Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Pursuit of the Perfect Hard Cider

On a blustery Autumn afternoon in Portland, we commenced our 2nd year of hard cider making. "We" being me and Danny. Well, let's back track a couple weeks.
(The Leaning Apple Tree, Before The Fall)

On a rainy Saturday morning in mid September, I went out back to do some weeding and was saddened to find one of our (two) apple trees lying on the ground. I had had my concerns. The tree was absolutely brimming with beautiful apples and it was also leaning (somewhat significantly) to one side. When the pruners were here in August, they were reluctant to try and stake the tree as they didn't want to disturb the apples. So there I stood, realizing I was not going to be weeding, I was going to be harvesting apples that day. I was also worried about the tree. It didn't look broken, but more uprooted. As it turned out, mole tunnels had contributed to the fateful apple tree fall of 2013. The tree was replanted and properly staked this past week and they think it will survive to live a long prosperous life. I guess we shall see.

Michael and I did, indeed, harvest a lot of apples that day. We placed them gently on the new Apple Loft/Cider Room floor to sweeten up a bit. In the meantime, I ordered Michael a brand new old fashioned cider press as an early birthday present from Happy Valley Ranch in Paola, KS.

And now, back to present.

(Michael's Happy Valley Ranch Cider Press)

In preparation for having our main floor hardwood floors refinished next week, we need the cider room for storing furniture, etc... Therefore, all the apples needed to leave the cider room floor. Although we will want three different varieties for our hard apple cider, and we have not harvested our second tree or sourced the third variety of apples, we decided to do a first pressing of the fallen tree apples and get them fermenting. Handy Danny put together Michael's press for us and it looks beautiful.

Once the press was together, I realized we might as well get the party started...

First step in our cider press process: Gather the apples for washing:
Second step: Wash the apples and remove any blemishes:

(Michael's Press, before the very first crushing)

Third step: Crush the apples in the grinder
Fourth step: Press/juice the apples
By the time Michael got home, Danny was a pro. He gave Michael a lesson.

Fifth step: putting the cider in fermenters and prepping for fermentation (includes checking levels with a hydrometer, adding sugar when necessary, adding pectic enzyme, yeast nutrient, and Camden tablets--to kill off any "bad" things that might have gotten in during pressing)

We ended up with two fermenters each holding about 5.3 gallons of raw cider.

Here are Michael's notes from late last night:
2 batches 5.3 gal each
Closest to fridge hydro read


Away from fridge

Added 1 cup of sugar to each to bring specific gravity to 1.045
Added 26 drops of pectic enzyme to each
Added 1.25 tsp of yeast nutrient to each
Added 5.3 Camden tablets crushed to each

Completed at 12:30 am Saturday Sept 28

(Michael cleaning the press)

Tomorrow we will add the actual yeast to the cider and the fermentation process will begin. We will need to do this whole process at least one more time once we have harvested our 2nd apple tree and sourced our 3rd variety. After fermentation and before our first racking, we will combine the cider varieties for a better tasting final product. Last year Michael successfully bottled approximately 8 gallons of hard cider. People seemed to like it and it is definitely all gone. I think the preferred cider was the slightly fizzy variety (vs. the flat). This year we were planning for 15 gallons, all fizzy, and I want to try and perfect the Caramel Apple Hard Cider this year. Since one tree provided us with over 10 gallons of cider, we may end up with a lot of cider to experiment with!

I am not sure Bernie is thrilled with the whole cider making "thing." He spent most of the night sequestered and barking. He was one confused puppy. Jumping, hyper puppies with lots of shedding fur, and cider, do not go well together. Some day maybe he will sit quietly in the cider room during the process, yesterday was not that day.

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