The Science of Hard Cider

Vinum, et al

  The compound 4-etheyl phenol can wreak havoc on low-alcohol fermented beverages.  It’s produced by contaminant, or rogue, Brettanomyces yeasts (Brett, for short).  At low levels, 4-ethyl phenol contributes to flavor complexity in red wine, beer and hard cider. Excessively bretty beverages, however, have a powerful ‘band-aid’ or barnyard note.

    I have had only a handful of ciders since they burst onto the beverage scene over a decade ago. The ones I tried were either too sweet or excessively bretty.  Sweet and bretty has kept me at arm’s distance from what can be a crisp, dry and elegant quaff.

Pat+Knittel+Wrangletown+Cider  Pat Knittel’s Wrangletown Hard Cider production and tasting warehouse is located in the creamery district of Arcata. Her apples come from a couple of local sources – Monument Apples in Rio Dell, California. and Fieldbrook Nursery in McKinleyville, California. Pat informed me that the best cider apples are highly tannic “spitters.”  One bite and you make an ugly face and spit it out. Small, hard, mean, heirloom varieties such as Glowing Coal and Wickson are prized for making complex and distinctive ciders.

   Ms. Knittel makes the kind of cider I like — dry, elegant and subtly complex. Who knew?  I thought all hard ciders were just sweet apple sodas to entice teenagers weaned on Mott’s from a sippy cup to start drinking.

   She makes her ciders just like she would make a white wine: crush the fruit, then press to maximize juice extraction. Then after 10 days of fermentation, she adds yeast for the second fermentation process, which lasts until the juice is bone-dry. She ferments and ages each apple variety separately in stainless steel barrels, and then much like a winemaker, creates a blend with the different varieties.

  To experience Wrangletown’s stellar ciders along with Knittel’s gorgeous North Story wines, you can sip and visit in her down-home, industrial-chic warehouse at 1350 9th St. in Arcata, California.  She’s open for business Fridays, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturdays, 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Her hours will expand as the weather warms up. For now, Wrangletown is a one-woman operation so take advantage of the nearness of the creator. Sample all of it and ask questions about her technique and production. You will walk away as I did, sold on hard cider made with care and craft. And, made for adults.

*Pam Long is a Master of Wine student and wine educator. She presents seminars through HSU’s College of eLearning & Extended Education and OLLI programs.  ipamlong@gmail.com.

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