Mid-September. Apples, apples, and more apples. That was the plan, and that is what happened!
Sky Top Orchard was packed, but there were plenty of apples to be picked. And a large number of available varieties. We ourselves picked Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Gala, Jonathon and Jonagold, plus a bit of Black Arkansas that really wasn’t fully ripe, but still looked quite tasty. We couldn’t pick Asian Pears, but did buy some in the “store”. We (“of course”, my wife and kids would add) got some of their fresh-baked apple doughnuts. And rather than purchase cider (for making cyser) at Whole Foods, I just went ahead and got it at Sky Top. No idea the exact apple mix, even after asking. But I didn’t know the mixture going into the stuff I bought at Whole Foods last year either.
In all, we got (and this is a little bit of back calculating) 196 pounds of apples. More specifically, approximately 3 pounds of Asian Pears, 46 pounds each of Mutsu and Jonathon, 22 pounds each of Red Delicious, Jonagold and Gala, 21 pounds of Golden Delicious, and a smattering – 14 pounds – of under-ripe Black Arkansas.
Jenna brought a friend, who while walking through the orchard admitted surprise that there were varieties other than “red” and “green”. Awkward silence. Both are in sixth grade, I suppose.
In any case, some of the apples will end up as jelly or apple butter, and some will be for eating. Julianne claimed, from the very beginning, dibs on the Asian Pears. She did not mince words. The rest of the apples I am hoping to use for hard cider, of course.
Back home, with apple cider from the farm in hand, it was time to make cyser. The rest of the apples can of course sweat a bit, without much hassle. I will come back to them with fruit press ready. But it’s not like I have room for 4 gallons of cider in the refrigerator right now!
Last year’s batch turned out spectacularly, if I do say so myself. So I started there. I considered bumping up the honey to see if I could make it go naturally semi-sweet, instead of doing the back-sweetening I did last year, but decided against it when I considered the already super-high OG seen last year (1.112). I ended up sticking with the “recommended” 8 pounds of honey, selecting a Wildflower honey from the Bread Becker-sourced honey obtained last weekend. Same honey as last year, too, going over the notes.
I started by putting the honey in the bottom of the fermentation bucket. I then blended a half pound each of dates and raisins in a third of a gallon cider. This was tossed in a straining bag in the bucket. Turns out the raisins didn’t exactly blend up as well as hoped, but I can live with it. I then added the rest of the cider (for a total of four gallons).
I then topped up as the recipe suggested, to just over 5 gallons. The recipe actually says to top to 5, but I did just a bit more to account for sediment and such. Only then did I realize, rereading the recipe, that I had forgotten the dark brown sugar. And, it turned out I didn’t have dark brown sugar in the pantry, only light. So I measured in the 1 pound of light brown sugar instead.
It’s a super-simple recipe, in all honesty. The only additional ingredients are 2 tsp. of yeast energizer and 1 tsp. of yeast nutrient, which I added after the brown sugar, mixing vigorously to try to incorporate oxygen. I checked the specific gravity and found it sitting at a comfortable 1.110. Just a hair lower than last year’s. I pitched the yeast (Lalvin D47) according to package directions and, voilà, the cyser has begun. No pectic enzyme rest, no sulfite rest; just right into fermentation.