One wrong move can yield bready results for your apple cider

hooch

Every year I have wondered what to do with the hundreds of apples that grow in my backyard. Some have recommended that I make pie, but I've never been one to bake. On the other hand, I have enjoyed a pint of apple cider once or twice.

As I climbed the ladder to pick the apples, I thought to myself, "Let's make hooch for science!"

Little did I know, my experiment would turn out to be one of the worst things I have ever tasted.

I opened the fridge. In the darkest depths of the refrigerator, there it was, the monster I had created, calling out to me, begging for me to have a taste. I pulled it out and opened the bottle. As I popped the cork, I thought I heard an ominous voice speaking in tongues. I quickly closed the bottle and told myself that it was all in my head. After a few deep breaths, I opened it again, poured it into a glass and shot it back.

I made three mistakes just then:

1. I actually drank it
2. I shot it back
3. I didn't leave a will

Hooch is a slang term made popular during prohibition, which refers to an alcoholic liquid drink that was made or obtained illicitly or of inferior quality.

As a first-time home-brewer, I had no idea what to do. In theory I understood how beer and wine were made, so I did online research on how to make homemade apple cider. As I read through the vast amount of wine maker forums and watched dozens of YouTube videos as well as an episode of Breaking Bad, the process seemed simple and I was inspired.

But I was after real hooch, so things didn't end up being so simple.

 Step one: Obtaining juice and sterilizing equipment

resize DSC 0392From apples to hooch in a matter of weeks. Behold the nastiest thing you will ever drink.

Photo by Riad Kadri
Your juice can come from a few places. If you have apple trees that produce a fair amount of apples (roughly 30 pounds), you can peel them, juice them and filter out the pulp. I used a potato peeler, a juicer and a coffee filter to extract the juice. This was effective, but very time consuming. You can speed up the process and buy pure apple juice.

If you prepare your own apple juice, it's suggested you pasteurize the liquid to avoid any contamination during the fermentation process. This can be done by boiling the liquid for about five minutes.

But before you let your juice ferment, sterilize the equipment. This step is key because during the fermentation process, many things can grow inside your carboy (fermentation bottle) including fungus or bacteria that could make you sick if ingested.

To be safe, I boiled all of the equipment I used including the bottle, funnel, aerator and hydrometer (which calculates the estimated alcohol content). The boiling process was tedious and painful, literally painful, as I managed to burn myself numerous times.

 Step two: Preparing for fermentation

To begin fermentation, yeast is added to the juice along with about half a cup of granulated sugar. The live yeast consumes the sugar granules and turns them into ethanol alcohol, based on the yeast to sugar ratio. I find this particularly interesting as you are using live bacteria to turn the sweetest thing into something that will impair you if you drink enough of it. It's like raising Sea Monkeys, except you don't drink the Sea Monkeys.

As the yeast and sugar react, carbon dioxide gas is created as a byproduct. This can be a recipe for disaster, without a way for the gas to escape; the pressure may build up and cause a minor but messy explosion of nastiness.

Since I was going for the real hooch-making experience, I MacGyvered an aerator out of a pill bottle, pen casing and a spent brass ammunition cartridge (cleaned and sterilized also). Drilled into the cork of the bottle and filled with vodka, this allows the gas to escape without letting outside air and contaminants inside. I should be an engineer...

You can purchase wine or champagne yeast at any winemaker supply store, along with aerators and hydrometers. Most recipes out there call for wine or champagne yeast, but to maintain the integrity of the hooch qualities, I used baking yeast.

Once that was done, I mixed the juice and sugar with one packet of dry baking yeast to about 3/4 cup of sugar for 1.75 litres of liquid. This is something I do not recommend as it will taste awful.

Once the mixture was in the bottle I removed a bit of the liquid and placed it into a hydrometer— which estimated my brew to be about seven per cent alcohol content before fermentation. After that, I let it sit and it began to bubble.

Bubbling means that the fermentation process is working. After about a week or so, the bubbling stopped, meaning that fermentation had also come to a near halt. That entire week I felt like a mother to be, carrying an unborn child, except I knew that child would be really ugly and cruel. Regardless of the abuse I'd suffer from my baby, I cared and nurtured it like any good mother...or home brewer would do.

Step three: Bottling

This next step required me to again, sterilize my equipment and bottles. I siphoned the liquid without the yeast and sediment and put it into smaller bottles for aging. When you let your liquid age, it will clear and lose some of its bitterness over time. This may help it taste better — no promises though.

But before I bottled my entire brew, I did what great chefs do and tasted the fermented mixture.
Oxford Dictionaries defines hooch as an "alcoholic drink of inferior quality." And let me tell you, the quality of my end result was beyond inferior. When I say inferior, I mean if all of the alcoholic beverages on earth suddenly vanish, except for my bottle of hooch, it would remain the last bottle of booze forever because no one would want to drink it.

It was the worst thing I had ever tasted in my entire life. The taste started out quite delightful — a sweet taste followed by a slight tang ending in a bitter aftertaste that would probably make a demon cringe and cry for its mother.

With my spirits low — literally and figuratively — I placed the bottles out of the way and let them age.

It was still awful, not as awful as before, but still awful. I thought my taste buds were going to jump off my tongue and make a run for the border. I can only compare it to tasting like an old loaf of bread dipped in sweet and sour sauce... probably not what cider should taste like.

Nonetheless, it was a first time experiment that cost me roughly $30 in ingredients and equipment, between the recycled materials and homegrown apples. Total time taken from apple picking to fermentation was approximately six hours. The time it took to ferment and age was almost one month and two weeks.
While I enjoyed playing mad-scientist and managed to survive taste-testing my hooch, I think I'll be buying my apple cider this holiday season.

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