I decided to make an AppleJack, and wanted it smooth and tasty. This is a drink to warm you up and get you hammered FAST! It goes down incredibly smooth, and tastes great! My friend and I got blitzed on this stuff last night while concentrating it and woke up feeling refreshed and great with no hangover, so I decided I HAD to post this recipe. The name is a play on Jersey Lightning, and it's incredibly easy to make. His SWMBO even downed a glass and said it was delicious.
10 cans pasteurized frozen apple juice concentrate, I used WalMart brand
1/2 lb brown organic sugar
1 lb table sugar (sucrose)
4 1/2 gallons distilled or RO water
Sweetener for back-sweetening (I used Stevia)
Make your starter with a tablespoon of Apple juice concentrate in a liter of water at room temp, with a teaspoon of each brown sugar and table sugar. Aerate by vigorously shaking it for a couple minutes, then pitch the yeast to your starter. Cover with a piece of foil with holes in it, put the starter in a pan of slightly warmer water filled to about halfway up the starter, and swish it around every 15-20 minutes for an hour. You should have a very pronounced bread smell and see larger bubbles forming in your starter; that's when it's ready.
Add 2 gallons of cold water to your primary (I poured all liquids except the yeast from shoulder height to increase oxygenation). Warm up the 10 cans of apple juice concentrate in a 6qt+ size pan with the brown sugar and table sugar, and stir until clear. Keep on the heat an additional 45 seconds (do not boil), then rapidly cool by pouring it into the primary. Top off with room temp water until full, then pitch the yeast. Cover and airlock, I recommend a blow off tube; this will ferment very fast if you used a starter. Ferment between 70-72F if your using the same yeast I used. Otherwise, check your yeast's optimum fermenting range, and ferment in the low end of that range.
Once dry (mine took 7 days and the airlock activity was down to 1 bubble per minute) cold crash it (I got impatient here and only cold crashed for 1 day), then rack off the sediment into your bottling bucket. At this point it will taste good but weak, without enough of that rich pronounced apple flavor, and will still be cloudy; this is intentional since we will be concentrating it. Begin freeze concentrating the cider however you prefer; I used 2 liter bottles of the brew in my freezer with bags of ice around them. About every hour or so, there will be enough ice formed to drain the deeper and richer golden Apple Lightning into another container, leaving behind the ice (I used Mason jars for this). Once it gets to the ABV and taste you want, you can back-sweeten it and clear it up. For back-sweetening I used 10mg of pure Stevia extract powder per oz of Apple Lightning, which ended up being about 1.5 grams per pint. Of course, this is all to taste, so sweeten with your preferred sugar to taste. I didn't bother trying to clear it, and actually prefer the way it looks (it looks like an incredibly dark and rich apple cider, and the taste reminds me of the sparkling apple juice carried by supermarkets in the winter time). If you wanted to clear it at this point, I would suggest gelatin, since the majority of the haze is from the cold crashing. Once its sweetened and cleared to your liking, serve below 0F over a single ice cube, and stir with a cinnamon stick. Be careful not to drink too much of this stuff; it's sneaky.
A couple notes about specific instructions;
I used distilled water on purpose. I didn't want the flavors of the minerals in water after concentrating to be evident in the final Apple Lightning. I'm in FL and we have very hard water here; even with a filter system there's still plenty of calcium and magnesium in the water that I didn't want in the drink. Because freeze concentrating will bring out EVERY flavor in the beverage, those minerals would have provided an off-taste at the end. So distilled or RO water is very important in this recipe.
The apple concentrate I used specifically because it was the blandest I've ever had. For the same reason above, I chose this deliberately. Don't worry, you will be able to taste the apples in the end. And just a tiny bit of flavor from the brown sugar as well.
Temps low on the yeast's recommended range will provide less potential off-flavors or unwanted alcohols like methanol that you don't want concentrated in this. Those concerns are also why I used so little sugar and made a lower ABV initial brew; yeast pushed into higher and higher ABVs have the problems of off-tastes and unwanted alcohols that might be fine in a 5 gallon batch, but make the final Apple Lightning taste horrible (like many of the threads I read on here where an initially good tasting beverage was disgusting and undrinkable when condensed).
I say not to boil the concentrate because it's already pasteurized, and I feel waiting to cool the liquid has a higher chance to introduce infection than simply making sure everything is sanitary in the first place. The other reason is because table sugar (sucrose) helps to provide a small amount of the cider taste in the end without having to age it, and you don't want to accidentally convert the sugar to an invert solution of glucose and fructose by boiling it. I know usually this takes time without cream of tartar or citric acid, but this worked very well and boiling it isn't really necessary unless you forget to keep everything sanitized. I used a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and sanitized everything I was using along the way, rinsing with distilled water every step.
I did not try to add the cinnamon flavor until to the end fearing it would be too overpowering in the Apple Lightning after concentration, which is why I recommend serving it with a cinnamon stick which gives it just a hint of cinnamon flavor at the end. This is also why I didn't try to clear it by adding Sparkolloid or gelatin before cold crashing. If you want to try to get it clear using those methods, wait until after your done concentrating the brew into Apple Lightning, then clear it using those methods based on the finished quantity you have left afterwards. If you were to clear it, flavor it, or sweeten it prior to concentrating it, I assure you it would turn out horrible.
Other yeasts can definitely be tried, and if you do leave notes. The only champagne yeast my LHBS had when I went there was WLP715, so this is what I've been using/washing/etc with ciders and fruit beverages for a little while now. The starter I described works VERY well for this type of yeast, and I've gotten airlock reactions up to 10 bubbles per second only 12-24 hours after pitching the starter, so I swear by this yeast and this method.
The colder this is, the better it tastes. I tried it carbed by injecting it with CO2 from a tank using a Carbonator cap, and decided that prior to jacking it (I sweetened some of the cider to drink while I was doing this) it's better carbed, but the final Apple Lightning tasted best to me flat. Also, the ice cube helps dilute the drink as it sits out, so people that can't drink it straight can let it sit for a few, and the cinnamon stick really makes the flavors pop. It truly is delicious.
Last note about unwanted alcohols and achieving a higher yield;
If you wanted to make a higher ABV initial brew by adding several pounds of white table sugar or dextrose at the beginning, I don't think it would change the flavor much, and you would get a much higher yield of Apple Lightning. I plan on doing this for my next batch to try it out. Don't use more brown sugar though or else the brew will have too much flavor from it. Sucrose and dextrose will leave behind little to no flavor, and it will mix in properly, whereas more brown sugar will leave an overpowering off-taste to the final Apple Lightning. To solve the problem of unwanted alcohols from brewing a higher ABV batch, the temperature of the final Apple Lighting could be raised to 170F to allow the unwanted alcohols to evaporate out, or it could possibly be ran through a 4a molecular sieve to achieve the same result, though I have no experience with this at all.
Next batch I make I will add gravity readings. I broke my hydrometer and haven't gotten a replacement yet. This is one of 2 brews made specifically because the gravity readings weren't really that necessary or important since your concentrating the majority of it anyway, and the final ABV is dependent on your final freezing temperature.