Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The birds and the bees

Long after the last apples of autumn have fallen from the tree, and even the remaining specimens left in cold storage are starting to show signs of age, there is a way to relive the Indian summer, with its dusty heat and lazy bees, shimmering sidewalks and air perfumed with sun-baked bark and leaves. It's name is cyser, and it's like a trapdoor timewarp to happier time when winter just won't take a hint and leave.

Fuji apple and clover honey = hazy delicious.

Cyser is a synthesis of cider and mead which is greater than the sum of its parts, pairing the crisp, tart acidity of fully fermented apple cider (as compared to your standard store-bought hard cider, which is almost always pasteurized and watered down with unfermented, sweet cider) with the strange sweetness and wildly fragrant character of fermented honey. It's completely regional in flavor, totally dependent on the the varieties of local apples and flowers, and it's as simple (or as complicated) to make as you want it to be.
From my limited experience, it's become apparent that the making of cyser is best suited to the brewer with an experimental streak, as the best results we've obtained have been the result of procedures which would make most brewers shudder in terror. Doing certain things like not boiling the honey or apple juice, allowing the resident yeasts and bacterias do their part to compliment the fermentation process, allowing for exceedingly high temperature fermentations, and settling the cyser on lees for an extended period of time are just some of the techniques that seem to promote a more nuanced, earthy result - one that more accurately reflects the individual nature of the ingredients, location, and even the quality of the season in which it was concocted. It's riskier, but surely worth it. And when spring finally does roll around, and you find yourself picnicking in the grass with a hunk of Parrano, a crusty sourdough baguette, and a glass of sharply effervescent cyser in hand, you'll have a joyful glimpse of the seasonal nature of it all - an experience uncommon for brewers to entertain, but at the crux of the art of winemaking.


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