I’ve been brewing for many years now and have literally brewed hundreds of batches of ale. Now I love my craft beers, but I consider myself an eclectic drinker and I also enjoy a good cider. Despite this, I’ve never brewed one myself.
When we moved to Shrewsbury 18 months ago we were lucky enough to inherit some beautiful espaliered apple trees – four of them in fact. I’m ashamed to admit that most of last year’s crop fell on the ground to rot and be eaten by slugs – such a waste I know. This year, I was determined to rectify the situation and add to my credentials as a home brewer. I would make cider and honour my apple bounty – that and Posy and I had kept talking about wanting to use our brewing kit to make cider…
So this year I invested in a small press and engaged the whole family in the joy of harvesting the apples (er.. that should read “I prised the children kicking and screaming from their screens, made them change out of their pyjamas and venture outside into natural light”). With their constant complaining and extended rest periods, they took about 3 hours to fill 6 buckets with apples, before heading back inside to the safety of their “Minecraft” world.
The following afternoon I made a start – I figured a quick hour or so of work and I should be able to head to the pub. I was head chopper while my husband took on food processor and press-filling duties. (Personally I thought the food processor was overkill and cutting each apple into 8ths should be plenty – surely that’s what the press is for??).
What started out as a bit of fun, soon began to feel like hard work. Cutting, blitzing, filling, repeating… when will this bloody press be full – I’ve got an actual blister on my finger from chopping fruit!
Finally, we could stuff no more in the press. I’ll admit it – I was a little excited – this was the fun part right? We would turn the handle and a deluge of golden juice would flow into our fermenter???
Err… yah..… not quite….
Turning the handle was harder than I’d expected and delivered more of a trickle than a deluge. Any juice that my son did not manage to abscond with ran into the 5L fermenter. Before long, the handle was near impossible to move and each turn yielded hardly any juice. With less than 1L in the fermenter, I was deflated. Back to the chopping board.
What felt like many, many hours later, we had filled our fermenter and even had enough to fill a whole glass as our reward.
Hand on my heart, I can honestly say that it was the best apple juice I have ever tasted. It was sweet, yet crisp and just a little tart; a beautifully balanced flavour – just as well, as after all the hours of cutting, blitzing and pressing I did not have the energy to tinker around with any additives to tweak the final flavour.
Initially, I had intended to ferment with beer yeast. However, a little research revealed that many people had tried it and ended up with cider that tasted of dirty underpants, so I decided to stick with cider yeast and hope for the best!
I really got every ounce of juice out of these apples – the remains in the press were bone dry and rock solid.
The good (or perhaps the bad news for my blistered fingers) was that we still had 6 three-quarter full buckets of apples to use…yay?
ONE CIDER BATCH (AND ONE WEEK) LATER…
The next weekend we got smart and used our blender rather than the food processor to chop the apples (yeah ok I admit that it’s totally necessary), and we got a bit of speed going. With a little extra help from the kids every now and then, we managed to fill another 5 fermenter buckets in about 4 hours. (I feel like the original 5L took about 4hours too!) Again, we pitched the yeast and put our feet up.
In terms of actual process, it really wasn’t complicated – especially since we didn’t bother to make any additions, just creating juice and adding yeast – but it’s very labour intensive. I’m used to making beer which is much less demanding and so I’m not yet convinced it was worth all the effort, but I’ll rwait and see how it tastes.
ANOTHER WEEK GOES BY…
It’s been another week (and total of 2 since we started with the first 5L) so it’s time to bottle. This morning I approached the fermenter with some trepidation. I was quite worried that I would open the lid to reveal something that smelled of old socks and pickle juice. After all, we had not been particularly stringent with our sanitation of the apples themselves – aside from removing any obvious wormy spots or twigs – everything was chopped, blitzed and pressed. At the time I just wanted to get it done, but now I was regretting my slapdash efforts, would it all have been for nothing?
I opened the lid and was relieved to find the juice looked – and smelled – pretty good. Although it was 9 am, I poured myself a sample and had a taste. Surprisingly GOOD … better than good, it tasted like something I would pay money for – and better than some things I have paid money for! I was really impressed! Sorry cider purists, but I like my cider fizzy! – so I added sugar and bottled. There was some issues with the apple chunks getting stuck in the bottling wand, but I have a remedy for next time (see my note below). Now I am eagerly awaiting the final results!
The other 5 buckets of cider are still fermenting and I have high expectations of these batches now…
OK so I do think it was worth the effort in the end as the cider tasted so good – now my blisters feel like a badge of honour! Much like the tomato sauce day in Italy, cider making will become an annual tradition in our house.
Next year I think I’ll get serious and invest in a garden mulcher reserved exclusively for apples. (I can completely see why people do this!) Then I will try some different additions to the each fermenter to give some speciality cider: hops, spices, fruit.. or maybe I’ll just finish quicker and head to the pub!
A huge mention must go to Mangrove Jack’s and their awesome Cider Yeast, as it fermented fully and cleanly, leaving a lovely tangy, slightly sweet, refreshing cider. I would definitely recommend it if you’re going to make cider yourself.
Be prepared for it to take longer than you think – allow at least 3 hours.
You’ll need around 3/4 of a 25 Litre bucket full of apples for 5 Litres of juice to convert to cider.
Sanitise the apples before chopping them up … to help prevent any weird wild yeasts giving funky tastes.
Line your sanitised fermenter with a sanitised brewing bag so you can catch any chunks of apple – this will help when bottling!
Two people makes it much easier, so find a friend to help you – make them do the chopping!
Use a blender to finely chop the fruit (a food processor is way too fiddly and means you must keep pulling the blade in and out between batches – adding time and hassle)
Use cider yeast – don’t waste time experimenting with beer yeast, chances are you’ll be disappointed with the results. If you have the kit and lots of apples then go crazy and experiment with different varieties… but if you’re putting all your apples in one fermenter – use cider yeast!
You can use all sorts of things to try to manipulate the final taste – but we didn’t use anything… Cider yeast does a fantastic job of eating up all the sugars so you can risk a mouth-puckeringly dry final product if you don’t have a lot of sweetness in the first instance. Taste before you pitch your yeast and use your judgement, adding additional sugar if you’re concerned (note that this will increase the alcohol content of your final product).
Campden tablets can help sanitise the juice and kill off any wild yeast or nasties – but again, we didn’t bother – sanitising your apples should work just as well.
You can add malic acid or even lemon juice to help balance the flavour – it gives some sharpness to your cider and the lemon will help prevent the juice from oxidising (turning brown).
If you have less apples, try chopping them up and leaving them to macerate with some macerating enzyme which will start the job for you and will allow you to get a higher yield of cider juice from the same amount of apples.
Do you make cider? Any tips or tricks to share? Please let us know.