Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Honey Apple Wine

Terminology in the realm of homebrew fruit wines starts to get real complicated real quick. My most recent project is a perfect example of this. Fermented apple cider is typically called cider, though if you get the alcohol content high enough and you don’t carbonate it, the result is probably more accurate to call apple wine. Honey wine is, of course, mead. If you mix apple cider with honey and ferment it, the result is typically called cyser, though the more general term for a fruit-flavored mead is melomel.

The word “cyser” seems to me like a play on the word “cider”. So if I were making something like a cider, but used honey instead of ordinary sugar I would certainly call it a cyser. However, I pushed the starting gravity all the way up to 1.100, which is going to yield something closer to wine strength (and hopefully with plenty of residual sweetness). Since the end result I’m aiming for is not  “cider-like”, it seems funny to me to call it a “cyser”.

The name “Apple Melomel” seems like it might be a good choice, but I feel like that obscures the situation: Apple is the star of the show, highlighted with the flavor of honey. This is basically the same thing as my Caramel Apple Wine, if we replace the caramel syrup with honey instead. So, following that pattern, I’m going to call this one “Honey Apple Wine”.

Honey Apple Wine

  • Apple Cider
  • Honey [1]
  • Yeast [2]
  • Pectic Enzyme [3]
  • Yeast Nutrient

Add honey to the apple cider to bring the starting gravity to 1.100 [4]. Bring to a boil in a large pot to sterilize. Skim off foam, which can contain leftover wax and other waste products. Mix in pectic enzyme. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour).

Pitch yeast as instructed and add yeast nutrient. Move the mixture to the primary container, attach air lock. Rack to secondary when fermentation has stopped or slowed significantly.



On the left of this picture is my Caramel Apple Wine, which is a much darker, redder color and is slowly starting to clarify.


  1. I used a local clover honey.
  2. I went to the brew store looking for White Labs WLP-775 “English Cider” yeast. That was out of stock, so I picked up a packet of “Cider House Select” yeast, which seems specialized for cider but for which I can’t find any information online.
  3. This is the first batch I’ve made with pectic enzyme. I didn’t see any obvious change at pitch, but I’m expecting some improvements later to clarity.
  4. I added 2 cups of honey to the cider, boiled it, cooled it, and took a gravity reading. The intention was to use white sugar to bump up to 1.100. However, when I took the reading I was at 1.100 almost exactly, so I left it as is. It was a happy accident, but I wasn’t expecting the SG to go so high on only 2 cups of honey.

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Caramel Apple Wine

I’ve been making a bunch of fruit wines this year, but most of those are just ways for me to kill time. What I’m really excited about making is hard apple cider and apple wine, and I have a few jugs available to make several batches. I have a gallon batch of apple wine going right now, and am planning another gallon batch of hard cider soon. Whats left are my two half-gallon jugs, which are the perfect size for things which are a little bit more experimental. For the first one I decided to create a batch of Caramel Apple Wine. This recipe is for a half-gallon batch. Scaling it up should be pretty straight-forward to a point. Too much sugar in the pot will be hard to caramelize. You might need to work in batches.

The regular subscriber (and I suspect there is only one) will notice that this recipe has been heavily influenced by the Caramel Apple Jam recipe I posted a while back, and which has been a household favorite since I first made it.

Caramel Apple Wine

  • Apple Cider
  • White Sugar
  • 1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Yeast: Cotes des Blancs
  • Starting Gravity: 1.104
  • Yeast Nutrient

Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water to a high-walled stockpot. Cook over medium heat, stirring only if necessary, until the sugar turns a deep brown. Add in 4 cups of apple cider and stir until all the caramelized sugar is dissolved. I didn’t let the cider come to a boil, but I don’t think it will hurt too much if you do.

Add the caramel cider and another 4 cups of cider (8 cups total) to a mixing bucket. Add enough sugar to bring the gravity up to 1.100 (for me, it was another cup). Add in vanilla extract to taste (my home-made extract is less strong than most store-bought varieties, so you may want to start smaller. A subtle vanilla flavor to compliment the caramel is all I wanted).  Funnel the must into a sterilized half-gallon jug. If there is any left over, save it for topping off after the trip to secondary.

I added 1/2 Tsp of the yeast nutrient up front. I have been using a staggered feeding schedule for some of my other brews, but for this one I added all the nutrient up front.

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before pitching the yeast.


 First Test

I stole my customary taste-test during the rack to secondary. The wine definitely tastes of caramel apple, though the caramel flavor is not as strong as I expected. I’ll probably do a lot of second-guessing about both the amount of caramelized sugar I used and also the amount it was caramelized. Did I let it get dark enough, or did I panic and take it off the heat too soon? Did I just not make enough?

In a few months when it’s good and ready I’ll taste it again with a definite eye towards making sure the caramel flavor is properly balanced. Maybe it will pop out more when the mixture mellows out after aging.

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Apple Wine

One of my favorite parts of autumn is the fresh apple cider. We’ve been lucky enough to find a local brand of it which we like very much: sweet and mild with just a little tartness and no bitterness. It tastes great but is also has another awesome feature: it contains no preservatives.

I’m not the kind of person who dislikes chemicals and preservatives on principle. In a lot of cases, preservatives are extremely important, helping to keep food items that are otherwise perishable from spoiling. But with apple cider, one of the best things about it is that it ferments. I like to leave apple cider in the fridge for a week or more, until it just starts getting some sparkle and tang to it. I also like hard cider and apple wine. I picked up a gallon of cider for fermenting (and a second gallon, just for drinking. And some apple cider donuts, just because) and decided to put together a batch.

When I see recipes for hard apple cider on the internet, I frequently see people adding in apple juice concentrate to the mix. The theory, I think, is that the concentrate is cheap, it adds sugar, and it increases the apple flavor. I already have a product like that in my fridge from last year: boiled apple cider syrup. Since the apple cider we use has very little tartness and has a mild flavor, I decided to add some of that boiled syrup to the mix as well.


Apple Wine

I’m going to leave off units of measure for this recipe, because it’s easy to scale up or down. The batch I made was 1 gallon, but all the same things apply for a 3 or 5 gallon batch as well. Since I finally own a hydrometer, I can give specific gravity readings.

  • Apple Cider [1]
  • Boiled Apple Cider Syrup [2]
  • Brown Sugar
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Yeast [3]
  • Yeast Nutrient

Start the yeast ahead of time in a small amount of cider, warmed to room temperature. Allow the yeast to hydrate and build up a bit of foam so you know it’s active.

Add the bulk of the apple cider to a bucket. Mix in the syrup and take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Add sugar (I did half-and-half with the brown and the white) to bring the specific gravity up to 1.100. Transfer to your fermenter. Add the yeast and yeast nutrient and swirl well to mix.

When the fermentation slows down, rack to secondary and wait. I’ll post an update when we get that far. For now, as you can see, we’re still bubbling away.



  1. Use any kind of apple cider or juice that you like drinking EXCEPT it may not contain preservatives. Preservatives are chemicals that kill or control yeast (among other microbial baddies), which is exactly the opposite of what you want. There are ways to use cider which contains Potassium Sorbate, if that’s the only preservative it contains.
  2. I boiled down 1 gallon of cider to about a pint or more of syrup. From that, I used about a cup or less in this recipe for 1 gallon of cider. I probably could have added more. Keep in mind that the boiled syrup, because of the heat of making it, is going to have a different flavor profile from fresh cider. So it will add more flavor, but slightly different flavor. It’s also going to add more acid, which could be problematic if your cider is already tart. I thought about adding this to the secondary as well, but decided to try it in primary instead.
  3. I used Red Star Cotes des Blancs. This was recommended to me as a yeast which is good for fruit wines and will finish sweet. I had originally bought this for a peach wine that I thought had stuck. I also picked up my hydrometer at the same time and when I tested the peach wine I saw that it indeed had fermented out. So, I kept this packet of yeast to use for cider.

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Cherry Cyser

I mentioned in the post on Cherry Melomel that different additives give mead different names. The problem with these names is that if you go off-recipe (as I often do), it’s not always obvious what to call your creations. Last time I started a batch of Cherry Melomel, a mead with chopped cherries. This time I was cleaning out my fridge and found two containers of juice that needed to go: Cherry cider and Apple Cider. I mixed the two with my remaining honey to make another batch of flavored mead.

A fermented beverage with apple cider and honey is typically called a “Cyser. I think it’s a weird play on “cider” (many of these mead variety names have a ‘y’ jammed in the name somewhere, for reasons I do not understand). A cherry mead doesn’t really have a common special name, besides the generic “Cherry Melomel”. Unlike the Cherry Melomel that I started last time, this batch uses a blend of cherry juice  and apple cider instead of water and whole cherries.

The apple cider isn’t the most prominent ingredient, so I hesitated to call this a cyser, but then again my last recipe was called “Cherry Melomel”, so I have to call this something different.

Cherry Cyser (Cherry Melomel)

  1. 3 Cups Cherry Cider
  2. 2 Cups Sweet Apple Cider
  3. 3 Cups water (bottled spring water) [1]
  4. 1 Cup Honey
  5. Yeast [2]
  6. Yeast nutrient or other chemicals [3]

Mix the cherry cider, apple cider, water and honey in a large stock pot. Under medium-low heat, bring the mixture up to a near boil (do not boil completely, about 170°F) and pasteurize like this for 10 minutes [4]. Stir frequently, adjust temperature so it does not boil, and skim some of the foam off the top if possible. When pasteurization is complete, turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (no warmer than 100°F)

During this time, sanitize your primary fermentation container, funnel, airlock and any other equipment.

Funnel your mixture into the fermentation container. Pitch in your yeast, yeast nutrient and any other chemicals you need. Cap and shake to distribute the ingredients and give a little oxygen to get the yeast started. Apply the airlock and allow to ferment, undisturbed, about 2 weeks or until bubbling has stopped or slowed to a crawl. After that, rack to secondary and allow to condition (racking every few weeks, as needed) until the mead is clear and good to drink.

Potassium Sorbate

One thing I didn’t realize in my haste, was that the apple cider I used this time (unlike the cider used in my first two batches of hard cider) contained Potassium Sorbate. Potassium Sorbate is a preservative that prevents yeast from reproducing. Manufacturers use pasteurization to kill existing yeast, and add potassium sorbate to prevent newly added yeast from propagating.

When I pitched my yeast into the mixture nothing happened. The potassium sorbate was preventing the inactive yeast from reactivating and getting the fermentation process started.

To get around this issue, and prevente myself from wasting all the valuable (and tasty ingredients) I created a starter. Potassium Sorbate only stops yeast from reproducing, it doesn’t stop existing yeast from going about normal business. If you create a starter, the yeast can grow and reproduce a little bit first, before you pitch it into the mead. This allows fermentation to continue like normal. A starter basically contains:

  1. Yeast
  2. Honey or sugar (I used about 1 Tbsp honey)
  3. Water  (I used about 3Tbsp, bottled spring water)

Mix the ingredients together and allow to sit, loosely covered, overnight. The mixture should be bubbly or fizzy by the morning. Pitch in this mixture to your mead, and wait for it to start bubbling.


After the initial scare from the potassium sorbate, the wort fermented actively. After the first day, there was no indication that anything was off about it.

I grabbed a small taste when I racked it the first time. This mixture was much drier than my previous cherry melomel, and had a good amount of fizz in it. The was decent, kind of ale-like, a little harsh, and with very little cherry or apple flavor to be found. I’m hoping that after a month or two of conditioning the harshness will go away and some of the fruit flavors will start to shine through again.


  1. I used the cider I had available, 3 cups of the cherry and 2 cups of the apple. I topped off with water. If I had more cider, I would have used it instead of the water.
  2. I used my remaining packet of champagne yeast
  3. I used basic yeast nutrient, but there are other things that could be tried. Pectic Enzyme might be helpful if you’re looking for a clear result (I don’t care about clarity). Eventually, something like a metabisulfite would be used to kill off the remaining yeasts when fermentation is complete
  4. If you have a thermometer, your mixture should be over 180°F for 10 minutes. I don’t, so I winged it.
  5. Yeast may like to be pitched at a temperature higher than room temperature, to jolt them back into action. Follow whatever instructions come with your yeast.

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Apple Cider Syrup

I’ve seen this concoction called many different things on the interwebz: “Apple Molasses“, “Apple Cider Molasses“, “Boiled Apple Cider“, “Apple Cider Syrup” and even “Cider Jelly“. I’ve found the last name to be particularly problematic because the taste and appearance of the final result is very different from the Apple Cider Jelly I’ve made in the past (and plan to make again soon!).

I’m going to call it Apple Cider Syrup. I think it’s the most accurate name for the final product I ended up with, having a color and consistency very similar to Maple Syrup. If you boil the cider longer than I did, you may end up with a product much closer to molasses, so you will probably want to call it that instead.

Apple Cider Syrup

  • Apple Cider [1]

Put apple cider into a large stock pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling [2], stirring occasionally and skimming foam off the top if necessary, until the cider has been reduced to a thick syrup. Expect to reduce the cider to an eighth or a tenth of its original volume, at least. Depending on the desired consistency, you probably want the cider to coat the back of a clean, cool spoon before you’re done.

Allow the syrup to cool, put into suitable containers and store in the fridge (indefinitely). You can also ladle it into prepared jars (quarter- and half-pint work fine, if you have that much) and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. If your cider is very sweet and not at all tart, you may want to add some lemon juice to the mixture as it’s boiling down, to ensure shelf stability [3] .



Wow. Talk about flavor explosion. All the sugar but also all the acidic tartness are reduced into a small amount of extremely flavorful syrup. I stopped the boiling when the cider reached a consistency similar to maple syrup or honey, but some people on the internet take it all the way down to the level of thick molasses. I also suspect that, like maple syrup, we could dehydrate the result into crystals of apple cider sugar, but I haven’t attempted that just yet. The cider that we used was fresh and very sweet, but the resulting syrup was surprisingly bold and tart.

On french toast, with some fried apples, this syrup was fantastic. We mixed it with a little bit of maple syrup as well, and some melted butter, and it was total heaven.

I stopped boiling as soon as the syrup coated the back of a spoon. Any earlier and I would have had something more like “Cider Concentrate”, which would also be worthwhile to make and preserve, just not what I wanted today.

Keep in mind that when it’s hot on the stove the consistency will be much thinner than when it cools down or is refrigerated. The spoon test or other tests for thickness will be required to figure out how thick the final product will be.

Other Possible Uses

As a syrup on french toast, this is an obvious choice. But where else could this be used?

I had originally thought it might be good as a substitute for white sugar when baking, but the robust tart flavor makes me think twice about using it without careful forethought. Mixing some in with oatmeal might be nice, as would mixing it in with some kind of warm beverage. I might try it with some tea. An “Apple chai latte” sounds particularly good to me right now, and will give me a tasty seasonal alternative when my wife is drinking one of her pumpkin-themed fu-fu coffee drinks.

A small amount of this syrup would add big apple flavor to a mixed drink or cocktail.

We don’t do baked beans often, but I imagine it would form a great base for a ham or chicken glaze, it might go good on brandied carrots, or with some good aged Gouda on a cheese plate.


  1. You’re going to want a really good quality cider to start with. We’re concentrating it, so anything that is bad about the cider will be concentrated to be more bad. I recommend you pick something fresh, sweet, not too tart and not at all bitter.
  2. Once the mixture reaches a boil, you can adjust the temperature down so it doesn’t bubble up and get out of control. I found medium-low to work well for much of the reduction, though sometimes the boiling stopped and I had to turn it up a bit. The only part that really matters is towards the end when the syrup is thick and prone to burning. At the final stages you shouldn’t have it much hotter than medium-low to prevent burning.
  3. In reality, the acid from the apples already (especially if your cider is at all tart), combined with the high sugar and low moisture should be enough to suppress most pathogens. A little lemon juice and a boiling water bath are just a belt-and-suspenders way to stay safe. Refrigeration should also be sufficient to keep it safe indefinitely, so long as you don’t add moisture.

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Hard Apple Cider: Second Batch

With my first batch of cider in a recycled wine bottle for secondary fermentation, my one glass jug is suddenly empty and in need of more love.

We had bought three gallons of cider last time we went to the market. One was boiled down into syrup, one was drank outright. I was trying to make plans for the third gallon, slowly drinking a glass at a time, until it started fermenting. Every time I had a glass it was a little bit more fizzy and alcoholic. Finally I decided not to fight with nature, and realized that the decision had been made for me. Pouring the rest into my glass jug, I started my second batch of hard apple cider.

For this second batch I tried a more “complicated” recipe: To a half-gallon of already-fermenting cider I added a half-cup of brown sugar, a heaping spoonful of locally-sourced honey, and a half-teaspoon of “yeast nutrients”. The nutrients, I’m told, help the yeast to be healthier and happier, and to make a better-tasting beverage. Since the cider was already half fermented when I got to it, I clearly didn’t need to add any more yeast. This round, apparently, was going to be au naturale.


I’ve been told that something like Pectic Enzyme and a few other additives could help precipitate some of the solids and clarify the cider. I honestly don’t care about those kinds of things at all. So long as the cider tastes good, I don’t care what it looks like (and anybody who does care doesn’t have to drink it!).

Similarly to my first batch, I’m intending to make a “still” cider (without carbonation). It will be like an apple wine, and should have much higher alcohol content than my first batch because I added so much extra sugar.

I mixed the cider up last weekend, and I expect primary fermentation to last at least another week or two. After that, I’ll give it a taste and move it somewhere to age until I think it’s ready for serious drinking.

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Hard Cider: First Batch Update

My first trial batch of hard apple cider has finished primary fermentation and has been moved to an empty wine bottle to start aging and mellowing. “Primary fermentation” is the period while the yeast are still actively converting sugar to alcohol and the mixture is producing bubbles.  This batch was an extremely simple mixture: A bottle of apple cider, some Ale yeast, and nothing else. I tasted it after primary fermentation, as I was transferring it to the new bottle, and it’s pretty good. It has a lot of tangy ale flavor, as would be expected from the choice of yeast used, but it also has a decent apple background. The alcohol content isn’t too high, but then again I didn’t add any extra sugar so there’s a limit to how high it could have gotten.


I’ve opted for a “still” cider for my first batch, as opposed to a “sparkling” one. The difference, of course, is carbonation. This first batch is more like an apple wine than a commercial apple cider or any sort of malt beverage, and I think I like it that way.


I’ve been told that these things get even better with age, so I’m going to let it sit for a while. In the mean time, I’ve got a second batch started that I’ll write about soon.