My first year of homebrewing, I made two kinds of cider. Both were taken from threads on HomebrewTalk.com. This is the second. I followed the recipe here very closely: Johnny Jump Up Cider.
My cider ended up a bit higher in alcohol than theirs. Yes, theirs is already at 10.5% ABV. At 12%, this was by far the strongest thing I’d made to that point and kept that title for a long time. This stuff is potent and delicious. It is reminiscent of a very dry white wine, but definitely still has a good apple flavor and the added benefit of being carbonated.
I am not going to repost the recipe here, as I followed it exactly and it isn’t mine to reproduce, but I will try give an explanation for some of the ingredients. I admit, though, that most of this stuff is involved more in winemaking and I’m far from an expert. This is all based on either the thread I linked to or some half-baked internet research.
The overall theme, though is that they make the cider tart and help it maintain it’s flavor and color over long aging periods. This is important because being as strong as it is, you will probably have it around for a long time. I am, in fact, just getting down to the last ten bottles or so now from my original six gallon batch. I will be making a slightly modified version this week because this has become maybe Amy’s favorite thing that I’ve ever made and I need to make sure I have more before we run out.
Adding grape juice concentrate fits into the category of making it more tart. The cider is extremely dry and very high in alcohol. The apple alone would not be enough to keep it from showing its booze, especially the cheap juice used in this recipe. The added tartness gives some balance. The tannin also helps with this. Tannin is bitter and astringent, but with the very small amount added to this very potent drink, it adds balance.
Tartaric or malic acid assist in fermentation and also help stabilize the cider for long aging. Pectic enzyme helps clear the cider. This is important in this case because it can clear the lees, or fruit related things that will make the cider cloudy without pulling all the yeast out. It may seem strange if you, like me, are used to making beer, to bottle something so strong so quickly. That is necessary if you want to carbonate though because the wine yeast will settle out much more than beer yeast after its work is done and the cider will stay still.
I’m not sure what the reasoning is for using half white and half brown sugar. I followed that the first time I made this recipe, but I’ll be adapting it for my re-brew this year and I may use all brown sugar.
Anyway, this stuff turned out fantastic. It is strong, and lets you know it without being hard to drink. The fact that Amy loves it is evidence of this. She does not like strong beers and usually shies away from super dry wines as well, but this stuff is perfectly balanced. It may seem overly tart at first, but it ages beautifully. It has become a tradition for her to take one bottle along every time we go to the cabin. At 12%, it makes for a very nice one bottle night in the woods.
(Yes, I see that the label says 17.5% ABV… that is not accurate, not sure why it says that.)
I’m hoping to make the recipe my own in this year’s batch, but I’m nervous to change it too much because it is so well loved. I will post about where I land for this new version later this week and have tasting notes on the original sometime this fall.