My friend Michael got the apple hard cider bug a few years ago, and made his first batch in 2011. There were no apples last year due to drought. This autumn, he invited a group of us to join him in a cooperative effort. Our area of New York State is covered in wild apple trees, which are often ignored as a fruit source, as the apples tend to be small and scarred, but it is actually these apples that make the very best hard cider. I collected 10 bushels of apples from 5 different trees on my land, and last weekend, we all went to the Hubbell Homestead Cider press, a multi-generational family business, in the hamlet of Kelly Corners in Delaware County. In total we brought 32 bushels of apples to be pressed.
Several members of the Hubbell family manages the immense, 150-year-old cider press, which is located on three floors of a huge red barn, and is available for private apple pressing, of batches of four bushels or more.
A few weeks before we pressed, Michael had a gathering for our new cooperative endeavor and we tasted at least a dozen French, English and American hard ciders. The ciders were as varied as the apples we also tasted, from each others trees. It turns out, that the cider made from a single variety of apple, was much less interesting than the ones made from a mixture of varieties. I preferred the ciders that were not too sweet, but with good tannin, crisp, and not too fizzy.
It was a sunny autumn day when we drove over several Catskill mountain ranges to the Hubbell farm, a large complex with many barns and out buildings. We were met by members of the Hubbell family who are all incredibly friendly and showed us where to drop off our apples near the press. The apples are first washed, and then travel down a wooden conveyer belt to the hopper, where they are mashed. The mashed apples go down to a lower level of the barn through a chute that pours the crushed pulp into large frames, which are then wrapped in heavy felt. Additional frames are added for each layer of mashed apples, and eventually the whole thing is pressed by a thousand pounds of weight. The fresh apple juice flows down to a holding tank on the ground floor and is then fed through a hose into 5 gallon containers. Our 32 bushels produced 2 gallons a bushel and we ended up with 64 gallons of beautiful fresh cider juice.
When we got back to Michael’s place, we carried the 5 gallon containers into his basement and siphoned off the juice into glass carboy containers. We added English cider yeast to the juice, and plastic tubing was placed in each container to carry off the foam and froth that will come off the juice in the next few weeks, as the yeast breaks down. In three weeks time, we use the racking cane to transfer into a secondary fermentation bucket, and let the cider ferment for at least 3 months. We will bottle some then, but let others sit longer, maybe up to 9 months.
Needless to say, I have high hopes of producing some very fine hard cider.