Turning Apples into Booze for the Holidays

Take One: Apple Cider

It’s apple season. I overdosed—I’ve eaten enough for now. I’ll preserve the rest. I have plenty of dried apples and apple sauce. This year I’m making booze.

Saving cash on farm fresh fruit

Pro tip: Don’t go apple picking. Buy B Grades instead.

My family picked apples when I was little. It was simple—we picked, then paid the farmer.

These days, apple picking doesn’t fall under “less work for the farmer.” It’s categorized as “agrotourism” with a price tag to match. “Pick your own” has shifted from farm labor to a family vacation day. This makes sense—farms are struggling and farmers often do extra work for “pick your own” season. Fields are damaged when people aren’t careful or knowledgeable, and people eat while they pick.

I don’t want to pay more for the “experience” of extra work. I go straight to the B-Grade” bin. B-grades are less than perfect fruits rejected by grocery stores. Instead of tens of dollars for a pick-your-own bag, they’re a buck or $1.50 a pound.

B-Grades are a no-brainer.

I know prices will rise as the world discovers them. Companies like Misfit Market and Imperfect Foods are raising awareness by selling subscription boxes of B-grades to foodies. Soon, we’ll all have an appropriate mistrust of perfect waxed fruits under Hollywood lights in the store and we’ll look for B-Grades at a normal price.

For now, I love getting discounts on odd-shaped apples and the tomato that looks like it grew a little nose.

Cider Jesus: turning cider into alcohol

Pro Tip #2: Buy extra cider in season. Freeze it in quart-sized deli containers with a little room to expand.

I can make cider with my cold-press juicer. I don’t, though. I buy it—’tis the season. That’s what I’ll use to make this hard cider.

Hard cider’s simple at its core. I need four things—cider, some kind of sugar, yeast, and a sanitized fermenter (a jug or bucket with an air lock).

Apple cider naturally ferments to around 3-4% alcohol (a standard beer is about 5-6%). Any college kid can do this by pushing the jug to the back of the fridge. I want to jack this up, though. I’ll add some extra sugar and a strain of yeast that can power through it. Adding extra sugars gives more food to the yeast and increases the alcohol. I’m using maple since I’ve got a ton of it and it reminds me of fall.

Entry-level apple cider

Brewers are hard core. Historically, farmers with the best cider attracted the best field hands. German brewmasters are highly respected. You can get a Ph.D in wine, cider, and beer. It can be frightening.

Don’t be intimidated.

The person who invented this stuff probably just left the top off his apple juice. The only difference here is I’m doing a few things on purpose, and since this is my first attempt at cider (I’ve made beer, kombucha, and mead), I’ll pay close attention to see what I can improve.

[My attorney would want me to tell you I’m not responsible for any food missteps you might make. That said, it was he who reminded me it’s legal for anyone (regardless of age) to buy beermaking ingredients. But, if you’re prone to disaster, learn some entry-level food safety before starting any new foodcraft.]

Let’s do this…

  • A gallon of local cider

  • an unmeasured cup of maple and a half cup of brown sugar

  • A cinnamon stick for good luck

  • Some leftover ale yeast from my last mead batch, amount estimated to about 1/5 of the packet.

Here’s what I did:
  1. Sanitized everything. I used StarSan sanitizer. Don’t touch the concentrate. Mix it to the right proportions. Keep a bucket of sanitizer water to dip anything that’ll come in contact with the cider.

  2. Added the cider, maple, and a cinnamon stick to a pot. Brought to a boil, then simmered to mull.

  3. Cooled to “yeast temperature.” My yeast needed the low 90-degree Fahrenheit range. “Pitch” (add) the yeast according to the directions. Mine needed to be rehydrated for 15 minutes first.

  4. Sanitized anything touching the cider once it starts cooling (gallon bottle fermenter, air lock, spoons, ladles, funnels and yeast packet before opening).

  5. Added the cider to the fermenter and closed with an air lock to allow the gasses to escape.

  6. I am now waiting. It’s bubbling away, which means the yeast is working away turning sugar to alcohol.

  7. The longer the cider sits the more alcohol it will be, up to the limits the yeast can tolerate. I’ll bottle the cider and refrigerate when I’m happy with it.

    Pro Tip #3: Rack the cider before bottling. “Racking” is siphoning the cider into a separate bottle. For best results, use a siphon—make sure you don’t suck up the yeast.

    • Test after a week or two.

    • For higher alcohol cider that’s sweeter, “backsweeten” it. The yeast eats the sugar. Adding back sugars corrects that. Use any sugar or flavoring you like—juices or sugars will work.

    • You can carbonate it. To carbonate, add some type of sugar (or fruit) as if you’re backsweetening. Bottle the cider, but leave it at room temperature, bottled, for a couple days to a week.

      This creates gasses which would normally escape through the air lock but since the cider is bottled and capped, it can’t. This makes natural carbonation.

      WARNING: This can explode. Check it regularly every day or so until it feels carbonated. I prefer flip-top Grolsch bottles so I can release pressure as necessary and check without recapping.

  8. Refrigerate the bottles to stop the fermenting. You can also add potassium sorbate to stop fermentation. I don’t, but winemakers do.

Pro tip #4: Mislabel some bottles. I mislabel a bottle or two of everything I brew or it’ll be gone. I rarely drink but when I want half a beverage, I want one—and it was always gone until I started mislabeling. I label it “vegan tonic” or “beer sludge” (my habit of trying to rack the beer to the very end—the final bottle gets some of the yeast and sometimes is inferior. Now, I lie and call two bottles “beer sludge” so they’ll be there for me).

It’s a living art

I’m fascinated by brewing even though I rarely drink. It’s an ancient art and I love learning about the history and regional geography of each craft beverage.

I’m excited to see how the first Poser Homestead cider comes out.

The Lord might’ve turned water into wine instantly, but for me, fermenting takes weeks and Each time, I learn more about ingredients, food preservation, and patience. Since no two batches of anything fermented turn out exactly the same, each time is a new adventure.

I’ll report back on this one when it’s done.