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Cider Making

January 12th, 2009 · post by Fred Goodsell · 5 Comments

cidermaking.jpgBrewing a riot! (originally printed in “And Then There Was Silence” Zine )

A large proportion of my garden is dedicated to apple trees and apples were abundant for me in 2007; more than I could eat and more than I could distribute amongst friends who gradually grew reluctant to accept more of the surplus. I was left with no choice; being of a slightly evangelical nature when it comes to not wasting anything, making cider was the only answer given these serious circumstances!I already had most of the equipment needed for home brewing (my parents have more than dabbled in the joy of D.I.Y inebriation so the legacy handed down to me has been both physical and in spirit) so I was well on my way to cider town, I had the cider bus, all I needed was the fuel to drive it.Planting has been my first step on the path to brewing heaven because ancient British apple tree varieties are becoming extinct due to the twin evils of commercialisation of cider production and the homogenisation of our culture, (is there any aspect of our lives that hasn’t been infected by this virus?)

Some well established apple orchards still exist, although about two thirds of Britain’s orchards have been decimated since 1960, largely to make space for mono crops and ‘development’. I feel that it’s my duty as a purveyor of cider and more generally an inhabitant of this planet to continue the biodiversity of cider apple trees, and,as they say in the filthy world of business you gotta speculate to accumulate!Another means of acquiring apples is the age old tradition of Scrumping apples, in the eyes of the law this would be defined as ‘stealing’ but I like to think of it as liberating the apples, especially if the orchard you are liberating the apples from is neglected or better still belongs to one of the cider producing monoliths like Magners or Strongbow. It’s also important to continue traditions handed down to us by our ancestors as an intrinsic part of our cultural heritage, it also happens to be a lot of fun.

Having begged, borrowed and stolen enough apples to make a decent amount of cider I got to work. Firstly I sterilised the five demijohns and five airlocks I was going to use and rinsed them thoroughly. I then washed the apples to get rid of dirt, quartered them and discarded the rotten bits. Using a wooden pole I pounded the apples to a rough pulp in a big plastic bucket, enough to extract lots of juice but not so much that I created a puree.I loaded my small press and got the juices flowing! I managed to fill five one-gallon demijohns with eight carrier bags full of apples.

I was all up for being a purist and creating a totally natural product but the naturally occurring yeasts were too slow to get to work so I panicked, pussied out and added a teaspoon of wine yeast to each gallon. If the juice doesn’t start to ferment within a few days (due to it being too cold or other possible problems) then the bad bacteria will go to work and turn hard earned cider into something pretty putrid and needless to say that is NOT what I wanted to happen! The fermentation started after a few days and I fitted the airlocks sat back, watched, waited and bided my time. There is something really therapeutic about watching bubbles travel through the airlocks making a soft rhythmic background sound, I waited patiently for two months then sampled it with trepidation, I was very nervous at this point as to whether I had completely wasted my time. Fortunately, I am glad to report, it was fucking amazing! So I drank to victory and drank deep, but this was to be the first of many fermenting adventures because D.I.Y has no limits. So with that in mind…

Lets get technical!
An introduction to the finer points of D.I.Y brewing, don’t skim this bit, it contains some of the knowledge you’ll need to brew your own riot! Read on and try not to fall into a coma:

Cider apples contain higher levels of tannin and have properties that make them more suitable for cider making than eating or dessert apples. Tannin is the component that makes you screw up your face and dries up your mouth when you taste a fruit that has high tannin content (like cranberry juice or sloes) If you use apples that are not cider apples then your cider will not reach it’s full potential, it may be insipid to taste or not contain enough sugar. So try to find the right apples or if you can’t add at least one 10th crab apples to your final mix to get the tannin levels up.

Without scaring you away with reminissance of creativity destroying science lessons at school I’ll attempt to teach you the basics of the fermentation process, it’s such a simple concept that when you fully grasp it you can understand (and then implement) the brewing of just about any kind of alcoholic drink, the only limit is your imagination. You may already have brewed your own alcohol you just don’t know it. If you’ve ever left a half full bottle of fruit juice in a warm place, forgotten about it and then opened it after a couple of days and it’s a bit fizzy and funky tasting; you have inadvertently brewed your own alcohol! If left to it’s own devices airborne yeast will grow and feed on the sugar in the juice, reproduce and create alcohol and CO2 (which is why it’s a bit fizzy). This is the basic concept behind fermentation; the conversion of sugar into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. This process is carried out by yeast. Yeast is present in the air all around us, much like bacteria, some good and useful, some bad and harmful. The yeast you can buy is just a mass produced bland (although admittedly more reliable) version of its wild cousin. So all you need to do is expose your chosen liquid to wild yeast present in the air and wait for it to do the science bit for you. When the yeast has eaten up all the sugar present it will cease to grow. Yeast will also stop growing when the alcohol percentage reaches around 5-21% (depending on the strain of yeast). Higher alcohol percentages are achieved by distillation (but that’s getting technical even beyond my tolerance level so we’ll leave that for another science lesson in the future).

Avoid using any equipment that is metal or has metal components unless it is food grade steel. This is because the acid in apple juice will react with some metals and taint your brew, it’s best to avoid metal altogether (food grade stainless steel is also really expensive; another good reason to avoid it) and focus on using food grade plastic buckets, glass demijohns and wooden implements. To extract the juice from your pulp you will need a press, this is the only potential stumbling point for the amateur; presses can be costly but a completely worthwhile investment if you want to brew your own alcohol. The smallest and cheapest press I found (and the one that I use) cost £69.99. If you think about how much you would spend on drink and going out and then think about using that money to set up your own cider empire I’m sure you’ll soon come to the conclusion that a cider press is actually pretty cheap considering the decades of joy that will flow from it. Better still get your friends to put some money towards a press and make it a community project.

Knowledge is one of the most powerful and crucial tools you can utilize, but ultimately worth nothing until you put it into action. Listed below are the sources of information that have fueled my fermenting exploits, so to increase your knowledge and for further reading check out some of these books and websites:

Real Cider making on a small scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax.
This book is a fantastic guide to making your own cider and has all the right information to guide you through your first fermentation and introduce you to some more complex ideas and processes.

Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
I found this book really inspiring and it provided me with a good basic idea of how fermentation works along with recipes for all kinds of fermented foods and drinks. The D.I.Y spirit of the book is really great too, definitely not your conventional brewing guide.
This website contains good links and has news about cider, ale and beer with emphasis on old and local traditions of brewing.
A wealth of information about cider and Perry, a real labour of love.
This site couldn’t be more local; it’s the virtual home of Royston Vasey! All things scrumpy and more besides.
For those interested in distillation of alcohol (distilling your own alcohol is illegal without a licence in the U.K but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore and learn…)
For all the fermentation equipment you may need (try charity shops first, you can find demijohns and airlocks sometimes; it’s worth a look)
Another website to find fermenting equipment from.

→ 5 CommentsThis entry belongs to the following categories: DIY Guides · Food

5 responses so far

  • Chris McNeilly posted:
    Sep 4, 2008 at 2:39 pm. Comment #1

    Great Information. I have a small press, crusher and soon a lot of apples. They are a variety of differant types Cox, bramley and several others that I cannot identify. I will have at making cider.
    Thanks for the inspiration.


  • tony sexton posted:
    Sep 9, 2008 at 9:28 pm. Comment #2

    where can i buy cider apples i would like to get about 6 so that i can get started next year

  • Tom Fiction posted:
    Sep 9, 2008 at 10:19 pm. Comment #3

    your best bet is probably to scrumpying! or go to a local cider farm or orchard and ask them.

  • Tim LeGrice posted:
    Nov 12, 2008 at 12:28 am. Comment #4

    I gathered up all of my Dad’s windfall bramleys and put them through my wife’s, untill now utterly useless juicer. I now have two demi johns of cider which I intend to bottle at around Christmas time. What do I have to do if I (sorry, my wife) wants sparkling cider? Any advice would be most welcome, and I’ll let you know what the results are like.

  • dave whitton posted:
    Nov 7, 2010 at 4:03 pm. Comment #5

    First time cider brewer.
    Fermenting 5 gallons in a brewing bin with the bubbles still on the surface since Tuesday night now Sunday. Intention is to siphon in to a pressure barrel .What should my next steps be. How long roughly to ferment – not in a hurry just want to try and get it right after all the physical mashing! TA! What do I add to the barrel after siphoning.?