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 December 7, 2003 06:15 PM