Thursday, October 15, 2009

A little squeezin

Paddy and I have been producing booze together for over 3 years now, and we've known each other for somewhere around 22 years, which makes me feel very old.  We're usually in agreement about most things, and what we don't agree on, well, we just agree to disagree and the points of contention aren't important enough to really matter.  However, there is one point Paddy and I just can't agree on, and I'm afraid it's a pretty big one.  It's something that comes up quite often, and it's impossible to simply ignore it.  I'm talking about maceration.

I know a lot of folks out there say squeezing is the right thing to do, but without the right equipment, that strikes me as quite difficult, painful, and possibly even dangerous.  Personally, I think maceration the way to go, and I'm in favor of doing it at every opportunity.  But for some reason he refuses to explain, Paddy just will not macerate of his own accord.  He'd rather wait and have someone else do all the squeezing for him.    Now, me?  I enjoy the do-it-yourself aspect, here.  Starting from nothing and through sheer muscle and sweat, producing something.  And for the most part, Paddy is of the same opinion, but I just can't get him to go along with me on this one.  Sure, we did it once before, and the results were satisfying for all those involved, but we were kind of backed up against a wall and desperate.  I guess that's just what it takes before Paddy is willing to go along with me on this.

But here it is autumn already, and the issue once again rears its head.  Paddy wants to wait for outside squeezing, but I'm in favor of just going ahead and macerating ourselves.  But time is running short; I'm not sure how much longer we can wait.  In the next few days, we'll be forced to make a decision.  Do we macerate, or just forget the whole thing for another year?

But still Paddy persists.  For reasons he's afraid (or ashamed?) to tell me, he would rather wait and see if we could get a hand from the farming co-op he and his wife belong to.  I didn't even know they provided such services, but it seems they do.  Still, the question remains, how much longer can we wait?  The frost is on its way and pretty soon the apple season on Pennsylvania will be over.

Yep, all those sweet, juicy apples will be frozen and ruined.  I heard tell some orchards have grabbed the smaller ones off the trees already in hopes of saving them, but last night it was damn cold.  Personally, I think we should just go buy a shitload while they're cheap and locally grown, then macerate them in Paddy's food processor.  We did that with pears to make some wine once, and the results were pleasing.  But Paddy doesn't want to, and this is an argument that goes to our very first batch of home-made booze.

I guess it all really started with a big jug of apple juice Paddy's mom had sent him up to college with his freshman year.  He had opened it, taken a swig, and forgotten it under his bead.  Several months later he found it and took a swig.  It tasted different.  Kind of shitty, kind of tart, but kind of... like alcohol!  Being 18 years old, we drank all of it and got stomach aches.  But we were simply amazed at how easy it was to make alcohol!

Fast forward 8 years, and I'm at Paddy's place and we've decided to give this making alcohol thing another try.  We ran up to the local grocery store one night, Bootlegger's Bible in hand (I'll post about that one some day; a simply amazing book M. Randolph gave me for my birthday a few years ago), and picked up some white and brown sugar, some packets of Red Star bread yeast, and the cheapest all-natural apple juice money could buy.

We boiled it up, pitched the yeast, and a couple months later we had moderately shitty apple alcohol.   Better than the bed-booze Paddy accidentally made nearly a decade earlier; but to be honest, we've made far worse stuff since then!  From the moment we tasted that first batch, we had planned to make some more apple alcohol, but we soon butted heads over how to proceed.  My initial suggestion was to get more Flavorite apple juice and try to improve our process.  Paddy wanted to buy non-alcoholic, unpasteurized apple cider and then ferment it.  I said if we were going to go that far, we should do it totally from scratch and get some apples.  And there the stalemate has sat for 3 years.

Now, we don't have an apple press.  They ain't cheap.  We worked up a couple designs to make one, but just never got around to it.  However, as I mentioned before, we did macerate some pears in Paddy's food processor once, with good results.  The idea had come from the way they shred and autoclave agave to get the most juice and sugar out for making tequila.  Not really how you should make cider, but then again... that's not really how you should make tequila!  Alcohol production is a delicate balance between tradition and innovation.  If you insist on doing things the old way, you never get anything new or better.  But if you go too far with innovation, you risk producing something that's completely different from what you intended. 

So with no press, we're really left with the options of pre-made soft cider, Flavorite, or maceration.  After 3 years of experience, I think we've moved beyond the Flavorite stage, so I'll agree with Paddy on that one.  So that leaves either buying pre-pressed cider or shredding some apples and risking shitty product by breaking from tradition.

The frost is fast approaching, so the window for getting local apples or fresh-pressed cider is rapidly shrinking.  So what do you think?  If you were in our place, what would you decide?  We'd love to know.  We'd also like to hear what you've done, if you've ever made apple cider or other similar alcohol.  So leave a message if you're so inclined, keep.  And remember to always let a friend help out with your squeezin!

No comments:

Post a Comment