December 19, 2003

Cider recall

from the Seattle Times

A California company is recalling about 40,000 bottles of its Hansen's Classic Sparkling Cider, because the glass bottles may shatter.

Some of the cider may be contaminated with yeast that causes pressure to build up inside the bottles, or they may be defects to the glass itself, said Hansen Beverage Co. Yeast itself won't pose a health risk, but bottles containing it would likely smell rancid, Hansen said.

Two cases of minor cuts have been reported from broken glass, and Hansen says it knows of additional breakage that didn't result in injury.

Recalled are 50.7-ounce Magnum green bottles of Hansen's Classic Sparkling Cider, with a gold foil wrap over the cap and bearing a bar code of 70847 00590. The bottles were sold nationwide beginning in November.

Hansen advised consumers not to attempt to open the recalled bottles, limit handling them and carefully dispose of unopened bottles in outside trash rather than inside homes. Refunds can be requested from Hansen's by calling 1-800-426-7637 ext. 496 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST Monday through Friday

Good of them to let us know… Improper pasteurization most likely - this is a sweet cider product so the residual sugar combined with the wild yeasts found on the skins of the apples themselves. Hmmm… This means that there was fermentation going on…

Posted by DaveH at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2003

Cider Mill closing in Virginia

from TV station WHSV, Harrisonburg, VA:

The Sheets Cider Mill has brewed its final gallon. After 75 years, the Sheets family is getting out of the cider business.

“I am sad to see it go,” said Rosemary Eyler, Weyers Cave, a frequent customer and former employee at the mill. “But I know it's awful hard, a lot of hard work for the Sheets'.”

“It is hard to close it down,” admitted Curtis Sheets. “You know, it's a third generation business, fourth if you count Lauren, who capped the last bottle today.

“So it's been a long time, a long run.”

The Department of Agriculture requires the pasteurization of apple cider.

“We just have a few customers over the years that we were still making cider for,” said Sheets. “We didn't really have enough business to justify the expense of going to pasteurization.”

The family also disapproved of the taste of the pasteurized cider.

“We think the taste is pretty good when it comes straight off the apple like this,” Sheets said. “And that's something that everybody has always liked about our product, and we didn't want to change that.

“We've always been 100 percent pure, and we chose not to comply with that.”

So now customers will have to find a new place to get their cider. But Eyler, who stocked up on several gallons, says she'll worry about that next year.

“It freezes really well,” she laughed, “so I'll have cider right up until springtime.”

more on their website…

There is a more detailed article from November 13, 2003 in The Charlottesville, VA Hook:

Leon Sheets didn't plan on leaving the apple industry. “I was born into it,” says Sheets, who operates a cider press in Augusta County. “My father started our press 75 years ago.”

In its heyday, the family press produced over 80,000 gallons of cider a year, Sheets says, but as big apple-processing firms have snapped up much of the best fruit, annual production has slipped to just 10,000 gallons.

In the end, however, it wasn't corporate America that dealt the final blow to his operations. An inspector recently informed Sheets that FDA rules, enacted in the wake of a horrific out-of-state E. coli outbreak, could cost bottlers— even tiny ones like the Sheets family mill— $14,000 for new equipment. The days of wholesaling fresh untreated cider end in January.

“So we decided this would be our last year,” says Sheets. “We who play by the rules have been punished.”

“It's overkill,” says Charlotte Shelton, whose family operates several hand-cranked apple presses in North Garden. “The cider made with good sanitary practices is perfectly safe.”

It's a glorious fall day on Apple Cider Road in Mt. Sidney. A tiny hamlet just past Fort Defiance, Mt. Sidney is the kind of place where, if you pull into the wrong driveway (as a reporter did), you may be greeted with a smile and cordially informed that the cider mill lies “just right over there— it's in hollerin' distance.”

“I like the tart stuff,” says Catherine Strickler, who first discovered Sheets Cider Mill 23 years ago when she was being courted by a Mt. Sidney boy. Now married and living in Harrisonburg, she has returned with her children— and her camera— after hearing the mill was closing.

“I'm going to take some pictures,” says Strickler. “This is such a shame.”

With no orchard of its own, the Sheets family has plied its cider trade by buying apples from independent orchards and by letting small growers bring their own apples. It's also one of the last places that opens its press to folks like Brett Wilson.

A general contractor living in Keswick, Wilson journeys over Afton Mountain to the historic mill each fall. This is his final trip, and Wilson is feeling stung— and not just by that yellow jacket that got him on the hand as he boxed apples earlier in the day.

“Damn bureaucrats,” says Wilson.

“It's a sad day,” he says, as the fruit for his 2003 vintage tumbles from a hopper onto a conveyor belt. Less than an hour later, he'll be filling a borrowed van with gallon jugs containing one of Virginia's most celebrated products.

“I'd much rather make cider than wine,” says Wilson, as he unloads four apple varieties (along with two kinds of pears). “It's so interesting.”

But, if the rules aren't followed, it can also be dangerous.

Until recently, it was common practice to make cider from already-fallen apples, which industry insiders call “drops.” After all, why waste food? What the industry now knows is that drops, if they land on animal feces, can pick up pathogens such as the E. coli bacteria. Sheets says no drops are allowed at the Sheets Cider Mill.

“They do it clean; they do it right,” says Strickler. She says her children, now ages 4 and 6, have been drinking cider from the Sheets Cider Mill since they were six months old.

However, some microbiologists and lawyers might not endorse the practice; they could point to a massive outbreak that killed a toddler in Colorado and sickened 66 others.

Very dificult issue here.

Posted by DaveH at 09:20 PM | Comments (0)

Tank moves to BlackMountain tomorrow

We are preped and ready - I will be picking up the 2,000 gallon tank tomorrow, they will be loading it onto our truck and I will be driving it up to Maple Falls tomorrow afternoon.

I'll have a camera along with me and will post pictures in a day or so.

We are planning the first product in fall of 2004 - things are moving along on schedule.

Posted by DaveH at 09:05 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003

From Apples to Gold

from the Skagit Valley Herald (hat tip to Drew Zimmerman)

Susan Anderson already has mined gold from her apples by winning a medal for hard cider in the first Northwest contest for this drink.

Now a revival of interest in cider is inspiring local commercial growers to explore this potential new outlet for their Jonagolds and other apple varieties.

Susan and her husband, Richard, operate Westcott Bay Orchards on San Juan Island. The self-taught cider makers sell commercially from their two acres of apple trees.

“The only place to get this information was in the U.K. (United Kingdom),” Susan Anderson said.

That changed when Drew Zimmerman, member of the Northwest Cider Society, hopped across the Atlantic earlier this year to take a course at Peter Mitchell's renowned cider school in Worcestershire, England. While there, Zimmerman invited Mitchell to the Northwest to judge regional ciders and teach a class at the Washington State University research station west of Mount Vernon.

Hard cider isn't the tame, sweet juice lurking in a child's lunchbox. It's got kick. Hard cider is handcrafted from fermented apple juice to produce an alcohol content of nearly 7 percent, somewhere between beer and wine

Cider making is an art
Anderson and 14 other American and Canadian students had an opportunity to learn from Mitchell when the master taught the technical aspects of cider house rules in Mount Vernon a few weeks ago.

Dressed in white lab coats, the students followed Mitchell's lead. They crushed apples into juice, then added sugar and yeast to set in motion the chain of chemical reactions that convert apple juice into a robust “apple wine,” which aficionados say is the true nature of cider. The process takes about eight months.

The snowiness of Mitchell's coat highlighted the glint of a tiny gold earring in his left ear, as he held a glass beaker aloft. He twirled a pipette between spotless fingers, demonstrating how to titrate the liquid through the glass tube and add acid and sodium to test sulfur dioxide levels, which in the right amount protects the cider from spoiling.

Mitchell used metric measurements, the standard in Europe.

“They are more precise when you are measuring small amounts,” he said.

bq. Before the week was done, the students learned how to influence the flavor of their cider. The cider maker chooses apples the same way a vintner chooses grapes, then selects the type of yeast and method of processing to produce a variety of brews.

“That's the art of cider making,” Mitchell said.

The artistry involved was evident from Mitchell's discerning sensibilities. He assembled ciders from commercial and amateur brewers on the last day of class. He started tasting “problem” ciders to give an idea of what to look for.

The students hung on his words as he lifted a glass of cider toward the light, sniffing the amber liquid before taking a petite sip.

“You taste mousiness at the back of your throat?” he asked the students.

“Very gerbil reminiscent,” one student agreed with a chuckle.

“Mousiness” is the popular name given to a sensation of furriness that can envelop the mouth and throat.

Mitchell had a cure for numb taste buds. He swilled out his glass with water and then added baking soda to fresh water.

We are planning to take this class when it is offered again. Jen and I have been doing hard cider for a couple of years (I have been home-brewing beer for about 20) but there is still lots and lots more to learn!!!

Posted by DaveH at 06:15 PM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2003

"I think this would be a good time for a beer."

The 70th Aniversary of the repeal of Prohibition is today - Friday Dec. 5th

“I think this would be a good time for a beer.” So said President Roosevelt upon hearing of the repeal of Prohibition. Seventy years ago today, December 5th, 2003, the requisite two- thirds of states ratified the 21st amendment, marking the end of Prohibition nationwide.

Posted by DaveH at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2003

Article on Calvados

from the LA. Times

A couple of minor nits to the article - Cider does improve with aging if you do it without the presence of Oxygen. Barrel aging is out. Stainless Steel or bottling is good. Also, the name Calvados is only applicable to products made in France. In the USA, it is known as Applejack. Finally, the Feds have zero problems with stills on farms, the issue is the permit - the application is complex and takes a while regardless of whether you are on a farm or some industrial park.

As one person said, plant the trees and file your paperwork and both will mature around the same time…

November 19, 2003

THANKSGIVING
bq. An orchard in a bottle
bq. When the cooking's done and guests are fed, raise a glass to the essence of autumn.

Calvados, or “Calva” to the French, isn't an easy drink. Poured young, the apple brandy spits fruit and fire. But allow it to age, and its cask-aged essences capture the tastes of autumn. Sip it and so many flavors come to mind: apples, honey, game. Mainly apples. New apples, baked apples, apple juice. It is the only spirit that can be safely partnered with runny cheese. Above all, Calvados is a drink for a feast day.

While most brandy is made from wine, Calvados is made from apple cider, the fermented sort. It took the French to observe that bad cider makes good Calvados. More precisely, it took farmers in Normandy, the province where place names on a map read like a menu: Camembert, Livarot and Pont L'Eveque. There, cows graze among apple orchards, and cider, not wine, is the traditional accompaniment to pungent mold-ripened cheeses.

Unlike wine, cider does not improve with age. So rather than discard it after it went flat, the cider-makers thought, why not run it through a still? This involves heating it to the point that the alcohol evaporates and is diverted through a tube. When they did this, in a happy fluke of chemistry, the distillate smelled of bright young apple juice. The aromatic compounds that give apples their fruit flavor evaporated at the same temperature as the alcohol. Apple brandy was born.

Like so many cheeses of Normandy, the new drink took a place name, Calvados, the district where making it is taken so seriously that producers distill each batch twice to eke out every last apple-scented fume.

It seems odd that we Americans haven't adapted the process just as avidly as our grape growers imported French winemaking. But making Calvados takes more than an orchard. For starters, the Feds frown on stills on farms, says John Fellman, a pomologist and flavor chemist at Washington State University in Pullman. Also, our apples are the wrong sort. Our farmers tend to grow crisp, juicy eating apples, he says, which gum up cider presses. For cider, you need mealy apples that ripen slowly, so they can be picked late. This way frosts will already have killed much of the bacteria and yeast that will cause runaway fermentation.

Blending starts on the bough. In France, producers will grow or buy a mix of sharp, bitter-sharp, bittersweet and sweet apples. In some areas, the sweet apples will be augmented by pears. It is best to leave aside here the mashing, macerating, siphoning and bottling that it takes to make cider. Suffice it to say that in brandy-making, it's best if the cider is flat and fully fermented, so all the sugar has been turned to alcohol. Then it is time to extract that alcohol.

This is the kind of reductionism that makes grown accountants cry. It takes 14 to 15 liters of cider to make a single liter of Calvados. You can get more, but only if you make cheap stuff. When distilling the cider, good producers discard the first part and the last part, called the “head” and “tail” cuts, and keep only the middle, or “heart cut.” The head and tail cuts contain the long-chain alcohols that guarantee hangovers.

The best producers repeat the process, distilling the extract twice for the purest possible product. By the end of the double distillation, the liquor is close to 140 and 150 proof, colorless and fiery. Evaporated with this firewater is an intense distillate of apple essence.

Before aging, it must be diluted to a tolerable proof, about 70, and set in casks. During aging, the best producers will shift it from brandy barrels to casks recently used for cider. The combination of oxygen and fresh fruit will add complexity to the brandy. The fruit's original tannins will have been lost in the still, but aging the brandy in old sherry casks will introduce new tannic notes, along with a tawny color. The longer it is aged, the more anguish the accountants feel. Every year, a certain amount evaporates. Cellar keepers call this “the angel's share.”

Charles Neal, an importer based in Richmond, Calif., says that understanding the effect of age on Calvados is essential in picking the bottle. Words on the label that might sound like quality assurance to us read more like a caution in France. “When you see the words 'selection,' or 'fine,' on the bottle, that means it is 3 years old,” he says. “When they mention that level in France, they'll also often put, 'Not generally advised for consumption, but for cooking.' “

Reaching maturity

But more than three-fourths of the stuff we are sold in the U.S. is fine or select or both. Look at the price tag, and it's no wonder why we put away the flambé pan and got out a glass. A half bottle, or 375 milliliters, of Coeur de Lion, a large, reputable export house named after Richard the Lionhearted, will run about $15. Frankly, there's no crime in drinking it. Just be prepared for the bright fruit and fire.

At 6 years old, you're into what's considered the drinking age in France, says Neal. Certainly, the 6-year-old Calvados of traditional estate producer Adrien Camut is a fully arrived digestif. The apple flavor seems more mellow, baked, more like a caramelized apple tart. The alcohol warms your throat but does not burn it. This is brandy, fuller on the tongue than the 3-year-old distillate, more viscous, with the unique Calvados fillip: It begs drinking, with food as accompaniment. A nibble. A touch more apple pie, a nut, a slice of cheese…. Could you pass that drumstick? For this, by Camut, expect to pay in the range of $60 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

The biggest surprise is what happens when Camut leaves it to age for 30 years. The alcohol becomes even more mellow, the texture is still supple, but the baked apple flavors have gone, replaced by what tastes like a bright new fruit. What has happened, explains chemist Fellman, is that the tannins and vanillins imparted from the casks will have finally broken down, unmasking the apple essences from the original distillation.

Finding a 30-year-old Camut is a trick: Neal says he gets perhaps eight cases for the entire country every year. Once these reach the shops, a single bottle will cost around $150. So most of us will be looking at younger vintages, from 6 to 15 years old. This is a mixture of pain and pleasure. The pain occurs in the wallet. We should expect to pay from $60 to $70 for these. Among the half a dozen varieties at the Wine House in West L.A., for $69, there was a 15-year-old Chateau du Breuil. This has the big body and strong caramel notes that indicate it was purposefully aged to have cigar-room finesse, if at the cost of some of the wilder apple flavors.

Whatever the age of Calvados, these apple essences are the point. To capture them, try using a tulip-shaped glass, not a brandy snifter. The Calvados-loving colleague who insisted on just such glassware for our possibly over-thorough research here at The Times, let out a yelp as tasters swirled their glasses, as one might with a brandy snifter holding Cognac. “You're volatilizing the aromas!” she cried.

Evidently swirling agitates the apple essences, releasing them to the ether. “Calva,” she illustrated, is best appreciated by holding the glass perfectly still, a quivering nose held a respectful couple of inches from the rim. All the better to savor the autumnal perfume of apples harvested long ago, far away.

Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times

Posted by DaveH at 03:39 PM | Comments (0)

Bromfield chef teaches art of hard cider-making

from the Groton, MA Landmark

HARVARD/PEPPERELL — Ask anyone who frequents the Bromfield School cafeteria in Harvard these days, and you may hear that Chef Paul Correnty is the best thing that's happened to lunch.

Ask a homebrewer Correnty has taught the art of making hard cider and you might hear something similar.

Hard cider is a sweet and spirited drink, (5-8 percent alcohol) that's healthy, delicious and more than a seasonal specialty, according to Correnty. With no preservatives and “loaded with B-Complex vitamins,” hard cider is fermented from sweet cider, which is the product of fresh apples.

And as Correnty pointed out in a recent interview, “the apples around here are as fine as any.” Also plentiful. With dozens of orchards in Harvard, Pepperell, Groton and the Nashoba region, several press their own sweet cider, so the area is a steady “source of juice” for home hard cider-makers like Correnty.

He doesn't sell cider, however. The Pepperell residents teaches others to make it. From a home brewer's standpoint, it's easier than wine or beer, he said. Hard cider is stronger than beer, and has half the alcohol content of wine.

and more:

Hard Cider Revival

Correnty talks about how a hobby and an historic tradition segued into a sideline 15 years ago and became a mission to recapture a lost art. In 1994, he set up a national competition for the American Home Brewers Association, which added cider to the line-up that year.

And then there was the book, but even before a promotional book tour took him to upscale venues such as the Smithsonian, Correnty was teaching people, home brewers in particular, how to make hard cider, reviving a colonial art that had thrived here for over 400 years.

Popular in the 1600's, home cider-making had “pretty much disappeared,” he said. In England, cider is simply pre-bottled apple juice that's allowed to ferment, he said. Here, cider is made from juice fresh from the press. Hard cider is aged.

Cool to see articles like this!

Posted by DaveH at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

Suffolk cider is fit for a future king

from the East Anglia Daily Times
bq. November 26, 2003

A FAMILY-MADE cider from the depths of the Suffolk countryside is celebrating a right Royal coup.

Prince Charles enjoyed a swig of draught Aspall cyder from orchards near Debenham while on a visit to the Dykes End pub in Reach, Cambridgeshire, on Tuesday.

He is said to have described it as “very nice”, and told regulars: “I think that would suit my eldest son very well.”

He was meeting with locals who had saved businesses from closing and had a go at darts during the visit.

more in the article.

Posted by DaveH at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

Back Home Again

We just arrived in town this evening.

Getting ready for bed and for work tomorrow.

Blogging will continue then.

Posted by DaveH at 11:46 PM | Comments (0)