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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cider Saturday: Achievements in Natural Fermentation

Ten days ago, Cider Riot made its debut.  That's Abram Goldman-Armstrong's new project and, full disclosure, I ponied up $25 for the Kickstarter to help him launch the cidery.  The main event was Everybody Pogo, a dessert-fruit hopped cider that will constitute the largest portion of Cider Riot's sales.  (Though Abram is no doubt more excited about 1763, made with tannic cider fruit, and Burncider, which if memory serves, will be to cider what The Mutt is to fresh hop ales.)  Ciders made with eating apples don't have a ton of complexity, but Everybody Pogo is quite nice.  It's got a rocky, mineral quality and a nicely dry finish.  Abram used Goldings to hop it, hoping to draw out a fruitiness that other citrus-hop ciders don't have.  American Goldings can sometimes tend toward citrus anyway, but these add a lovely marmalade note.

But what really caught my attention was the undercard, a ciderkin made in collaboration with Reverend Nat's.  Ciderkins are are just cool to begin with--a historical curiosity in which the pomace (pressed apple pulp) is rehydrated and pressed again to create a low-alcohol cider, akin to small beer.  But the really cool thing was this: they fermented it naturally.

In my wanderings across Europe, every traditional cider maker I spoke to in England, France, and Spain let their cider ferment on its own.  No yeast, no fussing with the temperature: press and go.  Americans are just loath to do this.  I asked Abram about it because I know he is so committed to making ciders with the character of West County ciders.  He gave me an answer I've gotten used to hearing: it just seems a little dangerous. 

And maybe it is; I am not a cider-maker.  But you can't argue with results.  That ciderkin was absolutely vivid with flavors and aromas.  In fact, it smelled almost exactly like the Basque ciders we slurped for four days around Astigarraga.  The flavor wasn't quite as fecund and tart--probably because the yeast had less stuff to work with--but it was strongly reminiscent of the Basques.  There was a bit more spice and earthiness and it had less body and a lighter presentation--natch--but otherwise it seemed very closely related.

It was actually made at Reverend Nat's, so I sent Nat West an email about how they made it.
This batch was made from White Oak fruit [note: this is the fruit that will go into Cider Riot's 1763]. Abe pressed the apples over about two days then delivered the spent pulp to me. It was all English and French bittersweets and bittersharps, maybe seven varieties. I transferred the pulp to a big plastic macrobin and watered it down until it looked something like freshly ground apple pulp, stirring it a lot. Then I dropped a sheet of plastic on top of it and put it in our cooler for about 36 hours. Then we pressed it again. Wild ferment, no sulfites anywhere along the way. Sitting on the pulp helped release pectin and tannins. And some fermentation happened while in the macrobin. It was really smokey bacon shortly after fermentation, the most I've ever smelled, but it went away almost completely after a month in aging. 

Abe came over and we tasted it to consider adding anything like sugar, AJC, fresh juice or citrus and he didn't like any of our additions so we just carbed and kegged it.
Sounds easy-peasy.  Natural fermentation doesn't require a ton of work, but it does deliver a ton of flavor.  Nat and Abram are two of the young vanguard of cider-makers who are really pushing to make high-quality, artisanal cider (which is in some cases traditional, some cases not).  There was very little of that ciderkin available, and it's all gone now.  But the experiment was a thumping success, and I hope we can expect to see more in the future.  (Indeed, Nat's will have a different ciderkin made with cider fruit, cold-pressed coffee, and orange zest called "John Adams's Breakfast Tankard"* out very soon.)

Kudos to them both--

*John Adams extolled the healthful value of cider and began every morning with a tankard of same.

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