Will I regret this apple cider experiment?
September 21, 2012 7:57 AM   Subscribe

What is going to happen to this fermenting apple cider while I'm out of town?

So, I lack basic planning skills. We have a bunch of apples, and I've been wanting to make hard apple cider. I made the apple cider last night using this recipe, minus the sugar. I thought I'd use Sandor Katz's Spontaneous Hard Cider recipe to let the fermentation just happen over the next week. After I made the cider last night, I set the two containers out on top of two towels on my counter, covered the tops with a cheesecloth and went to bed. Now, here's where my lack of planning becomes a problem: I'm going out of town for a week starting Saturday. This morning I realized, "hey, trying my first fermentation experiment while I'm not there to monitor might not be so smart."

Dear hive mind: what do I do now? Do I continue with this "plan" and leave the containers in the sink, so the frothy mess will at least be easier to clean up in a week? Do I abandon the project and get rid of the cider before my trip? If so, is it safe to drink after being left out last night or should I throw it away? Is there another option entirely that I'm not thinking of?

I don't know what I'm afraid will happen, but that's usually where I get in trouble. I've never fermented anything before. Is this totally nothing to worry about or an insane idea?
posted by sa3z to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My husband's family likes to intentionally leave their unpasteurized cider out for a few days until it becomes "fizzy" and a little sour due to fermentation. The only problem this has ever caused them (and me, one time that I am still a little sore about) is cider getting everywhere and ruining various bits of the kitchen when it's left somewhere it shouldn't be.

If it's in an otherwise empty sink with nothing blocking the drain, and set up so that pressure can escape and they won't explode, and you don't have some kind of ongoing insect problem, and you're following a recipe, you should probably be fine. The cider may not turn out, but the worst case scenario is it doesn't turn out and you have to start over.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:02 AM on September 21, 2012

In my beer-making experiences, blowovers were uncommon but did happen.

If it were me, I'd probably leave 'em in the bathtub just in case and let them ferment while you are gone. The worst that will happen is a minor mess, probably.
posted by zug at 8:03 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Are you fermenting in open containers or do you have some sort of airlock? I have always heard that you want to have a tube that runs under water or a traditional carboy airlock, otherwise you can get mold and other nasty microorganisms introduced into your hooch. Your description sounds like you just have the top of an open container covered with cheesecloth, which violates the paranoid fermenting rules I use.

Otherwise, I don't think you will have any real problems leaving your apple bubbling away. The only "problem" you might have is that if you (1) add sugar and (2) let your cider ferment until it eats all the sugars, you end up with a product that is more like Apple Wine and is dry and high enough in alcohol to have a "hot" taste that most people don't like. I have found that the best cider is made by crashing the fermentation at a certain specific gravity leaving some good residual sugars to give a hard cider that still has a natural appley taste. This is also something of a function of what yeast you use.

I use pressed apple cider that hasn't been boiled, so my process is different than yours. I'm a bit confused by your process since I would have thought that boiling first would kill all the yeast but calling the recipe "Spontaneous Apple Cider" suggests that you intended to use wild yeast. I suppose some yeast will still wander along and make it work, but I'd guess that most traditional fermented cider recipes assume you were using cold pressed apples.
posted by Lame_username at 8:40 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one time I deliberately fermented cider, I had it in a food-grade bucket with the lid just resting on top (not fastened down!) so CO2 could escape but no nasties would fall into the bucket. It was fine. Well, the end result wasn't very tasty but it wasn't because of contamination.

For what it's worth, I remember reading that some people are really cavalier with cider, leaving their fermentor totally open at the top to invite wild yeast and then counting on the layer of CO2 that stays on top of the cider (being heavier than air) to protect it from other stuff.
posted by usonian at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2012

Kind of the point of the "wild fermentation" route is that you take it as it comes and know that sometimes it doesn't work out. I think Zug is on, gently transfer it to the bathtub and remember that mistakes are part of fermentation. If you compost my compost loves fermentation disasters (but its a big open compost system made of framed chicken wire, I wouldn't want to put it in a closed composter where the yeast might go hog wild). Trust your nose and tongue when you review it after your vacation.
posted by nanojath at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2012

a week isn't that long for fermenting hard cider so I think the worst than could happen is insects getting into it. the enemy of good tasting cider is oxygen and lack of sugar. if you can use an airlock or make one with a tube in water, etc. you can mitigate the air problem. however, I think with the recipe you are using you need to add sugar/honey since you have diluting the apple juice with water. (different apples can have different sugar content... more sugar = happier yeast = more alcohol!)

here's the important thing, no matter how weird/gross it looks after a week, YOU HAVE TO TRY IT. it won't kill you. also, it won't be all that alcoholic after only a week with natural yeast.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2012

Applejack is made from hard cider using a still or Freeze distillation. All you would need to do is take the hard cider and freeze containers of it. Strain the liquid into another contain and freeze again. Repeat this until all the liquid stops freezing.

mmmm, applejack

*Also for information purposes, you should know that the Government considers freezing a form of distillation. It is therefore against the law to make apple jack unless you have a license (and pay the appropriate taxes). I know, you are only freezing it. However, they make no distinction between a still and the freezing process. So, dont try and distribute it, if for some reason by accident you froze apple cider a few times.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 10:45 AM on September 21, 2012

Fair warning: I am a lazy, unscientific fermenter. Grain of salt and all that.

Having done just this numerous times, in my experience the worst that might happen is that either your fermentation might bubble over and make a mess (in which case leaving the jugs in the sink or clean bathtub would solve the problem) or your brew might get exposed to too much oxygen + acetyl bacteria (in which case you would return home to delicious apple cider vinegar instead of hard cider).

If it were me, I'd loosely band the cheese-cloth over the jugs, turn the AC down so it doesn't get too warm, and let them hang out in the bathtub until I came back to check on them.

Welcome to the rot pot club! :)
posted by muirne81 at 10:59 AM on September 21, 2012

Also -- if you want to read more about the process of cider making & fermentation of fruit juices, definitely pick up a copy of Cider, Hard and Sweet.
posted by muirne81 at 11:04 AM on September 21, 2012

You'll be wanting to setup a blowoff tube. Beyond that you'll be fine.

I concur that if this was your 2nd or 3rd batch you wouldn't be as worried, it really is a simple thing and hard to mess up as long as you practice good sanitation.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:30 AM on September 21, 2012

It will be delicious, that's what!

If you come back to find it a little buggy or mouldy, just skim off the yuckies, drink and enjoy! We used to make wine at a farm I worked at by basically leaving it in a barrel, covered with a screen, at the top of the driveway until it started to taste "ticklish". We called it "driveway wine", for obvious reasons.
posted by windykites at 12:10 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! This is all very helpful. I guess I just didn't want to come back to a smoking crater filled with ants where my kitchen used to be, and while I get that there are no guarantees, this makes me feel better. If the likely worst case scenario is that I come back to a moldy mess in my tub (thanks zug!), I will taste it, hose down the tub and move on.

To answer some questions: I did boil the apples first and at some point last night it occurred to me that that's pretty much pasteurization, so yeah, that was dumb, and it likely won't work. That's what I get for following for one recipe for cider, and then following another recipe for the fermentation without much thinking in between (I was tired!). But, I guess I'll just keep on keepin on at this point. Also, I'm not using an airlock or anything, just some cheesecloth over the mouth of jars with a rubber band to keep it loosely on. I found this link, which describes the process I'm using (minus the part where they use a juicer instead of boiling the apples), from the same book.

So, I think I'll check on it tonight when I get home from work, move the jars to the tub, and then see what happens when I get back in a week. I'll keep you updated!
posted by sa3z at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2012

Little side advice from a novice mead, wine, cider, and beer maker (in that order):

Pitching yeast, even bread yeast (heck even a piece of bread from the store!), is likely to give you a better, more repeatable, more timely outcome with less risk of infection and less off flavors. I've made some killer orange wine with bread yeast. Going all lambic/spontaneous fermentation is a nice idea, but really hard if you don't live in an orchard or brewery from what I hear.

Anyway, my luck with hard apple cider has been mixed, it's easy to get a decent product but it's also to get really, really good apple cider vinegar as well. In either case you come out ahead, just be aware that acetobacter seems to especially love to hide in apple base alcoholic products so keep sanitation high and don't be scared to pitch that yeast culture.

Give mead a shot, it's pretty much the easiest of the easy when it comes to making stuff like this since honey, unlike fruits from the wild, is naturally sterile due to its strongly hydrophobic (is that the right term?) properties. Basically mead = water + honey + yeast + time and a clean container and you're done.

Best of luck with your new hobby and hope your first batch turns out as good as you hoped it would.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:51 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I came back to an intact home, nothing had gone haywire. There were little patches of mold on the top of each jug, but I skimmed them off and re-filtered the cider into clean containers. Just tasted it and it tastes good! Can't tell if it fermented at all (though there did seem to be some evidence of bubble-overs in my tub), but I guess I'll keep drinking (not tonight) and see eventually.

If you don't hear from me again, I may have died. Please don't tell anyone how I accidentally killed myself, I'll have enough other stuff to be embarrassed about.
posted by sa3z at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh my. Should someone notify the next of kin?
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:25 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ha! Sorry, probably should have updated again. I'm fine, the cider turned out fine and I didn't die! After drinking a bit of it and forcing it upon good friends (who also have not died), the general conclusion seems to be that it is tasty, but barely fermented. Sounds like Lame_username and RolandOfEld and others were right; not enough wild yeast in my house to make magic of boiled apples. Next time, I'll definitely start with cold pressed; I got some raw honey to try mead as well. And, separately, I'm working on a compost pile, so if the experiment goes awry again, something will get to enjoy it and I won't be stuck with jugs of sketchy apple juice in my fridge.
posted by sa3z at 9:58 AM on December 3, 2012

Here's my "this is how easy mead is, now that you have a basement you should totally make some" rant that I gave to a friend.

honey + water --> bucket + stirring + yeast + cloth on top (optional) + time = yummy slightly fizzy mead + bottles + time + sorbate (optional to stop fermentation but required if not using beer bottles, otherwise you have bombs) = delicious mead or sparkly mead depending on that one choice.

You don't even have to boil the honey + water mix like you would with homebrew beer because the honey is naturally sterile. Woot woot.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

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