As I’ve written before on this site, I’m not much of a cider guy. I don’t hate it or anything, but I will nearly always reach for a beer first, and I admit to not completely understanding the current cider craze. Sorry, cider fans … I just think they all taste pretty much the same.
But there’s a time and a place for them, or rather several times and places. Two times and places that immediately come to mind are:
- My backyard in mid-May, when spring begins to turn into a scorching Texas summer
- A party at my house, when my kegerator is broken and I need a fast/easy small batch of something to serve to my friends
Cider – at least the way I make it – is so easy, it’s the go-to whenever I need a small batch to pop into the kegerator (or, in this case, into a KEGlove cooler sleeve) to fill an empty tap. All I do is pour a few gallons of organic unfiltered apple juice into a fermenter, pitch a bit of dry yeast, and wait. Okay, sure, sometimes I just pitch yeast directly into the glass jug the juice came in and ferment in that … I’m a Louisiana boy by birth, and we like to keep things simple.
Except when we don’t. And this time I didn’t.
I decided that for my recent batch of cider, I would mix things up a little bit. I’ve been hearing a lot about hopped cider – and having not tasted any (see above re: “I will nearly always reach for a beer first”) – and seeing as how I have a ton of hops in my freezer, I thought now was the time to try it out for myself.
The somewhat experimental cider – experimental not in the sense that no one is doing it, because everyone is; but experimental in the sense that I just winged it without bothering to do any research on how they are doing it – ended up being called Bineta Applebum Hopped Cider – in reference to the song “Bonita Applebum” off the first album by A Tribe Called Quest, but spelled B-I-N-E for bine, like a hop bine … get it?
P.S. – I know that if you have to explain a joke, it’s a shitty joke.
P.P.S. – R.I.P. Malik Taylor, a.k.a. Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was taken from us in March 2016 in between the deaths of David Bowie and Keith Emerson and Prince and oh my God this year has sucked for music fans and it’s not even June.
You know what? To paraphrase Charlie Papazian, let’s just get on with the recipe.
This really is one of the easiest brews I’ve ever done. Here are the ingredients:
- 2 gal (4 half-gallon bottles) Trader Joes Honeycrisp Apple Cider (unfiltered juice)
- 1 oz Cascade hops (7.1% AA)
- 2 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 packet Mangrove Jack’s Burton Union Yeast (M79)
The main point of interest here is the hops, so let’s talk about them. I chose Cascade because I have a crap-ton of them on hand, and I figured if this was an experiment I might as well use the most basic American hop imaginable just to keep down on weird variables. I wanted to add half the hops before fermentation, and half afterwards as dry hops.
For the pre-fermentation hops, I brought a pint of the juice to a boil, then turned off the heat and added a half-ounce of Cascade and the yeast nutrient. I steeped this mixture for as long as it took me to sanitize the fermenter and pour the rest of the juice into it.
A word about the yeast nutrient: it’s not absolutely essential, and I’ve made good cider without it. The sugar in apple juice is fructose, which is pretty easily handled by ale yeast. But I didn’t want to take any chances, partially because I was going for a clean ferment to let the hops shine through, and partially because my Mangrove Jack’s yeast was 11 months past the expiration date. (If you won’t tell anyone, I won’t … tell anyone else, that is.)
Once the bulk of the juice was in the fermenter, I added the hot hopped juice and pitched the limping-on-its-last-leg expired yeast (in case you’re wondering, it worked just fine). The OG measured 1.046.
The cider fermented over the next three weeks to a FG of 0.996, giving an ABV of 6.6%. Not too shabby for a bit of juice from a plastic jug and some bargain-bin yeast. I added the other half-ounce of Cascade I had set aside for dry hops. One week in the fermenter, and then into my small-batch keg it went.
The cider was a hit. It was refreshing, the hops came through nicely, and everyone at the party could detect a little something special in the cider even if they couldn’t quite figure out what it was. We nearly emptied the short keg in an afternoon … there was one glass left in the keg by the end of the day, which allowed me to get this picture and toast to a successful experiment:
I will brew this again someday, maybe even with more interesting hops, the next time I need a small batch of something to fill an empty tap or satisfy a party need. But I’m hoping that won’t be the case again anytime soon, because I have recently received a freight shipment of …
my brand new kegerator!
… and the kegs of beer I have sitting in a fermentation chamber cranked down to 37°F to keep fresh will soon be on tap again. I hope to get the kegerator set up and running in the next few days, and don’t worry, I will document it here with all the appropriate fanfare and celebration. Watch this space for updates, and until then, cheers from myBrewHome to yours.
Super Bowl XLVIII is history and the world has turned its collective attention to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, but before I hang up my big foam finger and retire the word clinch from my vocabulary until August, let’s take a moment to celebrate a gridiron tradition: the Hail Mary play. A long-shot pass down the field with a minimal chance of success, a last-ditch effort for a team with nothing to lose. I don’t know who did it first, but presumably many years ago some coach realized that when faced with an all-or-nothing situation, it can’t hurt to do something crazy. Whoever that coach was, he would have made a great homebrewer.
My own homebrew Hail Mary happened at the end of last year. I can take credit for the execution, but the idea for the play came from my wife/recipe consultant Lisa.
On Thanksgiving Day, I finished my pumpkin ale, leaving me with an empty tap and nothing ready to serve. I must have been complaining loudly, because Lisa stepped up, baby in hand. “What are those?” she said, pointing to two 1-gallon carboys hiding in the shadows at the back of the closet under the stairs.
A few years ago I started making occasional small batches. After realizing that the 1-gallon carboys my homebrew supplier sold for $5 were nearly identical to the gallon-size glass jugs of organic apple juice at the grocery for $7, I just bought the juice and figured I’d save the jug when it was empty. But why waste that apple juice by drinking it when I could ferment it instead? Plain apple juice is all you need for a simple dry cider, so I pitched 3 grams of Safale S-04 into the jug and sealed it with a stopper and airlock. Incidentally, I chose S-04 for its high flocculation, assuming it would yield clearer cider. I was wrong; later I learned about pectin haze, a common “flaw” in ciders caused by pectin in apples and treatable with pectic enzyme if you care to. (As it turns out, I don’t mind hazy cider, so I’ve never bothered with it.)
I bought four juice jugs, but didn’t ferment them all at once. I pitched Batch #1 right away and bottled it four weeks later (oh, the anticipation of something new). I made Batch #2 a few months later and bottled it after eight weeks, then pitched the yeast cake into Batch #3. That was September 2011, right around the time I remembered that I like beer much more than cider and would rather drink it instead. I managed to finish off the cider I’d bottled, but held off bottling more until I was ready for it.
And then forgot about it completely.
In early February 2013, I was telling a friend how easy it is to make apple cider, and suddenly remembered the carboy that had been sitting there for nearly a year and a half. Trepidatious about tasting a seventeen-month-old cider, I put off the moment of truth by making Batch #4 instead, figuring I’d bottle both batches later that year. Of course, “later that year” soon became “Oh shit, it’s November.”
And that’s how we found ourselves on Thanksgiving Day looking at two little carboys full of cider with a combined age of thirty-six months. I reminded Lisa what they were, and voiced my concern that they might not be drinkable after all this time. I hated to spend the time bottling them if they weren’t going to be any good. I wondered if I should toss them.
“If the alternative is throwing them away,” she said, “why not keg them and blend them? Add some spices to mask the imperfections if you need to. Actually, make it a holiday cider with mulling spices.”
This, Internet, is just a glimpse of the general awesomeness of this woman and why I’ve been with her for twenty years …
As great an idea as it was, I reminded her that I already had plans for the now-empty keg. I needed it for another beer that was ready for cold storage but wouldn’t be ready to drink for a month.
“Just buy a new keg,” she said. “Do they make small ones? Then you’ll have a portable keg so you can take it out of the house.”
… twenty wonderful years.
My memory is hazy as to when exactly I ordered the keg, but I’m sure I waited at least 75 seconds after she suggested it. A few days and trips to the store later, I made a spice potion with:
- 4 oz vodka
- 1 1/2 cinnamon sticks, whole
- 1/2 tbsp crystallized ginger, minced
- 1/2 tsp allspice, crushed
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
- 1 clove, whole
- 1/2 tsp star anise, crushed
- a dash of grains of paradise, crushed
- zest of 1 orange
I let the potion steep until mid-December and racked it just in time for the holidays. I may not be much of a cider guy, but I was impressed.
Tart and dry, a little astringent, fashionably sour. The star anise was a little overpowering, but the cinnamon and clove really backed it up. The spices were strong, but that’s what elevated it from “just cider” to “holiday cider.” A friend sampling a glass came up with the brilliant idea of mixing it with ginger ale, which became my favorite way to drink it. I named it VertiCore, fitting for a vertical blend of apple ciders. And if I hadn’t bragged about it to everyone who tasted it, they’d never know that half the blend was over two years old.
So the Hail Mary paid off in a big way, thanks to a good play call by a great recipe coach. In fact, I may just lose another cider or two in the back of the closet. Christmas is coming again in 2016, right?