An alcoholic beverage believed to have already been drunk by the Romans and Greeks in ancient times. It is simply made by fermenting apples. Therefore it is a form of wine, hence the name "Apfelwein" or "Apple Wine". It has a slightly sourish taste but is refreshing and often mixed with a good dash of sparkling or carbonated water. It is drunk mainly during the summertime in Hessian beer gardens (Biergarten) but is often enjoyed year 'round.

Where's it from?

The Apfelwein we know today has its roots in the city of Frankfurt, Germany and has been produced there since the sixteenth century. Today Frankfurt and the surrounding area are still the center of production and consumption of Apfelwein; "Äppelwoi" or "Äppler" as the hessian dialect dictates.

Sounds like a delightful beverage! Where can I get it?

Apfelwein can be purchased in stores or in a special "Kelterei" where it is exclusively produced. There are many of these Keltereien in and around Frankfurt and in the region of Hessen. You can find one in most towns. If you want the real thing, buy it from one of these places. Invite some friends over to drink it though, as you will be getting the Wein in at least a 5 liter canister (bit more than a Gallon). It will cost you a little less than a Euro per Liter. Don't forget to bring the canister back if you can, there's usually a substantial refund on it.

As of now I have no clue where to get Apfelwein except in Germany, where even there it isn't sold in all regions. You might want to ask some German friends of yours, travel to Hessen or even make the stuff yourself. If you decide to do the latter, tell me!

How should I drink it?

Apart from pouring it down your throat, proper Apfelwein enjoyment consists of drinking the stuff at 11-14 degrees centigrade or simply "cool". The drink should be served in a special glass called "Geripptes" which is a large glass which becomes wider near the top and has vertical rows of diamond shapes on the outside (just decoration, but it's TRADITION dammit! *wink*). For larger groups of people, the Apfelwein is traditionally served in a large jug called a "Bembel". These are typically grey earthenware and hold around 5 Liters. You can drink Apfelwein pure, but it is widely accepted to pour a good measure of sparkling water into the drink. This is a "Saures". Drinking a "Süsses", or Apfelwein with a lemonade or soda such as Fanta makes the drink much sweeter, but that's only for girls anyway. There also exists the blasphemious act of pouring Coke into Apfelwein, but luckily most who do this are shunned (such as teenagers).

You're making me thirsty...can I make it myself?

The fact that Apfelwein consists solely of fermented apple juice makes it relatively easy to "kelter" it yourself. You must start out with a quantity of apple juice, preferably pressed from fresh apples. I'm not sure if juice from the supermarket can be used, since I believe the juice is boiled first, but it may be worth a try. You also need fermenting apparatus such as fermenting canisters or tanks. Fill these with the pressed apple juice and leave about 10 to 15% of the space free. Make sure no air can reach the liquid, but the pressure caused by the fermentation process can escape. Store the apparatus in a cellar and keep the juice at an optimal 14 degrees centigrade. Fermentation will begin 1-3 days later and is characterized by a foamy substance that will begin to fill the container. After 2-3 weeks this will subside and you must fill the remaining space with apple juice. After that you must wait another 6-12 weeks at the end of which you may enjoy your Apfelwein. Prost!

Appendix A - Ordering an Apfelwein

<Waiter> Was kann ich ihnen bringen? (What can I bring you?)

Possible Answers:

<Tourist> Ich möchte einen sauren/süssen/puren Apfelwein, bitte. (I would like a sour/sweet/pure apple wine, please)
<Tourist> Ich nehme nen' grossen Sauren. (I'll have a large (.5 Liters) sour apple wine.)
<Tourist> Ich hätt gern nen' kleinen Äppler, pur. (I'd like a small apple wine, pure.)

<Waiter> Hier, bitte. (There you are.)
<Tourist> Danke. (Thank you.)

German speaking persons can check out http://www.apfelwein-pur.de

As DataJunkie mentions above, Apfelwein is probably one of the easiest drinks to ferment yourself. All you need is some suitable apple juice or cider, yeast, and a clean container. Under the right conditions, you can have your own apfelwein in a little over a month. Here's how:

The Ingredients
When starting apfelwein, the most important ingredient is your juice. Not all store-bought juice can be used because many manufacturers add preservatives to their juice to give it a longer shelf life. Since fermentation is just a fancy word for spoilage, you want to avoid preservatives as they'll keep the yeast from doing their work. Try to get 100% apple juice with no preservatives added—the only common preservative that won't block fermentation is ascorbic acid (avoid any sorbate like the plague). Apple cider, especially if you get it from a local cider mill, is excellent for apfelwein. Bear in mind that if you start with cloudy juice you'll probably end up with cloudy apfelwein: if you're the type that is uncomfortable with drinking something with a little yeast or other sediment in the mix, this is probably not for you.

Once you have your juice you can add sugar if you desire. This will have the end effect of raising the final alcohol content of your apfelwein. Don't go nuts with this, one pound of sugar will generally increase the alcohol content of your final drink by about 6% per gallon (i.e. if you add one pound to a 3 gallon batch it will increase the ABV by 2%). My favorite recipe calls for 2 pounds of sugar per 5 gallons of juice. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved to ensure ideal fermentation.

You will also need an airtight container that can still allow the excess carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation. This keeps bacteria in the atmosphere from getting into your juice and turning it to vinegar while making sure the container doesn't explode from excess pressure. If you're going all out, you can buy a glass container called a carboy (also called a demijohn in some regions), a rubber stopper for the neck, and a plastic fermentation lock; a common one-way valve. If you're cheap you can take an empty plastic two liter (or other container) and make your own fermentation lock by taking a rubber balloon and poking a hole in it using a pin—the elasticity of the rubber will keep the hole closed until the balloon reaches a certain pressure, releasing the gas but preventing outside air from re-entering.

Getting it Started
Before you pour your juice in the bottle, you need to make sure it's sterile. This will prevent molds and other bugs from infecting your apfelwein. Iodophor and Starsan are standard brewers chemicals available in some specialty shops but household bleach will work just fine—make sure it's unscented bleach though, unless you like your apfelwein tasting like lavender soap (try not to use dish soap for the same reason). Rinse the inside of your container with a diluted solution of bleach—1 tablespoon per gallon or water should be enough—let sit for one minute, then rinse with hot water until the bleach smell is gone.

Now, fill the container with your apple juice/cider and add the yeast packet if you're using brewing yeasts. If your juice is unpasteurized, you can throw it in as is; the yeast on the skins of the apples when they're pressed should take care of the job in a few weeks. If you bought pasteurized cider or store-bought apple juice, you're going to need to add yeast—I recommend a good wine or champagne yeast that ferments to dryness. You can buy yeast from shops that sell homebrewing supplies (generally the same specialty shops that sell microbrews and other specialty beers) and from online stores or you can simply leave your juice out on the counter for a few days. I'd advise against the second strategy because it will attract fruit flies which carry bacteria which will turn your apple juice into apple vinegar quickly.

Once you've sterilized your container and thrown the juice and yeast in, attach the fermentation lock and put it in a dark, room temperature area for a few weeks. You should see some activity inside within 3 days depending on the temperature. Yeast generally ferment best in the 60s and low 70s (about 15-22 Celsius), much higher and they start producing hangover-producing fusel alcohols, lower and they go dormant, stopping fermentation. Cooler temperatures (around 14C as DataJunkie suggests above) will preserve more of the apple flavor while higher temperatures will make it ferment more quickly. At 70 degrees, the yeast will be done fermenting in around 4-6 weeks. In a general sense you can tell when it's done by when the fermentation lock looks to have been still for a few days (though fermentation may still be going on so it's best to leave it alone for at least a week after you last see activity). Most apple juices will ferment to around 5.5% to 8% alcohol by volume on their own depending on the initial sugar content. Obviously it will have more alcohol if you added sugar at the beginning. By comparison, most commercial American beers tend to be around 4-5% abv. If you're drinking it immediately, you're done! If you want, you can let the apfelwein age for a few more weeks or months to allow to yeast to settle out and the flavors to develop.

Variations
Some people like to carbonate their apfelwein (making it similar to champagne). I'd suggest you only try this if you're using brewing yeasts (as opposed to fermenting from unpasteurized juice) because it takes several more weeks and increases the risk of your apfelwein turning to vinegar. Also, there is a danger of your bottles exploding (similar to a dry-ice bomb) if you add too much sugar at this step so make sure you don't add too much and keep your bottles in a safe place where they won't do too much damage while they're carbonating. To carbonate, siphon or gently pour your apfelwein into another container (to get it off the yeast that has settled to the bottom of your original fermentation vessel), boil about 1 oz of table sugar per gallon (a little more than 1/8 of a cup or 28 grams) in water, then add it to your apfelwein. It's important not to splash your apfelwein too much because that will cause all those wonderful flavor-producing compounds to oxidize. You should also make sure the container you use to carbonate was designed to hold pressure (i.e. a soda or beer bottle), do not use plastic water bottles. Place the bottles in a warm and dark location for at least 3 more weeks, then chill them in a refrigerator for several hours before serving to dissolve the CO2

There are also those who add different ingredients though at that point it becomes a point of debate over whether it is apfelwein or not. Some add brown sugar or honey for a different flavor profile or add mulling spices and vanilla. Others add raisins after the initial fermentation (2-3 weeks after starting) to give the apfelwein a firmer body and mouthfeel.

Taste and Enjoyment
A warning; this stuff goes down like water and will knock you straight on your ass if you're not careful. It tastes like a fairly tart and dry wine with an apple aroma and aftertaste. Like all alcoholic beverages, that taste changes with age, the apple flavor coming to the forefront while the alcohol and yeast flavors mellow. As mentioned above, it's common to mix it with soda water or a soft drink such as Sprite to add a little sweetness if that's your preference.

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