In September, we attended the annual “Cider Summit” and were able to sample products from about 30 different cideries – many of them local to the region, but also a few from the East Coast and a handful of European outfits. We discovered that we really prefer the naturally fermented, unfiltered ciders. The taste is more complex and interesting, whereas the more highly processed ciders are much more uniform.
Following our successful 2012 cider-making experiment we were eager to make cider again this year. Unfortunately, it was the worst year for apples in a long time. Hardly any trees in the Seattle area had a decent crop, probably due to bad weather when the trees were in bloom. We did end up making 10 gallons of cider, but it was a challenge to find the 300 pounds of apples that were required.
Cedar Creek Grist Mill
In our quest for apple juice we also visited the annual cider pressing at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill – the last water-powered mill still in operation in Washington State. Built in the 1860s, it was on the verge of falling down when a group of volunteers formed to preserve and restore it. They have done a remarkable job and today the mill looks and runs just as it did a century ago.
April 2014 Update
We’ve been drinking our cider since about New Year – and a most excellent beverage it is. This year we made 2 separate batches: one was fermented with Champagne yeast, the other left to ferment naturally. I was really worried we’d end up with 5 gallons of cider vinegar, but luckily that did not happen. In fact, we all agree that the wild ferment is superior to the Champagne yeast cider. The Champagne cider is a clean, crisp and refreshing drink, but a little bit boring; the wild ferment has more complex flavors without going overboard on either the tannins or the barnyard funk.
Of course wild fermentation is always a gamble. Next year’s cider may turn out completely different, depending on the apples, the weather, and whatever else affects the bacterial population present in the brew. But that’s all part of the fun – and we can always make an insurance batch with commercial yeast, in case something goes horribly wrong.