My first 5 gallon batch of homebrewed apple cider has been bottled since January 7th, with the first gallon consumed on New Years Eve, but the delay was in the label design. I'm not sure if this design is final, since I think more fun drawing should happen, but this is a good start. I do like my lettering and the photo is funny. :) Two more 5 gallon batches are underway in separate stages of fermentation, but with the cold snap, I had to bring them inside from the patio and turn on a space heater to get the yeast activated again! ;)
If you're wondering why I'm even trying to brew cider, or what process I've used so far, keep reading behind the links...
The Quest for Addlestones
I've never liked beer, so in my various UK excursions where bar cocktails aren't the thing when everyone else is having pints, I've been a cider girl, but never very fond of Strongbow or Blackthorn, which is all you usually find on tap. It wasn't until my 4th trip which was our UK choir tour in 2004 that I found Addlestones cider on tap at the Windsor Castle Pub in London, which was absolutely delicious! Very fruity, not dry, still cloudy with apple goodness, a beautiful golden amber color, and supposedly higher alcohol content than many ciders. Needless to say, I have insisted on going back to that one pub in Notting Hill on my 5th 6th & 7th trips over there! (I didn't realize until just now that it's really been that many times - wow!) For my 5th trip, I was told, "oh that's scrumpy cider, the national drink of Cornwall, so we're sure to find similar in local pubs" but alas, I was subject to Strongbow that whole trip & never found any scrumpy! On my 6th trip with mrmouse, I dragged him to the Windsor Castle every night we could just so I could have as many chances for my beloved Addlestones as possible! Andy has searched & seen rumors online that bottled Addlestones was for sale at some Sainsburys supermarkets, but on my most recent trip with him last fall we couldn't find any, so even though we were a 2-hour train ride away, I begged him if we could go into London for one evening, including my pint of Addlestones! ;) Since I came back ciderless from the trip withmrmouse I had the idea I could maybe brew my own scrumpy cider, so I started looking online and had a plan in the works to use the unpasteurized apple juice from Apple Hill my family always gets at Thanksgiving, so after the yet-again empty-handed trip this fall, I had already committed to at least trying one batch with natural yeast...
Brewing at Brittahytta
The day after Thanksgiving, I bought 6 gallons of High Hill Ranch unpasteurized unfiltered apple juice from Apple Hill in Placerville, CA, which is always delicious. My mom & I have had this cider ferment in the plastic jugs in our fridges before, so I figured it should be strong enough natural yeast. Since it was plenty chilly outside & I had no time until after our concerts and my after-party, I set them on the cold patio out of the way. The night before my party I checked them but the plastic jugs were swollen and almost ready to explode! :-o I poked a miniscule hold in the top of each jug to limit contamination, then the morning after my party I went to Fermentation Frenzy in Los Altos to buy proper homebrewing equipment. I had read up online so knew the basics, but I chatted with the guy at the store, who is also a fan of sweeter ciders, and he confirmed what I'd read...as long as you wait until fermentation is finished and your yeast is strong, the alcohol in the final mixture will have killed any other nasty beasties in the process. Drinking a lot when the fermentation has just barely started is when you might need to be concerned about other contamination. For dry ciders I had seen that champagne yeast is used, but for sweeter ciders he recommended dry English ale yeast. For not quite $40 I went away with a 5 gallon bucket with airlock, 5 gallon carboy with airlock, siphoning equipment, and a packet of yeast for my next batch, waiting to worry about bottles or caps, let alone a hydrometer to measure potential alcohol, until I knew if my attempts would even come out drinkable.
Since I was already well underway in primary fermentation, I bypassed the bucket & went straight to the carboy. I sterlized the carboy, stopper & airlock first with a little bleach & water as recommended, rinsing thoroughly until no bleach was left. Since there was a lot of sediment in each plastic jug, my 6 gallons ended up siphoning around 5 gallons of already clearing cider, with a little less than half a gallon left. As a control, I kept that last jug with all the sediment also on my patio for awhile, but tasting that was not as good as what was in the carboy - hence "racking" off the sediment into another container being an essential part of the fermentation process! ;) I started the carboy on Dec 11th, kept checking how many seconds between bubbles in the airlock, and when I came back from Christmas, it had gone from one bubble every 5 seconds to a bubble every 17 seconds, so I decided to taste it by siphoning off just a tasting glass. Tasty! Tasty enough I thought to siphon off a gallon jug to bring to New Years Eve, where it was deemed a success, and the jug came home empty. :) I couldn't buy bottles until Jan 6th, but since it was a success enough, I bought my own bottlecapper, 48 bottles and the caps, then bottled all 4 gallons left into 38 bottles and capped them all, adding a scant 1/2 tsp sugar to each bottle when capping in hopes of a slight fizz when opening. Now I can mix up my butterbeer & bottle it too, keeping the fizz intact! :)
First batch in carboy with second batch in bucket
I found pasteurized but unfiltered and no preservatives (key!) apple juice at Trader Joe's for $5/gallon, so I decided to use 5 gallons of that for my 2nd batch, which I started Dec 14th while the original batch was still barely started in the carboy. Since I wasn't sure if even the first batch would turn out, I wasn't committing to more batches yet! I sterilized the bucket, stopper & airlock, put the 5 gallons apple juice in, sprinkled the packet of dry English ale yeast, and waited. By the time the first batch was ready to drink, the next batch had slowed to about 10 seconds between airlock bubbles, so I transferred it to the glass carboy as soon as I had bottled the first batch & sterlized the carboy inbetween. Even after three weeks of primary fermentation, the second batch is much cloudier than the Apple Hill batch, so we'll see if more settles out over time in the carboy, or if it's just variety in apple types or pressing methods.
Second batch in carboy with third batch in bucket
Since I went to Fermentation Frenzy to get bottles for the first batch, I bought two more packets of the same yeast plus a hydrometer, so started a third batch on Jan 7th, with the same Trader Joe's apple juice, this time measuring the specific gravity (1.5) before adding the yeast. I know the sugar content can range from bottle to bottle of the apple juice from TJs, but I'm sure the second & third batches will be very close to the same alcohol content, so by measuring the third I'll be able to use that measurement to estimate the second as well. Due to our serious recent cold snap, getting below freezing for over a week, my yeast was too cold on the patio to do anything, so on Jan 13th I not only moved both the bucket & carboy inside into my kitchen, but I turned my little space heater on them until I got bubbles again. The third batch is bubbling VERY strongly still, so has plenty of time to go yet, and the second batch in the carboy is still quite cloudy. I tasted it a couple days ago, and it is still quite sharp, so needs more time to mellow. I'll keep you posted! :)
First batch in bottles with first labels!
Closeup of first labels!
Posting quickly since my shiny new MacBookPro just arrived at my desk! Woohoo! :D