austere; as, hard cider…

Later, The Cider Makers’ Hand Book (1890) said cider

…should be tart, like Rhine wine, and by no means sharp or harsh. It should have a pleasant, fruity flavor, with aromatic and vinous blending, as if the fruit had been packed in flowers and spices. It should have mild pungency, and feel warming and grateful to the stomach, the glow diffusing itself gradually and agreeably throughout the whole system, and communicating itself to the spirits. It should have a light body or substance about like milk, with the same softness and smoothness, and it should leave in the mouth an abiding agreeable flavor of some considerable duration, as of rare fruits and flowers.(5)

It seems our pre-Prohibition ancestors enjoyed ciders which were significantly sharper, tarter, or sourer than most modern ciders.

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  1. Occasionally comments are much more direct and contradictory. Recently, on social media, within moments of each other, one person said my cider was “undrinkable” and another said, “I love your cider!”
  2. For our purposes today “then” is anytime before Prohibition (1920).
  3. Some general flavor preferences are known but they’re usually extreme examples.For instance, one cider history stated that, “…Herefordshire labourers preferred cider so sour that it tasted like vinegar to strangers.” R.K. French, The History and Virtues of Cyder (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1982), 17.
  4. There are many seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century sources which compare cider to other alcoholic drinks, most commonly to Rhenish wine (think dry Riesling).
  5. Oh,to make cider like this!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was updated on 25 February 2017.

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The Lazy Man’s Cyder is Perfect for Now

I realized recently that I haven’t said much about this season’s cidering. Only because there isn’t much to talk about.

You may remember that in August 2015 we moved. We had to move again in August of 2016. Not long afterwards, and before much else was settled, I changed day jobs. Not only did this increase my hours at work, it now includes an hour-and-half commute each way. Figuring there would not be a lot of time for cider while adjusting to all of these changes, I decided to focus on a couple of simple single-variety cyders.

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Left: 3 gallons of Golden Russet ~ Right: one gallon of Northern Spy.

Single-variety cyders, with nothing added (or the lazy man’s cyder), are perfect for these busy times.

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Getting Cyder Liquored Up

img_3406Next to straight cider, cider royal was the most common cider-based beverage in early America.

Cider royal is a fortified drink, made by blending cider with a distilled spirit, like French brandy or apple brandy. To make it cider royal one also has to add what was called sweets (a boiled syrup of sugar, water, and egg whites) and letting it condition for several months to several years.

Last fall I fermented a batch of cyder intended for royalling and fortifying. Once the cyder was finished in the spring I made a batch of sweets according to one of William Salmon’s 1710 receipts.

boiling-sweets

I boiled white sugar, eggs whites, and water into a syrup. It was basically a meringue. I had to keep skimming it.

Boiled Sweets

It took a couple of hours before it cleared up.

After the sweets had cleared and cooled I added French brandy (I used French brandy for the simple reason that it was on sale) and then blended the the fortified sweets with the cyder. I let them condition for five months before bottling.

As part of the experiment, I also made a one-gallon batch of fortified cyder, just adding a quantity of French brandy to straight cyder.

To figure out the final alcohol content for both the cider royal and the fortified I used a Pearson’s Square. Based on the proportions they both went from being a straight cyder at 7% ABV to fortified cyders at 10%.

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The formula can be found here. Or you can use an online calculator.

Last week I bottled everything and sampled both.

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L: Fortified – R: Royal

As you can see the fortified cyder is clearer. It also has a noticeable alcohol burn on the tongue.

The cyder royal is cloudy, sweeter, and smoother. In some ways the cider royal is definitely closer in profile to modern industrial ciders (but without carbonation).

I wonder if one of the reasons cider royal was popular was because the sweets helped overcome any harsh sharpness or other extremes in the cider. Having a higher alcohol content probably didn’t hurt either.

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Not a Matter of Being Gluten Free

A few weeks ago I took a couple of bottles of cyder to my fencing club for the post-fencing pizza party crowd to try. One was the 2013-14 Solebury, Sugar, Raisins, and cider yeast (based on Smith’s 1728 receipt) and the other was the 2014-15 honey wheat cyser (from John Nott’s 1723 receipt).

Everyone (well, almost everyone) had nothing but nice things to say about both. But the honey wheat was the bigger hit, as judged by the flattering language used to describe it. Modesty (and a poor memory) forbids repeating them here.

Thus the honey wheat cyser continues to be a fan-favorite among family, friends, and strangers. Based on these unscientific surveys, it’s a good contender for Blackledge Winery to produce.

But alas, no. It can never be made for sale.[1] It contains wheat and according to Federal regulation Title 27 – §24.200 General it is illegal to have grain, cereal, malt, or molasses in a bonded winery space, much less in the wine (or cyder).

No idea why this is the case. Attempts to gain clarity from various government agents have so far proven futile. Needless to say, it can never be, no matter how tasty it is.

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  1. Same goes for the Penn cider (based on a 17th-century receipt from Gulielma, William Penn’s first wife), which also uses wheat. And yes, we could make the honey wheat cyser without the wheat, but then it’s just cyser. Though a wheatless Penn is a possibility.

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Cyder Season 2015: 21.5 Gallons Going and New Tools For Old Cydermaking

Welcome to Pommel’s fourth cyder season! Last week I started several cyders, some old favorites and some new experiments. They are, from left to right:

2015 Class Picture

  • 6.5 gallons of the 1723 honey wheat cyser (so far this one remains a fan favorite) – Potential ABV 11.5%
  • 1 gallon unchaptalized raw juice (cause I hate to waste fermentable juice) – Potential ABV 7%
  • 6 gallons of the 1674 Penn spiced cyder – Potential ABV 8%
  • 5 gallons for experimenting with fortifying and royaling – Potential ABV 7%
  • 3 gallons raw Golden Russet (another house favorite) – Potential ABV 8.5%

All of them are fermenting with natural yeast only.

This season I’ve started using brew buckets. They’re certainly not historical, but they are more cost-effective than oak barrels. They allowed me to double production without doubling the expense. The juice will stay in the buckets for a few weeks before being transferred to glass carboys to condition for a few months.

Useful as the buckets are, I wish they

  • Had a clear side or top to show fermentation
  • Had their upper gallons marked (these are all 6.5 gallon buckets, but the printed markings only go to 5)
  • Were wooden barrels

Brewbucket Gallons

At least one of those wishes I could immediately grant myself. Seems a 6.5-gallon bucket will hold 7, so long as I don’t need too much head space.

 

I also purchased a digital scale which should cut down on the various mathematical conversions I’ve been doing. Though a stillard and scale would be more accurate (historically speaking).

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The stillard (aka stilliard or steelyard) is the long object on the upper left and the scale is on the right.

 

 

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Fresh Perry, a New Place, & the Passage of Time

For fresh-pressed juice, it’s cloudier than I thought it would be after all this time.

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I started the pear cider from local fresh pressed juice. I knew I was going let it sit longer than I have the other cyders, but my original plan was to let it condition six months and bottle in June. Instead it’s eleven months later and September.

Cydering helps one note such passages of time. That can be good, when it helps you slow down and take stock, and bad, when it reminds you how quickly it seems to be passing. And sometimes, like this with the pear cider, it reminds me how busy the last few months have been. But we’ll get to that.

As usual, we got six pints out of the jug. Just in time to taste test and figure out if we’re buying more juice for another batch. Yet again, the house is divided over whether or not this is a keeper. I like it, with its bite and ever-so-slight hint of pear. J. is less convinced of its attributes. Of course, upon the second sip (and third and fourth, and so on) it grew on her.

The name is an homage to the orchard I got the juice from.
9% ABV.

You may have noticed the clutter and new backgrounds. That’s because the Cydery (and us and the rest of our stuff) has a new home. An eighteenth-century one.

117A new place means starting fresh, which translates to having no idea where the Cydery will be. I’ve already promised not to put it in the bathroom. I was hoping the basement, which would be a fitting place to make historically-inspired cyder. However, it needs a bit of work.

I wonder how many cyders will have come and gone by the time I get to cleaning this up?

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What Came Out of a Bottle of Cyser

I was my normal careful self. I pulled the bottle of honey wheat cyser off the shelf and tried not to shake it. I quickly poured it into two glasses, one for J. and one for me. As I put them down I noticed, because I was so careful, that they weren’t exactly similar.

The glass on the left is the first pour and the glass on the right is the second pour.  Though they look different, they tasted the same.

It’s not surprising that some of my cyders and cysers are cloudy. None of them are filtered. But I didn’t expect to find such a striking difference in a pint bottle.

In the name of science, we had to experiment. A second bottle was opened, but this one was gently shaken first.

Our Findings: These tasted just like the first two.

Historically many ciders were unfiltered, and such stratigraphy was probably not an uncommon part of the cider-drinking experience.

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Bottling Cyser When There Are Not Enough Bottles

As we’ve said before, one of the Cydery’s goals is to do things as inexpensively as possible. Which is why this spring’s bottling presented a bit of a challenge.

The six gallons of honey wheat cyser started in December was finally ready to bottle. Last year’s big batch required 43 bottles. This year’s cyser was fuller than that, so I’d probably need more.

A very full six-gallon carboy.

Between last year’s and this year’s cyders, there weren’t enough empty bottles in the house to hold it all. I use pint-sized bottles. They come in cases of 12. I have six cases of blue (72) and two of clear (24), for a total of 96.

Like monsters and crazy aunts, they live in the attic waiting…

My first thought was I needed to buy another case or two. But then I realized I had 16 one-gallons jugs laying about, most of them empty. So instead of spending money and space on new bottles, I decided to transfer three gallons into the jugs and put the rest in the flip-tops.

This cyser will keep here until they’re bottled or there’s one helluva party.

This batch is the third honey wheat cyser I’ve made so far. Unlike the previous batches, I was heavy-handed with the honey this time around. It fermented out to 11.5% ABV. Which is fantastic, but I really shouldn’t keep drinking it by the pint.

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