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Brewing a Local Gluten Free Cider w/ Bourbon Oak Chips

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20140414-094159.jpgFor this year’s 10th Anniversary Blue Point Brewery Cask Ale Festival Alicia suggested we brew a cider. We have crafted several ciders (succesfully) for many events held across Long Island over the last few years so this was an easy decision to make. The 10th Anniversary of the Blue Point Brewery Cask Festival would mark the first time, ever, Beer Loves Company would make a cider and cask condition it.

To create our product we decided to go with unpasteurized apple cider from local Richter’s Orchards in Northport, NY. At first we were a bit hesitant to use cider in this state but after talking with the people at Richter’s we thought, what the hell. Our goal with this cider was to try and make something we would enjoy. We weren’t thinking about anyone else’s palates but ours when putting ideas together. So if the people who essentially live apples suggest unpasteurized cider (which they said would give us a truer apple taste) then that was good enough for us.

But deciding on and purchasing the cider wasn’t the first decision we made when planning out what would eventually come to be called Woody Appleson. No, in fact the very first thing Alicia suggested after saying, “Let’s make a cider.”, was, “Why don’t we use the yeast we harvested from Fizzy Lifting Drink?”. FLD was an experimental union of cider, beer and sour brewed in a one gallon batch and served earlier in the year. It went over well each time we served it and harvested the yeast for future funky fun. FLD was born from our recent experimenting with yeast, specifically Belle Saison Ale Brewing Yeast , which we have been toying with over the past year.

Several beers and ciders we have made in the past year have been pitched (adding the yeast to wort/cider) with consecutive harvested generations of Belle Saison yeast. It started out being used to make Apple of my Chai (a cider with chai tea) then went into Sesh-On (a table saison with homegrown herbs) and finally ended up in Fizzy Lifting Drink (a blend of those two drinks which was soured with black cherry juice added). This yeast has transformed and picked up different characteristics along the way in each beverage we moved it through. After harvesting a portion of the yeast from FLD we set it aside in our refrigerator where it waited, patiently, for the time when it would be used again.

As the time approached for us to get down to crafting Woody Appleson we took our “beast” yeast out of the refrigerator and to give it kickstart pitched it into a gallon of the same black cherry juice we used with it previously. As the beast proceeded through it’s primary fermentation we headed to Richter’s to pick our fermenters which we had dropped off and the friendly staff had filled for us. The fermenting juice and yeast was divided and added into each five gallon bucket in fairly equal proportions. These buckets filled with our cider was then set to start fermenting in a room which hovers around 63 degrees fahrenheit. With the beast yeast having been active turning the black cherry juice into alcohol everything got off to a vigorous start.

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After a few days we moved Woody to another room in our basement which was a bit warmer. Lot’s of visible activity was noticeable in the airlocks on both buckets and each was issuing forth wonderful aromas. At this point it was pretty much waiting for the primary to finish out so we had some time to think about our additions to this already layered cider. Alicia came to the rescue again and suggested we add some oak chips but not before soaking them in Maker’s Mark. This would not only provide some flavor but also would sanitize the wood. Four ounces of chips were put into a mason jar with enough bourbon to soak them all evenly. The jar was set aside while the fermentation was continuing, two parts of an eventual whole lying in wait to join.

When it was time for the final stage of primary fermentation we again moved our buckets to a room with a higher temperature this time around 73 degrees (give or take). We find that the Belle Saison yeast gives off loads of Belgian and funky characteristics when the last part of fermentation takes place at a higher temprature. At this time we also added our oak, which was placed in a hop sack, to one of the fermenters allowing us to control the flavor the chips would impart by blending the batches to taste.

When it was finally time to try to cider, we surprisingly found that each fermenter had taken on it’s own flavor. Obviously the fermenter we added the chips to had notes of wood, slight tannins and hints of bourbon, but the non oaked half had notes of tropical fruit, mostly mango and pineapple, that were not present in the other 5 gallons. We enjoyed the taste of both ciders though and felt confident that they would nicely blend together in the cask to produce our finished product.

Next we had to clean and sanitize the cask to prepare it for the cider. This was the first time we had ever casked a cider so we were a bit nervous and were not totally sure what to expect. After thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the cask using Star San, we primed it using brown sugar. We chose brown sugar because we thought if any of the flavors came through they would nicely compliment our cider. It is important to prime the cask because this is how you will be carbonating your beer or cider. We heated 1/2 cup brown sugar with an equal amount of water on the stove until it formed a syrup, then we poured it into the cask along with our cider. After sealing up the cask, we placed in a large garbage bag and plastic storage bin, just in case there was a cask-plosion. Luckily, there was not. However, cask beer is always a bit of a gamble and surprise since once it goes in the cask you can not try it until it is tapped to be served.

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Woody Appleson was well received by the cask fest attendees, especially those who happened to be gluten free. Turns out we had made the only cider at the festival, so those who were sensitive to the grains in beer were happy to see our apple based beverage. Due to the yeast we used, the cider definitely had a bit of funky sourness to it and was not your traditional overly sweet hard cider. On top of the saison like qualities, the oak also slightly came through along with faint hints of the bourbon. This was our first time using oak chips and we currently have another batch of them in a fermenter of our white stout (MJ) continuing our experimentation with these woody flecks of goodness. We enjoy the character that they added during the brewing process and are eager to see what this new crop (which we aged on scotch and coffee beans) will impart to our white stout. We were very happy with the earthiness and oak  they added to Woody Appleson and nicely balanced out the fruity tartness.

We had a couple people come up to us and ask just how to homebrew cider, so look for a post describing the basic process soon. Overall we were pleased with our first foray into casked cider and using wood chips in our brewing and we received a positive response from pro brewers, attendees and our home brewing brethren. Cider continues to be enjoyable for us to drink, brew and serve so this is definitely not the last you’ve heard from us about craft beers apple-y fermented sibling.

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  1. I’ve got a bourbon barrel cherry cider slated for Pour the Core (if we do that event this year). Nice write-up!

    Eric

    14 Apr 14 at 2:40 pm

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