Mr. Freeze DistillationJuly 26, 2012
After a few weeks of non-stop traveling, it feels really nice to be home….
Quick update: I wrote this preemptive to my arrival and I am now stuck at O’hare. Damn you blog post karma! Back to the post…
Luckily for me, I got to spend my last night in the Chicago area, at another home; one that offered up a wood-fired pizza oven, homemade applejack, and oh yeah, some time with one of my original drinking buddies.
Over some good wine and a bottle of Allagash’s Black (their Belgian strong dark ale), we caught up while we threw together a handful of delicious pies, coming out crisp and delicious in a matter of minutes. Sam’s dad built this oven a few years ago and ever since I heard about the plans, I’ve been dying to use it for myself. The verdict, as expected was clear. I need to have one of these when I grow up. And by grow up, I mean when I live in a home that doesn’t count square footage in the hundreds. One day!
But the oven isn’t the only thing Sam’s dad is making on his own. Last fall when their apple trees produced a major surplus, he did some research and took advantage of one of the more simple and elegant approaches of making your own booze. Freeze distillation takes advantage of the molecular property differences of alcohol and water. Sounds familiar right? In typical distillation processes, we rely on the alcohol “boiling” at a lower temperature than water to purify the alcohol. So in this case, a fermented mash may go from 5-10% alcohol up to 80% or more before being prepared for it’s final bottling concentration or proof. But just like in the case of boiling temperatures, the freezing temperature of alcohol is also much lower than that of water. Which is why you can stash your vodka and gin in the freezer no problem!
Applejack takes advantage of this notion and is pretty damn delicious. Starting with a batch of fresh apple cider or unfiltered juice from their apple surplus and a little white wine yeast to get the fermentation started, a hard apple cider was produced in the same style carboy we use for our beer production. After the proper alcohol concentration was developed, the “freeze” component of this distillation began. Using small batches in shallow Tupperware containers, the alcoholic components of the apple cider separate from the water components as the ice begins to freeze. Iterating this process allows you to slowly remove the water without wasting a large portion of the alcohol because as simple as the process sounds, that separation doesn’t exactly happen in two distinct layers. There will always be some level of mixing which is why patience is crucial for this process. But the net result is a highly alcoholic cordial packed with major fresh apple flavor: refreshing and nostalgic, well worth the effort that went into it.
The same process could be used for any fermented juice in actuality, but we’ll need to think of better names for those varieties as grapejack and cranberry jack just don’t quite roll off the tongue.