With a pile of crabapples and American beautyberries in hand, we set out to create a simple sparkling cider that you can make without specialized equipment or commercial yeast. We think you’ll love the results as much as we do: fermented crabapple-beautyberry cider!
Let’s start with two important ingredient notes:
1. Using crabapples to make cider
In case you’ve never had them before, crabapples are in the same genus (Malus) as the apples you buy at the grocery store. Primary differences: crabapples tend to be much smaller and feature more intense flavors that may not lend themselves well to fresh eating.
Nevertheless, crabapples make excellent baked goods, jelly (they’re naturally loaded with pectin), and ferments like cider or wine. In fact, they’re arguably superior to standard apples when used in recipes due to their more intense and nuanced flavors which mellow when cooked, fermented, sweetened, and combined with other ingredients.
Domesticated apples originated in central Asia. However, there are four crabapple species native to the United States and countless other non-native crabapple species and hybrid varieties that can be found here.
That genetic diversity means crabapples can come in all different sizes, colors, and flavors.
The ideal crabapples for this fermented crabapple cider should feature:
- large fruit (1-2″ in diameter), and
- intense flavors that put them just out of range of something you’d find very enjoyable eaten fresh.
In case you’re worried: no, you won’t be cutting the small crabapples into pieces or using an apple press to extract the juice. Instead, you’ll simply be smushing them with a flat kitchen implement such as a spatula.
2. American beautyberries
American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) are a gorgeous vibrant pink-purple native berry that begins ripening at the same time as crabapples. As with crabapples, beautyberries aren’t something you’ll love eating fresh (they taste like mild Chinese five spice to us), but they can make a wonderful flavoring in all sorts of recipes.
For the uninitiated, American beautyberries look almost identical to Asian beautyberries, which are also commonly used in ornamental landscapes. In our article, How to use American beautyberries as food and mosquito repellent we take a deep dive into this unique plant and its many uses, plus how to distinguish between native and non-native varieties.
What’s the single easiest way to tell American and Asian beautyberries apart? American beautyberries form dense berry clusters directly around the main stem, whereas berries on Asian species dangle off the stem on small peduncles (see below picture)
Why does this distinction matter? We think American beautyberries are more intensely flavored than their Asian peers, and we’d recommend you use American beautyberries in this fermented crabapple cider recipe.
The beautyberries add pleasant flavor notes and also help brighten up the color of the drink, giving it a pinkish tone.
You’ll smash/muddle your beautyberries before adding them to your fermentation. You can do this step with a muddler, a fork, a large spoon, or your hands.
“Wild” fermenting your crabapple-beautyberry cider
You do NOT need to buy a commercial cider yeast to make this recipe. You’ll be using the native yeasts and lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that’s naturally in/on the fruit to do the fermentation for you.
Even if you rinse or lightly wash your fruit, there will still be plenty of yeast and LAB left for fermentation. The exact species of yeasts and LAB on your crabapples and beautyberries may vary by location and region, but they’re closely enough related to achieve similar flavor results via fermentation.
If you’re new to fermentation, rest assured it’s one of the oldest and safest food prep and preservation methods in human history. When it comes to this recipe, there is nothing to be nervous about if you follow our instructions. You’re essentially creating a hospitable environment for all the “good” microbes to flourish, and those microbes quickly outcompete any “bad” microbes that might otherwise be present or develop.
The only materials you’ll need are a large non-reactive container or bowl, preferably made of *glass. (Personally, we don’t use food-grade plastics for our fermentations because we’re not confident they won’t leach compounds that we don’t want to consume.)
Once all the ingredients are combined, you’ll cover the top with a breathable towel held in place with a rubber band or string, then keep the vessel at room temperature out of direct sunlight.
Then vigorously stir the fermentation with a clean spoon a minimum of twice per day (every 12 hours), which helps aerate and stimulate the beneficial microbes.
During each stirring, take a small taste to see how the drink is developing, which will also help you determine when it’s “finished” as per your personal tastes. (More on this below.)
Is this recipe alcoholic?
This fermented crabapple cider is mildly alcoholic. It’s probably in the 3-4% ABV range, but far below beer, wine, or spirits. The final ABV will vary depending on how many days you let the fermentation develop, which then allows the microbes to convert more of the sugars in the recipe to *ethanol.
(*PSA: Many people still don’t know that alcohol is a carcinogen, so drinking less or no alcohol is a good thing!)
We’d recommend letting your fermentation develop for a minimum of 4 days and a maximum of 7 days.
- Fewer days = sweeter and less alcoholic cider.
- More days = dryer (less sweet) and more nuanced flavors – but the potential for some funky flavors to start developing.
That’s why we also recommend tasting a bit of the developing cider after each stirring to see how the flavor is coming along. It’s done when you like it – or you can pull out some early and let some continue to develop for the sake of experimentation. Regardless of when you consider your cider done, the flavor won’t be very impressive for the first ~48 hours or so.
Arresting fermentation – and NOT making bottle bombs
What do you do once you consider your crabapple cider to be finished?
1. Strain the cider
First you’ll want to strain out all the fermented fruit. We started with a pasta strainer to remove the large chunks.
Then we used two smaller wire mesh strainers stacked in a funnel to filter out the smaller residue and lees while bottling.
Important safety and storage warnings!
We don’t want you to make bottle bombs! Bottle bombs occur when you bottle an actively fermenting beverage/substance, then pressure builds up inside eventually causing the bottle to explode.
We recommend using flip-top bottles if possible. Most importantly, refrigerate your finished cider as soon as it’s bottled! The cold will essentially put the yeast and LAB to sleep, which means the CO2 release will come to a near standstill. Thus, no bottle bombs!
Once your crabapple cider bottles are in the fridge, you should wait at least one day to drink them. This allows enough time for some CO2 to build up and give the drink a nice sparkly effervescence.
While your refrigerated cider can likely last for a long time, we recommend drinking it within a couple weeks. Again, do NOT store your cider in sealed jars outside of cold storage!
Recipe: Fermented crabapple cider with American beautyberries
Now that you have the important details and process photos under your belt, let’s get to the recipe!
Fermented crabapple cider with American beautyberries
A simple fermented sparkling cider recipe made with crabapples and American beautyberries. No specialized equipment or commercial yeast required!
- 1.5 lbs crabapples, smashed (Volume: about 5 cups measured whole)
- 4.2 ounces American beautyberries, muddled (Volume: about 1 cup measured whole) (As noted in article, American beautyberries are better for this recipe than Asian beautyberry varieties.)
- 1 cup real maple syrup
- 1/2 cup organic light brown sugar (or use half dark brown and half regular sugar as alternative)
- 8 cups water (If your tap water is strongly flavored or loaded with chlorine, use purified water instead.)
- 1/2 tsp citric acid
Smush crabapples then put in clean fermentation vessel. (As mentioned in article, a firm metal spatula or wooden spoon works great for this step.) Muttle beautyberries and put in fermentation vessel. Add all other ingredients and stir vigorously for about one minute.
Cover vessel with breatheable cloth lid held firmly in place with rubber band or string. This keeps things from falling in while allowing the developing microbes to breathe and off-gas.
Keep fermentation vessel between 68-72°F (20-°22C) and OUT of direct sunlight.
At least twice daily, minimum once every 12 hours, vigorously stir ferment with clean spoon for about 1 minute. Taste a small bit after stirring to monitor flavor development.
Between the end of Day 4 and no longer than Day 10, strain and bottle the cider in flip-top bottles or canning jars. Refrigerate immediately to arrest fermentation. Read and heed warnings at bottom of article about the risks of making bottle bombs!
Let sit in fridge at least one day before drinking to allow bubbles to develop. Recommend drinking within 2 weeks.
Cheers! We hope you love your fermented crabapple and beautyberry cider as much as we do.
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