Brew Day: Spontaneous Ferment Cider

Fittingly now that my last cider is finally in a keg, I have a new cider fermenting. Yeast and bacteria are all around us. It is natural and it is unavoidable. A fresh-pressed juice from an apple orchard by law does not have to be pasteurized. If you buy a jug at your local orchard that is not pasteurized, the jug will likely be adorned by some type of warning. As a result, any yeasts or other microorganisms on the apple when it was pressed are in the juice. Thus it is possible to ferment juice into cider without adding yeast.

Recently my friend Doug offered to pick up five gallons of fresh-pressed juice from an orchard in Amesbury, Mass. After he dropped the juice off, I decided to take one of the five gallon jugs, pour it into a one gallon growler, and let it spontaneously ferment to see what kind of unique flavors I might get.

Doesn’t get more fresh than this!

I tucked the other four jugs into my mini-fridge. My intention was to ferment the rest of the juice with a white wine yeast. All I needed to do was free up a five gallon carboy. Three weeks later, by the time I did have a free carboy the bottles looked like this:

Bloated like me after dinner on a business trip

Much to my surprise the juice had already started to ferment. Most micro-organisms go dormant at refrigerator temperature. The CO2 that was produced caused the jugs to swell. When I broke the seals, I had to bleed off the pressure. One of the juges even gushed. Luckily I aimed the gushing juice right into a funnel.

At that point I decided to let the spotaneous fermentation go. I blended my original one gallon in with the four gallons from the refrigerator. I tasted a sample from the one gallon jug. It smelled kind of
sulphury, but tasted okay. To de-gas I may rack the cider again, but it probably just needs time.

The ability to keg and force carbonate gives more more room to experiment. I can sulphate and back-sweeten a cider with apple juice concentrate or un-fermented juice without worrying about yeast re-fermenting the added sugars.

When I finally built my keezer, my last cider was one of the first three beverages I put on tap. Cider is so easy to make I should try to keep on one draft all the time.

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