No one really knows the origins of hard cider or who invented it. What is known is that human beings have been making it for a very long time. Some of their fermented cider probably tasted pretty good, while some of their concoctions probably tasted pretty awful. Even with an occasional snafu, humans persevered and kept on turning their apples into hard cider. Why endure when a potential fermentation flop could happen?
Besides from just plain taste bud enjoyment, when fermentation victory occurred, we ended up with a mighty good tasting beverage that had many uses. In the past, people used hard cider for trade, paid wages and had a safe beverage when other drinks were contaminated. Fermenting cider also gave early humans a way to preserve perishable apples. Lastly, fermenting the apple crop into hard cider gave us humans a reason to celebrate and come together with our neighbors and friends. Clearly, some reasons for making hard cider were prompted by necessity. While other reasons for fermenting came about because people just wanted to be creative and have a fun with their apple crop.
At Cottonwood Farm, the idea to turn our apple harvest into hard cider was born out of a little bit of both reasons. Dan and I had the necessity to find a use for all of our apples and we had the wish to have fun while creating a sellable product. We also realized early on in our hard cider study that we wanted to embrace the fact that each year our hard cider might taste different because we are using apples that we grow and harvest from our orchard. A hard cider’s flavor is greatly affected by the twists and whims of nature and the apple varieties that are used. Dan and I also wanted to be creative when making Cottonwood Cider House's hard cider. Our goal is to produce a distinctive hard cider every year that emphasizes that year’s apple crop’s characteristics and our artistic touches.
Now that we figured out what to do with our apples, Dan and I have begun to craft our hard cider and plan our cider house building. Dan has become Cottonwood Cider House’s lead cider maker. I’m his best helper. We’ve got a lot of great volunteer taste testers too. Dan and I are aiming to have a product ready for sale in the near future. So far, we’ve created some failures and some successful ciders. I’m pleased to report that the successes taste pretty good! There are still a lot of unknowns and our business continues to evolve daily. We will keep you posted.
If you are interested in reading more about what goes on in Cottonwood's Cider House, please continue to visit our website. Stacy updates the Cider House web page regularly. Or, for up-to-date orchard information, like us on Facebook.
May & June 2016
The news from the Cider House these past two months is somewhat
limited. Dan and I have been channeling our energy mostly towards
working in the orchard. Appropriately so, since spring is the time
when new trees are planted, fertilizing, and overall orchard health
takes main stage. Even with most of our time being spent working
in the orchard, we have made time to plan a trip to head east to visit
more hard cider makers with orchards. Dan and I have questions
that we have not yet gotten answered. The biggest question being,
how do we successfully own and manage a hard cider house that is
depending on the crop that we must grow, harvest, press and store
from our own apple orchard. Our goal is to make our cider from
apples that are grown by us. After all, without great apples, there’s
not going to be any amazing hard cider!
Baby apples getting bigger everyday!
March & April 2016
The last juice from the 2015 harvest has been fermented, aged, and bottled. It is now ready for drinking. Woo hoo! For our first attempt at fermenting, we made a dry cider. This time, Dan and I decided to do some experimenting. We made a semi-dry, rhubarb/apple combo, and a dry hopped cider. The hopped cider was made by using the hops we picked last fall from our hop trial growing along the orchard fence. We also tested a new yeast strain and compared it to the yeast variety we’ve used in the past. We did a taste test analysis to determine which flavor infused by the yeast that we liked the best.
We voted for A. There are Amazing ruby red color. A
still a lot of strains of yeasts little to sweet for our taste
to try. But so far, yeast buds though.
strain “A” is our favorite.
Along with experimenting with yeast and trying hard cider add-ins like rhubarb, we also got the chance to use our carbonation kegging equipment for the first time. The kegging system allows us to use CO2 instead of sugar to make the hard cider bubbly. We had to monkey around a bit with creating the right environment to achieve the perfect temperature needed for carbonation. It took about a week for the ciders to “get their fizz-on” completely.
Cleaning out the keg with a Trying our new CO2 system.
swish of water and sanitizer. When we've got enough hard
Taking the time to clean and cider to share, this set-up will
sanitize are important steps. be great for dispensing cider
Dan and I and are loving the semi-dry cider. We can really taste the apples in this one. This cider has a better balance then our first batch of dry cider. Not only does this cider have a straightforward apple taste, the smell of apples is apparent. The rhubarb/apple cider is in our opinion too sweet. Next fall, we will be tweaking the recipe and adding less sugar - for sure!!! Our first attempt at making dry hopped cider turned out amazing! The flavor is a good blend between hops and apple. This cider has an aroma of pineapple and citrus mixed with a tart green apple scent. I said to Dan that I wish we had made more of the hopped cider rather than making more rhubarb/apple cider. The hopped cider is delicious and it’s going to disappear fast! Next year, we hope to have enough hard cider to host a few tastings.
Kegged and ready for chilling.
We sweetened the semi-dry
with sweet cider pressed from
our apples. This hard cider
has no added sugar.
Dan and I put the hop
cones in a fine mesh bag to keep all leafy bits contained. We
soaked the hops for a couple of weeks. Our goal with this batch was to taste the hop essence, but we still wanted to be able to recognize a nice apple flavor.
Even though we have been managing to create some very tasty hard ciders in our kitchen, Dan and I are dreaming of the day that we can be out fermenting in our newly built cider house. To further our progress in making our dream come true, we’ve meet with builders and continue to work on the floor plan of the facility. Gathering the information needed to start building has been a process that has come with a lot of frustration and satisfaction at the same time. It seems that once we get something figured out, a new obstacle pops up and there’s a new problem to solve. Some days we ask each other if a commercial sized apple orchard and hard cider facility can become a real-life sustainable venture? Are we in we over our heads? Can we achieve our dream? When we have a success like the semi-sweet and hopped cider, we answer our questions of doubt with a strong unwavering, “yes.” Yes we can do this.
January & February 2016
“This is the first ever Cottonwood Cider House update! Wow that’s
cool.” (Me thinking to myself.)
Dan and I have gotten more of our questions answered as to how to
plan and build the facility. We’ve developed lists of equipment
needed, learned about building necessities, and have a better
understanding of what the regulations are to owning and operating a
hard cider making facility. In addition to getting some of the nuts
and bolts figured out, Dan and I have grown our network of hard
cider enthusiasts. We joined the United States Association of Cider
Makers (USACM). The USACM helps cider makers become better at
what they do, raises awareness in the world about the greatness of
hard cider, and represents the cider maker’s interests to the United
States government. USACM members are also able to attend Cider
Con, which is an annual convention of cider makers, orchardists, and
cider drinkers. This year, Cider Con was held in Portland, OR. Dan
and I were fortunate to attend. We met a lot of great people. We
also had the opportunity to learn more about hard cider production
and sampled several tasty ciders. I would have to say that the best
part of the Cider Con was meeting many knowledgeable cider
makers and seeing their passion they have for their craft. This
experience has made Dan and I more motivated than ever to give all
that we’ve got to make Cottonwood Cider House a success!
One of the things we did at
Cider Con was tour a
facility that makes
fermenting tanks. If this
tank could have fit into my
suitcase, I would have
brought it home. The
workmanship was excellent.
The last night of Cider Con we participated in a presentation about the
traditions that are unique to English hard cider making. The English have a
love and appreciation for hard cider. It is very much a part of their history.
Fascinating and tasty!
May / June 2016
Mar. / Apr. 2016
Jan. / Feb. 2016
Cider House Manager
“A nice country drive 45 minutes NW of Fargo, ND, easy to find with paved roads taking you to Cottonwood Farm"