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!


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.



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:


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Cupcake Recipes App for iPhone

Whilst I’m making various alcoholic concoctions, my wife is busy making cupcakes. What a combo! Anyway, she’s released a cupcake recipes app for iPhone and iPod Touch which has some amazing recipes (believe me, I’ve tasted them) and various tips and tricks of the trade.

The company is the Messy Cake Company, and you can download the app here!

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Sloe progress

Ha, “Sloe progess”! See what I did there? Ahahaha!

Enough japery, on to the purpose of the post. It’s been one week since starting the sloe gin, and I’ve been swirling and gently shaking the demi-john every so often. Here’s what it’s looking like now:

As you can see the sloes have made the gin quite a vibrant red colour already. This batch seems to have got some colour a lot quicker than last year’s, so here’s hoping for a nice dark colour.

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How to make Sloe Gin

This time of year is great to go out picking sloes. I only really know of one use for them, but it’s a damn fine one – Sloe Gin.

Simply put Sloe Gin is just gin with some sloes bunged in. However to make sure it tastes better than anything you can buy in the shop, it’s best to follow a rough recipe. Here’s mine, quantities adapted a little due to how many sloes I ended up picking.

First off you need to find a sloe bush. Prunus spinosa is the latin name but you’ll know it more commonly as Blackthorn. Everyone has their own secret spots so it’s up to you to find some!

You want to aim to pick around a kilo. Obviously you won’t bring scales out with you but if your bagful feels about the same weight as a bag of sugar you’re doing well.

Okay this is what you’ll need:

  • 800g sloes
  • 1 litre gin
  • 400g sugar
  • A 5-litre demijohn
  • A pin for pricking

I picked 1.2kg of sloes, so used 560g sugar and 1.4 litres of gin. I also used brewing sugar which is a little finer so should dissolve well.

Firstly, you need to wash the sloes. I swill mine around in a bowl of water, then dry them as best as I can on a teatowel with some kitchen roll.

Once that’s done you’ll ideally want to sterilise your demijohn. I’m not sure if this is strictly necessary due to all the gin you’re about to add, but it’s a habit I have from brewing cider. I just put a couple of teaspoons of VWP sterlising powder in, filled it with warm water, left for 10 mins then thoroughly rinsed it.

Now the hard work begins, you have to prick every single sloe a few times then pop it in the demijohn. Best rope someone in to help you with this as it gets a bit tiresome. Oh and your fingers get pretty well stained with sloe juice too.

Once that’s all done, pour the gin in the bottle on top of the sloes then add in the sugar.

Getting the sugar in the bottle is a bit of a challenge, so my wife made a funnel which made it a lot easier. Once it’s all in, give it a gentle swirl and shake to mix it all together, and you should end up with something like this:

From here you have to leave it 3 months. Yep, 3 months. Give it a shake and a swirl every so often to make sure it’s all mixed properly, and you’ll see the colour gradually darken over time.

After 3 months comes the bottling. You’ll need to strain it through muslin so it’s nice and clear before you do so. Ideally you need to leave it a year so it gets nice and smooth, but if you fancy a wee dram before then I certainly don’t blame you!

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Well it’s been a while since posting, but I’m glad to report the cider turned out well and has been slipping down a treat.

It also has a decent amount of fizz in it, which gets stronger the longer you leave it. Here’s a vid of me popping open a bottle!

And here’s the golden drink itself:

Hopefully this has helped someone to give it a go themselves.  Next up on the blog is making sloe gin – yesterday we picked 1.22 kilos of sloes ready for it:

Back soon with a how-to for making sloe gin!

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Bottling it

This morning I took another gravity reading of the brew, and it was near as dammit down to 1.000. So the time has finally come to bottle it! Here’s how it went, with added photo fun…

The first job is the worst. Sterilising. Yes it’s as tedious as it sounds, although for those of you living a slightly more modern existence, you can avoid all this by just giving them a rinse in the dishwasher.

I do not have a dishwasher. so must gather up my spare fermenting bin, some VWP Cleaner Sterliser powder, and everything I want to sterlise. In this case that’s 20 glass 500ml bottles, 4 plastic 1 litre bottles, a bottler, a hyrdometer and my trial jar. First step, fill the bin with hot water and put a few teaspoons of VWP in it.

VWP Cleaner Steriliser

And yes, I am doing it all in the bath, it’s the easiest way unless you have an enormous sink. Right then, let’s add the bottles etc:

You need to leave the kit sterilising for about 15 mins. Then you need to rinse everything thoroughly before you use it. I swill everything a couple of times under the cold tap. Be warned that bending over the bath for ages does take it’s toll on your back. Here’s all the kit ready to go:

I’m predicting I get 14 litres of cider out of my original 15 litres of juice. There’s always some sludge at the bottom which you don’t want, and I may have, er, depleted stocks a little by drinking all those samples last week.

Now this next bit it optional, but I think worth it. Add a teaspoon of brewing sugar to each bottle (or 2 to the big litre ones) and this’ll do a couple of things for you. 1, make it a bit sweeter, and 2) with any luck it’ll kick off a little secondary fermentation in the bottle and give your brew a nice bit of fizz.

Getting the sugar in the bottle is a bit awkward, but as you can see from the photo, my lovely wife is using a funnel to make it easier:

Now onto the bottling itself. You can fill straight from the tap, but the better way of doing it is by using a bottler. This just fits onto the tap as so:

Then it’s just a case of turning the tap on and the bottler will fill up, but the cider won’t go anywhere till you place a bottle over it and press up on the valve at the bottom:

As you can see from the excitement on my face, this is a thrilling job. Tip: sit on a chair as you do this to save further crippling after the agonisng back pain when sterilising.

And here we are, the final product. Assuming I filled the 500ml bottles a bit high, I’d say that’s pretty close to the estimated 14 litres. Now to pop a couple in the fridge for an early tasting later tonight!

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It’s the final countdown, diddle-oo-doo…

Gravity at 1.003The cider’s not quite there yet – this evening’s check shows it to be 1.003 – so it’s looking like a bottling session on Saturday.

It’s got a good bright orange colour to it, in some way it’s a shame it’ll be hidden behind brown glass bottles.

By the way, if you’re trying this yourself, then you must sterilise your trial jar and hyrdrometer before checking so that you can safely pour the cider back in the FV (fermenting vessel).

Alternatively you can what I do and accidentally on purpose forget, then have to drink the trial sample as it would go to waste otherwise.


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Shhtop, itsh not ready yet…

Cider at 1.006Well it seems the fermentation has slowed up somewhat on these last stages. 1.008 yesterday and just down to 1.006 today. So not far off but not quite done yet…

Oh, and I had to have a taste (just to make sure it’s on track you understand). Still smells a bit “fermenty” but tastes good. Nice and fruity and pretty tart. Those two bottles of pear juice have beefed up the fruitiness nicely.

Here’s a pic of it – still very cloudy but that should clear a bit given time:

a leetle sample...

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May 2011’s Turbo Cider

As the Wurzels once said, “I am a cider drinkerrr”. I do like a drop and these days like to experiment with making my own. I make “Turbo Cider”, which is pretty simple once you have the kit. It’s called “Turbo” as it’s very quick to brew and you can use off-the-shelf juice from the supermarket instead of pressing your own apples.

Here’s the latest brew’s ingredients:

  • 12 litres Essential Waitrose Apple Juice (from concentrate)
  • 1 litre Cawston Press Apple Juice (not from concentrate)
  • 2x75cl bottles Clive’s Fruit Farm Pear Juice (not from concentrate)
  • 1 mug strong tea (PG Tips – 4 teabags)
  • 1 sachet Lalvin Champagne Yeast (EC-1118)

Apart from the yeast, you can pick all that up from a supermarket. I went down the posh route and got Waitrose juice, but it really doesn’t matter too much. I then pep it up with some fancier juice, including a couple of bottles of pear juice which I find softens it a bit.

The method’s pretty simple – bung it all in a (sterilised) fermenting bin, give it a good old stir, then check the gravity with a hydrometer and add sugar if you don’t think it’s going to be strong enough (I’ve never needed to). Once that’s done whack your yeast in according to the packet instructions. In this case I sprinkled it on and let it fizz a bit, then gave it a gentle stir in.

My hydrometer reading was 1.046, which should give it an ABV of 6.1%. Lovely stuff. To calculate predicted ABV I got a nifty iPhone app – Alcohol Calculator.

Now leave the bin with the lid on somewhere not too cold for a week and you should be about there. Make sure you leave the lid slightly ajar so the pressure doesn’t build up and make a mess or you’ll get in trouble with the missus.

Here’s what it looked like after about a day:

May 2011 cider after 1 day

I started this brew on the 2nd of May. I checked the gravity this morning and it was 1.008, which means it should be done in a day or so (needs to go to 1.000 ideally). It still smells a bit, er, yeasty and is very cloudy.

I’ll report back tomorrow and hopefully get bottling!

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Well here it is

After ages of threatening to start a blog, I’ve finally done it.

Quite nice actually to use such a click-and-go system such as WordPress. As a web developer the last thing I want to be doing when I get back from work is to code a blog.

So, on with the show…

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