A quick recap: We rented a mill from F.H. Steinbart Co. in Southeast early November and supplemented our meager backyard apple supply with some heritage reds from Woodland, Washington. After a day of rinsing, halving, milling and pressing we filtered the cider, added some champagne yeast and then funneled it into a 3-gallon carboy. We let the carboy sit in the utility room to for a few months and do its thing.
That's where we left off.
Come January we racked off the cider which means we siphoned it into a clean carboy. Well, in our case we siphoned the cider into a food-grade bucket, cleaned the carboy and then siphoned it back in. Before cleaning the carboy we poured the yeasty sediment in the bottom into a stainless bowl and then wondered what to do with it.
When you rack and bottle wines, you are left with yeasty sediment at the bottom of the fermenting vessel. This sediment is not pretty, so generally it is not bottled or served. But all the deceased yeast is full of B vitamins. If you’ve ever used nutritional yeast, it is essentially the same thing as this.
Wine dregs make a rich and flavorful soup base. Try following a recipe for French onion soup, substituting wine dregs for one-quarter of the liquid. Be sure to boil it for awhile to cook off the alcohol. Inhale the fumes for an intense sensory experience!
Over at the food website Culinate I also got some advice from a site member to marinate some fish in the cider lees. I meant to do that but the only thing I did with the lees was add a few tablespoons to some braised greens. Then it started to make the kitchen ripe so I tossed it in the compost. Next time...
Racking gave us a chance to give the cider a taste (the only other time we'd tried it was at press) and it was already pretty good -- fresh, slightly sour, subtly sweet. Much better than we thought it would be considering we didn't use very complex apples. Typically hard cider includes some tannic, sour and not-so-good-to-eat-fresh apples.
So we racked off the cider and set it back in utility room to do its thing. The cider was fairly clear at this point, as opposed to how hazy it was when we first pressed it, and getting more and more golden by the week as tiny particulates continued to sink to the bottom of the carboy.
Come mid-February we added a final jump of sugar, corn sugar to be exact, for natural carbonation. Prior to this the yeast had been feeding solely on natural sugars -- no sugar added. We did this as we bottled -- adding a half teaspoon to each bottle -- while siphoning the cider and then capping the bottles with an old capper I found at an estate sale.
We kept the twenty-some bottles in a corner of the kitchen until a beer and mead brewing friend told us that would kill off the remaining yeast needing to carbonate it. He recommended a warmer spot for the final ferment so we moved the bottles upstairs next to a small wall-mounted heater and waited.
A month later at our first barbecue of semi-spring we cracked open a few bottles of the cider with our friend. It was crisp, light and effervescent, slightly sweet, and the essence of autumn apple. In other words, it was delicious. We were happy that we hadn't botched the mild carbonation by keeping the cider in our cold kitchen for a few days after bottling. In the end we had less than 30 bottles from about 80 pounds of home-pressed apples.
Will we do it again? Yes. This year? Maybe. I'm making dandelion wine for the second time this weekend but hard cider requires a lot more time, energy and equipment. It was worth it but I'm thinking it may be more biennial for us.