Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making 'Graff' Cider

Years ago, when I was taking graduate level history and law courses in Ireland, one of my most enjoyable classes involved the archaeology of Insular Celtic societies and the various methods they used to prepare food and drink - that is, mostly about beer/ale, cider, and whisky. From a beer and history enthusiasts perspective, one would be hard pressed to find a more interesting subject and I learned a lot about the significance of these beverages, especially that of cider. When I would later travel around England and France, one of my biggest culinary to-do's was to find and drink these traditionally made ciders and perry. The French, by the way, make some wonderful examples of both. Regardless, I have always had a fondness for properly made cider (something completely impossible to find in the U.S) and when I came across a recipe for something called "Graff" a few years back - that is a mixture of beer wort and cider, fermented as one - I began making it once a year with local ingredients. However, it is to my horror that I recently found out (via Northern Brewers' BrewingTV) that not only does this "graff" concoction not have any historical significance, but that it is actually a fictional drink invented by Stephen King for his Dark Tower book series! Shame. Shame. Shame. 

As much as I hate to think that I am participating in the making of a fan fiction beverage, along the likes of "butter beer" and/or "hobbit brew," this graff stuff actually tastes pretty good. I've served it at my last two Thanksgiving dinners and it has probably been a bigger hit with the relatives than my own beer. With that justification, I am making it again this year. The original recipe calls for a 3:1 mixture of cider or apple juice, with some medium crystal and dry malt extract, and a small amount of hops for bitterness. It is fermented with a clean, dry yeast and consumed relatively young. While this may turn out quite nice, I have taken a rather different approach. Foremost, instead of using a neutral yeast, I like to use a characterful English strain with less attenuation for a sweeter finish. Last year I used the Fullers yeast, the year before the North Yorkshire strain, and this year I am using some Thames Valley II. As for the malt bill, I make a two gallon batch of dark bitter from a grist of maris otter and around 10% dark crystal. The wort is boiled for an hour with a very small addition of fuggles hops for 10-15 IBU and then cooled before mixing with another two gallons of locally pressed (mixed variety) apple cider. It ferments at ale temperatures for three weeks, keg/bottled soon after, and served a month later. 

The flavor of the graff I have been making is surprisingly quite nice and ends up tasting like a mix of a malty beer and a tart cider. The first time I made it, I added a very small amount of powdered cinnamon at bottling and the result was similar to that of a carbonated, mulled cider. This year, I plan to bottle half of the batch (maybe with an addition of brett C somewhere along the line) and put the rest into mini-casks to await turkey day. If you have never tried or made a batch of graff before... or are a closet Stephen King nerd... I would recommend giving it a go. Worst comes to worst, you'll probably end up with something your wife will enjoy drinking.

Brewed on 30 September, O.G: 1.052, Thames Valley II.


  1. I have used a homemade version of mulling spices, adding an almost apple pie flavor. And, yes, this was a brew especially for the wife and her friends who don't drink beer, but do enjoy this hybrid.

  2. I am new to brewing cider and would really appreciate it if you could share a step by step guide to your recipe. It sounds really good!



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