by Dan Sanders
How to Make Applejack
Applejack is a concentrated cider. It’s the ultimate event in making alcohol from apples. First it’s a cider, but if you want to lay it out, end to end: you take a seed, you plant it in your backyard if you have a back yard, if you just bought a back yard and you don’t know what else to do with it. Because it seemed like a nice thing to do on a Sunday. Just to see what would happen. Just to see if you could grow a thing from the earth and have it give off food, which, having grown up in the center of a very concrete and pavement city still astonishes you, and somehow it works. The deer that occasionally pop up in your yard from time to time and eat your wife’s vegetable garden every year – for whatever reason, they leave the sprout of that tree alone, the sapling, all the way up to when you can stand under it and after five years, five years later it suddenly happens, a goddamn apple. It’s a small apple. It’s a young tree and you haven’t so much as watered it. But there it is just the same a little ball of life.
You get too many, though, after a while. It sheds apples. You give them to strangers. She makes pies, you make juice. You buy a juicer but still there’s more and more and you can’t keep up with it. So you pulp them, make apple sauce, make jellies and try to sell them. You are now the kind of person who is making artisanal jellies and sauces and anything you can do to get rid of the apples, but it’s just relentless. It only grows bigger and gives off more apples desperate to make more trees to make more apples but you can’t have that happen and how have we ever had enough time to cut down all the trees to make houses to make roads we should clearly be losing this battle. It seems like we will, in time. It’s just something that will happen. But it doesn’t.
I got lost for a while. I decide to make cider. I find out online that if you put sugar in the cider it’ll turn into booze. Free apples. Free cider. Free booze. Why not and before you know it the basement is full of buckets. Little incubators for bad decisions. There’s still too much to give away and suddenly I sell artisanal hard cider even though it’s against the law and I’m drinking deeply into the profits. But who cares, the apples keep coming they’re impossible to ignore and the tree is twenty feet tall and looming over the house and it’s all you ever talk about but nothing happens and then here it comes it’s falling.
The tree got hit by lightning, split and fell into the house. It didn’t look dead, but it had to be, how could it live through something like that. The house only caught on fire a little bit. The roof went up in a few patches. I was sleeping in the back room when it happened. A crash and I woke and a burning branch through the roof. She ran in from the other room and found me, thought I was dead or delirious, thought I got hit by a timber, set on fire or run through with shock, but she stumbled over the glasses by the bedside and retreated again to call the fire department.
I gave some to the firemen after it went out, after they hacked up the half of the tree that fell and chipped it all up into splinters and left it in a pile in the yard. One of the firefighters told me to be careful and told me about his grandfather, he’d gone blind from making homemade applejack. Got a bad batch somehow. There’s a bacteria in the fermentation that will take your eyes. People think it’s their fault, from drinking too much but it’s just bad luck. It could happen to anybody but probably not you. You know? Not to me personally, but I can see how it could happen to someone. How a little something like that could ruin you.
He came over to help me move and we went over the process, the firefighter. You take the cider and you freeze it. You transfer the cider into two liter bottles and fill the freezer. Buy a second freezer. Fill that. Get them as cold as possible. You want to freeze the water. You want to separate the water from the alcohol. It’s a process called called “Fragmenting” like you’re splintering chipping splitting. The goal is to suck the purity out of the mixture, freeze it, keep it frozen and throw it away with the bottle, then you’re left with with absolutely nothing but a glass jar of poison that will have just the hint of the thing that it was and with any luck leave you absolutely blind under half a dead tree.
Next Week’s Prompt: Walking Lightly