Apple Brandy Recipe

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Apple Brandy Recipe

Postby cranky » Mon Oct 16, 2017 6:57 pm

Many people come here looking to make apple brandy then struggle to find a recipe because the information tends to get scattered and lost among the many brandy threads on the website. So after much thought and typing I have decided to write up a single post describing my apple brandy "recipe"

First off I would like to say if you are wanting to make something good and fast that you can drink straight from the still don't make apple brandy. I think it was Gooseye said it best when he said something like "This year's fruit is next year's brandy". Brandy in general takes a lot of patience and considerable time. It is not something you can rush.

I would like to note that although I specify apples in this recipe it works equally well with pears, and many other fruit for that matter, but cuts are much different with pears and most other fruit.

One of the big problem with an apple brandy recipe is that there really isn't one as such but here are the basic steps.

Step 1) Get a bunch of apples.
Step 2) Grind or chop the apples.
Step 3) Press the apples.
Step 4) Add a good wine/cider yeast to fresh pressed apple juice/sweet cider.
Step 5) Wait for cider to ferment. Don't worry if it takes a while, just be patient.
Step 6) Distill cider
Step 7) Patience, lots and lots of patience. As GaFlatwoods says "Patience is the hardest thing to put in a bottle" but it is one of the most important ingredients, particularly with apple brandy.

*Note: it is possible to make apple brandy from store bought juice with no preservatives if you desire, so if you are using store bought juice you can skip step 1 through 3.

I would also like to note, I did not list sugar, Compden tablets (or any metabisulfite) or any other added ingredients. The best recipe for apple cider to be used for brandy is apple juice / sweet cider, yeast and time, nothing else.

Some things I would like to explain at this point are some terms I may use.

Because I live in the USA we tend to use some terms other parts of the world may have trouble with.

Apple juice = filtered and clarified apple juice

Apple cider / sweet cider = apple juice that has not been fermented or clarified, this is commonly referred to in the US as just "cider". I try to use the older term "sweet cider" for clarity's sake.

Hard cider = Apple cider / apple juice which has been fermented

Now on to the details

Steps 1-3) Getting apple juice / sweet cider

It is possible to make brandy from store bought apple juice or cider. Ideally it would be unpasteurized fresh pressed purchased at the source. In the United States you cannot legally buy any unpasteurized sweet cider except at the source. Next on my list would be pasteurized sweet cider and last would be store bought apple juice. Personally I find the final product made from store bought apple juice is a bit lacking over home pressed juice but many people have made fine brandy from it. If you use commercial juice you can skip steps 1 through 3 because someone else has already done that for you but make sure the juice contains no preservatives besides citric acid. If it must be store bought apple juice, my personal favorite is Tree Top fresh pressed. They have one called "Sweet and Tart apple cider" which I think would be good, and a "3 Tree Blend" that I know is good. One thing to keep in mind is many apple juice producers use apple juice from China, which bothers many people so if you are using store bought juice and where it comes from matters to you it may require some research on your part. I have done some and Tree Top is made from USA apples from the Pacific Northwest which is one of the reasons I favor them.

Now if you want to do things the hard way you will go out and find some apple trees and pick your own. Be aware that on average you can rely on it taking approximately 16 pounds of apples to get a single gallon of juice. Some apples produce a bit more juice per pound and others a bit less but generally it runs about 16 pounds per gallon. This makes buying store bought apples and pressing them yourself something I wouldn't recommend. You may be able to buy a bin of apples and process them yourself at a reasonable price if you want to do it that way.

To make my annual brandy I need a minimum of 600-750 Lbs of apples. That will fill the boiler 3 times but not leave much for drinking as cider.

Not far from where I live, from time to time some people offer 1,000 pound bins of apples for cider or livestock for as little as 10-15 cents a pound. So if I do the math right that could potentially give you 62 gallons of sweet cider but is going to be a lot of work to make. The advantage to this is for $150 you could potentially have enough cider to make up to 3.75 gallons or around 19 bottles of finished 80 proof brandy, maybe a little more. That's about $8-10 a bottle after figuring the cost of yeast and electricity.

One question that gets asked a lot is
"What type of apples are best for brandy?"

There has always been debate about which varieties of apples and in what proportion make the best brandy. People who know me know I have a simple answer to that question.
My personal opinion is the best apples to use for apple brandy are free apples :wink: I have actually found an even better apple than free which is, free apples somebody else picks but those tend to be few and far between :lol: . With free apples you take what you can get. Of course I am aware that not everybody is going to be able to get free apples but as explained above buying them can get costly. If you have to buy them I would recommend selecting a variety of apples making sure to include "cooking" type apples if possible. It seems like the worst apples make the best brandy.

My own apple scrounging season lasts from early July to around the first of December and has been known to include more than 20 distinct varieties of apples, it often includes various pears as well. Of course there is no need to go to extremes but ideally you would include at least 3 varieties.

Step 4) A little bit about yeast

Once you have figured out how to get your juice / sweet cider it is time to ferment. This is actually where the real magic happens. Yeast absolutely love apple so leave a bit of head space for foaming, particularly if you are using unpasteurized sweet cider.

CIDER 03 AUG 17 #4 - C.JPG

This is an example of how much head space I use at the beginning of a ferment. That is a 12 gallon carboy with 8 gallons of juice and 2 five gallon carboys with 4 gallons of juice.

CIDER 04 AUG 17 #4 - C.JPG

This is a picture to show how much these foam up. It's hard to see but it came within a couple inches of the top. If I had 1 or 2 more inches of juice it would have filled the airlock and overflowed or blown out giving the fruit flies a chance to ruin the batch.

My normal procedure is to start off with lots of head space then after it settles down adding more juice until there is about 2 inches of head space. If you overfill you will either wind up with an airlock full of apple foam or blown completely out of the fermenter.

The yeast you use is very important. Never use bread yeast for apple brandy, it simply doesn't work out well. If this is your first time making apple brandy I always recommend you start with EC-1118 yeast. It is a good honest yeast that will ferment clean and make cuts much easier. After you get some experience with apple brandy you can start branching out to other yeast. I like to use 47B-1122 and D-47 because they actually add some extra fruitiness but they also make cuts much more difficult.

Other yeasts that are popular for hard cider and brandy are Nottingham and Safale S-04 but I haven't used those yet so I can't say how well they work. Some people also prefer to use wild yeast which is fine but while my experiences with wild yeast have produced acceptable results I personally find my results are better with store bought yeast.

Step 5) Wait

One thing to be aware of is yeast should match the temperature of the ferment and the temp of the ferment should match the yeast. I feel I get best results fermenting at lower temperatures which will take a bit longer so don't get in a hurry. One of the reasons for this is if the ferment is too warm and fast my understanding is it can blow the flavor compounds right out of the airlock or add off flavors. If your temperatures are too high to ferment with the yeast you want you need to find a way to cool your ferment down or a find a wine or ale yeast that will ferment at the temperature you have but don't use bread yeast.

After the cider has finished fermenting I like to let it rest for a while. This is not really necessary but I feel it improves the final product. I actually wait 30 days for the cider to ferment, then rack it off the sediment into another carboy. I fill the carboy to within an inch or two of the top to minimize airspace, then let it rest at least another month. I actually don't consider a ferment "finished" until it sucks back on the airlock.
AIRLOCK #2 - C.jpg

I seldom take an SG reading after the initial one because I figure it finishes where and when it finishes and whether that is .999 or .995 is largely irrelevant to me, when it sucks back it's ready. Often I will let the finished cider rest for a long period of time. I'm in no hurry so it may even go close to a year provided no infections show up. If an infection does show up I will run it as soon as possible. Normally left undisturbed under airlock it will sit there patiently for as long as I want to let it.

Step 6) Run it

When I'm ready to run I rack it to my boiler, flip the switch and let it run. I have run apple brandy through a pot still, a flute with 4 plates and 3 plates and the flute without using any reflux and have to say my personal preference is to run it through a simple pot still. The reason for this is that although I get higher ABV out of a single run through the flute no matter how it was run, cuts tend to be very difficult because most of the apple flavor is in the heads and the heads are so compressed it makes it difficult to reconstruct the apple flavor and I just like the final product out of the pot still better..

I have often been asked if I prefer a single run or double run, or a 1.5 run. The answer to that isn't easy either. The truth is the apple varieties I pick can vary considerably from year to year and even if they didn't the apples themselves can produce significantly different juice from one year to another. Often I will do a stripping run but run it like a spirit run to see if I like the results. More often than not I will go ahead and run it a second time. Usually the second run will produce a much nicer final product. Sometimes I will decide to run 2 or 3 stripping runs and top up my boiler with the low wines and fully fermented cider for a sort of 1.5 or perhaps better put a 1.75 run.

One big problem for a lot of people is getting enough cider for 3 stripping runs and a spirit run but I feel if you can it is worth it.

Cuts

Although brandy is generally regarded as a difficult thing to learn to distill the real problem is with the cuts. If you learn to distill making whiskey or cereal washes chances are you are cutting most if not all of the heads out and perhaps collecting into the early tails for the flavor and complexity they provide. Apple brandy requires thinking a bit differently about those cuts because the majority of the apple flavor hides in the heads. The real trick is in trying to blend back the flavor without giving yourself too much of a headache. It can be very tricky because what you really have on your hands is apple flavor that has been deconstructed and has to be put back together. This is why I collect in very small jars. By very small I mean for 12 gallons of low wines I collect in half pint increments. It means using a lot of jars but I think it makes blending much easier.

The next problem you encounter with brandy is you can't expect it to taste like the fresh fruit you made it out of. What you should be after is actually the ghost of that original fruit, after all that's why its called "spirit" isn't it? That brings us to the the next problem with apple, that ghost of the original fruit may take months to finally show up which brings us to the final step in the process.

Step 7) Patience, or as some like to call it "Aging".

At this point what GaFlatwoods says bears repeating "Patience is the hardest thing to put in a bottle" but it is necessary, especially with apple brandy. Whether you age on wood, or age white apple brandy needs time to develop. Novices often make the mistake of thinking they can age something in a week or two, or microwave it with some oak and it will magically be like 10 year old spirits in a few days. Sadly this is not true and there really is no substitute for time. Put it away and wait, when you think you have waited long enough wait some more. wait at least 6 months before trying it, then put it away and wait a year, or two, it will only get better with time.

I personally use some pretty complicated and perhaps strange aging processes at times but that's part of the fun of hobby distilling, that is also a subject for another thread.

A few links about building your own press that you may also find helpful are
My apple press which is basically made from scrap wood.
viewtopic.php?f=50&t=62539

Bushman made one out of a Harbor Freight hydraulic press here
viewtopic.php?f=83&t=51537

and Jimbo's is documented here
viewtopic.php?f=83&t=32309
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