While most St Andreans spent their Freshers’ weekend drinking alcohol, I spent mine making it. Call me middle aged, call me an alcoholic, make Alabama jokes (that’s where I’m from)—my friends and family have already (lovingly) teased me across the spectrum—but I had (and am still having) a lot of fun! I got the idea to make my own apple cider this summer when I read Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked, which has an entire section devoted to home brewing. I’ve always assumed that brewing is some sort of black magic practiced in dark basements by people with way more skill and equipment than I, but the gallon of cider bubbling away in my closet right now definitely defies that theory. Cooked broke brewing down in a way that made it completely reasonable: you need sugar, yeast (to eat the sugar and create alcohol), and a sterile, airtight container—that’s it! So I ordered a couple of gallon demijohns, airlocks (to keep the bottle airtight, but also to stop pressure from building up inside the jug), some yeast, and a sanitizing agent. Then I got to work.
Due to my compulsion to pretend to be self-sufficient (I also try to butcher my own meat when the opportunity arises) I decided that store-bought apple juice would not make the drink truly mine. Purchasing dry active yeast was already bothering me; so, pseudo-homesteader that I am, I went and bought about 60 apples. Then I cored them. And sliced them. And because I don’t have a juicer I then blended them and separated the juice from the pulp using cheesecloth. It wasn’t a glamorous process, I assure you, but I eventually squeezed out a gallon of cloudy apple juice!
From there things were as easy as I’d hoped: I sterilized my equipment, added brown sugar to my apple juice, and then pasteurized it by heating it just beneath boiling point for about an hour. Then I woke up my yeast with some warm water and poured the juice and the yeast into my glass demijohn. From there I sealed the demijohn with the rubber cap (charmingly called a ‘bung’) and stuck in the airlock. I moved the jug into my closet and the wait began.
Well -I thought the wait would begin, but I underestimated the power of fermentation. I used champagne yeast instead of cider yeast (in hopes of a really fizzy cider) and filled the demijohn up too high. As a result, I had a very active fermentation with higher than average pressure inside the jug. Apple and yeast foam exploded out of the top of my airlock, much to my panic. Calder (my boyfriend and frequently shanghaied culinary partner in crime) and I spent Sunday taking shifts monitoring the cider-to-be, switching out the airlocks when the cider foam started to creep dangerously close to the top. After about 24 hours the mixture stopped roaring and spewing and the airlock started to bubble happily.
It’s been three days now and the cider is still bubbling away. The color seems good and there are some nice bubbles at the top. It also smells pretty good! This is my first time doing this sort of thing so it’s definitely a learning process, but I’m optimistic and excited. I’ve ordered a syphon and bottles and have already started talking to my more artistically talented friends about making labels for all twelve bottles my first brew will (optimistically) produce. This whole process has allowed me to fuse my love of all things culinary with my deep-seated mad scientist tendencies. I’ve really had a lot of fun. It’s hard to explain why something so technical and potentially pointless has been so enjoyable, but it has been. If this sort of thing appeals to you I would definitely suggest giving fermentation a shot. I’m already looking into using my other demijohn to make mead—no apples to juice! With any luck I’ll be able to pop open a bottle of my own cider for my 21st birthday in November!
Photo credits: Emily Grant
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