Tuesday, 31 January 2012

How To Make Hard Cider ... The Easy Way

Got an apple tree? You need to make cider! These are my notes on the standard recipe. And if you've already made it, see last para for a great tip. 

If you live in Somerset and you have a garden, there'll almost certainly be an apple tree in it. Somerset is like that. Adam and Eve wouldn't have lasted long here. The tree we inherited with our house looks as old as the hills and as tall as the house. It's lichen covered branches frame the view of Blagdon Lake like lead tracery in an overgrown stain glass window. Looks lovely, but impossible to pick from that height. So we watched the windfalls fall and it gradually dawned on me that cider was the obvious thing to do. It also felt like a rite of passage for our new country home. 
Lovely tree, but hard to pick the apples!

The process was pleasingly quick, not too messy and slightly technical in a sciencey cooking sort of way. Great fun in short. And the result? It's well worth it. Bone dry, with a wine like length (probably from the wine yeast). I used a couple of recipes easily available on the net: 

And here's what I did so that I know what to try next year. Shout if you agree or disagree:

  • I used about 10kg of apples - it made 1 gallon.
  • I should have let the apples sit for a week before use to soften.
  • Used steam and campden tablet to sterilise. Next time I think I'd try household bleach - but it must be non perfumed.  
  • Cut up into small chunks and remove all bad/mouldy bit. Peeling didn't seem to make much difference to the next step but smaller chunks did.
  • Processed through home juicer. This is messy, takes a long time and left a cloudy 'must', but it was cheap and cheerful. A gallon took 2.5 hrs so it's quite doable. If I was doing more, I'd buy or hire a cider press. Apparently a lady in our village has one for hire. Next year I hope to make a lot more so I'll probably do that. 
  • Fill the demijon very full. Air is the enemy, so it's best to leave as little space as you can. 
  • I tried to filter the juice through a fine metal sieve as it went in. Not totally successful but possibly racking before adding yeast could have solved this.
  • Added one campden tablet per gallon. Tablet must be crushed. Insert cotton wool bung or similar and leave for 48 hours. This is to kill of any bad bacteria or the wrong yeast. You need to leave it 48 hrs for it to run out, or it'll kill the yeast you add!
  • Consider racking at this stage to remove sediment (see earlier point). 
  • Add yeast. I used white wine yeast and it does give a pleasing wine finish. You really need to shake the hell out of it once yeast added. Can probably only do this by pouring some out into a sterilised bottle, and shaking. One site suggests leaving this subset to start fermenting then add it to the main bottle. Interesting.  
  • Then cotton wool bung until 'big early ferment' is over. I didn't get the bit early ferment. Infact, I wasn't sure anything was happening. I ended up adding lots more yeast. The final cider tastes very yeasty so I would try and avoid this next year. Sometimes apparently it does take a long time to start and only ferments slowly. Possibly my apples where relatively low on sugar. And I definitely had it too cold to start with. It needs to be kept at C16. Cooler and nothing happens, hotter and more will happen but it's said to kill some of the cider flavour. Possibly I expected more to happen faster and got impatient. I thought it would go off if I left it with no fermenting, but that doesn't seem to be an issue. 
  •  Check the specific gravity using a hydrometer. It's not essential but makes things a bit more predictable. Mine was 1060 at this stage. 
  • Once fermenting is happening and has either gone crazy and you've cleared up the mess, or as in my case it isn't going to, add air lock. 
  • Leave until fermenting stops. It's obvious when fermenting has started. Hard to tell when it stops. I left mine for at least 3 weeks. In theory the SG should be back to 1000 - like water. Mine was only down to 1020, but I figured it was enough. 
  • Syphon into sterilised bottles using the tube from my camel back!
  • Fill bottles pretty full to avoid air problems again. 
  • I added half tsp of sugar to each bottle. This should allow for a secondary fermentation and give a slight fizz. It's worked, though I think the remaining sugar content meant it was still fermenting anyway. Another campden table at this stage would stop that, but I didn't want to add more chemicals. 
  • Leave for as long as you can bear. Mine cleared beautifully after 4 weeks. Apparently if I leave it longer it'll get rid of the yeast taste. My only concern is exploding bottles due to the excess sugar. The first bottle I've opened after 4 weeks wasn't stupidly fizzy but I'll keep an eye on that. 
  • The taste is great. Very dry so it's very good with food. Well worth it. 
  • Insert beautiful sun lit photo of freshly poured cider here. I have kids, our house faces north. I can't do this right now but you can see the tree framing the view in the picture above.
Update 17th Feb 2012. Inspired by a visit to the Walled Garden restaurant near here, we tried adding a dash of bramble liquer to the cider for valentines day. It brings a great touch of sweetness and ups the colour. The wine yeast taste helps the Kir style taste.
Valentines day blush...
And for completeness, here's a pic of the Walled Garden's version. There's is a little clearer (OK, a lot clearer) and had a better length, but since it was £4 a glass, compared with about 0p a bottle for home created, that's OK!


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