Our planned brew day will feature the following in one gallon batches:
– Spiced hibiscus mead
– Hibiscus mead
– Cherry cider
– British apple cider
– British apple cider with crab apple juice
First, the recipes because I’m not an asshole who needs to assault you with navel gazing stories of my childhood before getting to the only bit you care about.
I’m omitting any directions on yeast, nutrition, or other details of the brewing process as I just wanted to focus on the details of these recipes. Go visit City Steading if you have questions about the process for brewing mead and cider. They gave us the know-how and confidence to start our brewing hobby. Their YouTube channel is well produced and well worth the time to watch.
Spiced Hibiscus Mead:
1 gallon water (1 quart to hibiscus tea, 3 quarts to fermenter)
2.5 pounds honey
1.5 ounces hibiscus flowers
1” knob of ginger
3 allspice berries
1 star anise
Crush the spices and ginger in a mortar and pestle until its a well combined paste. Stuff this into a small cloth teabag. Add along with hibiscus flowers to 1 quart of water. Cover. Bring to boil, boil with much vigor for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 1 hour.
Then finish an ordinary average brew day.
To make an unspiced hibiscus, do the same but omit the spices
2 quarts black cherry juice
2 quarts store apple juice
Mix and ferment
Bittersweet Cider with Crab Apple Juice
1 quart delgo crab apple juice
1 container British bittersweet cider concentrate
3 quarts water
Mix and ferment. We’re also making a version without the crab apple juice.
Now, a discussion on resources for cider making.
When we started making cider in November of 2020, it became rapidly obvious to us that our choices were very limited in terms of what we could find at the grocery store for the base ingredients. Cider apples are not straightforward to find, even in an apple growing region such as Washington state. And even if you find the apples, you have to process them into juice.
Our initial search lead us to Cider Auction which is a way of getting cider apples direct from a localish grower. Unfortunately most of the varieties are only available in 48 gallon drums but they do have a few smaller bottle which they thoughtfully provided for home brewers. Due to the high cost of the just shy of 1 pint bottles, these are clearly meant to provide a spike of acidity rather than form the base of your cider.
Farmer Paul is very friendly and I strongly encourage you to check them out and support them. Apples are a seasonal product, especially for heirloom varieties so they may or may not be available.
The juice ships frozen and we immediately put it in the freezer and was covered with tater tots, vegan fish fillets, boxes of popsicles, and sadly forgotten… until today. Today we try the Delgo crab apple juice. We also have 3 pints of Wickerson crab apple juice left in the freezer which we’ll try soon.
Now, the concentrate.
So far I have only been able to find one source of cider apple concentrate available in the US. That is through morebeer.com in the form of a concentrated shelf-stable paste. While this may seem questionable, the results were very pleasing.
Store bought apple juice in the US is cheap, good quality, but limited to sweet flavors. This is fine if you’re planning a cider that is spiced or features other strongly flavored fruit additions. Its a nice backbone but lacking in the character you might know from tasting European and some better US cider brands (Rev Nat’s is our favorite cider, Independence is our go to for perry).
Using the bittersweet concentrate makes for a cider that can stand alone with no other additions. After two months of aging this produces a very pleasing home cider.
Finally, fresh apples.
A number of months back, we purchased a masticating juicer. This was around $120 and promised better extraction than other types of juicers in its price range. It does work very well for what it does but there are a number of considerations.
1) It takes a large amount of fruit
It takes around 15 pounds of apples or pears to make one gallon of juice with our process. Depending on where you purchase your fruit, this can either be a $15 gallon of juice, or a $50 one. Availability of cheap (and local) apples can be seasonal as well.
I don’t know if processing the apples through a mill first will improve the yield as I just chop them up with a knife.
2) It requires prep work
The intake chute for the juicer is small so you will need to wash and chop your apples. I don’t bother to core them, in they go with the stems and seeds. I suppose an apple mill would make quicker work of that but we live in an 800 square foot apartment and lack access to storage space.
3) There’s a lot of pulp
Masticating juicers do leave a lot of fiber in the juice. If you’re drinking juice this is a good thing as you can never get enough fiber in your diet. For brewing, you’ll want to remove as much of the fiber to avoid insane amounts of lees.
What I do is juice the apples 12-48 hour before brew time. I pour the juice into large pitchers and put it in the fridge. The fiber will separate out of the juice and you can use a siphon to pull out the glorious center portion of fresh juice. Its an extra step but requires very little work, just a bit of planning (and plenty of large jars).
On the plus side, the juice tastes fantastic. You can mix apple/pear varieties to your heart’s content. If you have access to a farmer’s market you can pick up a variety of apples or pears towards the fall. Our juicer has been idle all spring and into the summer but its worth it when you can get a 20# box of apples at the farmer’s market.
Hopefully this will help another hapless cider enthusiast just starting out on their yeasty voyage of discovery. I’m not even a full calendar year into the hobby but that has been plenty of time to explore and learn.