WE HAVE CIDER! We’ll be sharing the first offering from this new batch of fermented radness in January’s online special release sale, but we wanted to share a bit more about our cider-making inspiration, process, and plans for the future with all of you fine denizens of the internet. We had Luke, our Barrel Program Manager & all-around good dude, write out some thoughts. Here’s his rundown:
While we’re all clearly massive fans of beer, we've also always had a healthy appreciation for fermented beverages of all ilks. Working with world class cideries like Wandering Aengus and Shacksbury on our Wizard & Graf series, which was fermented from both apples and grains, piqued our interest in--and honed our appreciation for--ciders even further. Now, after a bit more research and a whole lot of bureaucratic licensing shenanigans, we’re ready to attempt a serious cider on our own.
Enter: Radix. The name comes from the Latin word for "root" and, unlike most ciders, Radix is made from a single varietal of apples: the Wickson. Cider-making usually requires blending different varietals in order to strike a balance between the three main components of apples: sugar, acid, and tannin. Most apples have a less than ideal ratio of these, resulting in a flawed or boring cider if used alone. Wickson is essentially a hybrid crab apple, unique in having both very high sugar and acid content, as well as enough tannins to provide complexity and texture. The Wickson we used came from apples grown in central Oregon; we found the unfermented juice to be very bright and fresh, with notes of cinnamon spice.
For most of history, ciders were spontaneously fermented with only the yeast present on the skins of the fruit. Today, many commercial ciders are pitched with wine yeast or other commercial yeast in order to ensure a fast and consistent fermentation. For Radix, we decided to take advantage of our library of cultures and ferment with a proprietary blend unique to Modern Times. The culture we chose is the basis for our funky rye grisette, Transit of Venus, and has been featured in many of our other mixed-culture beers. It contains multiple strains of saccharomyces and brettanomyces, as well as lactic-acid-producing bacteria. When used in our cider, we found that it created a lot of interesting tropical notes--the strongest being pineapple--with a floral, spicy background similar to many saisons.
After about three weeks of fermentation, the cider had reached a fairly stable gravity and was racked from its tote into four freshly-emptied red wine barrels. It remained there for about six months, picking up some pleasant notes of vanilla and spice from the French oak and cleaning up many of its fruitier qualities, which resulted in a bright, dry, and complex cider quite reminiscent of a juicy white wine. We then packaged Radix into 375ml clear bottles (a first for us) and carbonated it to a spritzy 3 volumes of CO2 via refermentation with wine yeast and two different house cultures. The bottle conditioning process lent it a pleasant farmhouse funk that really ties the whole thing together. It's entirely optional, but we've found that intentionally rousing the sediment in the bottle before pouring can add another layer of flavor complexity to the cider. Feel free to experiment and hit us back with your findings.
As for the future, we have several other ciders already in the early stages of fermentation, including another batch of Wickson, which we’re splitting between two wine barrels and one of our amphora. The one we are probably most excited about is a tote of juice provided by Shacksbury, made up entirely of unidentified wild-harvested apples from the hills of Vermont. We will also be doing a single varietal cider with Oregon-grown Roxbury Russet (possibly the oldest known cultivated apple in the U.S.) and another pressed from a blend of heirloom French and English bittersweet varieties also grown in Oregon. All of these will be fermented with a similar culture to the original Radix, and most or all will see time in oak. It’s a pretty thrilling new chapter in our fermented exploits, and we can’t wait to share all the results with you.
**NOTE: If you think we're letting our first cider-release go uncelebrated, think again, friend. We'll be throwing parties at all locations on January 10th to commemorate this auspicious occasion, so mark those calendars if that sounds like something you'd be into. More details coming soon.