Making cider from scratch

Previously on here I’ve blogged about making “Turbo Cider”, but recently I went on a fantastic course run by Laurence Conisbee of Virtual Orchard where I learnt to make proper cider from scratch.

So, first things first, I needed to get some apples. I soon realised that as I wasn’t buying in bulk this wasn’t going to be a particuarly cost-effective exercise, however I wanted the experience so visited a nearby farm shop which were advertising “pick your own apples”. By rough calculations I had figured I needed 10kg (22lb) of apples for 5 litres of cider. This cost me £20, so I really do need to get my apple tree in the garden producing some fruit soon!

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I got a selection of apples – about two thirds eating apples and one third cooking. The cooking apples were Bramleys, but the eaters were a range of random varieties (apparently the farmer likes to plant older types).

Next up was getting all my kit ready. I gave everything a clean but sterilised my fermenting bucket and airlock – the two things that’ll be in long-term contact with the cider. I learnt from Laurence that I didn’t need to go quite so mental sterilising absolutely everything.

My dutiful assistant chopped the apples into quarters (though later we realised that in 8ths got a better result), and I then filled my Pulpmaster about half-full, attached the drill and started to blitz the apples.

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If you’ve not heard of a Pulpmaster, it’s a very basic apple pulverising device. It consists of a bucket, a snug-fitting lid with a hole in, and a “blade” with a spindle which goes through the hole so you can attach an electric drill (see above). This miracle of engineering can set you back as much a £30, so it’s worth shopping around.

I found the pulping fairly easy, though did keep finding big chunks of apple which avoided the blade. So I stirred the apples around and went at it again, resulting in this:

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So the next step will be to press the juice out of this lot. I did a couple of half-bucketfuls and tipped it into the bag in the fruit press, packed the wooden segments back over and got ready to press.

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I soon noticed a flaw in the press. The handle stuck out further than the edge of the centre container, so even with the two spacer blocks in place I wasn’t going to be able to get the head of the press low enough to squeeze the juice out. You can see in the photo above I’ve put the blocks vertical to get more height for the handle, but this wasn’t sturdy enough. So I found a couple of bits of old wood (actually spares from an Ikea DVD tower – who knew they’d come in useful one day) and built up something more solid which I could press down with confidence.

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The pressing was hard going near the end, and I realised that the press really needs fixing down to stop it moving around when the handle turns. There’s a small hole on each foot of the press, so next time I’ll try to screw it down onto a board which is big enough for me to stand on too.

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Above is the resulting juice. Pretty dark, but it’ll get lighter over time. In fact after just a couple of days it’s already more of a yellow/orange clour. I used a small 5 litre fermenting bucket, but sadly didn’t get my estimated 5 litres of juice. It was actually 4, but I’ll live with that for my first go. Above I’m taking a sample of the juice with a gizmo called “The Thief”, in order to measure the gravity and get an estimated alcohol percentage.

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The gravity measurement above is 1.050, which after a few calculations means it should end up around 6% ABV. I’ll be able to know for sure though by taking another gravity reading once fermentation has finished. A little more scientific than drinking it until I fall over.

Unlike the turbo cider detailed below, there’s nothing else added here. No extra yeast, as there’s enough wild yeast in the apples to do the fermentation. No extra sugar as the natural sugars are enough to do the job. So it’s just a case of putting an airtight lid on, fitting the airlock and leaving it to do its thing.

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I’ve got a small hole in the lid of my fermenting bin which I fitted a rubber grommet to and is the right size to fit an airlock directly in. I’m using a bubbler airlock as I find those easiest to use and keep an eye on. It just needs half-filling with water to create the airtight seal and then any escaping CO2 will just bubble out.

So now I need to leave it to ferment until the bubbles stop appearing in the airlock. As I learnt on my course, a cooler temperature is better for fermenting cider so I’m keeping it in the garage and expect it to take up to 6 months to finish. Then I’ll rack it off into another container to let it mature for at least the same time again. It’s a long old process for 4 litres of cider, but if it works then I’ll be looking to step it up to bigger quantities!

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