Experiments in ice cider

A couple of weeks ago we decided to turn our last few totes of apples into a small-batch experiment in ice cider. Ice ciders generally range from an ABV of 7-13% and are left residually sweet without the addition of extra sugar--rather, the higher sugar level is attained naturally through the freezing of the apples, which concentrates the apples' sugars, as well as from multiple rackings of the cider which stops the fermentation before all of the sugars are fermented to dryness.

Claude Jolicoeur's The New Cider Maker's Handbook informs us that there are two approaches to this process, and we decided to try both: "cryo-extraction," in which you freeze the apples and press them partially thawed; and "cryo-concentration," in which you freeze vessels of pressed apple juice, and then siphon the first juice that thaws as it will contain the highest concentration of sugars. In Ontario and Quebec, this can be done using the great outdoors--by leaving the apples on the trees or the juice or apple bins outside to freeze in winter temperatures. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we'd have to drive our apples to Pemberton to find such weather, so we used a very large and unromantic deep-freezer.

It was lucky we had the enthusiasm and helping hands of friends from Vancouver's Callister Brewing and Orchard & the Sea, because it turned into a longer pressing process than expected: the apples, of course, thawed unevenly in the totes and we waited past dark for some to reach a satisfactory state of thaw. The last press was a chilly but beautiful production creatively lit by iPhones and headlamps.

Instead of milling the apples, for ice cider the apples are pressed whole (top right). We mixed Grimes Golden and Columbia and Dolgo crab apples with an assortment of heritage dessert varieties in order to balance that final sweetness with some acidity. The result was a delicately pink-hued juice that we can ferment to an 8 or 9% ABV while retaining a nice residual sweetness.

After pitching a yeast (wild fermentation isn't recommended for ice ciders), It is now slowly fermenting in these cool ambient winter temperatures, and we will monitor it until it is close to our desired final sugar level--at which point we will begin the racking process, and eventually bottle and pasteurize it to kill any remaining yeasts that could become active in the future. Once we've done this successfully, we'll pull the vessels of frozen juice out and next try the cryo-concentration method, thawing and siphoning off only the first few litres of juice.

It will be quite interesting to compare the two final ice ciders and decide on which method we'd like to pursue and perfect in future years. Fingers crossed these first experiments will be amazing enough to end up in the tasting room this coming year.