In the Black Forest region of southern Germany where I grew up, hard cider is a staple beverage. In the fall, families bring sacks of apples and pears to the village press and take home the fresh juice in big plastic canisters. The cider is traditionally produced through spontaneous fermentation, relying on the yeasts that occur naturally on the surface of the fruit and in the air. By January it’s usually ready to drink and stored in wooden kegs or plastic tanks in a cool cellar throughout the year.
The cider is not bottled and carbonated, but it’s a refreshing drink on a hot summer day. We liked to mix it with sparkling mineral water to cut the alcohol content and give it a bit of fizz. It’s a simple, unpretentious beverage and somewhat of an acquired taste. The short Black Forest summers make it challenging to grow high quality fruit; and the natural fermentation makes it difficult to produce consistent results.
Here in Seattle, cider has lately become quite fashionable. Craft cideries are popping up everywhere and cider tastings have become almost as commonplace as wine tastings. I hadn’t had cider for years, until I enjoyed a cider tasting at the recent Kneading West conference. These ciders were very good – definitely a lot more refined than what I’d grown up with. But also quite pricey at up to $8 a bottle. Would we be able to produce some decent hard cider ourselves?
We decided to give it a try. We harvested about 200 pounds of apples today and juiced half of them for a 5 gallon batch. Tomorrow we pitch the yeast (champagne) and then we’ll have to wait 2-4 weeks before racking. At a specific gravity of about 1.045 these weren’t exactly the sweetest apples – perhaps this cider will be a little reminiscent of the ciders of my youth.