Well, I juiced all my apples this weekend – it took half the day! I juiced each variety separately so I could judge the deliciousness, usefulness, cost-effectiveness, and specific gravity of each separately. The softer varieties did not juice very well at all – Cortland and St. Edmund’s Pippin were a pain in the butt because they are such squishy buttery apples. Others such as both the crabapples were very easy, with high yield, and the pulp came out bone dry after juicing. The Golden Noble is also a very fine apple for cidermaking, and I had never even heard of it before. The Honeycrisp and SweeTango apples also yielded high juice, but at much higher cost! So anyway… it was very labor intensive to say the least. Started with just over a bushel of apples and ended up with 2.4 gallons after filtering the chunks out. The crabapple cider was most intriguing – bright red juice, very sour and astringent but at the same time much more tasty than expected. Unfortunately I didn’t pick a 1/2 peck as anticipated, but only about 1/8 peck, so I’m not sure if it’s going to have substantial flavor impact in the final cider. In future years I’ll make sure I use more crabs if need be. All those apples, making 2.4 gallons, ran me about $60! Crazy, I know. Then I bought 7 gallons commercial unpasteurized cider for a total of $24.50, and I think it tastes as good as, or even better, than the stuff I made. So was it worth all that time and cost to juice apples myself?? Time will tell.
So, after adding 6 gallons of the commercial unpasteurized cider (which had already begun fermenting in the jugs from natural yeast – bubbly and smelled like butterscotch!), I now have 8.4 gallons total in the fermenters (currently being sulfited 24 hours and no yeast pitched yet), which shall eventually be subdivided 8 different ways:
First off, half of the 8.4 gallons is a blend of 57% homemade cider (all of it) plus 43% commercial, so that I could get the sweetness right for my taste and to hit about half of it or 4.2 gallons. Very roughly, the blend of apple/juice types works out to be roughly 65% sweet apple cider, 25% sharp, and 10% bittersharp. And on the other side, I have 4.2 gallons of just commercial cider without addition of any of my own apple juice. I figure the commercial stuff consists of roughly 70-75% sweet apples and 25-30% sharp, something like that, with no bitters/astringency at all. For that reason, I do plan to add a little tannin to the commercial batch (tannin “extract” can be bought at your LHBS). I will also add just a dash of tannin to the first half as it’s only about 10% bittersharp, but barely any as I want to experience the difference between “real tannin” versus “artificial tannin” for a lack of better words.
From there, tonight I’m going to pitch varying combinations of Nottingham, S-04, and Cote des Blancs yeasts, and, later on in the process, Brettanomyces bruxellensis (sp?), in search of the ultimate yeast blend for making great cider in future years. Fermentation for all will be at right around 63 F (my basement temp) plus or minus 2 degrees.
I plan to rack each of 4 non-Bretted sub-batches when they hit about 1.020 in an attempt to slow down the fermentations and retain a little sweetness if possible, also cold crashing if necessary once they hit about 1.010 or thereabouts, and then split each of those such that half of each batch will ultimately be Brettanized near the tail end of fermentation, thus yielding 8 different sub-batches, with various apples and yeasts and some with Brett and others without. The batch sizes should be small enough such that I can fit most of it in sanitized gallon milk jugs, with any leftovers getting blended into a 9th miscellanous batch if need be (but I think I’ll lose quite a bit of volume in the lees, not to mention CO2, so this will probably not be necessary).
Finally, I do plan to sorbate (just slightly) and prime each with a little sugar in the hopes that it will carbonate. This has worked for me in the past so I don’t see a reason why it wouldn’t now. The ultimate goal is to taste a few of these at a time with friends and get impressions of which combinations are awesome, which ones are just “pretty good”, and which, if any, don’t work at all. Somehow I get the feeling that all batches are going to be downright awesome, so it might just be a matter of gauging the awesomeness.
And that, my friends, is what happens when a serious beer nerd gets bored and decides to play with something else, like cider. It could just as easily happen with mead, or maybe even wine, although I don’t think I’ll ever be a wine guy as it’s too freakin’ expensive, and impossible to drink in massive quantities with redneck people like myself. Mead is great, but I can’t as easily grow honey on a tree, eat it out of hand for a nice snack, make applesauce, pie, or crisp out of it. Apples are so darn versatile, and both sweet and hard cider are SO delicious – I can’t imagine why I didn’t obsess sooner.