Every cider producer starts somewhere, and if you have surplus apples in your garden and fancy trying your hand at making some real cider, you’ve already made your first step.
Though the prospect might seem complex and daunting, despite your enthusiasm, but you don’t need lots of expensive equipment or even a huge amount of time to make your own cider from home.
Know your apples
It’s often assumed that there’s a particular variety of apple that’s preferable for cider, but this isn’t always the case and certainly doesn’t need to be a barrier for producing your own cider with whatever apples you have. Much like in wine production, tannins are important to consider; what gives cider and wine ‘body’ in its flavour. Tannins are found in higher levels in more bittersweet apples, and location is also a factor. If you’re producing cider in the South West of England, you might find that your apples have higher levels, but in the East of England it’s lower, for example. This will affect the nuances in the flavour, but the beauty of real cider is in its diversity, so work with whatever apples you have in whatever part of the country you’re in.
Any apples that are suitable for eating, also known as dessert apples, are perfectly fine, such as Cox, and these mix well with more traditional ‘cider apples’, such as Kingston Black, Stoke Red and Dymock Red, if they’re within reach – this will add the tannin.
The juicing process
The apples you have selected, understandably, need to be thoroughly washed along with any equipment or containers you’ll be using. Once the juice has been separated from the pulp, it can be tested for acidity and the amount of sugar measured. You can also repress the remaining pulp and add the weaker juice to the first batch if you want to make the most of your pressings.
Some have an array of equipment to help with the juicing process, but it can actually be done with a conventional juicer at home. You’ll need to sieve the lumps and pulp to collect the juice once done. When collected, a sediment will form at the bottom of whatever you’ve collected the juice in, the part of the juice you want will be in the middle and then some foam will accumulate on top. As soon as you’ve poured this through a muslin cloth, you’re ready to start the fermenting process.
Fermenting and pasteurising
According to Andrew Lea’s ‘The Science of Cidermaking’, certain materials should never come into contact with the juice, such as most metals, other than “food-grade stainless steel” and aluminium for short periods. Wood is traditional, but this can be difficult to clean, and isn’t advisable during fermentation, and you should stick to “food-grade stainless steel, plastics, fibreglass and epoxy resins” to keep the juice free from any interference from bacteria.
You can ferment juice in your own kitchen, once you’ve prepared your leftover apples, with the right knowledge and equipment. Once the juice is squeezed and separated from the remaining pulp and poured into glass bottles, rather than screwing a cap on, or covering completely, covering the top with a piece of cotton wool will allow enough carbon dioxide to escape. This is then kept at 22ºC for a maximum of four days, when the sediment will have sunk to the bottom of the bottle. Separate the juice with a strainer, heat to 71 – 72ºC in a stainless steel pot (a crucial detail, as previously outlined), and get rid of the foam that will sit on top.
Pasteurising the cider in this way is essential before bottling, or a significant amount of pressure could build, exploding the bottles. Once bottled and refrigerated, this will be ready to drink in about a week’s time. Trying this method out is a great way to get used to the various stages of the process, and the variety of bottles and containers you can use, such as a demijohn or even individual bottles, and will help you to discover your own preferred method.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness
It goes without saying that your cider needs to be drinkable and something you can confidently share with friends and family, otherwise, what’s the point? The glass bottles you store your cider in must be sterilised, and the easiest way to do this is to wash them well by hand in soapy water, and then dry them out completely in an oven heated to 140ºC. This is applicable to anyone bottling food or drink products, like jams and chutneys, to make sure everything is as clean as it can be in a domestic environment.
Storing the juice in the right container
Once you’ve tried your hand at cider making and are producing more, investing in the right kind of container for your juice is definitely worth considering. Many cider producers, including the Isle of Man-based Manx Cider Company, prefer a ‘rebottled IBC’, or intermediate bulk container, which are recycled and effectively cleaned, making them a much more affordable option than stainless steel for the at-home cider producer. The juice can be safely and securely stored and transported if necessary, so these continue to be one of the most cost-effective and reliable options for apple juice storage.
Everyone who’s tried their hand at making their own cider will have their own way of doing it, but it doesn’t need to be intimidating or even particularly expensive. It’s likely you’ll make some errors, or possibly end up with vinegar rather than cider, but there are plenty of enthusiasts and information out there to help you along.