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About this Blog

Welcome to Po'Nutrition Fax! This blog is about alcohol - it has nothing to do with health or wellness, and the only relationship between this and Edgar Allen Poe is that he was an alcoholic.

I used to work in a liquor store and developed a taste for all different types of booze. As my collection grew, I felt the need to share my knowledge of, interest in, and experiences with my purchases - from the standards (e.g. whisk(e)y, gin) to the less-than-standard (e.g. kirschwasser, raki). You'll also find a lot on beer (another love of mine).

This is not about how much I can drink nor do I promote over-excess of alcohol. As with most blogs, there is some self-reflection included with most of the reviews. The point is to encourage everyone to reflect on what they drink.

Leave comments or ask questions! Also, "follow" me if you like what you read - I am not making money from this blog but if I see more interest in this and hear some feedback, it will encourage me to write more.

Cheers!
Mike

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hard Cider

Autumn is my favorite season. Although I do really enjoy the summer, with its warmer weather and longer days, it doesn't have the same gustatory excitement that autumn does. Autumn in the Northeastern U.S. means apples and squash are in abundance. It means the release of Octoberfest-style beers. Best of all, the colder weather of autumn allows for the return of cooking indoors. I only say this because we do not have a grill at our place so cooking indoors isn't fun in 80+ degree (Fahrenheit) weather - this also inhibits kitchen creativity . This is not to say that food and drink in summer aren't delicious; I do miss the fresh peaches, blueberries, and tomatoes - plus gin and tonics, mint julips, and caipirinhas are refreshing on hot summer days. However, with all the distractions of summer it's hard to sit and enjoy what can be delicious about it. Very rarely is there a day in the summer when you want to sit around and eat or drink - and even if you do, you feel guilty about it... at least I do.

However this blog is not about cooking, it's about drinking. Autumn, with it's aforementioned apple abundance means an abundance of apple cider too. Cider is, essentially, fresh apple juice. It has not been clarified nor have excess sugars been added. Depending on the apples used, it can have a very tart flavor too. In addition, it may or may not be pasteurized - the latter turning into booze if you don't drink it quickly. Keep in mind, if there are added preservative, it won't ferment. Hard Cider, whether it's carbonated or "still" (not bubbly) is good, but gets better if it is mulled.

Before this year, I had never really mulled cider. In previous years, I would occasionally buy cider, drink half the container, it would ferment, and I'd discard. Not wanting to waste it this year, I decided to mull the last bit. Mulling, for those of you who are unaware, involves heating and spicing your drink (can be done with wine too). This first time, I used a cinnamon stick, some whole cloves, and freshly grated nutmeg. You have to heat the cider on low heat or the pectin in the cider beings to coagulate. This is not bad but it is less pleasing to the eye to have these pectin chunks floating around. Since my first mulling experience, I am now going through about a gallon of cider a week just so I can try different mulling spice combinations. The next step is to mull my hard cider.

When Martha and I went on vacation to Ithaca, NY we stopped at this cidery on the way home. Although there are many Finger Lakes wineries to check out, I wanted to try something different. This place had just opened for the day and freshly mulled some of their cider. The style they mulled was their Liberty Spy:



This was a pretty basic sparkling hard cider. I don't mean to imply that it was bland but it tasted like what one expects out of a hard cider - sweet and tart with a dry finish. However, the mulled version was fantastic. It's made from a blend of Liberty and Northern Spy apples - hence the name "Liberty Spy." I bought a couple of bottles of this along with one called "Heritage" which was a still, crab-apple cider done in a more traditional style.

Similar to mulling non-alcoholic cider, hard cider has to be heated at a low temperature. However, this is not for coagulation concerns but to make sure most of the alcohol doesn't evaporate (since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water).

My preferred mulling spice combo is (per three cups of cider):

1 3-4" cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp whole cloves
2 star anise
1/4 tsp of black peppercorns
freshly grated nutmeg

If you want you can use cardamom pods or allspice berries instead of star anise. Just throw the spices in but remember to strain them out - or just a cheesecloth or "tea ball." Simmer for about 15-20 minutes until a fog hovers over the cider and the aromas waft out of the kitchen.

Unfortunately, while this mulling spice combination makes for a delicious non-alcoholic mulled cider it was not fitting for a hard cider. However, I blame myself for not considering a few things before I wasted a bottle of hard cider on this mulling experiment. Most notably, I didn't consider how the alcohol and spices would interact with one another. If you've ever had a kräuter liquor (you probably have: Jagermeister), they are traditionally made by infusing herbs and spices in alcohol to draw the medicinal properties out of these various ingredients. There are other medicinal liquors made in the same style to the kräuter - I just mention the kräuter because they are the most famous and will help you understand what I am talking about. Regardless, the end result tends to be bitter and, not surprisingly, medicinal tasting. Consequently, the same thing happened when using the whole spice to mull hard cider - the final product had a medicinal and bitter quality to it. In this case, the star anise and peppercorns were overpowering so I wouldn't suggest using those to mull hard cider. Stick with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (maybe allspice berries and cardamom pods too).

In addition, because most of the sugar is converted into alcohol there is little sweetness to a mulled hard cider. I suggest adding either a couple tablespoons of honey or brown sugar as it heats to help sweeten this drink too. This helps cut the bitter/medicinal taste as well.

Get creative with your own spices but make sure to sit and enjoy it - without feeling guilty.

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