Starting hard crab apple cider: a long night!

Last night, my daughters and I got some hard crab apple cider going, with some minor changes from when we made it before.

I started on the apples while my daughter’s sanitized the 5 gallon carboy and set up the juicer. Each apple got cut in half, the stem removed, and any damaged bits cut off. We were able to get to the apples faster than when we made it before, so they had noticeably less bits to cut off this time around. The cut pieces went into a giant bowl with water and lemon juice while waiting to be juiced. We had a small colander set up over a bowl that we would scoop batches of pieces into, that could be kept close to the machine while I continued cutting apples

My younger daughter did the juicing again. We knew we would have more juice this time, so she set up the sanitized carboy with a funnel on a chair under the juicer nozzle; fresh, raw juice went straight into the carboy, instead of first into a pitcher, then into the gallon glass carboy.

The juicing took such a long time.

The machine could only handle getting a couple of pieces put in at a time; far less than when juicing other fruit. These are small apples that don’t have a lot of juice in them, so we didn’t get a lot for the work. After a short while, the sound of the juicer would change, and my daughter would have to stop it, open it up and peel off the shoe-leather strip of accumulated pulp that did not go into the collector, like it was supposed to.

It was past 2am by the time we were done. Which was fine for my daughters, since they are still up at night and sleeping during the day.

This is what the more than 5 gallons of apples got us.

We got about two and a half gallons of juice. We calculated roughly 5 cups of sugar for the amount of juice we had (the ratio is 1-1 1/2 pounds of sugar per gallon of juice). The handy thing about it being only half full is that, once the sugar was added, it was easy to just pick it up and shake it to dissolve the sugar. A half packet of yeast was hydrated, then added and it got another shake before being set up with the airlock.

I didn’t bother taking a hydrometer reading.

This is how it looked this morning, after having roughly 9 hours to settle.

The airlock was bubbling about every 23 seconds when I checked it, and the temperature of the liquid is 20-21C/68-70F. We’re supposed to reach 28C/82F today, so it’s definitely going to get warmer.

I’d hoped to have more juice, but it’s still more than we had last time. We do still have lots of apples on the tree to pick, if we want. We don’t have another large carboy, but we do have the 1 gallon ones, if we want to make more hard cider. I think I’d rather make more cider vinegar, but we don’t have more of the large, wide mouth jars right now. For the amount of apples we’d have, I wouldn’t want to use smaller jars. It would be a waste of jars and space. There are other things we could do with the apples, too.

Now that it looks like making hard crab apple cider is a thing we will continue to do, we want to acquire a cider press. The juicer is great for other fruit, but does very poorly with these little crab apples. There are table top versions that are reasonably priced. Building one is another option. It’s something we wouldn’t for another year, so we have time to figure it out.

I’ve been asking my mother about how my dad made fruit wine. I remember him using the same crock my mother used to make sauerkraut. I remember watching him one year, as he layered sugar, then raspberries, in the crock until it was full, then … I can’t remember. Most likely, he weighted it down then covered it with a cloth, but did he add water to it? And how much sugar to fruit did he use?

I described what I remember to my mother, and she just brushed it off. They just combined fruit with sugar, covered it and let it sit, she told me. They didn’t add water. That’s how she’s got the cherries she picked while here set up, right now. She didn’t have a lot of cherries, so it would be just a small jar. She couldn’t tell me how much sugar they used; apparently, they just winged it.

Well, whatever my dad did, his raspberry wine in particular got rave reviews. I remember picking pin cherries (those trees are now gone) that he used to make wine, as well as the hard little plums that are more stone than fruit, that we still have in the yard (though the trees seem to be dying). My parents had no wine making equipment. They used no commercial yeast (yeast for brewing was not something that would have been easily found back then). I wish I could ask my dad what he did. I don’t think my mother paid too much attention to it, and what she’s doing now is not what I remember seeing him doing. Maybe one of my siblings remembers more than I do. I should ask them. 😊

For now, though, I’m content to make hard cider with our crab apples. I prefer that over wine, anyhow. 😁

The Re-Farmer

Hard Crab Apple Cider follow up – I am the queen of procrastination!

We’ve had a busy day outside our living room window!

We’ve had quite a few deer visiting the feeding station, and just plain hanging out. The piebald has been standing around the old junk pile (maybe we should start calling it something else, since we cleared out the junk and there’s just old stacked boards now), chillin’ for at least a couple of hours. Others have just been wandering around the area, sometimes at the feeding station, sometimes nibbling lilac twigs, sometimes among the spruces, nibbling whatever underbrush they happen to be next to.

Keith had front row seating to watch them all, with his ever tragic expression!

Now that Saffron is gone, other cats have been sitting on the warm light fixture over the seedlings. Especially Fenrir and, pictured above, Beep Beep.

It must feel nice on their still nekkid bellies!

Today, I finally got around to sterilizing bottles and equipment, and bottling the second carboy of hard crab apple sider.

The one I meant to bottle months ago!

The other other we had fermenting was bottled back in August. If you follow that link, the post has links to the whole process of making it, starting from when we picked the apples back in September, of 2020. We had no apples in 2021, so no new crab apple brews of any kind, sadly.

So… yeah. This carboy has been fermenting since September of 2020.

When the other carboy was bottled, we didn’t do a hydrometer reading, so I did that from the last bottle we’ve got of it, while preparing to bottle the second batch.

I really hate doing hydrometer readings. I can’t read the tiny numbers and have to take pictures to be able to see them – but the camera does NOT want to focus on the hydrometer.

Anyhow.

After – hopefully – reading the hydrometer right, the ABV calculator I’ve got came to 10.5% Alcohol By Volume.

For the second carboy, I did a reading before starting to bottle, and the calculation came to 11.8% Alcohol By Volume.

Not too shabby!

The jug we’re using as the carboy after racking the initial brew was repurposed from a 3L wine bottle. I was able to fill three 750L bottles, plus a 250ml bottle, before it was down to the dregs.

Of course, we had to do a taste test to compare the two.

The first thing you’ll notice in the pictures, is that the cider I was about to bottle is a darker colour compared to the one already bottled.

The previously bottled cider had a strong, almost bitter, taste to it. It tasted stronger of alcohol, too, though it had a lower percentage.

The newly bottled cider had a fruitier, smoother taste.

Both tasted good, but I prefer the one that stayed in the carboy for 1 1/2 years. That extra 7 months seems to have made a positive difference.

I do hope we have crab apples this year. I look forward to making this again!

The Re-Farmer

Making hard crab apple cider: bottling day one

For those who have been following this blog for a while, that’s right. We still haven’t bottled our hard cider yet! And yes, it’s been almost a year!

For those who are new to the blog, you can catch up on the progress with these links; all will open in new tabs, so you won’t lose your place.

Crab apple picking
Making hard crab apple cider; will it work?
Hard crab apple cider: getting clear
Making hard crab apple cider: racking day – what happened? (Updated: I found out)

We meant to bottle these months ago, but time and space and other priorities kept delaying things.

Today, I finally broke down and did it.

Well. Half of it.

We didn’t want to use corked wine bottles for this, so we’ve been saving up our screw top bottles for a while now. Only recently did we get enough to bottle the hard cider, anyhow. We just don’t buy wine-bottle sized things very often. I suppose that’s a downside of our buying habits. Not a lot of materials left over to reuse.

I only did one of the two carboys we had fermenting. They are 3L each, so I needed at least four 750ml sized bottles. After sterilizing them, I didn’t siphon the cider into them. I have problems with using the siphon. We don’t have an auto siphon, and have not been able to find one that will fit in anything smaller than the large carboy that came with our wine making kit, so it’s gotta be done old school. I always end up disturbing the sediment, and splashing all over when moving from bottle to bottle, so today I just gently poured it from the carboy through a sterilized funnel.

For the last bottle, I added a coffee filter to the funnel, just in case.

It actually worked out MUCH better than fighting with a siphon. Not only did I barely disturb the sediment at all, but there was no mess. I’m sure I committed some major faux pax by not using a siphon to fill from the bottom up, and getting all that air in there, but… it is what it is. I still wiped the bottles with vinegar water, but there really wasn’t anything to clean up.

Of course, I then had to do a taste test!

This was poured from the partially filled bottle, so if there was any sediment that got through, this would be the bottle that has it.

As you can see, it is very clear.

There is a very strong smell of alcohol from this, but you can also really smell “crab apple” as well.

I just love that colour! Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll have many crab apples at all this year, never mind from this particular tree with it’s very red little apples, so we won’t be making more hard cider, nor cider vinegar, with our crab apples this year.

We still have the second carboy to bottle, though, and that will leave us with hard cider to last us a while.

Ah, but how does it taste?

The first thing that hits is SOUR! This is a remarkably sour cider! Not a bitter kind of sour, though. It really wakes up the taste buds. I think this would be good with game. Or with a really strong flavored dessert.

For all that it smells of strong alcohol, there isn’t a strong alcohol flavour. I don’t actually enjoy the taste of alcohol, but I can drink this. And yes, there is a light, fruity apple taste, too.

I find myself thinking this would be nice with a spot of sugar or honey added to it. Perhaps I’ll try some with a bit of our vanilla sugar added. Or to include it in a fruit punch.

I did not take a hydrometer reading. I wasn’t up to digging it out this time. Based on previous readings, it was just under 11% alcohol. After tasting it, I would not be surprised for that to have remained unchanged. This is strong stuff, even if it does take a while to feel it!

This is definitely a “sip it slowly” kind of drink.

It should be interesting to see if the flavour changes after they’ve had a few days to rest after being bottled without a siphon.

The Re-Farmer

Making hard crab apple cider: racking day – what happened? (updated: I found out!)

This morning, after doing my morning rounds, I gave the sun room door frame a second coat of paint. Tomorrow, we hang the door back up.

I had an audience. 😀

Also, while I was painting, I found that Nostrildamus has figured out to jump over the threshold after it’s been painted! 😀

Meanwhile…

Today was finally racking day for our first attempt at making hard apple cider, using our own crab apples. For new visitors, you can read up about that here and here. (links will open in new tabs)

Here is how the gallon carboys looked before I started. As expected, there was a LOT of sediment at the bottom. It’s not just the lees from the yeast, but the sediment from the raw, unfiltered juice.

We had some concerns with the fermentation. Activity in the airlock stopped a while ago. I think the room temperature became a problem. While they were actively bubbling, their temperatures tended towards 18C/64F, though we did also keep them wrapped in a towel and, every now and then, I’d heat up a rice-filled warming pad in the microwave and stick it between them to help keep them warm. We had used an electric heating pad, when making mead, but where these were sitting, there is nowhere to plug it in.

Racking from a 4L to a 3L carboy meant a lot of sediment heavy liquid left behind. Though I tried to hold the racking cane well above the sediment as long as I could, I could still see wisps of it being pulled up the siphon.

As I racked each jug, I made sure to get a hydrometer reading.

I just don’t know what to make of it.

For one of them, the hydrometer pretty much sank to the bottom. I had to add cider almost to the top for it to float enough to get a reading. The other was only slightly better. When they were first tested, it floated quite handily.

Unfortunately, I just can’t get it straight on how to read the specific gravity on that thing. So I write down all three readings.

The readings still don’t make any sense to me. Why would the numbers all drop so much? From what I can figure out, this is basically telling me there’s no alcohol in one, and almost no alcohol in the other.

I did taste test it, of course, and they both have a VERY sour apple taste. It also does taste alcoholic, but that is almost overwhelmed by the sour apple taste. Which is interesting, since the apples we used are actually quite sweet, and there was quite a bit of sugar added to the juice, too.

As for the hydrometer reading this time around, the only thing I can think of that might be affecting it (besides something going weird with the cider itself) is the temperature. Both carboys had a temperature reading of 16C/60F. The ambient temperature in the room is 15C/59C. From what I’ve been reading, newer hydrometers are calibrated for about 20C/68F. I’ve found a site that will calculate the adjustment for temperature, but there is virtually no change in the reading. So what gives?

I have no idea.

Considering that the traditional way of making hard apple cider is to press whole apples into a barrel, set it aside for a few months and BOOM, you’ve got booze, I didn’t expect this to be so complicated.

Anyhow. The 3L carboys are now set up with their airlocks for a second fermentation. As for the liquid left behind with the lees, I ended up straining much of it, and we now have about half a liter of filtered baby hard apple cider.

Hmmm… I wonder how it will go with the ham I will be roasting today?

The Re-Farmer

Update: When I started the hard apple cider, I did it based on this video from CS Mead and More.

There is a reason I included them among my Recommended sites!

I went ahead and contacted them about my readings, and got a very prompt response, and I am very happy!

It turns out, everything is working fine. My problem is with reading the hydrometer, then figuring out what it’s telling me! 😀

And now I know what to do with the information I’m getting off the hydrometer. I may not be using the AVB or Brix to work it out, but I’m writing them down anyway, because I can see those readings better. I can then use the printed out chart that came with the hydrometer to see where that lines up with the Specific Gravity and actually read that number on paper, instead of trying to see it in the liquid. When I take pictures and upload them to my desktop, I can usually zoom in and read it, but sometimes I find the hydrometer moved as I was taking the picture and I still can’t read it. :-/

The formula I was given to calculate the alcohol percentage is to subtract the new reading from the first reading, then multiply the answer by 135. So for one of my ciders it’s:

1.100 – 1.020 = 0.08
0.08 x 135 = 10.8% ABV

For the other one it’s:

1.090 – 1.009 = 0.081
0.081 x 135 = 10.9% ABV

We definitely have booze. 🙂

Poor Man’s Hippocras: in progress

Yesterday, I wrote about picking up a whole lot of wine, so that we could use the 3L jugs as carboys for the second ferment on our hard crab apple cider.

The problem is, we now have to do something with the wine. We’re not really wine drinkers in general and, ironic as is seems for someone who is getting into making alcohol, I don’t really like alcohol in general. I had a couple of glasses of the wine last night and… well… it’s wine. I can’t even say if it’s particularly good wine. Just that it’s not bad wine. Going through 6L of wine between three of us, though, was probably going to take a while, and I really want those jugs to rack that hard cider.

We have, however, made spiced wine for special occasions in the past, and I did enjoy that. Since I’m also into modern recreations of historical recipes, my mind when to this video I’d found some time ago.

It turned out my daughters were thinking in the same direction, and were quite on board with trying a historical recipe. Of course, we’d want to be having something with the spiced wine, and we started talking charcuterie. So when I headed into town this morning to go to the hardware store, I also popped by the grocery store next door to pick up what we needed.

Now, the recipe for hippocras used in the video above includes ingredients that we just can’t get. I suppose I could order them online if I really wanted to, and try recreating it more exactly in the future, but frankly I can’t justify the cost. So spikenard, galangal, long pepper and grains of paradise are out!

After going through our spice cupboard, I only needed to pick up some marjoram, fresh ginger and cardamom.

Ah, the joys of small town inventories.

It took some searching before I found their last jar of marjoram. I did not expect that to be hard to find! However…

No cardamom.

At least not the whole seeds. I did finally find a single jar of ground cardamom, but it cost almost triple what the marjoram cost!

I didn’t buy it.

We did have some ground cardamom at home, but just a tiny bit. Better than none, I guess!

So this is our poor man’s version of hippocras.

Cinnamon sticks
fresh ginger
whole cloves
black peppercorns (substituting for long pepper)
nutmeg (ground)
marjoram
cardamom
ground cinnamon

Plus, to make up for the lack of sweet spices we’re skipping completely, some granulated sugar.

We eyeballed the quantities from the video for what was probably just over the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine. Except the cardamom. I just emptied what was left in the jar, which was probably less than a quarter teaspoon.

The cinnamon sticks were duly cracked, the ginger sliced, the remaining spices ground in a mortar and pestle (I love my mortar and pestle!), then everything mixed together in a pot with the wine.

The mixture is supposed to sit for a day or two before straining, then served warm.

We plan to drink it tonight, so to speed the process, we got it all set up and on the stove on low heat, where it will stay for the day.

It should be interesting to see how it turns out after we strain it this evening!

Of course, that still leaves us with another jug of wine. If this turns out okay, maybe we’ll make it again for Thanksgiving dinner, which we’ll be doing on Sunday.

The Re-Farmer