Die Eva hat im Paradies wie wir alle wissen
Schonmal kräftig in einen Apfel reingebissen
Irgendwann fand ein Hesse wohl heraus
Man presst die Äpfel besser aus
Die Brühe vergärt wie ist das fein
so nach und nach zu Apfelwein
This brief German poem serves as an incantation for a special Hessian brew called apfelwein ('apple wine' in English). It's a local drink that you won't find outside the Rhein-Main area of Frankfurt, Germany.
Steps of Production
The life of apfelwein begins with the apple harvest in September and October. What makes it special is the fact that the advanced apfelwein producer seeks and picks just the fruits which have already fallen from the trees. This is considered to be one of the most important parts in the making of apfelwein.
By being on the ground, the apples show the maturity they need for the drink. For apfelwein nearly any fallen apple is used, as long as it still can be reasonably called an apple. They might have worms inside, pressure spots outside, wasps, flies, hornets and bees caressing them. Insiders swear that this randomly fluctuating quality of apples contributes to the special flavour of apfelwein.
All that mess is carried to a place called the kelter. Here the fruity goods are squeezed, pressed and smashed until the last drop of apple juice is gained.
From this point onwards you can drink three different products:
The freshest is called süßer, also called the 'sweety', and is drinkable right after pressing. It is called this for a few days, until you notice a fine sparkling on your tongue, which indicates the beginning of fermentation.
After a week or two of fermentation, it's also drinkable. At this stage it is just for the strong-stomached and is called rauscher.
After an additional six to ten weeks, the apfelwein is ready to drink. It contains about 10% alcohol by volume, but this can vary greatly.
How to Drink It
You don't just pour it in to any old glass and swallow it. Apfelwein has its own special glass called the gerippte or ribbed glass, which contains a quarter of a litre. Apfelwein, like beer, tastes different if you drink it from other glasses.
If you're drinking it in company, apfelwein is served in a vessel called a bembel which has a capacity of about two and a half litres. It is usually painted with flowers, seals, and names in deep blue against a grey background.
Variations of Consumption
For any of these variations, use cooled apfelwein, either from the cellar or from the fridge. The apfelwein which is also known as Äppler, Äppelwoi or Stöffche is usually consumed in three different ways: Pur (pure), Sauer Gespritzt (sour-injected) and Süss Gespritzt (sweet-injected).
If you make it yourself or if the kelterei (apple wine factory) is not too big, it's really pleasant to drink it pure. Bigger companies usually blend their wine with sterilised juice, so they lower the percentage of alcohol and pay less tax. However, this type of apfelwein does not have the original strong fruity flavour, so it is best used in mixed drinks, such as the two examples given below.
Especially in the summer, the most refreshing version is the hugely popular Sauer Gespritzt. The perfect mixing ratio doesn't exist. The most widespread spread uses 10 to 20% sparkling water to 80 to 90% of apfelwein.
For the sweet-toothed among us, there is the Süss Gespritzt which is made using lemonade rather than water. Women rather prefer it to Sauer Gespritzt.
It is commonly known that apples have a dramatic impact on the digestion process. Now, if you drink apfelwein, be aware of that fact. Drinking too much may led to indigestion and/or a 'runny tummy'.
Apfelwein is a very natural beverage, which hardly causes a headache. It may appear strangely sour the first time round, but the more frequently you drink it, the better it tastes.
Prost, zum Wohl!