If you’re looking for a way to reap the benefits of an influx of fall apples, you can make delicious hard cider and cyser using both ancient fermentation techniques and modern home brewing practices. Hard cider is simply apple cider that has been allowed to ferment into alcohol through the addition of yeast. Cyser is a type of mead, or honey wine, that is cider to which honey and other flavorings have been added and then fermented into a wine-like beverage.

If you pick your apples in the fall, you can juice them immediately after picking them, or freeze them for juicing later. This will make them much softer and result in more juice per apple. My wife and I picked about three 5-gallon buckets of June apples in the fall for this batch, and put them in garbage bags in our freezer. By mid-January, I had the time and motivation and was ready to make some mead. You can use an apple press if you have one, but I found that my Acme Supreme Juicerator did the job admirably. Regardless of what you use, give yourself at least a full day for juicing/pressing. It will always take longer than you expect. Although you can use just one variety, I like to use a blend for added complexity of flavor. If you wish, add about 3 pounds of an organic variety. In preparing your apples, cut off any parts that look particularly bad (brown and mushy), but don’t cut off every “blemish” or you’ll be left with very little apple. Rarely will you pick a perfect apple.

For the initial fermentation, use any food-grade vessel that is large enough to hold the amount you are fermenting. I used a 5-gallon ceramic crock for this batch. A 5-gallon plastic bucket from a home brewing kit is another option, or you can get food-grade buckets for free from most restaurants. If you prefer to brew like the Vikings and homesteaders of old, simply use a container with a wide mouth and place a cheesecloth over it. The type of vessel(s) you use will depend on the fermentation technique you choose.

It’s completely up to you how to initiate fermentation. You can purchase a packet of yeast from a home brew store and prepare it by letting it sit in room temperature water (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for an hour or two and then add it to your must (unfermented mead/wine). Champagne yeast will result in a nice dry cider/cyser. You can also use yeast designed for white wines, such as Lalvin ICV-D47. If you take this commercial route, add yeast nutrients. Alternatively, untreated apples and raw honey, as well as the air around you, are full of wild yeast. Wild fermentation flies in the face of modern home brewing practices, but it has experienced a resurgence and is practiced with success by many home brewers. Once you have chosen your fermentation vessel, add the cider. I use about 3 gallons of cider and another gallon of spring water that I mix (unheated) with 1/2 gallon of Mississippi wildflower honey and 1 quart of sourwood honey. Whether you wild-ferment or add yeast, stir briskly for at least 5 minutes to aerate the must.