From John Pinkerton, I received a lengthy response to my blog post on real cider for Thanksgiving.
John is not only a real cider aficionado; he is a professional ciderist.
John Pinkerton of Moon River Brewing (r) with
2008 Hickory Hops Festival organizer Bobby Bush (l)
and Jamie Bartholomaus of Foot Hills Brewing (c).
John is the brewmaster and co-owner of Moon River Brewing Company in Savannah, Georgia. He produces real cider there for sale at his brewpub.
Here are his comments (gently redacted):
In Georgia, Hard Cider is treated like beer up to 6% alcohol. I would assume that if a given cider had the requisite amount of malt sugar and hops (negligible) it could be brewed up to 14% as a "malt beverage".
For Moon River's Road Trip Hard Cider, we aim to keep it at or below 6% abv for the sake of keeping it in the 'session' range, although that can be a challenge depending on the variety of apples used.
At Moon River we've always leaned heavily towards the late season, tart varieties, because I believe the acidity makes for a more dynamic flavor profile.
From Mercier Orchards in north Georgia, we use a blend of Granny Smith, Pink Lady, and Gold Rush. In previous years we've supplemented the mix with sweeter varieties to bump up the sugar, but with the addition of Gold Rush, this is unnecessary. Gold Rush had the acidity of a Granny, the tannin of some of the old heirloom varietals and the sweetness of a Splendor. We've seen the Brix of Gold Rush as high as 19... By itself could get you to almost 10% with no additional sugar!
We drive up to North Georgia each year sometime in late October to early November in a Ryder truck loaded up with ten, 55 gallon food-grade plastic drums.
We usually stay in Atlanta on a Saturday night to dine and drink in some of the finer Beer/ Culinary haunts of the Southeast. This year Beeramerica.tv was on board to film a nice segment at the Sandy Springs location of Five Seasons Restaurant and Brewery. The food, beer and company were spectacular to say the least. We'll post the segment sometime around New Year, and we'll also be posting a separate segment which chronicles the whole Road Trip Hard Cider
The next morning, we drag ourselves the rest of the way up to Blue Ridge, Georgia, where the Merciers are cheerfully waiting to press our 550 gallons of fresh, juicy goodness, while we wait.
After the pressing, which is a Willy Wonka spectacle to behold, we load up for the long trip back to Savannah. The weather in North Georgia is usually quite chilly that time of year; our juice stays quite cold.
In fact, even after we pump the cider from the drums into the fermenter, it often takes several days for the temperature to come up enough to get our house strain of English-style ale yeast up and running. We use the same strain of yeast that ferments our IPA, Porter and many others, though we always manage the schedule so the yeast pitched into the cider can be dumped after fermentation.
There is, of course, plenty of wild yeast and bacteria that come from the orchards, playing a role in the over all character of the finished cider. Despite this, we have very little concern for the long term stability of the cider, for a number of reasons. Our hard cider is only served in house, so it remains cold through out its life span and I believe the alcohol combined with the fairly high acidity help it keep for a long time.
Just the same, I've actually tasted cider that had been sitting in kegs in an out door boneyard in Savannah, Georgia for several years that tasted remarkably unspoiled, albeit a bit oxidized.
As for cross- contamination w/in the brewery, we treat our tanks and lines to the same aggressive cleaning regime that we use for any of our Barrel-aged, brettanomyces, and bacteria beers. We have a whole set of clamp gaskets that we only use for these type of fermentations and since we only do "wild stuff" once or twice a year, we also take the opportunity to outfit the tank with all new gaskets, just to be safe.
We have not had any issues with line taint. We have a pretty solid program for cleaning our lines. Also, the main run of our draft lines is barrier tubing with some polyvinyl on the ends for restriction, which get changed out every few years. As for flavor taint... the only thing that's ever given me a real problem was [a commercial] cheap apple based cider with a really tenacious and, IMO, seriously overdosed pear extract. That stuff is like rootbeer!
We filter loosely through a pad filter, though truth be told, it is usually a huge pain in the arse. I assume pectins are the culprit. We have for the last few years utilized a general pectinase to help, although the normal dose last year didn't do a whole lot for us.
We force carbonate.
While I haven't done a yeast-on-skins fermentation with our cider, I'd like to play with that some day, even if just a portion of the whole batch. We currently have plans to barrel age a portion of the batch that is working now. We have a Mondavi Red Wine Bbl full of our Dixie Cristal - Belgian-style Trippel, that is about ready to be racked... my plan is to refill it with our Cider and see what happens. The Trippelbrett-y witch hazel and juicy fruit characters evolving, so I have high hopes for the cider.
I'm not aware of any other brewpubs doing cider, but I'm sure some one out there is probably doing something similar.
We only do this once a year [in apple season], so I don't consider myself an expert, but my experience leads me to believe that cider is pretty darn simple... as it should be.
With beer, there is so much nuance with the process itself to create good beer. With the cider, I don't feel like I can take much credit... it's pretty much nature's goodness.
When I was last in Savannah on business, I had stopped in at Moon River. But I didn't try the cider. So, a road trip might be called for.