Making Cider

Know the cider you like and find the recipe for it

There is a vast range of sources and ideas on how to make cider.  And most of these sources unless they’re penned by fanatics will tell you to go with the recipe most likely to produce the taste you enjoy.  Some prefer the traditional scrumpy of still, cloudy and naturally fermented cider apples.  Personally, as a fifteen year old on a camping trip to dorset, I experienced all I ever needed to of farmhouse scrumpy (although Cider with Rosie still has a certain resonance with me!). 

Both my wife and I prefer the Breton and Norman style of bottle conditioned ciders that are clear, dry (brut) and have a natural sparkle.  We don’t (can’t) yet use the champagne method but with careful use of sugar and fermentation stage we can make some beatifully sparkling ciders.  So first of all know your cider, know the style and taste of the cider you are looking for and let this be your guide.

Picking your apples

It is easier and more forgiving if you can make your cider from a wide variety of apple types.  The final taste of your cider will be based upon a mixture of acidity, sweetness and astringency.  Your apples will have varying levels of sugar, tannin and acid in them.  If you have access to a wide range of apples go for a balanced mix; for instance some cooking apples, some dessert apples.  A handful of crab apples can help add tannin (although we’ll talk about adding wine tannin later.  The more sugar in the apples to start with the more fuel your yeast will have to work with.  The more fuel your yeast has and the stronger your cider will be.  Use a hydrometer to test the apple juice.  A specific gravity of 1050-55 is a good starting point to make a dry cider of around 8-9% alcohol.

Milling the apples

Getting juice from an apple is not as simple as sticking it in a cider press and crushing it.  Apples need to be milled or chopped up into small pieces before being put into the cider press.  For large quantities of apples (anything over a couple gallons) a cider press and device for milling the apples will be needed. 

Using a juicer

If you are making relatively small quantities of cider you could use a juicer but it will need to be robust and capable of being on for some time.  Most kitchen juicers will not be able to cope.  You should have something like this juicer to cope with a few gallons.  Be aware that the juice you get will be more cloudy than from a cider press and you might want to consider using pectolase to help produce a clearer cider.  More on that later but if you do use a juicer to produce your juice you can skip to the next section on fermentation.  On the other hand, if you have a large quantity of apples you’ll want to consider and apple press and a shredder.

Getting juice from the apples

So before you can press your apples you need to shred or mill them.  And before you start milling, you should wash your apples and chop them into quarters.  Discard any brown bits and any apples that are off.  Work to the maxim that “if you wouldn’t eat it you wouldn’t drink it” and you should be fine.  You can buy proprietary manual apple millers (like the one in the picture below) but they are, in my opinion, not worth the money.  For a third of the price you can buy a cheap garden shredder that will do the job faster and more effectively.  If, on the other hand, you fancy your last name is Bulmers you can buy a dedicated electric apple miller for about £800.

Apple milling using a traditional mill

I bought a B&Q performance shredder for £70. The only drawback is the size of the whole into which you put your apple pieces. Apart from that it works very well. A few words though. Always clean your equipment straight after use. I found that (after unplugging the device) I could open it up and hose it down inside. Once it was dry I would wipe all surfaces with vegetable oil, pour a bit more on the bearings and then close it up and turn it on for a few seconds. That spreads the oil into inaccessible parts and keeps it nice and clean for next year. Position your apple shredder above a plastic bucket and keep going until the bucket is full. You can always sprinkle the apple shreds with lemon juice to prevent browning. Once you have your apple’s shredded it’s time to fill up your press and get out the juice.  I find the pressing bit particularly satisfying as it is surprising how much juice you can get out of a small amount of apples. How much juice you’ll get from your apples depends on the variety, the weather and the size and ripeness of the fuit.  The longer you leave your apples on the tree the more chance you’ll have for them to ripen and produce their sugars.

Cheese for the cider press

Cheese for the cider press

You need to push all the apple pulp prepared into your press and prepare what is known as a cheese.  This is then squashed under as much pressure as you can apply and your juice will come flowing out of the bottom into the container of your choice.  I add lemon juice to the pul to stop it getting brown and also the citric acid helps if you don’t have the perfect mix of cider apples.  My advice when pressing is to press, pause, press and pause.  Each pressing will produce juice and you should give it time for the jucie to come out of each pressing.  Make sure that you get the juice straightaway into the sterile fermentation vessel of your choice and keep it covered whilst waiting for the next batch.  When the vessel is full move on to the fermentation stage.

Fermentation

Once you have your juice it’s time to add the magic ingredients.  If the sugar levels in the juice are high enough (sg of 1050-55) then you should be good to go.  Otherwise you might want to dissolve sugar in water to mix with your juice until this level is reached.    Now here we reach a moral and philosophical fork in the road.    If you want to be a purist about your cider you put your yeast in (pitch)  straightaway and close up the vessel with an airlock and move it to a warm location for a few days (we leave ours in the kitchen).  As a purist you must be absolutely sure that you have put in enough yeast so that they will grow and crowd out any other competing bacteria.  Also you must be completely confident that you have all of your equipement well sterilised.  If you can confidently answer the above then go for it.    A good strong, fast growing yeast should be able to get a good headstart on any lingering nasties in the apple juice.
On the other hand if you want to “go chemical” then use Campden tablets to sterilise the juice.   You’ll need to leave the juice sterlising  for a couple of days so that any remaining sulphur disappates through the airlock.  Then you’ll be ready to pitch your yeast.
I like to be natural and the main chance of contaminated cider will come from your apples.  Discard and broken rotten ones and give them all a good was in tap water and you should be fine.  Don’t skimp on the yeast.
Once you’ve pitched your yeast and any additional nutrients you feel like (see yeast nutrient) then lock up the vessel with an airlock and leave it.  Give it a shake every day to get the yeast moving around nicely.   Sometimes if your vessel is really full of juice and the yeast is lively your vessel can overflow with bubbles and gunk.  In this case just lightly stopper the vessel with cotton wool before adding the airlock in about a week or so’s time.    You should keep your cider at about 19 degrees to 21 degrees whilst it is fermenting.  We give ours about four weeks before racking off.  Racking off means syphoning the cider out of the fermentation vessel into bottles of demi-johnsl leaving behind the vast mass of waste yeast at the bottom of the fermentation vessel.  You can use special brewing syphons to avoid sucking up any of the sediment into the demi-john.  Once again – fill each demi-john and stopper with an airlock.  We like to add some extra glucose to get even more alcohol out of the cider but that is a function of the yeast and your personal preference. 

Bottling up

Set the filled demi-johns aside for another six weeks or so until the bubbling in the airlocks has slowed to a trickle (one bubble evert  5-6 minutes for instance).  At this point the cider should be looking clear with some sediment at the bottom.  Time to bottle up.  We use old Cava, champagne and sparkling wine bottles with corks and cages to hold our cider.  This is because we add a teaspoon of glucose to each bottle to get some sparkle into the bottle.  You can miss out on adding the sparkle but you will have quite still cider.  It’s really up to you.
Once your cider is bottled all you can do is wait.  The books we have read said six months.  So sit back with a good book and relax.  In about six months you’ll be able to get blind drunk on your very own concoction.  We don’t approve of such behaviour but if you have used a strong yeast and added sugar be prepared for a very very strong brew.