Happy Apple Day! Since today is the day that we, in the UK, celebrate the versatile fruit we all love eat, drink and grow, I thought I would share my home-brewing cider process so far. I’m lucky to have an apple tree on my allotment. It’s an Egremont Russet and produces at least 2 – 3 crates of apples, despite only being a dwarf tree. Every year around mid-September I gather the fruits, some I would freeze and the rest I would store. Without doubt, at least 60% of the fruit would spoil before I had the chance to use it (this was before I knew they were an eating and cooking apple). It made me feel sick knowing how much fresh produce was going to waste, so this year I decided to use the majority of my apples to make my own cider for the first time.
40 gallon fermenting bucket (with lid)
3x 5l glass Demi Johns
Airlocks with bungs
Most of the above I bought from Wilkos. You can pick up Demi Johns quite cheaply from carboot sales and charity/vintage shops.
It was a spot of good timing that my tree was ripening in time for the St Ann’s Allotment open day where family activities, public tours and apple pressing would take place on the day. I pre-booked my time slot to use the communal press and harvested 25kg of apples from my tree. When I got home, I soaked them in the bathtub to give them a wash and get rid of any lurking insects. The following morning I set aside 5kg to eat as they are and use in other food – crumbles, pies etc.
I did a little research on how to actually make cider. Essentially you need to press the apples to extra the juice, add a brewing yeast (not the baking sort), allow it to ferment and siphon it into a Demi John for a while before bottling. I found an overwhelming amount home-brew terminology, extra ingredients, nutrients and stuff you can add to the brew. I just wanted to make a simple cider, with no additives or sugar unless necessary, to keep the taste as true to my humble apple as possible. That said, there are a few important principles to take into account.
- Sterilise everything.
If you’re not sure that you did, do it again! Otherwise you could contaminate your batch.
- Don’t fill Demi John too far up the neck.
Otherwise if could overflow during the fermenting process.
- Buy a hydrometer.
It can indicate the alcohol percentage of your cider and show you when it has finished brewing and is safe to bottle.
- Get a mix of apples (if you can).
In theory, a mix of apple varieties in your brew will make a better tasting cider.
So with my research done and my apples harvested and washed, I took them to the open day and chucked them into the industrial apple chopper to make a thick apple-y pulp. Then the pulp went into the apple press! On went the lid and I turned and turned the handle to compress the pulp and release all of the sweet apple nectar! I had to repeat this a couple of times to press the 20kg of apples I brought, plus a few more that the allotment site had. This made approx. 12 litres of juice that I collected in a sanitised fermenting bucket.
At this point, you should take a hydrometer reading to test and make a note of the gravity of your juice. It was my mistake not to buy a hydrometer or test the gravity before adding the yeast which means I won’t know the exact alcohol percentage of the brew. You must take a hydrometer reading now before going any further in the process.
Some brewers also like to add a few different minerals to clean and purify the juice. Since I was about to go on holiday, I kept my method straight forward. I added 1 packed of wine yeast and some yeast nutrient to the bucket and stirred it in with a sterilised plastic spoon. Once mixed in, I semi-closed the lid of the bucket. If I had closed it completely it would have popped open due to the gas release later on!
After a day or so the cider was visibly fermenting. It was bubbling like mad, forming a 1 inch layer of foam on the top and resembled the inside of a witches cauldron! I picked up a hydrometer and took a reading. It was 1000.30 which is about right (according to the internet). I let it do it’s bubbly thing for 5 days. This could be considered shorter than average but I was about to go away for 7 days and I didn’t want to risk leaving it for too long otherwise the yeast would affect the flavour. So I transferred it into three glass demijohns (a process called ‘racking’) by siphon…now that was another learning curve! If you’re wondering how to siphon without using your mouth as a suction (thus transferring bacteria) take a look at this useful video.
I realised you have to be careful not to transfer the sediment when siphoning as there was a good 2 inch layer of it at the bottom of the bucket, you don’t want the scummy stuff in your brew! Then I simply placed the bung and airlock into the top of the demijohns and left it while I went on holiday.
The cider still sits there now and hasn’t moved for 4 weeks. From the new hydrometer reading I could tell that it has finished fermenting. It’s still rather cloudy but I did a taste test and it’s quite tart, a little dry but has a lovely apply flavour. I think it’s going to need a few more weeks, maybe even a month or so until the flavour becomes more rounded and the cider clears. Oh and I’m still undecided on weather or not to carbonate it. To do so you need to add sugar and this starts the fermenting process again which could result in exploding bottles if I don’t do it right and could also reduce the apple flavour. It will also increase the alcohol volume. For now, I might re-rack it to improve the clarity and remove any sediment and from the bottom of the demijohns. I’ll let you know how I get on with the next update!