Sunday, June 15, 2008

Summer recreationist experimentation - Äppelwoi

A source of great regional pride in the drinking traditions of Hesse, apple cider as it's been made and served in Frankfurt, notably Sachsenhausen, has always held a sentimental place in my boozing heart. A colleague of mine and I have an annual habit of proposing summer resolutions which, much like similar resolutions made six months earlier, rarely come to fruition: learning to play the cello, biking up the California coast, mastering ragtime guitar, and writing a symphony are some quality examples of late. This summer, I've adding something novel to "how I didn't spend my summer vacation": I'm going to figure out how to make a true, honest to goodness Äppelwoi.

The idea for this quixotic attempt at recapturing an ephemeral gustatory imprint from visits to family in Darmstadt was seeded by a discussion on the Aleuminati board regarding the current contents of all the members' homebrew stashes, upon which one member, alongside an "American bitter" and a "standard stout", mentioned he had an "apfelwein" going, which naturally got my attention. Unfortunately, after expressing my love for the stuff and pleading for the recipe, I was presented with instructions that, while all means would make a nice glass of apple cider - looked little like the Äppelwoi I knew, and rather than answer the question, left a new void of curiosity in its stead.

How is "apple-wine" different? That's part of the reason for doing this experiment: I'm not quite sure. What I do know is that in crossroads between one of the largest brewing and one of the largest winemaking meccas in the world, it's a fermented apple juice that his its place of pride in Germany's banking center. Historically, it's not hard to imagine the practical--and very German-- shift in production and engineering in regards to making alcohol out of apples that likely experienced a major shift during the French wine blight of the mid-19th century. Skilled winemakers, armed with the talents of coopers and cellar-tenders sharing techniques with the Bavarian lager brewers, easily translated their knowhow into the making of cider. (Granted, they'd been making cider since before the blight, too, but figuring out the story of how it became established at this point as the draught beverage of Frankfurt is part of what this project is about.)

Unlike beer as we currently experience it, Äppelwoi also has a seasonal life cycle that's ingrained into the culture that surrounds it, from the pressing of the apples, to the tasting of the young cider, to the lengthy fermentation, to the tapping of the old cider, to the point where the last of the old and first of the new overlap. Along with that comes a winemaker's discipline, a character trait I'm sorely lacking and could use some training in. A promising outcome of this experiment is that I might pick up some wisdom in learning how to think seasonally, something I've wanted to incorporate into our brewing for a while now, yet have had difficulty truly investigating since the modern age of temperature control has all but eradicated truly seasonal brewing.

I'll equally admit that Ron Pattison's translation work has been a nudge of inspiration here, the strange twitches of imagination that spark up when considering the sense of time-travel or teleportation that recreating these distant styles could evoke. On top of that, there's the desire to glean a better understanding of the story that's shaped my mother's, and by proxy my own and my daughter's, existence - granted, through a perspective slightly curved around the edges and marked by crosshatches as it passes through a ribbed glassful of Stöffche.

Over the next couple of months - until the apples come in, that is - I'll provide periodic updates whenever any interesting ground is broken. Until then, though, any commentary to help me get on the right track would be quite welcome! Until October, then...
Der Äpfelwein als Kind,
süß aus der Kelter rinnt...

Mit Jünglingsmut darauf
rauscht er mächtig auf!

Den ächten Manneswert
kriegt er, wenn er gärt!

Wenn er an Kräften reich
strahlend dem Golde gleich!

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