Basque Cider | Native Fermentation of Cider | Graff

Cider is an amazingly refreshing drink and I think that it can appeal to people that like wine, and also people that enjoy sour beer.   Wine and sour beer are typically dry, acidic, fruity.  These are all similar characteristics that apply to cider.

Last year I did a French Style cidre that was brewed with a French yeast and then back sweetened to give it additional apple aroma, flavor, and also sweetness. Through the summer drinking my French Cider I found myself mixing it half an half with a Brett IPA I had on tap.  This "Graff" was fantastic and I decided that I preferred a cider that was dry, but also more complex then the cider's I've tried in the past.  With my desire for more complexity, of course,  I decided that making a dry funky complex cider was the direction my 2012 cider project would go.
With my allotted 10 gallons of 2012 fresh pressed unpasteurized cider I decide to create a Farmhouse style cider that not many people know about.   It's easy to make a dry Cider because the simple sugars are easily fermented to terminal gravity.   What I don't like is how boring, and one dimensional these dry ciders can be when fermented with a wine, cider, or beer yeast.   They typically have very little apple flavor or aroma left.   In doing some research online and talking with fellow members of the Nordeast Brewers Alliance I came across a funky style of cider that is produced in the Basque region of Spain.   The most commonly found Basque cider in the US is Isastegi.  Basque cider is naturally fermented and there are definite similarities between Basque style cider and sour beer as Basque cider has a pronounced Brettanomyces component to it when allowed to age.    For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Basque region of Spain, it is on the northern coast of Spain right near where Spain borders France.   There is an amazing town right in this region called San Sebastian that is an absolute must visit if you ever go to this region.   I've spent some time in San Sebastian and they have a great surf break, a beautiful beach for laying around, and also enough little pubs to satisfy your thirst for days. 

Here is going to be my process with my Ciders this year.   All 10 gallons are currently fermenting away using the native yeast that was present in the unpasteurized apple cider.  This is Native Fermentation and it is definitely already producing something very nice and clean.   The Native fermentation is in somewhat of a revival in the wine industry and is suppose to reflect the terroir as well as produce a rounder more full finished product.   My apple juice started out at OG of 1.050 on Sunday and in three days it had dropped to1.035.   I also took a PH reading and it started at 3.6 PH.  I heard from the organizer of the cider buy that last year his portion that was naturally fermented came down to 1.004.    In a week or so I plan to add some Brettanomyces to 5 gallons of the cider and plan on leaving the other portion normal with only the natural yeast.   I'm considering trying to use that yeast cake to ferment some wort, but I'll probably try it with a starter before pitching a full 5 gallons with this local apple yeast.    My guess is that it will have trouble with the complex sugars in malt.  We shall see. At some point I will look at adding a small amount of french oak cubes to this. 

***Graff is not an official term for beer/cider mixture.  It's actually a fictional beverage created by Stephen King for The Dark Tower series (one of my favorite series of books).   There is actually not a lot of actual information on the style although it makes for a very tasty beverage.   I particularily found that apple cider enhances many different types of sour beer!   Mixing my Kriek with Cider was a beautiful marriage of flavors!



  1. Very cool idea. I had thought about doing something similar this year, but actually fermenting with 100% Brett. Might still do it, but on the spur of the moment I put together my own varsion of Graff - mixed wort with cider and fermented them together. It's interesting to me that there is no historical style for this sort of thing - we have all sorts of other "hybrids" - cysers, pyments, braggots, etc. I wonder why the beer-cider mix never took hold.

  2. Very weird indeed especially since it can produce a fantastic beverage!

    I saw your post on that. We seem to be on a similar trajectory! Maybe we need to do a collaboration. I guess at the very least we should put together a trade!

    Cheers brotha!

  3. A trade and/or collaboration would be great...though I'm not sure how a collaboration would work. Not sure when my Graff will be ready, but I'm definitely up for a trade. I've got a bunch of other brews ready to go and I'm getting ready to bottle up some of my funky/sour/off-the-wall experiments, which would be fun to share. Never did get a bottle of the wild yeast brew out to you...sorry about that, but it had started going downhill and I unilaterally decided it wasn't worth sending.

  4. My experience with cider is extremely limited, but what you're doing sounds fantastic! As I reach for context, is it safe to say that cider and mead fermentations have similarities (simple ingredients, extended aging)? How long will it take for your Brett-dosed cider to be ready?

  5. I actually haven't dosed it with Brett yet. I'm letting the natural fermentation take place for the bulk of the fermentation to see how far it will go. once it gets close to terminal gravity I'll probably add in some brown sugar (to up the ABV) and some Maltodextrin (for the Brett) as well as some Brett Drie or Brett C (which are some of the more fruity varieties of Brett in my experience).

    I'm also thinking about adding some Pedio and lacto for a Malolactic fermentation similar to some wines. Not sure if it's necessary in Cider, but I'll be doing some research into that.

  6. I love Basque ciders and am contemplating making some. Do you think if I buy some bottles of the Basque cider and awaken the yeast in there to make a starter, would that work? That way it would be the strain that is native to Basque? I have a few cloudy bottles of the Basque sidra.

  7. If you can see some sediment in the bottom, then I would definitely go for it. I'd recommend adding it to apple juice rather then starter wort since it's closer to the environment the yeast is happiest (presumably).


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