Apple juice and apple cider are incredibly popular drinks, especially during the fall harvest season. But despite the fact that the fruit is practically synonymous with fall, apples are largely underrepresented in our alcoholic beverages. Hard apple cider, once the drink of choice for colonial Americans, is experiencing a revival in popularity, but still lags behind mainstream go-tos like beer and wine. In fact, both beer and wine can be made or accentuated with apples, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find an apple-based bottle at the grocery store.
The reason fermented apple drinks aren’t more widely consumed is because Americans have rarely enjoyed, or even heard of, the best (and, likely, the oldest) type of alcoholic apple drink in existence: cyser, or apple mead. Mead is a type of wine that uses honey as the dominant source of sugar, while cyser is a particular type of mead made from apples.
Mead is a drink with a long history. Vikings, Gaels, and Celts wrote and told of their love for the drink, attributing magical powers and healing properties to the brew. Mead in some form has been brewed on every continent for at least 2,000 years. In fact, there is a distinct possibility that mead is the oldest fermented, alcoholic beverage in history, outdating even beer. Wherever bees make honey, from Africa to Asia, people have collected it, prized it, and put it into food and drinks of various forms. And since wild yeasts capable of making alcohol are found everywhere in the wild, and honey is an excellent source of fermentable sugars, mead could easily have been made by accident. The first person to dissolve raw honey into water, perhaps to sweeten it or soothe a throat, may have discovered that their honey-water became pleasantly alcoholic in just a few days.
Since that ancient time, mankind has made and treasured mead. Peoples from all over the world make mead using seasonal fruits and herbs for flavoring, using the drink for celebrations and harvests, as well as for medicine.
Historically, honey foodstuffs like pastries and mead were given to newlywed couples in European farming communities. Honey was considered very healthy, even before modern science confirmed its many benefits, and as such was the perfect gift for a young couple. Being healthy and well fed with sweet, high caloric foodstuffs, including mead, was thought to encourage fertility. In fact, consuming the gifted honey foodstuffs over the first month of marriage, or by the lunar cycle an entire “moon,” was likely the origin of the term honeymoon!
Isn’t that cool? Don’t you want to make mead? Then do it — it’s easy! And while you’re at it, make it with apples! All you need are some very simple tips and techniques.
First, here’s a recipe for mead, using only honey, water, and yeast:
2-3 lbs of honey
1 Gal of water. Mix the honey and water completely. Consider heating the water. Pour mixture into a clean, sanitary gallon jug.
Pitch yeast into jug, fit an airlock on top. Yeast nutrient may be used as well.
Using 2-3 pounds of honey, fully dissolved into a gallon of water, pour honey-water into a clean, sanitary gallon jug. Pitch in yeast of choice (Champagne is popular, easy and cheap) into the jug of sugary honey-water, at room temperature. Consider adding yeast nutrient and/or energizer ($1.99 for 2 oz, which will make many batches) to guarantee smooth fermentation. Fit an airlock (fig. 2) on the top of the jug ($.99) and within a couple days bubbles of CO2, a byproduct of fermentation, will begin to exit out of the top through the airlock. This will continue for weeks, maybe even more than a month, until the yeast develops into a layer on the bottom, completes fermentation, and the bubbles cease.
Want to make mead using apples? Here’s what you need to do to make a delicious cyser:
Then cut or press the equivalent of 3-6 sanitized, cleaned apples per gallon and/or add 1/4 to 1/2 gallon of your favorite cider or juice per gallon of expected volume. That means less water volume to dissolve the honey, so be mindful. Feel free to experiment with more cider or juice and less honey in the ratio of honey-water to cider/juice.
- Use as fresh and unprocessed ingredients as possible. Pure honey and unpasteurized juice/cider make the best cyser.
- When fermentation stops, feel free to simply cap the jug and put it in the fridge. A yeast cake will be present, so to serve out of the original container decant carefully to prevent the yeast on the bottom from getting stirred up.
- Try racking or bottling your cyser. Racking is a term used in winemaking for simply transferring your brew from the original fermenting container to another while leaving the yeast behind on the bottom of the original container. Usually a siphon is used for sanitary purposes to gently draw the liquid out of one container into a clean, sanitary and sealable bottle. You may need corks or caps if the jug, growler, gallon bottle, or swing top style bottles aren’t what you had in mind.
Add more stuff!
- Add fresh, cleaned apples to the new bottle you just “racked.” Your cyser can sit, removed from the yeast of the original fermenting bottle, on newly-added apples for even more flavor!
- Looking for more body? Try adding white raisens to create an apple “flesh” taste that’s thicker in mouthfeel.
- Add some cinnamon sticks (lightly) in the beginning of the mead-making process, or rack/transfer into a secondary container with 1-2 cinnamon sticks. Note – a little goes a long way with cinnamon.
L.T. Smash says
Wow I love the blog post. It is concise, informative and very comprehensive. I will submit this for a Peabody. Kudos-
Have not made cyser (actually made it substituting quinces, last time) for about 35 years. Plan to make cyser this fall, but not with my own apples, rather with refrigerated juice from a known good orchard and cider press source, from which I have previously made very nice fermented cider. Plan to use inexpensive honey that I’ll pasteurize so that the wild blend of yeasts in the cider will stay in balance, but will add Champagne yeast to 1/2 of batch to compare for clarity and dryness. Objective is crisp and fully dry mead with very slight spritz. May add very thin apple slices with peels to a few bottles to compare flavor. If we get good new source of quinces, then expect to make a new round of quince mead, using only champagne yeast to try to capture that more delicate flavor more cleanly. I’ll have to use water with the quinces in place of apple juice, and probably make that R/O water, at that, so that fermentation is in no way inhibited by the various junk in our local water. Small batches, not likely over 3 gallons each.
Suzanna P says
Friends of mine attempted to make mead in the past but some how botched it. I have started single one gallon strawberry mead and am looking forward to racking it next week. I have purchased enough material for 6 more gallons of mead. The fun part is choosing the types to make. I have been thinking of doing an apple cinnamon mead but could not find a good simple receipt.
Your site really helped simplify and break down mead making. I don’t want to use cider but instead use apples. I am so excited for my meads outlook a year down the road. What fun to make our own drinkage.
I am going to add a cinnamon stick to my apple batch, I want to use other spices. Is there a certain measurable dosage of should I sprinkle a little at a time and experiment?
Glad you found the post helpful, and good luck with your mead making! Regarding cinnamon, a small amount is all that’s required – a teaspoon of ground cinnamon per gallon, or 1/2 inch of a stick per gallon. Happy brewing!
Hunter H says
I finished a batch of sweet berry mead last week, and it turned out awesome, and I plan on making a cyser for my next batch. This post was extremely informative, since I wasnt sure how much cider to use.
Does anyone know of a good source on the history of the “Open Vat” technique, where you don’t use a carboy but simply cover the container with cloth?
This is how I do my brewing as to try to keep it as close to original early period brewing. Been doing it the last few years but was looking for a source on that fashion of brewing.
I’m in the UK and grow my own cider apples on my “allotment”(rented patch of land from local council) Made around 18 gall(UK) from this years fruit and decided to take 1 1/2 gall and added a pound of commercial honey to make Cyser. After reading all your posts I going to add a cinnamon stick to the brew and see what happens!
Also got some Perry Pears(from allotment) to blend with other fruit and hope to make a few gallons of Perry .Got 2 beehives but sadly no bees ,not sure I’d have time to look after them either though!
Good luck with the cyser and the perry – you get a lot of good stuff from your allotment!
Vidar Halvorsen says
making mead with apple is one of the most fantastic alcoholic beverages you can make 🙂
Hope to see you on my mead site
Add yeast nutrients about 2 days after pitching yeast. Stir yeast nutrients into the solution. Fermentation is best when kept between 65-75 F. The primary fermentation will last about 4 weeks.
Frank the drunk says
Made cyser in November 1999. Still have some bottles. Beautiful stuff.