By Katie Gilman, Phase II Fellow
Last October our cohort had the pleasure of learning about the cider making process from the Big
Fish Cider Company of Monterey, Virginia. We learned how important apples and apple orchards were in the days before prohibition in America since, at times, fermented apple juice in the form of hard cider was safer to consume than water. Many apple orchards were cut down to make room for farm land during and post-prohibition, but we are now beginning to see a resurgence in hard cider popularity and with that, more apple orchards. There are currently 19 cideries in the state of Virginia, ranging from large nationwide distributors to small batch local operations.
There’s a great piece on apples and cider from the PBS Botany of Desire special with Micheal Pollan if you’re interested in digging deeper on the matter.
In October we all gathered around the big blue hydraulic apple press which we dumped buckets and buckets of apples picked from our very own apple trees on the AMI mountain farm. The press first chops up the apples into a mush consistency then squeezes all the juice out. We collected 2 carboys full (snazzy glass holding containers similar to the shape of a water jug you would find on top of a water dispenser in an office) about 10 gallons total. Yeast was added, or “pitched” in brewing terms, to both carboys. The vessels were topped with airlocks to allow carbon dioxide gas to escape and keep out unwanted microorganisms that could float into our tasty beverage.
Last Thursday, Sarah, AT (aka Anna Tracht), Kayla, and I gathered for our monthly Senior Fellow Cohort Day. This is something we look forward to all month long, as we get to catch up with one another, share what we’ve been working on at our partner organizations, cook and eat really delicious food, and take continuing education field trips to visit others we want to learn from. This month we decided to skip the field trip and bottle our cider!
We were lucky to have Kayla supply all the equipment we needed for this as she is a home brewer extraordinaire, among countless other talents. We decided the cider was a bit too tart for our liking and sweetened it just before it was bottled. Another helping of sugar was added for the carbonation process. There are specific recipes we followed, which you can easily find online, to calculate how much sugar to add for carbonation and to increase sweetness. And now we wait some more for the bottle conditioning stage to finish. Hopefully we will be cracking into our cider in a month or so!
We would like to thank Kirk and Aaron at Big Fish Cider Company for all their help and patience during our learning process. For me, the best part of learning to make cider is that you can do all of this at home with a little creativity, time, and energy. You don’t have to buy all the cider you consume, although it is great to support your local cidery business! On that note, Big Fish Cider is holding a “3 Cider” Spring Release event Friday, March 4th from 4-7pm. You can find them on Facebook for more info.