Well, it happened! We bottled our cider, which means we drank a bunch of our cider.
As you will recall, we recently went to a somewhat life-changing event, in the form of a cider festival near our home. The following week, we purchased five gallons of apple cider from a local orchard (it is a 15 minute drive from our house and there is a bunny who hops around inside while you’re looking at all the apple-related products, also there is a proper barnyard attached where you can watch a chicken and a cow sit contemplatively next to one another looking out over a small pond), various cider-making accoutrements from a local beer store (big bucket with airtight lid; airlock; hose; champagne yeast; iodine for sterilizing), and dumped the cider in the bucket and a bunch of other stuff in the cider (yeast, sugar, raisins). After awhile it started fizzing and bubbling, so we put the lid on it and put the airlock in the lid. For six weeks the airlock made this deep blooping noise all day and all night at regular intervals. BLOOP! BLOOP!…BLOOP! We’d hear it at night while falling asleep; we’d hear it in the morning while making coffee. The blooping noise meant that all the sugar in the cider was being eaten by the yeast and converted thence into alcohol. The raisins were supposedly adding flavor but spoiler alert I can’t taste it in the final product.
Bloop! Bloop! went our cider. After awhile the blooping became less and less frequent until finally it was only happening once a minute or so. At that point we “racked” it, which means you open it up, stick a hose down underneath all the floating raisins, and siphon all the cider from out of the bucket into a clean glass carbuoy. You do this so the cider won’t “sit on its lees” during its second fermentation. I’m a bit hazy about what second fermentation consists of, but basically you take all the cider out and what’s left is this horrid thick silt on the bottom of the bucket, called “lees,” that is basically dead yeast and tastes like a lemon’s butthole. If your cider sits on that for too long it gets bitter and awful. So you put it in the big glass carbuoy, top it off with fresh apple cider (you never want to leave much headspace because that encourages mold) then you lug the carbuoy down into the basement, stick the airlock in the top, and wrap it all up in a towel because it’s light-sensitive.
(Let me make clear that yes, we indeed did email April many times during this process. She was extremely helpful and encouraging every time. We are really, really excited to bring a bottle of our cider to this year’s cider fest and show it to her and get tips)
Then you leave it for 2-4 months. It keeps blooping, but very very slowly. You can peek under the towel and see it fizzing in there as all the remaining sugars are consumed by yeasties. It bloops like once every two minutes. Over the months the basement starts smelling like apple farts and the blooping slows way down. Finally one day you check and there’s no more blooping. That means it’s time to bottle!! And this is what we did yesterday!
We sterilized a bunch of old swing-top bottles we’d been accumulating over the past 5 months. I really hope we sterilized well enough. It was a pretty jury-rigged and ham-fisted affair, with iodine all over and me just kind of rubbing iodine water on all the lids. You can put the bottles in the dishwasher but because ours are swing-tops the tops hang down and foul up the sprayer so we had to do it with iodine and I don’t feel great about it.
Then you take the bottles down in the basement and do the whole siphoning thing again, but this time you siphon the cider into the bottles instead of into some other big receptacle. This means you suck a big mouthful of cider out to get it flowing through the hose, which means you get to taste it! “How is it?” Gary asked? “It’s…okay!” I said. We were so excited.
We filled all the bottles, making a huge mess. We had exactly enough bottle space to hold all the cider. Most of it goes into swing-tops, which then go into cardboard boxes which stay in the basement. Now we spend a month or so crossing our fingers that they don’t explode. If they explode I’m not sure what it means except that we did something wrong.
Some of it just goes into regular old bottles and into the fridge, for drinking!
It is pretty good, especially once it’s chilled for awhile. It is very very dry, and what they call “farmy,” which means it has kind of a gamey, sour taste. It is very lightly effervescent, not totally still (this is part of why I’m scared the bottles are gonna explode). It’s got a nice thick color to it. And it gets you tipsy! And now we have innumerable jugs of it.
It’s not the best cider you’ve ever had, but it’s totally passable. We feel incredibly triumphant; we can’t believe this damn fool haphazard system actually worked, and on our first try! We did this experiment in hopes of finding a way to process all the apples our apple tree produces; the next step is to invest in a hand-crank apple press and actually press our own cider. THEN ferment/bottle it. How tight is that!!! We will experiment with lengths of fermentation, added flavors (ginger!), sparkling vs. still, etc.
Now of course they are predicting a bad apple year this year, but oh well.
We also have these huge blueberry bushes and if they make a lot of berries I might try making some blueberry cordial.
Here are some close-up shots of a creep