"If your parachute won't open, aim for a soft cow!"...
Hesse region in Germany offers many local traits one can enjoy. One of the more famous ones (or “notorious ones” to some) being the so-called “Äppler” – or simply apple wine. As approximately two thirds of Germany’s apples are cultivated in the Hesse region, it is just a logical consequence that you will find a large variety of flavours of the mildly alcoholic drink to conquer. Whether you like the “Stöffche” or not might also be subject to the question of how your body will handle it. Many people not used to the sour beverage will complain about the immediate effect on the digestive system once they had a few glasses. As I found out for myself, if you tend to have troubles there, there is no need to condemn the “Äppler” – just make your own!
Most of the professional “wineries” will add a special yeast or sometimes even sulphites to guarantee a recurring taste and cut short on the time the product needs to ferment properly. These additives are quite often the reason, why the drink will give you hard time. Yet if you produce your own wine, you do not need to make every glass taste exactly the same. So why not grab a few apples and make your own special blend?
For what it will become, apple wine is super easy to make – all you need for equipment is a fermenting barrel. You will find the ladder in hardware stores in autumn or you have a look at Amazon – depending on the size, it will cost around 30-40€. It is up to you whether you want to start with the convenient plastic barrels or keep it old-school with a carboy. When that is saddled, look around for some apples. If you have no garden or apple-trees, keep your eyes open in your local supermarket. During harvest season you will get bigger crates for a bargain – no worries.
Now to the hard bit – squeezing out the juice. Most households do not own a fruit press or a juicer but there are other methods of getting that sweet juice out of the apple. Have a look around in rural Hesse during the autumn – many farms offer to press the apples for you. Just make sure you will get the juice of your own apples, not the conglomerate of all the apples pressed that day. I came across some “mobile presses”, that will come to your house and let you squeeze your apples. Some farms with presses will sell you the juice of others if you have no apples yourself, so that is an option as well.
As a rule of thumb, 1 kg of apples will give you around 0,5 - 0,7 litres of juice.
If you finally have the sweet juice and can resist drinking it all right away, all there is left to do is fill the barrel and set up the fermenting cap. Filled with water, this little pipe will make sure the juice will not receive too much oxygen from outside the vessel.
Place the barrel somewhere cold but with a relative constant temperature (a cellar works just fine) and wait. Preferably not right there on the spot because the apple wine will need around three months until the juice has been transformed completely and the suspended load will have gathered at the bottom of the barrel. It will be a bit sparkly and clear-sighted. Maybe try a little?
If you are content with your product and you have some empty bottles to spare, fill up all of the wine at once, so the fermentation process is stopped. Just make sure, there is hardly any air left in the bottles (the oxygen might re-activate the fermentation and this will produce more gases – that is not what you want inside a closed glass container). If you do not have the time or the bottles to do this right away, no worries, the apple wine can be kept in the barrel for at least a whole year. It might taste a bit more “flat” after that but it is still good.
To tinker around with the taste, you might try different types of apples or add some sugar, if you want it to contain more alcohol (careful). When you have gathered some experience, you can look into the differences between bottom and top fermentation to perfect your product. Anyhow, you are the proud owner of something truly unique, something you made yourself, something of value to you and your friends. Enjoy!