Category Archives: The Cider Project

Back in the Blogging Saddle

I was reminded yesterday, when I pointed my sister-in-law toward my blog to access my cherry chocolate cookie recipe, that it’s been an embarrassingly long time since I last posted anything, so, some bits and pieces from the last few months …

We finished the pool in mid-August and managed to find a few fair-weather days to enjoy it before it started to rain endlessly from late August right through the fall.

The Albacore – I’ve not made any progress since my last post about it and I have to confess that the wind has sort of gone out of my sails (pardon the bad pun) on that one. The past summer’s keelboat sailing is pulling me hard in that direction. The typical two-foot-itis that afflicts so many boaters is ten-foot-itis in my case! A 26-footer is now the dream! I’ll take the winter to decide how best to deal with the Albacore – I’m not sure whether to finish refurbishing prior to selling or list her as is in the spring.

Life got in the way of making more cider this year however I entered last year’s cider in the local small-town (Carp) fair, where it took second place! Then a few weeks ago I found our neighbours across the street pressing a truckload – a whopping 800 pounds – of apples in their driveway. Turns out they own the press and I’m welcome to use it, so I have cider plans a-plenty for next fall.

Winter’s settling in around here. We had freezing rain two days ago, topped with a dusting of snow, but I’ve still successfully managed to avoid wearing socks (hate them!) up to now. I rediscovered an old pair of Haflinger wool felt clogs in the closet just as it was getting too cold for sandals. OK, not the most fashionable thing, however, I have problem feet and those cork-bed clogs are amazingly comfortable! Even my lovely, wonderful Blundstone boots, which I’ve worn both outside and in every winter for the past six or so years, feel like crap after the clogs. I’m not happy at the prospect of parting with the clogs but don’t think I’ll have much choice for much longer – outside, at least …

So here we are at the end of November. The silly season is in full swing – that one where Christmas decorations, commercials and carols debut way too early and serve only to annoy me and most everyone else I know. Is there anyone who really enjoys this stuff in November? Do they really make people shop more, or earlier, than they would anyway? I have strong doubts (and even stronger ones about ‘the reason for the season’, but that’s for another post sometime).

I did buy something seasonal – another IKEA julbock! It’s a Yule goat made of straw, a traditional Swedish thing. I took one in to the office last year, where fun was had my many, endlessly stealing it over the days leading up to Winter Solstice. The rule was that anyone could successfully steal it if they weren’t caught before getting it back to their office. The lucky person who had possession of the goat at noon on December 21st got to keep it and take it home. Last year’s fun was open to about twenty-five people and this year that number has doubled so we’ll see what happens – the game is set to begin on December 1st.

Oh, another purchase – after years of wanting one, I finally bought a ceramic baking dish for making shortbread biscuits. I may use it to bake for my annual cookie exchange this Friday, though I’m leaning toward the chocolate cherry cupcake cookies – or maybe both?

There, I’m caught up again, in broad terms at least. Hopefully, I’ll do a better job of it in future posts. Cheers!

Bottle Score!

I wasn’t looking forward to putting the rest of the cider in unattractive brown beer bottles with painted-on labels so we stopped in at the Beer Store today to see what they might have on hand and came away with these!

These beauties are ceramic bottles with a 750 millilitre capacity. A local micro-brewery puts their beer out in these and their size, looks and snap-down closure style make them great for home bottling.
(They too have painted labels but I’ve found a way to remove them from these bottles.)

By my calculations, I only need ten of the twenty-four bottles I snagged to finish off bottling the 2009 cider but they, along with the six I already had, are all I’ll need for next year’s batch … and after another taste test earlier today I definitely plan on doing this again next fall!

I refrigerated some of yesterday’s batch overnight and did a side-by-side comparison with the stuff in the jar that’s been in the fridge for a month. Happy to say, while I had some concerns last night (see previous post), they were almost identical in tase & aroma today (I guess comparing when both are cold helps) and the batch I (partly) bottled yesterday now has a slight edge over the jarred stuff for three out of four taste-testers!

A New Year Begins with Bottled Cider

To combat a New Year whose beginnings have had some rough spots, I decided yesterday that the time was ripe to bottle the cider. We got just over half of it done late last night and I’m pretty pleased with how clear it’s ended up and how good it tastes!

The other half has been racked into gallon jugs and will get bottled soon – all that cleaning, sanitizing and bottling took longer than expected and while I do have bottles for the rest, they’re not ideal looks-wise, as they have painted beer labels that don’t come off. Maybe I can snag some better ones in the next few days …

I’m relieved to have reached this milestone though as I’d been stalled out for some time over what to do about sweetening the cider before bottling – whether to sweeten at all, and if so, how much? I didn’t want to use artificial sweeteners such as Splenda so I needed to decide whether to add potassium sorbate to prevent further fermentation.

Since the cider was really too dry for my liking and back-sweetening is a very common practice in cider-making, I decided to do it. I went with a simple sugar syrup, added in bits and taste-tested till it seemed right.

I should mention at this point that when I say sweetening, I simply mean taking the very dry edge off, resulting in just a hint of sweetness that’s in keeping with the commercial ciders such as Strongbow – I wasn’t aiming anywhere near fruit juice or soft drink levels of sweetness!

I didn’t add potassium sorbate so I’ll need to sample periodically to see if I get any bottle fermentation – if so, there are three options I know of:

1. cold-crash the bottles through refrigeration
2. pasteurize them in a hot water bath
3. simply wait and see if anything explodes!

Research suggests option #2 is the best way to go – I’ll let you know what happens.

And now, some interesting tasting notes

I previously racked the cider at the end of November and though I don’t think I mentioned it at the time, I ended up with some extra cider that didn’t fit in the new container so I split the excess between two large Mason jars.

With the first one, I experimented with sweetening and, after a few samples, capped the jar and put it in the fridge.

The second jar was left unsweetened and was capped and placed in a dark cupboard. (Both had large air spaces at the top.)

A few weeks later, the taste and aroma were very different between the two!

The unsweetened and un-refrigerated sample had a much more apple-y aroma and taste, though the sweetened one tasted better to me, perhaps for no other reasons than it was sweetened and cold.

Both had a very small bit of sediment at the bottom but the un-refrigerated one had slightly more and had also developed a slight film on top. I stuck it in the fridge too, after that sampling.

So yesterday, after sweetening the stuff in the big jug, for bottling, I did a taste test between it and the sweetened stuff in jar in the fridge. Funny, but the stuff in the fridge now has a more apple-y taste and aroma than the stuff that was left unsweetened in the big jug for a month!

It’s interesting to note how such small and seemingly inconsequential differences in treatment seem to create such noticeable differences in taste. Hopefully, now that it’s sweetened and bottled, time will give it that same level of apple-y taste and aroma as the jarred stuff in the fridge.

Even as is, however, I have to say that it’s darned good – well worth the effort!

A Wee Sip of the New Cider

After racking the cider yesterday I’m happy to report that it seems to be coming along well!

As you can see in the photo, it’s fairly, though not entirely, clear but what you can’t see is that it happens to taste pretty good too. It’s far too dry for my liking – guess I’m too used to the commercial stuff – so I’ve been playing around with back-sweetening. To the glass in the pic, which is about 5 ounces, I ended up adding a half-teaspoon, which seems just about right to me.

And after sampling it, I’ve decided that still cider (I’d only ever had carbonated) is just fine so I’m not going to worry about trying to carbonate it. If it happens naturally after bottling, fine, however I’ll enjoy it just fine if it doesn’t.

I opened a commercial bottle for comparison and have to say that mine stacked up pretty well beside it even though it’s still young and undeveloped in taste, as yet (everything I’ve read suggests it will improve quite a bit over the next few months). There’s a bit of a sour taste that I expect will drop off, the colour of both is almost identical and we think ours has a better aroma!

I think we’re almost ready for bottling and, on that note, I lucked out with bottles today and now have all I need. Most aren’t the ones I’d ideally like to use but I’m not complaining. If I want to be that picky I’ll just have to become a beer drinker over the next twelve months so I’ll have more bottles I like by next year … because I think I’ve begun an annual tradition!

And now a completely unrelated photo as I say goodbye till next time – simply because my dog looks so adorable here!

Winter Prep

In recent years, fall seems to fly by, fast, furious and all too fleeting. Seems like yesterday was August and now we’re just days from December.

This fall has seemed even more jammed than usual and much of it my own doing – some, like the cider, were born of interest and some, like the porch, of sheer necessity.

The upper part of the porch is now (mostly) complete and looks way better than before! Though I’d really like to have been able to get it all done, the weather was becoming a threat.

The underside is still unfinished wood simply because we couldn’t decide whether to stain it before applying the polyurethane.

The exterior paint job was completed a few days ago. We worried it might freeze before it dried but the fine print said that it was good at temps as low as 2 degrees Celcius and, thankfully, dry it did. Just one coat, but it’s better weather protection than none. The colour was chosen to blend with the house brick but I’m thinking it’s just too … meh … so the second-coat colour may change – we have all winter to ponder it.

What’s left? The pillar-cladding and some sort of cap on the brick knee-wall (which I’d love to remove but I was out-voted). Oh, and a trap-door to access the plug for the roof heating cable.

We’ll take the winter to plan the rest and make parts so that what’s left is quick and easy in the spring.

And the cider – it’ll get a second racking this weekend and then I’ll assess the whole bottling business. It’s actually smelling pretty good!

We’ve had a flurry of activity in the last few weeks to get all kinds of things done before the snow hits:

Raked leaves – thirty bags full!
Swapped the contents of two sheds – we do this each spring and fall; the shed close to the laneway holds the necessities for the current or upcoming season and the one tucked away on the other side of the house contains off-season and seldom-used stuff (I’d kill for a garage! Some day …).
Bought and installed brackets – one set to hold the ladder and another set for the sailboat mast.
Planted shrubs … that were bought back in September (yeah, I know …).

And this weekend will kick off the Holiday season, way too early to suit me but a necessity in some regards. Life is just easier if you get the outdoor seasonal lights up before the cold, ice and snow arrive and the end of November is actually late to be doing it around here. I’m not bothered in the least though that it’s still green outside!

I also get to bake eight dozen cookies this weekend, for an exchange I take part in annually. We’ve been at it for more than five years now and it seems to take place earlier each year, as it becomes harder and harder to find a date that works for everyone later into December.

Guess I’d better go figure out what to bake – tune in again to see the end result!

Quick Cider Update

It’s been almost a week now since I racked the cider.

The demi-john ceased all activity right after racking. The airlock on the gallon jug showed faint activity for a few more days before coming to a halt. I think a likely explanation is that the stuff in the smaller jug was taken from just above the lees of the original demi-john, resulting in a few more still-live yeast cells being transferred in during racking. I don’t really know and, in any case, both now seem to be at the same inactive point.

Now I’m watching for the pectin to clear. I think I’m seeing signs of it happening, however, I’m not sure how long this takes. I’m also not sure how much, if any, this process will be affected by having topped up the original container with a small quantity of pasteurized juice. I’m willing to settle for cloudy cider as long as all else ends up okay.

Again, as a beginner, it’s hard to gauge things, but I think I will rack the cider again in another week or so and then it may be bottling time!

Home Crafted Cider – First Racking

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Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Ottawa, and I thought this view of a crabapple tree in Tunney’s Pasture fit in well with the apple theme.

With my cider ferment slowed right down, it was time to siphon it off the dead yeast and sediment.

Prep began the night before last as I gathered up the necessary equipment:
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Once home from work yesterday, I sterilized everything well with Iodophor and got down to business!

I had purchased a suction-pump auto-siphon device, which works really well, but two hands just didn’t seem to be enough at times, resulting in spillage that had the whole house smelling like a brewery by the time I was done. In truth, I lost only perhaps a cup’s worth but it was spread around enough to make one awful mess!

The specific gravity measurement was 1.00 or thereabouts. I’ve found the device hard to read with a high degree of accuracy so it could in fact be 1.01 or 0.99 but no great matter; it’s good enough to tell me that, in comparison to my beginning reading of (approximately) 1.45, the alcohol content of my cider is somewhere between 5 and 6%. I’m happy with that!

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The photo above shows the end result of yesterday’s efforts, but minus the large jug which is sitting in a rather unphotogenic corner of the basement. You can see here, however, a tall clear cylinder full of the still very cloudy cider. Interesting to see how pale a colour it has become and it’ll be interesting too to see how well the pectin clears in coming weeks.

The small jug you see here will be used to top up the large one in subsequent rackings. It’s not entirely full but it’s an Imperial gallon jug and I can transfer it to a smaller US gallon one if necessary.

I had no idea what to expect as far as loss due to sediment at the bottom of the demi-john and am pleased to report that it was very little – perhaps three cups? You can see it in the following photo:

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And now for a taste report … bleccchh!!!

Research had warned me, but still not really prepared me, for the fact that it’s not very palatable at this point. Regardless, I found this to be somewhat distressing! It’s still faintly yeasty but also sour too, which is what happens when all the sugars are consumed by the yeast. I’m told it will improve by leaps and bounds over the next few months but still …

The whole while that I was researching how to make cider, I held to very purist notions of how mine would be made and distained the idea of adding sugar at the end – back-sweetening, I think it’s called. After those initial sips though, I’m reconsidering. I tested it out on yesterday’s sample and, though I erred in over-sweetness, I found it much better with sugar than without. It could be a tricky thing to get it right though. Ah well, something to work on.

Check back for future updates!