In simpler times, fall was when apples were finally ripe, making it the only season to brew cider. Now, we can make do the rest of the year with shelf-stable, pasteurized juice or by buying imported apples and pressing them, but fall is still the time to capitalize on the temporary availability of fresh apple cider from local orchards. Fresh, sweet cider makes a great raw ingredient for hard cider and creates a richer, more flavorful final product than cider made from simple juice. Most fresh cider is flash-pasteurized and contains no preservatives, which makes it perfect for home brewing. However, the lack of preservatives gives it a limited shelf life; you must keep it refrigerated or start brewing with it before some undesirable natural yeast takes over.
Having honed several good cider recipes during the year, I went to Weber’s Cider Mill Farm yesterday to pick up some fresh apple cider from the pros to make some premium-grade hard cider before winter comes. Fresh cider is typically around $6 per gallon, which is about 50% more expensive than the unfiltered Kirkland apple juice I use the rest of the year. The high-quality results are worth the extra cost, but don’t be afraid to negotiate. Most orchards (including Weber’s) will be happy to give you a discount if you’re buying large quantities. The friendly folks at Weber’s were quite helpful, and their cider is fantastic — highly recommended for anyone in the Baltimore area.
I dragged a heavy wagon with 12 gallons of fresh cider out of Weber’s. That’s enough to start two premium batches and still have some fresh cider left for drinking. One batch follows the Panda Beer model, with just brown sugar, raisins, and honey, while the other is a spiced winter cider with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. When it’s ready for tasting, I’ll be sure to share the recipe for the Winter Warmer.