Making hooch

Nelson Kendall’s still, made from a beer keg. Photo provided by Ron Patch

Over the years, on many occasions, I have drunk hard cider. Hard cider was put up in oak barrels. I recall one place when I was a teenager.

That cider maker had fourteen 50-gallon barrels stacked in his cellar. I sampled several. I remember coming up the stairs on my hands and knees.

“The Last Yankees” by Scott E. Hastings, Jr., 1990

Scott Hastings wrote a wonderful book about the old Yankees. Scott interviewed many old-timers in the Upper Valley in the 1970s.

Below is Scott’s account of making cider the old way:

An interview with Joseph Quinn:

“We never used any keg less than five gallons. Anybody that just wanted some cider to drink sweet, and leave the rest for vinegar, used the 5-gallon keg. Wood kegs make the best vinegar. But the biggest ones were about two hundred gallons. They were hogsheads used for molasses. Father made good hard cider, and he always kept a barrel down cellar.

Company used to stop by, and he’d put a red-hot poker into a pitcher of it, and they’d have a chat. I recall one fellow. He had a habit of making little rhymes. One spring he come and said to father, “I’d like a pitcher of cider, William.” So father sent me down to get it. Father turned him out a little glass, and he drank it and smacked his lips. He kept looking into the empty glass, but father didn’t say nothing. So finally the man, he says,

“I had a little hen and she had a wooden leg

That same little hen, she laid a wooden egg

‘Twas the nicest little hen we had upon the farm

I don’t think another drink, would do me any harm”


Cider making today

Today, cider makers have taken the craft to new levels. I know a couple of these people.

Today, glass jars are used. These jars are five to ten gallons, so you can see it’s made in very small batches. These jars are cylindrical, not ovoid (bulbous) in form.

At the top above the neck is an opening an inch or so in diameter. Through this, the jar is filled with cider. Then a rubber stopper (bung) is fitted into the jar opening. Sitting on top of the rubber bung is a plastic cylinder about an inch in diameter and four inches tall. There’s a tube from this plastic cylinder, down through the bung to the inside of the bottle where the cider is. Gas can escape from the cider, but no air gains entry to the cider. Air turns hard cider into vinegar.

There are a few I know in the area making cider the new way. Each has different methods or techniques. Some use Macintosh apples, others wild apples, worms and all.

It takes six months or more for the cider to mature. Now it gets technical. Some cider makers freeze their hard cider. The water content will freeze into a slushy ice. The alcohol doesn’t freeze. The alcohol is siphoned off and bottled. This is applejack and very good. I love it.

Some cider makers distill their hard cider. Nelson Kendall distilled hard cider on his kitchen stove. He used a beer keg that maybe held five gallons of hard cider. There’s a copper line in a coil attached. Cold water was used in a tank that the coil rested in. This caused condensation.

The distilled alcohol dripped out of a drainpipe at the bottom. The first run produced 50 to 60 proof. A second distillation resulted in 80 to 90 proof. You can go higher.

Last winter I picked up a 10-gallon glass jar. All I need is the rubber bung. I understand there’s a place in White River that sells this apparatus.

I have friends making hard cider. Sometimes I’m given a sample. Their hard cider is sinfully good. Some is like brandy and some like sherry. It would please any palate.

Talking with these cider makers is interesting. They all have developed different methods.

I’m going to give it a try this fall using fresh cider, not pasteurized. There aren’t many cider presses around these days. Willis Wood, on the Weathersfield Center Road still presses apples.

I’m told I can add honey, maple syrup, sugar, or yeast. Some have experimented with pears. I prefer a dry cider. You should try this yourself.


This week’s old saying: “One minute you’re young and fun. Next, you’re turning down the car stereo to see better.”

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