Refining Buried Cider from the Basement
January 20, 2011 3:20 PM   Subscribe

What can I do this old apple cider? I found a 30 year old jug in my inlaw's basement. It's funky and drinkable! What can I do to kick it up a notch?

Long story short, my father in law had a bunch of apples pressed in the 70s. He thought he would make hard cider and just left a 5 gallon glass jug in the basement. He abandoned it for some reason, I think he thought it got junk in it or something.

Yesterday, as I was poking around, I pulled the rubber stopper out of the jug and it smelled good! We poured a tiny amount into glasses and gave it a shot.

It didn't exactly taste like cider, but it was sort of good. It felt mildly alcoholic and had a smoky taste. It is a bit bitter, but actually quite a neat experience to drink. We dubbed it Apple Wine. We drank about two liters of it and no one got sick.

My questions are these:

1. What was happening with this apple juice all those years? It was straight juice in a glass jug with a somewhat airtight rubber cork. Did it ferment?

2. How can I test the alcohol content of this stuff?

3. Most important: Is there any way I can refine/strengthen this stuff? Can I do some further fermentation (I picture a basic yeast+sugar type thing)? I'm considering doing some experimental batches with different methods, ingredients, if you have any suggestions.

Thanks for any help/suggestions!
posted by bobbyno to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite has the answer to all of your questions.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:24 PM on January 20, 2011

I can't speak to 1 or 2, but SeriousEats covered #3 pretty thoroughly just yesterday.
Quick Homemade Hard Cider
posted by specialagentwebb at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2011

I wouldn't try re-fermenting it. It will have reached a fermentation equilibrium a long time ago (meaning that the fermentable sugars are pretty well used up). But you can make it stronger by making applejack out of it.
posted by bricoleur at 4:02 PM on January 20, 2011

1. Yes. Apples have yeast on them and will ferment on their own. That's why it was a popular alcoholic drink. It was stupid easy to make.

2. Er, you can't easily. In homebrewing, we measure the specific gravity (density) before and after. The difference tells you how much sugar was converted into alcohol. Since you don't know the before SG, you can't do that computation. You can do an old wine tasting trick that I remember. Put some under your tongue and inhale through your mouth. You'll taste the alcohol. This is fun but probably won't tell you much.

3. I wouldn't do anything to it except filter out anything horrible with a cheesecloth and a funnel. I might consider trapping the yeast and using it in a new batch of cider but that batch is done. After 30 years though, that yeast might also be dead.
posted by chairface at 4:31 PM on January 20, 2011

I'm gonna guess it didn't ferment much if the stopper was still tight. Any given yeast can only attenuate to a specific level before its waste (alcohol) kills it OR it reaches a specific temperature OR something kills it (eww sulfites) OR the pressure gets too great. (I may have missed one.)

Anyway, if it never released enough CO2 to pop the stopper, it didn't get too alcoholic. Or, it did release enough, slowly enough, that it it pushed out the stopper but time and tide have resealed it. Raw hard cider is pretty raw, especially if it never had any sugars added to it, although 30 years I suppose may have mellowed that. Ciders are eaaaaaasy to foul though, I once ruined 6 gallons of cyser because I got 1 measly human hair in there and didn't notice it till the 3rd racking and subsequent taste test. Ew.

I would MOST DEFINITELY take a good hearty couple cups of it and do everything you can to save that yeast strain. I'd almost bet a dollar it's still alive in there. Aerate the crap out of the sample, add it do a mix of (low acid)orange/pineapple/apple juice (high sugar content), get it to ~80 degrees, pour about half a cup or so of your specialty brew there, and walk away. Within a couple hours it should be nice and foamy. You're gonna want to keep it 70-90 degrees during that time to make sure the yeasties do their thing.
posted by TomMelee at 5:23 PM on January 20, 2011

The Cider Digest includes some genuine experts on cider. Subscribe and ask about it there.

I've only done a couple of batches of cider and I'm far from an expert, but I wouldn't do anything more than rack it off the lees and then bottle it.
posted by maurice at 9:38 AM on January 21, 2011

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