Falling hard for cider
Of all the seasons, fall may have the greatest identity. Any number of things come to mind: leaves changing, football season, cloudy weather.
Another standout fall treat is apple cider.
We in the US view our cider a little differently than the rest of the world. For us, cider is just the cloudier, thicker version of apple juice found at farmers’ markets and other vendors. We use the term hard cider to define alcoholic cider. In much of the world, cider is just code for apple juice plus alcohol. With that explanation out of the way, know that I will be talking about hard cider, but I plan to drop the word “hard,” both to lower the word count and to speed up the process.
The process for making cider is nowhere near the intricacy of brewing or distilling. But it gives the brewer more freedom to experiment and put their own stamp on the process.
Jessica Shabatura, who runs www.howtomakehardcider.com, started brewing more than 10 years ago in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. When her sister returned from college in the UK, she missed the bevy of cider options. Wanting to help her sister re-acclimate to home, Shabatura, who had been making her own wine previously, took the plunge. And while the first few batches didn’t turn out perfect, she quickly learned the most important lessons.
“Brewing is as much about good timing as it is about good science. I use the analogy of the home-grown tomato. “If you just want a tomato, you should go buy one at the store – but if you are patient, you can cultivate something that is less expensive and tastes fantastic,” she said.
She compares the process more to wine making than beer brewing, as allowing cider to sit can really help the flavor. Shabatura recommends for most ciders a sitting time of around four to six weeks.
The other key attribute: balance. It took Shabatura countless batches to figure out how to correctly add the correct amounts of yeast and sugar. This decides everything – from how sweet the cider is to the alcohol content of the drink.
Shabatura loves brewing cider, but does not consider herself a master. One of her favorite things about is it can always get better. Her dad is a food science professor, so the curiosity runs in her blood. She has gained a following for her recipes and loves encouraging them to try new things.
“I feel like there will always be a better technique that will create a better brew,” she said. “Every day folks write in to my website asking me for my opinion about a fantastic cider-brewing idea they have. I always tell them to go for it. The worst that can happen – if you used pasteurized juice and keep good sterile technique – is that you will make a gallon or two of apple cider vinegar.
Want to make it yourself? Shabatura provides detailed instructions on every step of the process on her website.