Falling into Fall…

Two things really remind me of Autumn – rich golden-amber ales and apple cider. In recent years I have been cultivating a personal orchard, planting, pruning, grafting and clearing a fair number of trees, some varieties known for their juice and cider potential, some wild, variety unknown. The last two years I have pressed my own apples on a grinder/press I bought quite a while back. I have made as much as seven gallons of my own cider, which I then fermented, of course, to make cyder (note the change in spelling).

This Spring, my apple trees looked great – with the early advent of warm temperatures, I had acres of white-blossom-covered trees and I was beginning to think about buying an additional fermenter or two. Then we got a late frost. All of the trees dropped their blossoms in the course of a couple days. On the roughly 45 trees I was counting on, I don’t think I ended up with 100 apples, total.

Well, I can’t bear the thought of a cider-less winter, so I did acquire some commercially-pressed fresh cider, which I have begun to ferment, with the addition of some maple syrup and a good English cider yeast. But it won’t be the same, the juice is not a nice blend of bitter and tart and sweet, just… well, apple juice. But I had to do something!

In the regions of the world where barley and fruit co-exist, there are many traditions of beer with fruit added. The most common are, of course, the sweet-sour Lambics of Belgium. The most common fruits used in these traditional brews are cherries, peaches, raspberries and occasionally currants. There are others used elsewhere, like gooseberries in Scotland and strawberries in England, and of course every micro- and craft brewer in North America has tried his or her hand at some kind of blueberry or apricot or mango-flavored wheat beer. One over-looked fruit combination, of which I have found only two commercial examples, is an apple beer. I once had an apple lambic (“Pomme”), brewed by an innovative Belgian brewery; and Unibroue, in Chambly, Quebec, makes a seasonal apple-flavored beer called “Ephémère”. It’s a gorgeous taste combination, one which I decided to add to my fall mix this year.

Vermont Golden Apple Ale
3 gallons, all grain with fruit juice


  • 4 lbs. Munton’s Lager malt
  • 1 lb. 30°L crystal malt
  • 1/2 oz. Perle hop pellets (@8.3% aa)
  • 7g. Cooper’s dry ale yeast
  • 1/2 gallon fresh pasteurized apple cider
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 9 quarts water to 161°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 150°F. Heat 7 more quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge, collect 14 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add 1/4 oz. Perle, boil 45 minutes. Add 1/4 oz. Perle, boil 15 more minutes (60 total). Remove from heat, add apple cider while still hot. Chill to 80°F,  take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment at 60 – 65°F for six to eight days. rack to secondary, age two weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition for two weeks. Serve chilled.

OG: 1050
IBU’s: 40 (estimated – utilization factors are different for volumes less than 5 gallons)

Note on cider: if you use fresh cider in a beer like this, you have a couple of choices. You can press your own, in which case it would behoove you to give it a couple days with some Campden tablets to kill off any wild yeast present on the apple skins – but be sure to let it aerate, you don’t want the Campden tablets in the beer, inhibiting the brewing yeast!
If you buy pre-pressed cider, make sure it  a) is 100% apple juice (no sweeteners); b) is pasteurized, but c) contains no preservatives (sulfites or the like, they are the thing as the Campden tablets).

Not by Beer alone…

The Guru does not live by beer alone. There are times when another beverage is more appropriate. Therefore, being a multi-dimensional brewer, I do venture into other fermentations occasionally. Today in particular is a momentous day. This morning I made wine, and then bottled last fall’s cyder. How does the process compare? Which would I rather do? Hard to say, but I will say that there are different concerns and different challenges.

The wine I made was from a kit. A friend at work is getting married and asked me to order him a couple of wine kits so he could make the wine for his wedding. I actually had to spend some time researching to find him just the right wines. While doing so, I became intrigued. The last time I made wine from a kit, the must came in concentrate form, in cans, and without a lot of information. I made some OK wines, but nothing I really enjoyed drinking. I have made several attempts at “country wines”, from my own fruit (blackberries, elderberries, even one batch of my own grapes) and frequently add fruit to mead. But after looking over the kits now available, at the variety of styles and so on, I felt the urge to give it a try. So when I ordered the wedding wine kits, I also ordered one for myself. I debated over several of my favorite reds, and finally settled on a Chianti kit from RJ Spagnols. The kit comes in a cubic box. It contains about 2-1/2 gallons of concentrated grape juice, plus yeast, sulphites, bentonite, and a couple of other additives. I’m not sure about some of them but for this time I decided to follow the kit’s instructions to the letter, although I opted to change out the dry yeast provided in the kit and used the White Labs Cabernet Red liquid yeast (WLP760). It took all of about 20 minutes to get the whole thing assembled and sealed up. It made a little bit of a mess, as I splashed bright purple juice all over the floor, but cleaned up relatively quickly. Now I have 5-1/2 gallons of Chianti-to-be in one of my fermenters, which the kit claims will be ready to bottle in about 4 weeks. We’ll see.

The cyder was a much different proposition. I used to buy 6 gallons of juice from a local orchard, Poverty Lane Orchards in West Lebanon, NH. This orchard produces their own excellent hard ciders (or cyder) under the name Farnum Hill, but also sells the same blend of juice in bulk for people who want to ferment their own at home. I have recently been cultivating a field full of apple trees, some wild, some planted, some… well, we’re really not sure where they came from… As I’ve pruned and cleaned up around them, they have yielded ever more and better apples, to the point where I have not bought juice the last two seasons but have pressed exclusively my own apples.

I have a small grinder/press combination that I bought several years ago, a real heavy-duty sucker that takes two people to move.

This past fall my son and his girlfriend came down for the day and helped press (in fact, they did most of the work – I supervised!) and we got almost 7 gallons of juice. I kept 6 for fermentation. I generally add a couple of Campden tablets (a sulfite) and let it sit for 48 hours before I add yeast. This assures that fermentation takes place with a “good” selected yeast and not by a wild, unpredictable “beastie”. I usually use the White Labs English Cider liquid yeast (WLP775), and I sweeten the juice with maple syrup. This batch got a quart of my own syrup added. I racked it to secondary after four weeks of primary fermentation, and I topped it off in the carboy with a little more fresh local sweet cider, about a quart, to fill the headspace. It has been aging in the secondary since mid-November at this point, so some three months. Not quite clear, but it will clear more in the bottles.

I decided this year to put it up in champagne bottles, although capped not corked. My capper has a second “bell” which accomodates the larger (29 mm) “european” champagne caps. So I have approximately 50 champagne bottles of mixed size, color and style, full of the 2009 pressing. Hmm, I think I still have a few bottles of the 2008 around too…