Friday, April 6, 2012


Back in December, Jeremy and I were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of breaking glass. It's amazing how quickly you can go from dead-to-the-world asleep to extremely awake when you hear a sound like that.
The only sign that we were sleepy and not fully-functioning was that we incautiously turned on all the lights and crept downstairs to see what was going on. As we came down the stairs I began to hear a strange whining/hissing sound. What could that be?
By the time I'd gotten a step or two into the living room, my brain had woken up enough to know exactly what had happened: one of our bottles of cider sitting out in the living room had blown up. The hissing sound? The bottle next to it just getting ready to pop.
There was glass and cider everywhere. Sleepiness returned long enough for me to decide to open that bottle a little to let the pressure out right there in the living room. Very silly. It was a Mt. Vesuvius gusher - I don't know how so much cider could have been in that bottle.
We got everything cleaned up and put the remaining four bottles in the kitchen. It was such a bummer because we had saved those half dozen bottles out for a Christmas present!

When I came home from work the next day Jeremy told me another bottle had exploded during the morning. Cider and broken glass all over the kitchen. (In fact, we're still finding bits of glass around!)
Some night awhile later I vaguely heard a dull thudding sound in the night; but I didn't think much of it. The next morning we saw a tiny little brown glass bottle on the floor in the kitchen. Now how did that get there? It was such a mystery where it came from I was worrying it trying to figure it out. Then I opened the lower cabinets where we keep our booze (wine, whiskey, etc). Ah. There had been one last cider bottle that had only been half full. It took longer for it to explode, which it did, throwing cider and glass all over the inside of that cupboard and breaking some other bottle as well. The explosion must have been big enough to push the door open, and that little bottle had rolled right out.

Finally, the last bottle of cider had broken!  But believe me, this was only the middle of our adventures with cider.

Back up a couple months to October. We'd been talking for some time about making some booze and wanted to start with hard cider. The original idea was to get apples and press them, making our own juice. But I, wisely if I do say so myself, decided that was ridiculous. We didn't know what we were doing and I'd hate to wreck a whole batch after spending all the time making the juice. So we bought fresh squeezed (or whatever they do to apples) apple juice from a local farmer at the farmers market.

We poured all the juice into one of our lovely inherited carboys. I know we added sugar (white and brown) and yeast, but I can't remember now when or how much (sorry - this isn't a recipe!).

I do remember that we didn't water down the yeast enough so it was more like a paste that we were trying to get into that tiny carboy opening. Of course it ended up slathered all around the edges. So I took our tiny rubber spatula and went around the opening to scrape up as much of the yeast as possible so we could get it into the cider.

And then the unthinkable happened. As I was scraping inside the neck, the rubber part popped off and dropped off the stick part and sunk right to the bottom! Oh. My. Word. I had this moment of wide-eyed incredulity before the immensity of this disaster crashed over me. We had been working so hard to keep everything sterile and clean so there weren't any contaminates that would mess with the fermenting and turning all this into hard cider. Well, I'm sure you've all seen the nasty insides of spatulas when the top comes off. Sick. And that was now floating in our cider!

So I berated my incredible stupidity for a few moments, and then we decided on our next course of action. We had to transfer all that cider to the other carboy so we could get that blasted spatula out.

Then cross our fingers that everything wasn't wrecked. So we did that. The next part is to put some vodka in the the little lid thingy (that's the technical name I believe).

You set that on top and wait for it to get bubbling. I believe this little stopper serves to let air out but nothing else in. And if it should suck the stopper in a bit, it just adds some vodka to the cider. Mmm, tasty.

Now I'm a bit fuzzy because I thought this process was supposed to take some time - weeks at least. Maybe it was supposed to be in a certain temperature and light environment. But at some point the bubbles would slow to a halt and that's when it would be done. And that happened for us in less than 10 days. I'm not sure what happened (maybe it was that magical stuff in the spatula) but our cider was ready to go.

Actually, first we back-sweetened it (which means putting some nice sweet apple juice into it so it's not so bitter) and added some yeast inhibitor stuff to stop the yeast from doing it's thing. Then, making as much of a mess as we could, I stood on a chair and held this tube thing while Jeremy filled each bottle. This is a special tube thing that has a stopper on the end so it only fills the bottle while you're pressing the end down into the glass. Or something like that. It's pretty cool.

Then we used our handy new tool and new caps from Northern Brewer to cap the cider.

We used recycled bottles as you can see. This fun experiment netted us 35 bottles!

And it was TASTY! Went down really smooth and then I felt drunk as a skunk after I'd had barely half a bottle. (I am a light-weight of course.)

Jeremy was so excited about our cider he was giving it away left and right to everyone we knew; and before we knew it was all gone!

We got started on our second batch a week later, in early November. This time we did it in a bucket and kept it at the appropriate temperature and light.

This batch stayed in the basement for a month before it seemed ready for the next step. I don't quite get it, but the next step was transferring it to the carboy so we could store it in the back hall and trip over it for three and a half months.

Now, it turns out the bucket is bigger than the carboy so we had extra cider. It was fine at that point (it would just get tastier with this second sit), so Jeremy put the cider into six and a half bottles. (You know where this is going.) I don't believe we backsweetened or put the inhibitor in, so a couple weeks later, after the yeast kept working and bubbling in those tiny spaces, there finally just wasn't room anymore, and CRASH! In the middle of the night. (Why do I feel like saying, "And now you know....the rest...of the story.")

Anyway, this last week Jeremy finally bottled all that cider and there is a lot. We had one ourselves, gave one to a friend who gave us lots of advice, and took one to a party. We're trying to save them a bit now - especially since there aren't any local apples around to make another batch.

This summer Jeremy wants to try making a beer.

And we're dying to get a recipe for Sumac Wine and try making that. We had some a friend made and it was some of the best wine we've ever had.

Yay for booze!


Boda said...

Yay for booze!
Glad to see the equipment put to good use. It saw too many idle years in my basement.
I've got stories of my booze-making beginnings, but nothing as exciting as bottles exploding.
I did make an elderberry wine that had the consistency of syrup - alchoholic pankcake syrup - yum.?

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Oh boy! What an experience. I would say you should always err on the side of leaving the wine in the carboy long after you cant see bubbles. Trust me, they are still fermenting even when you cant see it and the air lock doesnt seem to be moving. Apple cider is very sweet to begin with so adding sugar really gives the yeast to much to eat and could take months to a year to consume it all. And it would up the alcohol total beyond what it should be. I have found with making wine that the more simple the recipe, the less room for error. Best wishes for your next wine making to be less dangerous ;)

Michael Moore said...

Hey, your comments show up as black text on a black background. I can't see them unless I highlight them!

I had something like this happen to me once, except I was making rootbeer.

I was in Brazil and had a real yearning for root beer, so I had some friends send me rootbeer flavoring. Me and some friends bought a bunch of big used wine bottles and bottled it all up with the yeast and sugar. Then it had to sit for a week.

Since it was winter and needed to be as warm as possible, we stuck the bottles in the sun during the day, and covered them with a mattress at night.

One night we heard a pop and a splash and sure enough one of the bottles had exploded. By morning three of the 5 bottles had exploded and we had a rootbeer smelling mattress to dispose of.

The other two jugs turned out great and gave us our much needed rootbeer fix.

Aimee said...

Boda - alcoholic pancake syrup - that sounds tasty! =) Thanks again for all the equipment, we really appreciate it! We'll have to see if we can get you a bottle of something-or-other next time we're down that way.

Jane - thanks for the advice on the wine. Simple does sound better. I'm hoping we can get that sumac wine recipe from our friend. It would be nice to make wine from things that are just growing like weeds around here. And we certainly don't have any grapes! Yet.

Michael - I know the text is black. I can't get blogger to change the comment color to fix that. Sorry. If you're on the main blog page where it just says "3 responses" at the bottom you can click on that and a separate box comes up where everything is readable. That's the best I could figure out, barring re-doing the whole blog layout!
Anyway, root beer sounds like fun! We should definitely try that sometime since I love root beer so much. Bummer you lost so much - but I'm glad you got to taste some of it!

Mom said...

Laughing hysterically throughout reading this blog. Glad no one was hurt. Your dad and I made root beer one year - our first full summer in West Virginia. We had all the sassafras trees along the road, used some of the bark and boiled up a syrup, added water and a bunch of sugar, but it in plastic jugs ( thanks goodness) and set them out in the sun on the side of the house. About 6 hours later we heard a noise and went out to check. You can't imagine how big plastic jugs can get when they enlarge. They were almost completely round! We were afraid to touch the caps - so let them just pop, and had about half jugs left after they vented - really good over ice. But decided that we didn't want to do that again.

Aimee said...

mom - glad you can laugh with us. =) all these stories of root beer making concern me; maybe we shouldn't try to make our own! But...perhaps we will try. I really do like root beer a lot!

Meghann said...

Brian and I started making apple cider and beer this year too! We have not had anything explode yet... knock on wood. We are practicing so we can make some really good stuff for our wedding in September :o)
Happy Brewing!

Fred-√Člie Rocher said...

How many beers does it take to full a carboy ?