All posts in: How is Cider made?

A food blogger in Suffolk took a fantastic selection of photographs over the weekend, it captures the essence of what makes cider making and the traditional process of pressing apples so special.

A perfectly timed break in the wet weather cleared the way for a wonderful Saturday gathering apples from a favourite orchard in Suffolk.

Adding apples to the scratter. A mechanical set of teeth that creates a pulp of the apples. © Eat Pictures Food Photography 2010

The apple pulp is then added to the apple press to make juice. © Eat Pictures Food Photography 2010

The photos show the typical process in traditional juicing of apples, to make cider, or in this case just apple juice which is just as magical as it gets:

Can’t even begin to tell you how sweet, perfumed, fresh and alive this stuff tastes.

View the full set of photos at eatpictures

What is Specific Gravity (SG)?

The quick answer is “concentration of sugar in water”. Pure water has an SG value of 1.000, although this may be sometimes expressed as 1000 (dropping the decimal point). The more sugar dissolved in the water, the more viscous (or “syrupy”) the liquid becomes. This in turn gives a higher SG reading.

Around 3lb of sugar in 1 gallon (8 pints) of water will give about 1.100 SG (commonly expressed as 1100).

The SG that is achieved after the addition of sugar, but before the fermentation begins, is known as the Original Gravity – this phrase is common in the brewing of beer.

How much sugar to add?

With cider making, the sugar naturally occurs in the fruit. So none in needed when you first press the apples. However, if you require a conditioned – sparkling cider – then you will need to disolve sugar into the cider you siphon from a fermentation vessel into bottles.

Cider happily fermenting in the shed!

Alcohol Potential and Estimating % ABV

The general idea is that the fermentation process will turn all of the sugar into alcohol. This represents a reduction in the SG (remember SG measures concentration of sugar). The amount of reduction in SG therefore represents the amount of conversion to alcohol that has taken place – and can be therefore be used to determine the % ABV.

The alcohol content can be estimated, at it’s most simple, by taking 2 SG readings – The first is the Original Gravity (i.e. just after the addition of sugar), and the second is at bottling. The difference in these 2 readings represents the total drop in SG, and therefore the total amount of sugar converted to alcohol. For example an Original Gravity of 1100, and an SG at bottling of 1000 (implying that all sugar has gone) yields an % ABV of 13.6%

Typically, however, the final SG can be either side of 1000, if the fermentation has ended at 1005, this would represent a sweeter cider that one which ends at an SG of 1000, or even 995. The lower the final SG, the less residual sugars are present, and therefore the dryer the cider. SG readings of below 1000 are common, and this is due to a technicality – alcohol being less dense than water, which affects the reading that a hydrometer will take.

The mathematics involved in the simple calculation are: Take the difference in Original Gravity and final SG, and divide this by the magic number of 7.36

In Summary

  • Sugar is converted to alcohol during the fermentation process
  • The more sugar converted, the higher the final % abv
  • SG is the concentration of sugar in water
  • Sugar can be added to the must to raise the SG
  • Your recipe will tell you how much to add
  • You may have to take into account the natural fruit sugars, to prevent over sugaring
  • The SG after the sugar is added, and just before fermentation is known as the Original Gravity
  • Fermentation reduces the SG
  • The final SG on bottling can be compared against the Original Gravity to provide a % ABV estimate
  • The magic number is 7.36

Further resources

Cider making has long been a traditional countryside craft, that involves years of experience to get the correct blend of apples for a great tasting cider

The production process for making real cider is simple, and has remained unchanged for centuries:

Select apples, press them, ferment slowly in barrels over the winter and by early summer you will have dry, still, refreshing real cider!

However, here is the basic simplified process that cider producers follow to make real cider:

Preparation

Apples arrive from the orchards in October, they are washed (surface sterilsed) and sorted to remove rotten apples. All leaves, twigs and other orchard debris is removed to leave just the fruit that meets the standard.

Pulping

Apples are then mashed, either mechanically using a scratter, or by hand – to create a pulp which is put into the cider press.

Pressing

The cider press extracts the juice from the apples, which then goes directly into plastic fermentation barrels.

Fermentation:

No yeast is added as it occurs naturally on the skin and in the flesh of the apple. The fermentation is a slow process due to the low temperatures over winter. However, early summer you can check whether the cider is ready by the following methods: clarity, taste and specific gravity (% ABV).

Larger producers also use these steps to make the cider taste great:

Assessing

All Cider Makers rely on their own ability to taste the fermenting ciders to measure the fermentation process.

Blending

On a large scale, once fermented, the cider is transferred to a maturation vessel, usually a very large oak barrel where matured ciders from previous seasons are combined and blended as the cider maker completes the finished product.

Of course, you don’t need to be a farm producer to enjoy making real cider. You can do this at home with the basic equipment for cider making. The links below provide more information on how to get started.

Further links