There’s a food market in central New Jersey near where my parents live called Delicious Orchards. They’ve got lots of great fruits and veggies, gourmet coffee and tea, chocolates and candies from places I’m not sure actually exist, cheeses, cakes…you name it. But the best thing they have is apple cider. Awesome apple cider. They make these killer apple cider donuts with it that are painfully good. Painful because I eat too many and get a stomach ache. That good.

So one day I decided I’d try to make some hard cider with some of this stuff. I mean, I’ve got all this equipment for fermenting things and I love cider, so why not? They sell two kinds: regular and tart. I’ve never actually had the tart, but I’m sure it’s good. For this experiment I bought a gallon of the regular stuff. The process was simple – dump some cider in a gallon jug, chuck in some yeast, pop an airlock on it and wait. I used some ale yeast I had sitting around, probably WLP001 California Ale but I honestly can’t remember and I lost the notes for this. I don’t even remember when I did this, because I only just found the bottles of it this morning. The bottles are labelled “Cider 7% 6-20-08” so I’m guessing I threw it in the primary in April, secondary in May and bottled in June. But that’s a wild guess.

I put one of the six bottles in the fridge for a couple of hours to try it out. When I poured it into a glass, this is what it looked like:

Glass taken from my favorite local bar. It says “Bud Light” on the other side.

Crystal clear. You could even read the paper through it!

This is how I always read the paper. Through a glass of booze.

And the taste? VERY dry, as I expected. Lots of apple in the nose, crisp carbonation and a smooth tartness in the finish. None of the ale yeast flavors I was expecting and way smoother than I thought it would be. I guess forgetting about it for 6 months helped. So if you’re into dry ciders (not the Woodchuck-style stuff, or whatever it’s called), then you should definitely give this a shot. Get some decent apple cider and add yeast. The end.

Here’s another fun story:

The reason I was in the pantry looking into the boxes of bottles was because I decided to bottle the mead I had made. That’s right – mead. See, about the same time I made the cider I guess I thought it would be fun to make mead. I’ve never had mead and have no idea if I like it, but it’s just as easy to make as the cider. I got two pounds of good orange blossom honey and some spring water (I don’t know about my tap water for unboiled fermenting applications, yet) and put it all into a gallon jug with a packet of champagne yeast. Airlock and put away.

They say the best way to make mead is to forget about it because it takes a long time to age out the harsh alcohol flavor. Well, I actually forgot about it. I found it in the back of the pantry with a notecard that said:

15 April 2008
2# Orange Blossom Honey
Champagne Yeast
OG = 1.080

So it’s been sitting on the lees (dead yeast) for a while now, which is probably not good. But it was extremely clear. So rather than rack it into a secondary I just bottled it. The hydrometer sample read 0.990 which means it’s about 11.6% ABV, so I expected a bit of an alcohol bite, despite the long wait. I tasted the sample to see.

Now maybe I have no idea what mead is supposed to taste like. I’m thinking of a dry white wine sort of flavor. The nose was strangely good. A little honey and a little floral – very good. The actual flavor was a bit like flowery Triaminic – not very good. I bottled it anyway in the hopes that it will taste better with age, as I keep hearing on the mead forums. Unfortunately (or fortunately), due to a stupid mistake involving a loose spigot, I only got 5 bottles out of the 3.5 quarts that I had in the fermenter. One of them went right into the fridge for a chilled taste test later tonight. If I’m going to judge how it ages I might as well try one cold now, right? Right? Oh, and I decided to not carbonate them. There’s so little residual sweetness (i.e., none) that carbonation might make it seem harsh. So still it is.

One more brewing related endeavor:

I love coffee. I’m not exactly a coffee snob; I drink Dunkin Donuts coffee almost every day and will get a cup at any diner I go to, which is a lot since I live in NJ. But I do drink a lot of coffee and at home I usually brew good, fresh coffee and I almost exclusively use a french press because I think the extra work is worth the extra flavor. But I’ve been reading a bunch about cold-brewed coffee and thought it would be fun to try. Some say it sucks, some say it’s a great way to get low-acid full-flavor coffee at any strength – there’s only one way to tell. I read all sorts of different methods but settled on this one:

Ground coffee and cold tap water in a 1:4 ratio in a french press for 12 hours. Pour through a coffee filter after pressing to filter out any remaining sludge.

Easy enough. I realized afterwards that post-press filtering probably isn’t necessary, but it wasn’t difficult so I don’t feel like I wasted any energy. To make a cup of coffee, I boiled some water in a tea kettle and mixed it with some of this cold-brewed coffee concentrate (boiling water to concentrate was 4:1). A little sugar and a little cream and it was…weak. Maybe I need to use a larger ratio of coffee to tap water in the brewing process, or even in the cup. I don’t know. It seems handy to have a bottle of coffee concentrate in the fridge to make iced coffee whenever you want or to have “fresh” coffee at work that doesn’t involve joining the coffee club and drinking Foldgers. I’ll try it again, but I think I may just prefer stronger, bolder coffee than this method is capable of producing.

Those are my stories. Sorry for the lack of photos for most of it. The pictures would have been boring, anyway.