Today's blog is from co-founder and head cidermaker, Aaron! Enjoy!
I've been meaning to write with some more depth on our cidermaking for a long time now, and the day has finally come! This year's small batch Scrumpy gives me a great reason to do so, as there is a lot of time and love behind this special cider.
Similar to last year's version, this year's is a blend of very small batches from the previous year's harvest. We worked again with our friends just up north of Indianapolis at Doud Orchards to get limited pressings of single variety juice, from mostly heirloom apples such as Golden Russet, Rubinette, Northern Spy and Gold Rush. Apples like Golden Russet and Northern Spy have been grown in the US for hundreds of years, and were often used for cider. Gold Rush is more a recent variety, developed at our own Purdue University in 1973. It is also a fantastic eating apple, and one of my personal favorites. Please look for it at your orchard or farmer's market and give it a try.
Once we had this great juice to start with, we let these ferment naturally, without added yeast. This choice, combined with low temperatures in the cellar over the winter, led to a long, slow fermentation. This often results in greater complexity (from the wild, more diverse yeast population), as well as cider with more aromatic and apple varietal character (from the slow, gradual fermentation). It requires constant vigilance, though, as the wild yeast may go awry. This patient, natural yeast fermentation is generally how a classic, English 'scrumpy' would be made in the apple-growing countrysides.
We sampled along the way and kept notes about how each variety looked, smelled and tasted. The diversity was really exciting! Some were tart and citrus-y. Some were rich, wine-like and maybe even a bit smoky. Some smelled of pineapple, or baked apples.
This picture above shows a sampling session from early spring 2017, just after primary fermentation ended. You can see how some have cleared up as the yeast dropped out of suspension, while others are still quite cloudy with yeast or apple particulates.
One last thing we've done to make Scrumpy special is in the blending. Inspired by the 'solera' method used primarily in Spanish Sherry wine, we've taken some of last year's Scrumpy and included it in this year's blend. The solera system is traditionally a method of blending across the years (or vintages) to have a more uniformly aged final product. A pyramid-like stack of barrels is filled at the top with new wine, then a portion taken each year and moved into the next row down. By the bottom row, you have a wine (or cider!) that is a mixture of each of the years above it, as well as a bit of all the years past, as none of the barrels are ever completely emptied. While we don't have a traditional stack of barrels to do this (at least, not yet!), we plan to keep back some of 2018 Scrumpy to blend again in 2019.
The final 2018 Scrumpy blend is made up roughly of 1/3 last year's Scrumpy and 2/3 heirloom small batch fermentations of Gold Rush, Golden Russet, Rubinette and Suncrisp. It is layered in aroma and flavors, with good acidity and an off-dry hint of sweetness. I primarily note very ripe apple, pineapple, and a hint of hay. We hope you enjoy it!