Many months, I wrote about the beginnings of our first attempt at fermentation: making cyser. Cyser is a type of mead. Mead, of course, is honey wine, one the very earliest fermented beverages made by people. Think of mead as the parent category, under this umbrella, you have a handful of different makings. Metheglin is mead made with herbs and spices. Braggot is mead made with the addition of grains. Melomel is mead made with the addition of fruit. Within melomel, you will find pyment, which is mead with grape juice, and cyser, which is mead made with the addition of apple juice.
Cyser is what we made. With an excess amount of past years’ honey, not quite enough apples to make a cider all of apples, we settled on making cyser. Neither Melissa, nor myself are much of consumers of alcohol. We like the occasional glass of wine; I like malbecs and fochs, while Melissa fancies rieslings and ice wines. I can find a good Spätlese drinkable, but anything sweeter, like a Beerenauslese, is too sweet for me.
Six to eight weeks after we put the mixture of honey, apple juice, yeast, and yeast nutrient into the first fermenter (a six gallon, glass carboy), we transferred the fermented mix into a five gallon glass secondary fermenter. And, there it sat through the spring, through the summer, and into late fall.
Over the course of the fall, we began to purchase the things we would need to bottle our first experiment. Champagne bottles. A rough, back of the envelope calculation put our 5 gallons of liquid needing at most twenty-four 750ml bottles. We picked up two boxes of 12 bottles each. Given that we would be back sugaring the inbibement to make it sparkle, we would need cork cages, and champagne corks. Purchased. Finally, we needed a way to put corks into bottles. Champagne bottle corks and Belgian beer bottle corks are not your ordinary wine bottle corks. For starters, they are often wider than regular wine bottle corks. For the most part, you cannot simple “push” the corks into the bottles as is. We needed to purchase a “champagne floor corker”. That is, a device that sits on the floor, has a place to secure a bottle, has a cork-crimper – a series of brass jaws that squash the cork’s diameter to that of less than the bottle’s opening, and a lever to push said squashed cork into the bottle’s opening. And finally, we needed a “bell capper” to put a finished crimp on the bit of cork that is left exposed out the top of the bottle.
The last thing we needed was dextrose, or corn sugar, for the back sugaring. Back sugaring is the process of putting a tiny amount of sugar into each bottle, adding fermented goodness into the bottle, and the corking. The sugar does not add sweetness, instead, the little bit of remaining yeast in the liquid consumes the sugar and produces carbon dioxide. This, in turn, makes the beverage carbonated or fizzy.
With nearly a month having passed since we back sugared, bottled, corked, caged, and waxed the bottles, I opened one bottle up to give a taste test. We initially sampled a small bit a few days after bottling the majority of the inbibement; we were left with our 24th bottle being only ¼ full, we drank it as a test. Cold with no carbonation, it was light and drinkable. It was very light. Almost like “dirty water.” Even with the “dirty water” or “cough drop water,” as one friend described it, it surpassed our initial hopes. We set the bar low with just hoping we did not end up with five gallons of honey-vomit. The question in our minds, after the initial taste testing, would the carbonation make a bit of depth to the beverage?
One month after bottling, what is the verdict?
It remains very light tasting. There is a very nice carbonation; the dextrose produces copious amounts of tiny bubbles. There is a light honeyed scent, light alcohol smell – from a microbiological scents, there are remaining yeast notes – not quite like bread, though. Upon taking my first sip, I immediately thought of the drink having a herbaceous and green olive taste. Not sweet, somewhat sharp – perhaps the carbonation. It paired well with salty potato chips. I imagine it would go well with pizza or other salty-savory dish.
We did not have a hygrometer on hand when we were making the must and getting the mix into the first carboy, and such, we do not have a clear sense of what the ABV of it is. However, having had a couple glasses with a some potato chips, and not much else, I can say the alcohol content, like its flavor, is light.
The drink, on ice, eventually flattens out and has that near-minty taste with a tinge of honeyness at the end; it seems to be best drunk neat, from a heavily chilled bottle. Overall, I will rank this endeavor a success. We ended up with a nice quantity of a light drinkable beverage, and that is what we were aiming for – nothing more, nothing less.