I’ve blogged already about my brewing exploits here, but this is the first time I’ve mentioned my cider. My parents garden is blessed with a single enormous apple tree which produces tonnes of fruit. It’s an unusual variety – close to a Bramley but much, much sweeter. It makes gorgeous apple pies, but when I inherited a fruit press I knew I need to try something a little more alcoholic.
Cider making is very easy – people have been doing it for centuries. Simply take some apple juice, add yeast and let nature do it’s thing (you can even leave out the yeast if you’re feeling adventurous!) In reality it’s a little more complex, but not much.
As with anything involving fermentation, preparation is key. Everything the juice will touch needs to be sterilised and it’s important to keep your work area tidy. Get everything clean and laid out ready to go.
Next up is juice extraction – you can use a centrifugal juicer or if you’re lucky enough to have a fruit press, it creates a more authentic result. I find the press gives much clearer juice with less bits and a cleaner flavour. It’s worth checking the sugar content with a hydrometer – this is a natty little gadget that looks like a thermometer, but floats at different heights in the liquid depending on the density. If there isn’t enough sugar for the yeast to work on then the cider will be too sweet and won’t have enough alcohol to preserve it. There are plenty of websites to help you convert the reading into an alcohol by volume. I always aim for about 6-7%ABV. If it’s too low you can top it up with some caster sugar or just add a sweeter variety of apple juice.
To give your yeast a helping hand it’s a good idea to make sure nothing else is trying to grow in your juice. Simply pop one crushed campden tablet per gallon in, stir and leave for 48 hours. Next up is ‘pitching’ the yeast – you can’t use a bread yeast as it won’t tolerate the environment. Buy a specialist homebrewing yeast. You can get cider yeasts, but I like using champagne yeast to create a Normandy-style cider.
The length of time it takes to ferment will vary depending on all kinds of things like the temperature, cleanliness, yeast variety etc. I had a very good run and was finished in about two weeks. You can judge the progress by the amount of “bubbling” in the airlock. I always double check with the hydrometer, you want almost all of the sugar gone.
Once the cider has fermented it needs bottling. If you want it still, simply sterilise the bottles and fill them up. To create a sparkling cider just put about half a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of each bottle before you fill it and gently swirl to dissolve. The extra sugar will wake the yeast up and while it ferments again the gas will get trapped inside the bottle, dissolve into the liquid and make the cider fizzy.
Waiting is by far the hardest part. Once bottled the cider will clear and mature for several weeks – look at the difference between the freshly bottled cider above and the aged, labelled bottle below. I try and wait at least four weeks before opening a bottle.
So after all that – what does it actually taste like? Funnily enough, a lot like Cider. This year’s batch is gorgeously clear, with a delicate golden colour. It’s still got quite a yeasty smell, but that will ease with time. There’s only a gentle sparkle (last years was a little too bubbly) and you get a wonderful medium-dry apple flavour. Because it’s a single variety there’s far less going on, it’s a very clean drinking cider.
Overall i’m really pleased! Next year i’ll dedicate a little more time to it and borrow some eating apples from next door to do a traditional 50/50 cider.