Monday, January 5, 2015

Cider in Our Veins. Also, A Theoretical Method for Making Traditional Applejack

I am a man of numerous hobbies. However, this year much of my energy has been directed towards the apple and its juice. This seems to reason as I am a proud resident of Upstate New York and live in the midst of some of the world's finest apple orchard country. So lately I have been quite the busy bee slopping gallons of apple cider between various buckets and jugs to satisfy my itch for creating new and wonderful intoxicating beverages. Heck, I even bought some mother of vinegar and did 5 gallons of homemade apple cider vinegar! I am a mad apple scientist.

I will admit this year I have mostly been purchasing cider/juice for my recipes from various local orchards and stores as I have gone lazy with my apple processing projects. I have a 90% finished hand cranked apple grinder in my shed and the bones of a planned cider press in my garage. Sigh. Perhaps I will get to cobbling all of that together this summer... Maybe they will even work.

As an aside before I get into some methodology I will share something that has become a minor obsession for me and will become next fall's endeavor (along with the apple grinder and press). I want to purchase a barrel for cider. I want to maintain a household cider barrel during the fall/winter. A couple of hundred years ago no household in this area would have been without a cider barrel. I have found 20 liter oak barrels around for about 100 bucks which seems reasonable so I'm going to do it.

Think about it. Back when you lived by or on an orchard. In the early fall you pressed your apples and put the cider in barrels. You added sugar or tree sap to spike the ABV to make it keep longer. Perhaps you threw in a handful of home dried raisins to start off the ferment. You put the barrel in your barn, shed, or even outside by your door. Everyone in the family began to partake of the cider.

For the first week or so you were drinking sweet cider with little or no alcohol content. A little longer down the line fermentation kicks in and you are drinking a mildly alcoholic beverage that took the edge off the coming chill.  Then around Christmas time you are imbibing a heady brew that has reached 8-12% alcohol depending on how much sugar you added. Finally, to warm your soul in the dead of deepest darkest winter you went out and were able to dip some applejack out of the partially frozen barrel.

Anyway, I want to experience the apple in that manner. So perhaps I will get all of the pieces in place before next fall. We shall see.

On to our next discussion. Ever heard of Applejack?

I'm sure you have. Perhaps you have even seen the Lairds stuff at the liquor store. Well, that ain't applejack. Not in the traditional sense anyhow. It is an apple brandy. Traditional applejack is made using fractional freezing, also called freeze-distilling. Due to the lower freezing temp of alcohol you can freeze hard cider, remove the resulting ice crystals, hence concentrating the cider into higher ABV applejack. There is all sorts of science relating to this on the internet. You need merely use your google machine if interested.

It is a fairly straight forward process. But here are some theoretical tips that one might use if you wanted to do some small scale Applejack experimentation at home. Freeze-distilling is still considered distilling by law and you should consult your local laws to see what is allowed.

To begin you are going to make a hard cider. Choose your apple fluid. Fresh filtered apple juice is ideal (less pectin), but may be hard to find. Normal pressed cider or store bought apple juice will work as long they do not contain preservatives (pretty much anything other than ascorbic acid is a no no).

You want a relatively high ABV in your hard cider. Between 12-14% is ideal. I really enjoy the flavor that brown sugar lends apple ferments so I use that to boost the fermentables. One of these days I am going to track down some fresh maple sap and try that.

5 gallons apple fluid
5 lbs brown sugar
Red Star Champagne yeast (cheap, dependable, and survives at a higher ABV)

Throw that all in your fermenter and let it go for a month. After the first month I rack it into a secondary fermenter but you could probably eliminate this step. Let it go another month and there you have it. I put the fermenter in my basement where the temp is 50-55 degrees. This is a good temp. You don't want to go over 60 degrees for cider in my opinion or weird stuff starts to happen.

I don't do gravities because I have a strange need to do things using only my senses. I know, I know, this is stupid and often results in disasters. But it is one of my charming quirks. I find that by tasting and smelling throughout you can learn to get a sense for how things are going. At 2 months this mixture will be in the alcohol range we are looking for. Not all of the sugar will have fermented out so a pleasant sweetness remains.

Drink a glass of that cider as it stands! As long as you aren't driving that is ... A nice pint of this heady, slightly effervescent, high ABV, live ferment is life affirming. It should be noted that the impact on your GI system of the living ferment can be, ahem ahem, a bit explosive...

Anyhow, this is where it gets theoretical. If you wanted to make applejack you would have to freeze the whole mess. In January and February you could leave it outside and hope for the best, or you could just use your freezer.

If you have a big chest freezer that is ideal. Just plop the whole bucket in there. But for the normal home kitchen this might not be reasonable. You could simply siphon your 5 gallons of cider into three of those giant 2 gallon freezer zipper bags and place those in the freezer overnight. Then all you would need to do is poke a punch of holes in the bottom of the bags and suspend them over a bucket until all the colored liquid drained out. Then you could repeat this process with the resulting liquid to concentrate it further.

Voila! You would probably end up with about a quarter of the volume of the original liquid at an ABV somewhere in the neighborhood of about 40-60%. That would be traditional freeze distilled applejack.

There are some concerns about methanol concentrations in applejack produced via fractional distilling. Here is a sciency article about all of that. Anecdotally, I can say that I know a guy who may or may not have drunk a bunch of this stuff to no ill effect. No 'apple palsy' whatsoever. But experiment at your own risk.

I currently have 3 batches of adulterated hard cider in fermenters. A black currant/apple, a blackberry/apple, and one flavored with yarrow. I should be sorted for cider all year. Perhaps I will stop now.

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