Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Adventures in Fermentation - Scrumpy
I've been reading about cider lately. Hard, sweet, made with dessert apples versus cider apples, how cider vinegar is so good for humans and that we should consume it more, and so on. Lots about cider. Why this is will become more apparent as projects fire up later in the year, so until then who knows what little gems might show up here.
In my reading I came across the term "scrumpy". It was used to described an "old-school" style of cider which contained fresh sweet cider, sometimes additional sweetener, and yeast mixed together and fermented for just a few weeks; designed to be consumed young and very much alive. In further research I found the term has several applications and potential derivations, and it is still very much in use to describe small batch ciders made in some counties in England. The obsolete term "scrimp", meaning withered apple, may have been a precursor and the term "scrump" when used to describe the act of stealing fruit also has a history here.
The description when used to describe cider is what really caught my attention. With basic ingredients thrown together for a short while and without allowing time for it to clear, a scrumpy is a bit different than what I am used to making. A few weeks into a ferment a scrumpy is going to be cloudy, somewhat sparkling from continued fermentation and potentially a little rough compared to finished ciders. Fermented to completion they might only be pettilent and of course a measure stronger still! Interesting. I figured I had to give it a try.
One of the local farms (Mack's Apples) is still pressing cider so I was able to get two day old cider that had not been treated in any way. I poured 3/4 of gallon of the cider into a 1-gallon glass carboy and to that I added 12 ounces of local honey. I mixed/aerated the cider and honey well before moving to the next step. I sprinkled 1/2 of a satchel of S-05 beer brewing yeast over the cider and affixed a water airlock to the top. Fermentation began within 24 hours and proceeded strongly for at least a week. I also made a perry version of this using 3 quarts of organic pear juice. It is recommended that you give a scrumpy 2-3 weeks for a complete fermentation, although depending on how much initial sugar you have that may not be long enough for some residual sugar to remain, something I was actually desirous of.
After the initial fermentation period classic farmhouse style scrumpys will have a small measure of fresh cider added to flavor the beverage before serving. I used 6 ounces of apple juice concentrate. Adding this now, and not racking the cider off the gross sediment, will ensure additional fermentation because the yeast is very much active. Technically you can propagate a scrumpy fermentation like this for quite a while (several months) if you make use of yeast nutrient to help keep the yeast colony vital.
I poured a glass of the scrumpy last night. Wow! Having given it only two weeks to ferment the apple character of the cider is still very much present. It is spritzy, but not carbonated, sweet but not cloying and there is nothing harsh or rough about it. I stopped at a second glass because I want to enjoy this batch for another week or two before starting another. It tastes like the commercial ciders you would recognize and being careful not to get any of the sediment or yeast in the glass meant that I couldn't really tell it was cloudy or unfinished without actually seeing it.
The perry had gone a week too long and picked up a tinge of off fermentation aromas. With a little apple juice concentrate and some yeast nutrient and I will likely be able to net a similar outcome to the scrumpy. It was drier as expected, very crisp but not nearly as flavorful. Food for thought for the next time. But for now, the scrumpy has my attention!
So what I just said and did was make fresh hard cider, designed to be consumed young without manipulation. And so easily! This simple home fermentation is a very significant act in honoring food preservation, the history of fermentation and more broadly the history of America. Learning what a scrumpy is firsthand, as an example, is one of the reasons I started fermenting at home and the leading reason why I continue to enjoy it!