Debatable Brewers' Recipes: Apple Beer

(brewed October 21st, 1997; bottled December 16th, '97)

Some old recipes work, and others don't. And some are so vague that one has to make a (hopefully informed) guess about techniques and/or ingredients. In this case, the recipe is fairly straight-forward, but doesn't work quite as one might expect.

5 gallons of Apple Beer may be made thus:


Make the light and dark brown malts by roasting pale malt in the oven. Put a pound of pale malt in a cookie sheet, distributed evenly. Put in the oven, and turn it on to 250 F. After 20 mins, raise the temp. to 300, then 10 mins. later to 350.

For light brown malt, roast the malt until several grains (taken from different parts of the cookie sheet), cut in half, are noticeably darker on the inside than the original malt was. They should be about the same color of tan as a manila file folder is. We roasted for something like half an hour at 350 F.

For dark brown malt, keep roasting the stuff for about as long as you think you can get away with, without burning it. We roasted this half for on the order of an hour. After roasting, cool the malt before grinding it.

Heat 1 1/2 gal. of cider to about 175 F. Pour into an insulated mash tun, and adjust the temperature to 170 (we added 1 cup of cold cider). Stir in the 5 lbs of malt, and observe a strike temperature of 156 F.

Allow to sit, closed, for 1 1/2 hours; we observed a final temp. of 140 F.

Heat another 1 1/2 gal. of cider to 175, and boil 1 1/2 gal. water. Sparge with the cider, and then with the water.

Boil the runnings for 1 hour, adding the hops just after reaching hot break. Add remaining 2 gal. of cider, bring back to a boil, then turn off heat.

Chill, pour into a fermenter (attempting to aerate well), and pitch the yeast.

The best laid plans

This was definitely a mixed success. It was a success in that it produced a cross between a cider and a beer, of moderate alcohol level, that tastes decent.

It was a failure, however, in two respects. First off, because of boiling the wart after rinsing out the grain, we set the pectin in the cider, giving every bottle a lovely haze. After fermentation it did not really clear as such, but merely became less turbid.

Second was that we set an all time low for mash efficiency. Usually, one can expect to extract around 25 to 30 points (i.e. 0.025--0.030) per pound of grain per gallon of liquid. Not so in this case. We started with five gallons of apple cider at a measured specific gravity of 1.044, and pitched yeast into five gallons of cool wort at a specific gravity of 1.042, for a net mash efficiency of -2 points per pound-gallon. In other words, we left a bit of the sugar of the cider behind, without adding even as much back from the malt.

As a result, we could have gotten just about the same taste by doing a partial-mash method on only the brown malts in the cider. The actual mash was a complete waste of time.

Nevertheless, after aging for five months, we ended up with a decent beverage. Just not quite what we originally expected to get.

Original recipe

This recipe comes from the book Penn Family Recipes, from a manuscript transcribed by Edward Blackfan, for Wm. Penn Jr. in 1702, of recipes by Gulielma Penn. Apparently Penn Jr. was leaving England for the colonies, and wanted to take his mother's recipes with him.

This is recipe number 95, entitled "[Apple beer]" in the modern book. (A version can also be found in A Sip Through Time [Renfrow, p. 17].)

stamp apels and strain them as usuly for Cyder,
then take the Liquor and warm it
and put it upon the malt,
then when it is Com throu boyle it,
and then worke it Like other bere,
when it is put into vesells put 3 pound of hard suger
in to the quantaty of a hogsheed,
a few hops should be boyled in it -

[Penn, p. 39]

For a discussion of some techniques used, please see Ale for Fish.


Benson, E., (ed.), Penn Family Recipes, 1966 Geo. Shumway pub., (orig. 1702).

Renfrow, C., A Sip Through Time, 1995, self-published

Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, guildmaster, BMDL Brewers' Guild.
pwp+ (AT) cs dot cmu dot edu