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In my country obtaining a bottle of applejack is about impossible, while cider slowly gains some foothold. I have managed to obtain a few liters of apple cider for reasonable price and happen to have a decent quality freezer. I'd like to use freeze-concentration to produce some applejack from it, to have a glass of the legendary drink.

I know the ground theory of how that process is supposed to work, but I don't know any details. What is the right temperature? What kind of container should I use? Should it be covered/airtight to prevent alcohol evaporation? How much ice should I allow to form before removing it? Any special techniques of removing the ice? Also, I heard some account that you keep the ice and discard the liquid - is there any truth to that?

  • Water freezes at a higher temperature then alcohol so no idea why yo would discard the liquid. – Wayne In Yak Nov 25 '13 at 20:10
  • @WayneInYak: I think the rationale went like "alcohol, lighter than water, floats to the surface and gets trapped in the porous ice". No clue how much truth there was in that. The ice is, truth be said though, very porous in the test batch - more resembling packed damp snow. – SF. Nov 25 '13 at 20:55
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Start with a sterile carboy, airlock, funnel, and cold pressed apple cider. Don't use anything that has preservatives in it. Pitch in a Campden tablet per gallon of juice to kill any unidentified bacteria or yeast. Let sit for 24 hours then pitch in some champagne or cider yeast. Watch it ferment. Save some 2 litre bottles in the meantime.

When the brew is done bubbling in the air lock, siphon the juice into the 2 liter bottles and freeze them with a hole in the cap to prevent an explosion. Wait 12-24 hours to pull the bottles and invert them over another vessel or bucket. I use a clean milk jug inside a 5 gal bucket to stabilize it. Let the mass drain till the ice is mostly clear and you have a good amount of liquid in the milk jug. Throw away the ice. Return the liquid to the 2 liter cap and re-freeze. Repeat this process until it no longer freezes. Enjoy.

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    That's a good example. However, I think one stage would be enough to get 10% apple jack from 5-6% ABV cider. Doing it 2-3 stages with 5 gallons of cider might get you 1 gallon of applejack or ice cider with 15-20% of ABV. Honestly, I would do it only once just to check how it works, and would stick to one stage icing. – Trigger Apr 3 '15 at 15:42
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My grandfather, who was also a bootlegger during prohibition, used to make huge batches of apple jack in wooden barrels. He said they'd smash up ripe apples, fill the barrels to the top, packed with the crushed apples, and then add well water until it just showed. Then they'd pour in "A shit-load of sugar" my grandfathers words, and lay the barrel top loosely on....and wait.

When it stopped fermenting, they'd pour the pulp and liquid through hardware cloth first, then feed the pulp to the pigs. They'd strain it again through doubled, washed burlap feed sacks, then return it to the barrels which had been scrubbed out and scalded with boiling water. The cover was tamped down tight on the barrels now. Waited for freezing weather. In Minnesota this usually started late October, early November.

Every morning, grandpa would go out there and break up the ice that formed, discard it, and re-cover the barrels. Eventually he'd get an end-product that had "A goddamn good kick", again, grandpa's words, and they'd bottle it in old molasses jugs. He claimed a batch made this way rarely went bad.

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The process of freeze distillation exploits the difference in freezing points of water and ethanol. Wikipedia has a good article that explains the process. The short explanation is that the frozen portion of the liquid has a lower concentration of alcohol than the liquid portion. By removing the ice, you can thereby increase the concentration of alcohol in cider. You can repeat the process using progressively lower temperatures to produce a higher alcohol beverage.

Note that the wikipedia article warns that freeze distillation can increase methanol levels to a dangerous degree. Methanol is a nerve toxin that can permanently damage the optic nerve.

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    It doesn't produce methanol though, right? If I'm using cider from a reputable, certified source, I shouldn't be at risk. – SF. Nov 26 '13 at 0:50
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    Did a bit of research, and found this article on methanol. It comes from the breakdown of pectin occurring in high temp. fermentation, adding enzymes, and fermenting beyond 12% ABV. Apples are particularly high in pectin. Might explain why cider is traditionally fermented at lower temperatures. – S. Albano Nov 26 '13 at 3:54
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    It doesn't produce methanol, but it concentrates it. Apple cider can contain high levels of methanol, due to high levels of pectin in the juice. There's some more information here: homedistiller.org/intro/methanol/methanol – FishesCycle Nov 26 '13 at 3:56
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High methanol levels can actually be a problem in the freeze distillation (or more correctly, condensation) process. The methanol is already present in the apples and increases during fermentation. To reduce the levels of methanol, you can boil the apple juice before starting the fermentation. This will reduce the initial level of methanol. Boil for about 20 minutes. After fermentation, you could again, bring the cider to a temperature over the boiling point of methanol, but under the boiling point of ethanol. Somewhere between 148.5°F and 173.1°F. The process of freeze distillation is actually easy. Once you have your apple cider, pout it into water bottles and freeze them completely in a freezer. This should take around 24 hours, up to two days if you have a strong cider. Once frozen, take the bottles out of the freezer, turn them upside down and let them defrost slowly in the fridge. Collect the liquid flowing out of the bottles. After 1-2 hours, there should only be a white ice block left in the bottles - most water and you can discard it. Depending on how strong you want your applejack, you can repeat this process several times until it won't freeze anymore. At this point, you will have an applejack of around 35% ABV. This process also works to fortify wine and beer (and is safer since these beverages have low methanol levels) I found a detailed desription of the entire process here.

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  • The bits you have regarding methanol already being present in the apples, and ability to boil it off, don't hold up to actual science. – dmtaylor Apr 19 at 19:08
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    Boiling temperature of Methanol and Ethanol seem about right. Care to elaborate dmtaylor? – Philippe Apr 20 at 15:08

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