Homebrew Hack: Base Juice For Making Hard Apple Cider

Happy Monday! I don’t know about where you live, but here in the northeast of the U.S. we had insane winds last night. During the night the younger of our two geriatric dogs was pacing and shaking — he is not a fan of high winds. The older dog slept through it all. But they are not sleeping this morning. When we went out this morning we noticed that a very large tree had fallen on our favorite spot in town, Harvest Brewing. All morning there has been a man hanging from a crane working on getting the tree off the building and into a woodchipper and let’s just say the dogs are very, very interested.¬† I can’t blame them — I’ve been distracted by it, too.¬†Will miss having this tree outside of my window.

The other thing that’s going on in Vermont? It’s fall! And that means it’s the perfect time to make hard apple cider. My upcoming book includes information on cider, what it is and how to brew it, but I haven’t focused on it much here. That changes today.

Making Hard Cider? Plan Your Ingredients!

Hard cider is rising in popularity. It’s making its way onto more tap lists and homebrewers are enjoying the simplicity of it. Why? Because it’s easy to make and also incredibly cheap. I’ll share a hard cider recipe later this week but for today I want to share a little about choosing your base recipe.

One of the reasons homebrewers love making hard apple cider is that it is easy. Just pick up some sweet cider and ferment it. If you get unpasteurized cider, or UV pasteurized cider, it’s possible to make hard cider without even adding yeast. But is store bought the best way?

Selecting Your Apple Juice

While you can just pick up sweet cider or apple juice, I recommend working with a local orchard to develop your base juice. The reasons for this are twofold. First, there is a specific blend of apples that will give your hard apple cider a delicious, complex flavor.

The flavor of apples is measured looking at several factors. For cider making, there are three things you have to consider: sweetness, tartness and bitterness.

Sweetness refers to how much sugar is in the apple. Tartness comes from the amount of acid in the apple and is also referred to as “acidity”. Bitterness, or astringency, depends on the amount of tannins in the apple.

The Formula

ABC may be easy as 123 and 1612 is obviously the code to my heart, but when it comes to cider, the secret is 10:7:3. Ten parts sweet, seven parts tart, three parts bitter. A blend of juices in this proportion helps balance the flavors and textures of your hard apple cider.

Most grocery store variety apples fall into the sweet category. Golden and Red Delicious and Jonagold are two examples of this. There are also tart apples in the produce section, the most known being Granny Smith. Bitter apples are more difficult to find because they are not eaten as regularly but Cortland apples are available and are considered “sharp sweets” so can count toward both of those in the formula.

You can ask your local apple orchard to mix up a base non-alcoholic cider of this for you, most are willing to help especially late in the season, or you can buy single varietal jugs. You can also press your own juice, but this is expensive if you don’t already own the equipment.

What Are Tannins?

“Tannin” is a word often connected to wine but tannins are in all sorts of food.¬†Certain plant material, like tree bark, has a particular organic compound called tannin that serves to protect from bacteria. The polyphenol is present in many foods but most regularly linked to wine. That’s because tannins are often on the exterior of grapes. Wines made with extended skin contact will have tannins present and you can feel their astringency on your palate, usually right behind your lips and on the roof of your mouth. You may also taste tannins as bitterness depending on the amount and other flavors. The best way to understand the feeling is to think about drinking black tea; black tea has a high presence of tannins.

Black tea and grapes are just the start of a long list of foods with tannins. Apples have them and so do:

  • beer
  • grape juice
  • chocolate and cocoa powder
  • chickpeas
  • beans (darker beans contain more tannins than lighter ones)
  • black-eyed peas
  • lentils
  • persimmon
  • berries
  • nuts (peanuts, walnuts, pecans and cashews have particularly high levels of tannins)
  • barley
  • sorghum
  • squash
  • rhubarb
  • spices (cinnamon, thyme, cloves, vanilla)

Soaking nuts and rinsing foods like beans, fruit and vegetables can reduce the presence of tannins.

Many people blame tannins in wine for headaches but, like falsely pointing to a sulfite allergy (chances are you don’t have one), they get a bum rap and actually add to the texture and flavor of food.

Go Local, Go Ethical

There’s another reason why I suggest using a custom blend. Supporting your local orchard is always the top option if you’re interested in ethical brewing. Local apples help local farmers, cut down on your transportation footprint and help local bees. Apples are also responsible for increased air quality so be sure to find your closest orchard and reach out for help. Another ethical option? You could forage for apples and see what you end up with!

Moving Forward

Hard apple cider is a great choice for new homebrewers with limited space or budget constraints. I’ll have a recipe posted on Thursday for a delicious spiced hard apple cider.

Thanks to Buzzle for the great list on tannic foods.

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