Tim is the accountant for the family of restaurants that employs me. I don’t know how we got to talking about apples, but in the Fall of 2014 he invited Morgan and me to the apple pressing party at his family’s property in See Canyon.
Wait, I do remember. It was after seeing Tim give multi-colored chicken eggs to the restaurant owner. I think the comment I made was, “Ach, backyard chicken eggs are the best. I want chickens someday!” (Surprisingly, I did not say this in a Scottish accent.) It was a little while later Tim asked me if I would be able to look after the farm while his family was out of town, and it would give me a chance to see the work involved for owning chickens. Of course, I would! Cats and goats and chickens and an orchard! Heck, yeah! A little cash money for mileage, eggs and whatever was ripe on the trees (those apricots are ridiculous!). Not long after that, we got the invite to the pressing party.
We recognized what a rare opportunity this was. Firstly, See Canyon is an historic apple growing region in our area. Secondly, all previous batches of cider had come from plastic jugs and this time we would get to be involved in the process from apple to juice to fermentation. We were so excited about adding this new step to our process.
For a while, I thought Tim was trying to talk us out of going. He described the conditions as really cold in the morning and really hot in the afternoon. He said the work would be hard (though it still sounded like a cakewalk compared to my job before the restaurant). And afterward, we would have cider. I assured him that Morgan and I were in, no matter what. And we were. The first time we attended, we were hung over. SUPER. HUNG. OVER. We were bridesmaids at our best friend Colleen’s wedding the night before, so of course, we had to show the rest of the guests how to party, which allegedly included Morgan dancing suggestively on top of a table to convince self-described-non-dancer Paul to dance. We dragged our sorry carcasses out of bed, Morgan nursing a migraine and me feeling generally shitty. Despite our pain, we were only 10 minutes late to the party, still earlier than the rest of the guests and family.
We labored in sunscreen under the sun with flies and wasps buzzing about, hauling crates and cleaning and sorting and cutting apples before they were crushed and pressed with a homemade hydraulic basket press. Tim was generous with the cider; we walked away with enough for a five-gallon batch of cider and enough for several batches of hot buttered rum and cider (so good!) and morning smoothies.
With the wedding and Burning Man and day jobs, this was a pretty busy time of year for us. So we froze the cider until we could use it. Then somehow the freezer got unplugged. We thought all the cider had spoiled, but something very fortunate happened. In combination with the low temperature and native yeast, the cider was slowly fermenting and not at all ruined. We transferred it into a sanitized carboy, fully meaning to sulfite and pitch a yeast on it. Well, it was the holiday season now, and we didn’t get around to it. So the cider sat and sat and cleared in our closet cellar, forming a little bit of pellicle. We looked at it with shame, because we felt we had neglected it. What did we have to lose by tasting it?
Boy, did we get lucky. The wild fermentation completely dried out the cider leaving a fresh apple taste and decent complexity. We kegged it and saved some to serve at the next apple pressing party.
With this year’s batch we attempted to replicate the conditions of that first batch of Tim’s cider, sans freezing. We let the wild fermentation develop for a few days, then pitched a cultured yeast, and fermented in the high 50’s. Aside from a minor yeast explosion due to a nutrition addition of DAP (lesson learned: organic nitrogen is gentler than inorganic nitrogen like DAP), things went smoothly. We let it sit and clear a few more months.
If anything, this 2015 batch is more dynamic than 2014 and with more structure than we could have hoped for; lovely apple aroma with some tart tropical flavors. With a little more carbonation, it will be perfect and a real challenge to save some until next Fall’s pressing party…