Monday, 13 February 2017

Cider 2016 update (and a bit of 2015)

Winter has seemed very long this year, and with my shoulder still not quite right, I've been doing very little around the house and garden. I begin physio next week, but it will still take some months before I'm back to normal, or so I've been told.

With that slight handicap, there was still plenty I could do cider-wise, and I guess there's been a lot going on since the last blog post, where the pressing process was shown.

I didn't get to try out keeving, but I somehow ended up with a few different variations on a basic cider, which makes things fun. The basic dry cider, like I made last year, was fermented in two 60 litre barrels, and I recently split that up into 30L barrels, which makes it handier for experimenting with dry hopping and such. Three of the barrels on the board in the photo below contain dry cider. Another portion has been put into a carboy, mixed with cherry plum juice (also from our own trees), and is now having a second fermentation, so lets hope the plum flavour remains!

The large barrel on the left now contains about 50L of what I am calling Grapple Cider, which sounds rather unappetising, but simply refers to the fact it is made with 50% apples and 50% grapes. Our neighbour had a lot and gave them all to us, so we put them to good use. On taking a sample when racking it into this barrel, I was very pleased indeed. Tasting notes will follow later in the year, but suffice to say, I want to make his one again!

The 30L barrel on the right contains a kind of accident, or at least, a cider that was not planned. On Halloween, we held a small harvest festival, of sorts, with plenty of food, beer and cider, but also pressed 100kg of apples for fun. We had intended to pasteurize it there and then, but I ended up sulphiting it, and leaving it sitting for a while. 30L I used to top up the oak barrel (more in a moment), and the rest I left sitting in the cellar, ignored till it started blubbering a few weeks later. Happily, it was a nice, clean fermentation, as wild yeasts took over, and it tastes pretty good. The gravity is a little higher than the others, but I expect it's not quite finished, as that part of the cellar got down to 6°C a few weeks ago.

And finally, my pride and joy, one of the oak cider casks I picked up in Spring last year. This is filled with between 125 and 130 litres of dry cider.

Compared to the others, this looks quite soupy (this could really be on trend with an iceman pour, looking like a NEIPA!), but I imagine, given the shape and volume of the cask, there's quite a layer of sediment near the tap, but let's see how it looks in a couple months.

So far, that means harvest 2016 has yielded the following (and we only used about half the apples!)

  • 130L oak-aged dry cider
  • 80L dry cider
  • 10L cherry plum and apple cider
  • 50L grape and apple cider
  • 25L spontaneously-fermented cider

But harvest 2015 is the harvest that is still giving!

I still have a couple kegs dry cider, and half a keg of dry-hopped cider from 2015, but that's not the best thing...

In 2015 I made 120 litres of "Maische", or wash, to make schnapps. I mixed 60 litres of pressed juice with 60 litres of pulped apples and set it fermenting. I then spoke to the local distiller in March 2016, but I had missed the window of opportunity, meaning I had these two barrels, full of pulp, sitting in the cellar for a year. I hadn't opened them once, and when they were finally opened, and Mr. Thomaier stuck his finger in for a taste, I was relieved that he proclaimed it good. A couple of weeks later, the paperwork for taxation was done, and I received 21 litres of my own apple schnapps. I like to imagine that having the wash mature for a year makes it a superior spirit, as it certainly tastes very good!

Of course, making your own stuff gives plenty of scope to experiment, and the first one was one I had planned for a year: ageing on apple wood. I had kept some branches from pruning the trees in early 2015 (one is on the cellar ceiling, you may have noticed), and these were duly cut into short lengths, split, stripped of bark and toasted in the over fora couple of hours, before cooling and placing in 5.5 litres of schnapps. Within a day the colour had changed, and after a week, it was tested, with approval. I'll leave it a few more weeks before deciding whether to continue or bottle it.

Plans are afoot for some apple-based liqueurs, but the spirit straight is a fairly smooth-sipping, enjoyable experience. No downing shots with this!

The vinegar-making I will come back to another time, but so far, it's been a success.