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

Hard crab apple cider: Getting clear

What a difference a day makes!

This is how the crab apple juice looked, right after we got finished setting up the fermentation.

This is how they looked this morning.

The photo does not do justice to how bright the colour is!

When I was checking these last night, the tops were full of dense foam, which has mostly collapsed, but you can certainly see how high it got.

Their temperatures seem to be holding at between 18 and 19C, and – most importantly! – we are seeing activity in the airlocks. Not a lot, but it’s definitely started to bubble!

So far, so good… I think! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Making hard crab apple cider; will it work?

Today was our first attempt at making hard apple cider. We are using the remaining apples from the one crab apple tree we have that produces the most amazing, sweet, delicious little apples, after using some of them to start an apple cider vinegar.

When we first moved here and saw how many crab apple trees we had around the property, we looked into what was needed to make hard apple cider. At first, we didn’t think it would be anything we could do, or at least not anytime soon. Making hard apple cider, we found, required using a large press to crush whole apples, then sealing up the resulting juice to ferment a few months.

We didn’t have a press, and with so many other things on the go, we were not about to build or buy one, either.

Then I found the CS Brews YouTube channel, now called CS Mead and More. I liked it enough to include it in my Recommended series.

They started making hard apple cider, using store bought juice. Sometimes, right in the container it was packaged in!

We could make hard apple cider without having a press, after all!

One of the things we found when cleaning up this place after moving in, was a juicer exactly like the one we had to leave behind when we moved. I think one of my siblings bought it for my mother, but she hardly used it. Everything was still in its original packaging, even!

We decided to try making hard cider using our own juice.

Now, making it using store bought juice in the bottle they were sold in works, because everything comes pasteurized and sanitized off the shelf. Basically, enough juice needs to be poured off to make room for the sugar and yeast, an airlock gets put on, and you can leave it to ferment to get a very basic hard apple cider.

Of course, doing it the traditional way, with a press, the juice didn’t get pasteurized or filtered or anything.

We decided to try making our own hard crab apple cider with raw, unpasteurized, unfiltered juice. The juice would be going straight from the juicer to the sanitized gallon jugs, so the chance for contamination would be very lower.

Lower than trying to do it the old fashioned way, that’s for sure!

The first step was to clean the apples and de-stem them. They didn’t have to be cored, but the stems would cause problems with the juicer.

The crab apples from the one tree completely filled my two largest bowls. Though I cut away some obvious nasty bit, I wasn’t worried about light bruising. I also have the not-quite ripe apples from the tree that broke in the wind storm.

It’s a good thing we had so many of these apples this year, since I had to toss the cider vinegar, and start over again.

Juicing the apples turned out to be more difficult than expected. It was made slightly easier when we found a way to raise the juicer high enough that a 1L pitcher could fit under the spout. We had 2 one gallon jugs, and a gallon is about 4L, so I could use the pitcher to loosely measure how much juice I was putting in. However, these little apples don’t have a lot of juice in them, and their pulp kept jamming the machine. My daughter kept having to stop the juicer, open it up and peel away the pulp that accumulated on the perforated metal cone inside, instead of going out the back. The pulp was so dry, it could be taken off in ribbons!

Using information I got from one of the hard cider making videos, I used 2 cups of sugar per gallon. Each got 2L of juice before I put in a bung and shook the heck out of them to dissolve the sugar.

Look how pink that is!!

Also, you might notice the liquid is not at the same level. Though these are both 1 gallon jugs, one is actually bigger than the other. They are 1 gallon at about the “shoulder”, which leaves space for the fermenting liquid to bubble up a bit.

I also used the same wine yeast we’ve been using for everything else; I don’t know the specific strain of yeast, but it’s basically what is available for a non-sparkling wine from the local brewing supply store. Again, following what I saw in the video, I dissolved about a tsp of yeast in a bit of juice, then added it to the full jugs, after getting a hydrometer reading.

After the yeast was added, they got another thorough shaking, then the airlocks were put in place.

I’m also trying to be more diligent about recording everything. I have to admit, I still don’t understand the hydrometer information, so I wrote down all three readings. It has a “potential alcohol by volume” measure right on there, but I keep reading that it isn’t any good, and that it’s better to use the specific gravity reading. It doesn’t help that I can barely see the tiny numbers and lines in the first place!

I found it interesting that the readings for the 2 jugs that were made up identically, are slightly different. It’s possible that the different sized jugs means that one does have slightly more juice in it than the other, and that could explain the difference.

The juice is not only incredibly pink, but incredibly cloudy! They were, of course, just shaken when this photo was taken. You can tell which one got finished first, as the cloudiness is already starting to settle.

We have set the jugs up on a side table in the dining room for now. It’s not a particularly bright room, it’s warmer than the old kitchen, and we can keep an eye on them. I just took a look at them, after they’ve had several hours to settle. I will have to take a photo of them during the day. They look very different right now! The sediment has settled to the bottom, and the clear juice in the middle is looking a deep, deep pink – but there is a significant layer of lighter pink foam at the top! I used the temperature gun on them, and got different readings, depending on where I aimed it. The top, where the foam is, was fluctuating between 19C and 20C (66-68F). The middle was around 17-18C (62-64F), while the bottom, where the sediment has settled, is 17C (62F). Which I think is good.

Also, I’ve turned the thermostat up for the house. It was set just below 15C/59F when the furnace turned on earlier today, so I’ve upped it a few degrees! So the ambient temperature will not be too cold, either.

I have no idea how this will turn out. Will the fact that we used raw, unfiltered juice be a benefit, or a disaster? Will we get something that tastes horrific, or wonderful? Considering how great the apples themselves taste, I would hope the resulting hard cider would be its match. I have no idea. This is a total experiment for us!

As for the remaining apples, it took so long to juice enough to fill the jugs that we didn’t juice the rest of them. I had started cutting them up to cook them into a dessert, but realized I didn’t have the energy for that left, so they ended up in the freezer! Meanwhile, my poor daughter had been standing at the juicer for so long, her back was starting to give out on her! We couldn’t even plug it in somewhere where she could sit down, since there are so few outlets in this house.

Here’s hoping the end result is worth it!

The Re-Farmer