Today I finished Cider – Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, in its 3rd edition. This inexpensive book by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols is positively enlightening. I bought it at a local supply shop without checking reader reviews, which is rather unlike me. Getting home, I checked the reviews and became a little nervous seeing comments about not being suitable for a home brewer, of being a waste, of going in depth in areas of little interest, that there wasn’t a simple “recipe”, etc.
Having read the book, I see some of what they were saying. The book goes much farther than what a small homebrewer might be immediately interested in. Then again, no one said the book was just for them. It’s like complaining that you are getting an arts degree and so shouldn’t have to take any math. Yeah, I get it. Maybe you won’t ever use it in your job. But school isn’t all about the job afterwards. Similarly, just because a book offers information (and copious amounts of it!) that stretches you beyond your pressing interest doesn’t mean it is a waste. No, you may not need the 50 pages on building an orchard, but it will definitely give you an appreciation for what the growers are going through. And should you one day think to do a little more than “casual” cider-brewing, you have a leg up. I myself found the information tantalizing. How I will ever get my wife to let me do it is beyond me.
As to there not being a “recipe”… If you want a recipe, then google it. This book does much more and is much more helpful, in my opinion. No, the author never gives a tsp by tsp recipe of chemicals to produce a small batch of cider. Like many things, it is one thing to follow a recipe. It’s another thing entirely to know what you are doing. This book invites you to know what you are doing. Rather than focus on a one-off recipe, the authors take the reader to multiple settings – England, New England, Canada – sharing historical methods and up to date techniques. The reader is introduced to suggested blending percentages and an array of different varietal possibilities. No recipe, but tons of room for experimenting. (Mind you there are recipes for things made with completed cider…)
By the end of the book I was wishing to give it a five-star rating, but for one major drawback. I found the first half of the book disorderly in an amazing way. Reading it, I felt like I was being tossed fact after fact in paragraph doses. It was very difficult to see the build up or connection between things. That being said, it was never boring.
The book covers the entire process; from tree to alcohol, and beyond. There is in-depth coverage of grinding and pressing juice, including very worthwhile comments about when in the whole process to blend. Coverage of tannins and pH had me enthralled, trying to make sense of it all and keep it in a wider context of general fermentation. Apple trees (planting, care, pruning and harvesting) receive ample coverage – once again, probably going beyond a first-timers immediate interest, but if you like to learn all the ins and outs of what you are doing, you will find it quite satisfying and informative. Historical background is littered throughout, in a good way – often providing quite a bit of comic relief. And rather than stop at “cider”, the book addresses cider vinegar and some of the higher octane things made from hard cider. Even when covering information that was clearly not to be “used” by the average reader – like how to distill apple brandy, which is quite illegal for the homebrewer – the book was fully engaging.
Near the very end is a section on legality which was well done, and makes clear (if the rest of the book had not), that this book intends a wider audience than the United States. I’m quite interested in the legal issues surrounding distilling (and regular fermentation) and how to properly be licensed. It is not necessarily a straight-forward process, nor a consistent one. In some ways the best that can be said, and it was said, is that you need to check with local governments to verify the laws that apply. It does boggle the mind how involved the government (whether Canada or the US, etc.) wants to be, even when dealing with homemade products that are intended for private consumption. Makes me go, “Why?”
If nothing else, the book is definitely inspiring. Passion for cider bleeds through. Passion for good cider, not just thrown-together cider, bleeds through. This cider-lover hopes to take what he has learned, and can continue to glean from the book, and put it to good use.