A cyser is basically a mead made with apple juice. Doesn't that sound great? I hope so, because I've got one bubbling away right now.
I've been wanting to try a cyser for some time but didn't want to commit to a five-gallon batch for something I had no experience with. Even if it comes out perfect I still might not like it at all. So I googled around for "1 gallon cyser recipe", read a bunch of the recipes and then came up with my own (based, mostly, on what I had in the kitchen). Here's what I did:
I used my new Omega masticating juicer to juice some eight pounds of apples into about 11.5 cups of fresh apple juice: three pounds of Honeycrips (from Havelicek's Orchard), nearly two pounds of Fujis (Washington) and nearly three pounds of Sundancers (Arizona). Cost of apples: about fourteen bucks. I would have made more juice (I was shooting for something closer to 16 cups) but this was all the apples I had. And, as it turned out, this was plenty of juice. I took nearly an hour to prepare, core, slide and juice these apples. I don't think I'll do it this way again - I'll just buy the juice from someone with a press (like the great people at Sweetland Orchard).
I then set the juice to boil because I'd just been handling all of those apples without taking any special sanitary precautions, and because it was going to help dissolve the honey (just as soon as I figured out how to get it out of the jar).
I had bought a three pound jar of Buckwheat honey ($8/lb) from Beez Kneez at the most recent winter market which, due to the low temperature in my kitchen, was basically a solid. I futzed around with hot water bathes and finally just stuck the whole jar in the microwave to try to get the honey back into a liquid state. The process was inelegant and I ended up getting about only 1.7 pounds into the boiler. I was shooting for two but got bored of waiting for slow honey. In any case, this turned out to be plenty of sugar.
I only boiled the mixture for a few minutes, at which point I brought the pot out into the snow to cool down. Thanks to the particularly frigid Minnesota weather it took less than ten minutes to get the temperature of the must down to 94°F which I deemed cool enough to pour into the sanitized gallon jug. I took a gravity reading (with my refractometer) and it showed 1.122. "Holy smokes", I thought. I didn't really want it that high so I added two cups of (boiled and cooled) filtered tap water which brought the OG down to 1.100. Still high, but I guess that's what this is all about.
Since the smack-pack I had smacked an hour ago was slow to activate I decided to let everything sit for a couple of hours before I pitched the yeast. Three and a half hours after I poured the must into the little carboy I pitched the yeast. The final problem to solve was one of fermentation temperature.
My basement, where I keep my brewing equipment, is currently about 58°F. Far, far too chilly for cyser fermentation. The WYeast I used works best between 70°F and 75°F. In fact, I've had all kinds of problems fermenting things at the wrong temperature. I believe that controlling fermentation temperature is going to be the best thing I can do, right now, to improve the quality of my brewing. After hunting about for a while I decided to stick the carboy (with blow-off tube) in my office where I can leave the space heater running to maintain an air-temperature of 70°F. The carboy is insulated with some fabric so, ideally, the exothermic process of fermentation will keep the must in the ideal temperature range.
The stopper is wrapped with duct tape because it has the super-irritating problem of sliding out of the mouth of the jug. My blow-off tube might be a bit too large for the drilled hole in that stopper, which could make the stopper more likely to escape. So far, this hack is working. We'll see if it fails and douses my desk with under-fermented cyser.
[Tuesday, February 5] I pulled the fabric off the little carboy last night and found that the temperature was a little bit higher than I had intended (76°F). After leaving it naked all night it's stabilized at 71°F. That's better. I replaced the blow-off tube with an air-lock as the fermentation has slowed considerably (but it's still bubbling).