Tuesday, September 30, 2014

#33 Wild Pear-Apple Cider

Recipe     -     Tasting

This fall has been a little hectic trying to take advantage of all the freshest local ingredients.  Blackberries, hops, and now apples have all ripened in quick succession, and friends have been nice enough to hook me up with an ample supply of each.  This time Jonny Bamboo from Martin Family Orchard hooked me up with a delicious pear/apple cider blend.

The juice is Fuji apple and D'Anjou pear cider from the towns of Cashmere and Orondo in central Washington; I don't know the exact ratio but it tastes fantastic raw.  Both fruits are sweet varieties with little acidity or tannins compared to historic cider varieties.  Jonny said the juice was UV treated, but (not unexpectedly) they were naturally fermenting anyway.  From what little I've read, it's very difficult to sterilize a liquid with UV light, so those microorganisms that survive make a resurgence in the absence of competition.  The wild yeast threw up a nice little froth on the top of the cider, and the bubbling carbonation threatened to explode the jugs all over the back of my car on the way home, but I measured the SG at 1.049 so they can't have gotten too far.

In order to check this activity, I racked the individual jugs into two larger carboys--with most of a gallon held out as a control trial--leaving the yeast and sediment behind.  I then dosed both carboys with Campden tablets (potassium metabisulfite).  Sulfite works by increasing the osmotic pressure in the cells of microorganisms in the must, forcing them to exhaust their energy reserves to the point of death or at least hibernation.  After 24 hrs, the sulfite bubbles away and a preferred yeast culture can be pitched with their competition already exhausted.  (See this page for more info on sulfite.)  Since the yeast already have a healthy start on fermentation, I doubt I will stop them in their tracks but the sulfite is most effective on non-fermenting organisms which will eliminate the bacteria responsible for spoilage.  This should give me time to introduce my own yeasts for a good mixed fermentation.

In one carboy I plan to pitch some Nottingham dry yeast like I used in my dry cider last year, as I think the added esters will better fit the wild yeast and smooth out any rough edges.  In the other batch I want to really embrace the wild yeast, but I still want to make sure it's palateable, so I'm culturing up a menagerie of dregs from Spanish cider (sidra natural asturiana).

Cidermaking has been popular in northern Spain for more than two thousand years, especially in Asturias.  The ancient native apple varieties are still fermented naturally, with just the yeast of the orchard and the press.  Spanish cider tends to be slightly acidic and very dry, while the wild yeast give each brand its own distinct funk.  The yeast are never filtered out, so the bottom each bottle is a treasure trove for my purposes.

I mixed up a yeast starter by boiling one quart of water with a quarter pound of corn sugar (no malt extract, gotta keep it gluten free!) and half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient.  As I drink the ciders, I will pour the dregs into the starter in the hope that the yeast wake when introduced to a more hospitable environment.  Yes, the first strains will get a head start so it's not well controlled, but what part of this experiment is?  Here are the cider brands and their pitch date:

9/30 - Fanjul
10/1 - Val d'Ornón
10/2 - Riestra

10/3/14:  Went to pitch the yeast, but it looks like it won't make a difference.  The wild yeast has really gone to town, plowing right through the Campden tablets and low temperature (56F).   It's bubbling pretty aggressively, and I've already had some serious blowoff, leaving murky pond-water in the airlock.

11/9/14:  Racked to secondary.  This was my first taste to see how fermentation went.  Yes, the wild yeast dominate the flavor, but it's pretty tasty.  Some of the musty esters from the English yeast are apparent but don't blend as well as I hoped.  The Spanish-style cider on the other hand is cohesive yet complex, and it's hard to tell where the Cashmere bugs end and the Spanish ones start.  I'm really excited for it, but I'll let this drop clear before bottling.

12/13/14:  Bottled all 10 gal of cider.  The two batches have become more similar, both finishing at 1.006.  They never cleared up but that's ok, neither did the Spanish ciders I tried.  Added priming sugar to carbonate the batch with Nottingham yeast to around 1.8 vols.

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