I’ve written about cider before on this blog, but from a consumption point of view. While I’ve been home-brewing for years, I’ve stayed away from fabricating concoctions of an appley nature. This week, however, I finally joined the ranks of those lumberjack-shirted, beardy types who spend the autumn pressing their pommes, and so today will share with you my experience of actually making cider. What inspired my foray into the world of Malus domestica-derived alcoholic beverages was the fact that this year’s harvest in my partner’s family’s orchard was particularly bountiful. With apples going a-begging, I picked me a couple of stone of those babies just to see did my brewing skills extend beyond coaxing something drinkable out of wheat or barley.
The first step in cider making is quality control. Take a good old gander at your apples and decline the services of any rotters. Your apples don’t have to be county fair winners — the odd bruise or beak hole is OK — but the squishy, liquidy ones aren’t going to contribute much to the positive organoleptic properties of your final brew.
Next, get a good, sharp fruit knife and pick out all those black bits and birdy bites. Then, your blemish-free apples are washed.
Now, it’s down to the nitty-gritty. You need to cut your apples. Because I don’t have an apple press, I used a food processor for chopping the apples into pebble-sized chunks. I then placed about two apples’ worth of chunks each time into an old T-shirt, folded this into a long bag shape, and squeezed and wrung as much juice as I could into a large pot. This squeezing process was hard work — extremely hard work! For a couple of days afterwards my hands and wrists ached, and if I ever make cider again I’m getting an apple press (or, like I’ve seen online, making my own version from a car jack!). Manual squeezing also yielded surprisingly little juice; I was disappointed to only get about two and a half litres (half a gallon) from ten kilos (two stone) of apples .
Using a graduated cylinder, I took a sample of the juice and measured it’s sugar content with my trusty hydrometer. It gave a specific gravity reading of 1072 which corresponded to approximately 200 g of sugar per litre (4 ounces per pint). Considering this level excessive for the type of cider I wanted (200 g/l can potentially yield a final drink with and alcohol content of 8-9% alcohol by volume), I diluted the juice to a gravity of 1048, the typical yield from which would be a more palatable 4.5-5% alcohol.
The final step was to transfer my juice into a fermenter and add yeast. I used a specialised strain of cider making yeast which can tolerate the low pH of apple juice and its high concentrations of organic acids. Earlier in the day I revived the freeze-dried yeast by placing the contents of the sachet in 250 ml (a little less than half a pint) of a sterile 10% sugar solution. By the time I added the yeast to the fermenter, these babies were foaming and sizzling, and I had no doubts they’d be chewing up those apple sugars and spitting out ethanol in double quick time. And so it was: eight hours after pitching (the technical term for “throwing” yeast into a fermenter) the bubbles were coming thick and fast in the fermenter’s air trap.
I’m going to leave the fermenting juice in its current fermenter for one week, then change to a second fermenter, and, a week after that, bottle. I plan to store the bottles over winter in a cold bodega in order to mature the cider, and official tasting will occur at Easter. I’ll let you know how it turns out.