Applejack is a strong drink you can make without a still, or in fact any fancy equipment. Buy (or make!) a cider you
really like, then pour it into clean plastic jugs such as milk bottles, leaving a bit of space at the top.
- Stick it in the freezer.
- When it’s solid, upend the opened jug on to a big, clean jar and let it drip until the ice in the jug is clear.
- Repeat if you like it stronger.
The final ABV will be determined by how much water you remove: if you start with a 7% and quarter the volume, you’ll have something like a 24% ABV drink. Anything over around 40% tends to be unpleasantly sweet and strong tasting.
How does it work?
In your typical alcoholic beverage, the water will be the first thing to freeze and the last thing to melt. By freezing it all, you can leave the water behind and concentrate everything else, like flavour, sugar and alcohol. Fractional freezing is really popular with beer makers, particularly in Japan.
Can you make it better?
Use a cider you really, really like. Typically I make this with Old Rosie, which is a fairly decent cider that comes in glorious 2L bottles I can reuse for aging my wines and meads!
Any flavour that exists in the cider will be more pronounced in the applejack, except for acidity (which will be overbalanced by the increased concentration of sugar).
I also often add a few drops of oak tincture (oak chips soaked in vodka for a few weeks).
Is that.. legal? Is it safe?
“Yes, but”. I’m going to nerd out here (bear with me) as this topic comes up a lot in home meadmaking and home winemaking circles.
Many people are interested in concentrating their homemade wines for a highly alcoholic, hopefully tasty drink. Others would like to strip out the alcohol from disappointing home made wine, to salvage something from the experience. But in Australia, it’s not legal to run a still without a licence (or even to own or import a still that can handle over 5L of fluid at a time).
However – in Australia, you are not going to get in trouble with the cops for making
‘jack’ of any kind through fractional freezing.
Why? Because it’s not distilling.
Distillation of alcohol involves heating and cooling the liquid, which is very efficient but also carries dangers. Most importantly, during distillation different components of the drink move around at different times, and methanol, which can quickly blind or kill you, all comes through the line at once.
When experienced distillers concentrate beverages, they can make a better, cleaner end product than can be made without a still. This is because they can pull undesirable elements like methanol out, for a very pure end product. They can leave sugars behind so you don’t get cough medicine. They can also put interesting things in, like botanicals for gin.
However, if you’re inexperienced, if you’re not paying attention, if you get greedy,if you’re drunk or if you’re just not paying attention, this can happen. Which is why most governments tend to ban home distillation. The risk-to-reward ratio on letting Bob Idiot Jr distill in his own backyard is not good.
Freezing does not carry anything except water off the mixture preferentially: you concentrate the lot all at once. the liquid gets sweeter, and the impurities remain. That said! The risk is the same as if you consumed 100% of the original beverage. If you concentrate it x4, then for every 60ml serve of applejack you’re taking in the equivalent of 240ml of cider. Not a big risk UNLESS you decide it would be a good idea to drink a whole bottle – but the ethanol will probably get you first! You can poison yourself by drinking lots of it fast, same as if you downed a case of cider. Don’t do that, ok?
Now enjoy your applejack! Or meadjack… or whatever takes your fancy.
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