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Monday, 11 October 2010

Cider making

Now the promised post on cider making. Like all alcohol production it is actually remarkable simple. Last year we had a very poor apple harvest and hardly enough to eat let alone make cider. But the year before I had already made a batch of cider of which I wrote here. That time we crushed the apples in an old fashioned grape crusher and then pressed them in a basket press. Whilst this was a relatively quick way of working, I found the juice yield slightly disappointing. An estimated 50kg of apples gave us about 12 litres of cider after all the deposits were racked off.

This is how we did it this year. We picked some 100kg of apples of two varieties. One is a local variety caled Rotella, a slightly flattened shape apple with good acidity, firm juicy flesh and a very hard skin, which makes them good for cool storage.

The second variety I'm not sure what it is. It is similar to the Dutch variety Boskoop, which is generally regarded as a cooking apple. It is browny yellow in colour with a rough skin, high acid and sugar content and a more mealy consistency.

We first sorted the apples into to 2 batches, one with anything slightly damaged, bruised or with worm holes destined for the cider and the other with perfect appearance to be kept in trays in our cantina which we recenty took over from our absent neighbours (the absent neighbours don't know that, so we're calling it a squat...)

That left us with approximately 50 kg to go into the cider. This time I decided to really give our electric juicer a test and process it all through there. It passed the test with flying colours and the juice yield was much greater than with the method we used 2 years ago. However, it took us the best part of a day to get some 35 litres of juice.

This was filled into a large clean demijohn. It is important at this stage that you use a container big enough to allow the must to froth up during the first couple of days of violent fermentation. This particular container has a 70 litre capacity. Also make sure you place it where you will want the fermentation taking place before you fill it to avoid any hernias trying to move it afterwards.

You could simply leave it like that and fermentation is likely to start with any ambient yeasts, however I prefer to add some yeast at this stage. The enemy of any wine is oxygen, but one of the by-products of fermentation is CO2. As CO2 is heavier than ambient air it will form an invisible layer on top of your fermenting brew protecting it from oxygen. Hence the quicker your fermentation starts the better your chances are of not ending up with vinegar. So I added a few sachets of ordinary baker's yeast and put an airlock on top. The airlock is filled with water allowing excess gases to escape but not allowing anything into your wine in the other direction.

Now you sit back and wait. Depending on how much sugar your must contained originally and on the ambient temperature, fermentation can take anything between 1 to 3 weeks. Once you see that activitiy has seized, i.e. no more bubbles rising and your airlock not bubbling, you test the stuff. Carefully insert a length of plastic tubing inside and suck some into a test tube or similar. If you have a hydrometer insert it, and if it shows zero, all the sugar has been converted to alcohol and fermentation is finished. You can also simply test it by tasting. Concentrate on the front of your tongue to see if it is completely dry.

Now you are ready for the next stage. You will notice the cider being cloudy and a heavy deposit on the bottom of your demijohn. Carefully syphon the brew into a smaller container with a plastic tube avoiding to disturb the heavy deposit, which consists of dead yeast cells. The target container should be placed at a lower level and you simply suck at the end of the tube until you have a mouthfull and it will then start running into the lower container all by itself. Do not attempt to simply pour it from one container into another.

Ideally the smaller container should now fit the liquid snugly with as little as possible air in contact with the cider and it should be closed tightly with a cork. Leave like this for another week or 2, during which the liquid will clarify further and another much smaller deposit will form. Rack off this deposit in the same manner and bottle. Ideally you should now leave it mature for a few weeks before drinking it, if you can resist that long. In total, after the rackings we made 25 litres of cider at about 8% alcohol.

In an ideal world you have special cider apples, which make the best brews, but failing that you want sharp rather than overly sweet apples. Our brew is perfectly bone dry, quite high in acidity (we also picked much earlier than we did 2 years ago), with fruity apple notes and a certain earthiness. One other thing, whilst the odd worm or brown bit wouldn't spoil your final product, if there's a lot of rot I tend to cut that out. Another advantage of using the juicer as you handle each apple individually.



Laura said...

Great informative post - I wish we had the apples to give it a try! We've been wanting to do some home brewing for a while now but have lacked ingredients and bottles. We now have the bottles at least, so I guess it will have to be nettle beer in the spring. Unless we try some chestnut liqueur! Would love to sample your cider :)

Mr. H. said...

That's it? So I read about this in a book and it all sounds so complicated that we decided to put it off. I read your post and you make it sound so simple. I did not know you could use regular bread yeast...that simplifies things for us. Do you add any additional sugars?

Very good, Thank you for posting this information. I am very much looking forward to trying this.

Mr. H. said...

Oh, and nice crates. Wish I had some of those...lucky you.

Heiko said...

Laura, there's an amazing amount of things you can turn into country wines. I've known people making wines from things like parsnips. Rosehips make a drinkable brew. Elderflowers and berries are excellent. The list is endless.

Mr. H., as I say, you might even get away without adding yeast, but you run a slight risk of it spoiling prematurely. Yeast is everywhere around us in the atmosphere. We didn't add additional sugar. In a cooler climate your sugar levels are likely to be lower and hence the alcohol, but as long as you reach somewhere in the region of 5% you should have a stable product.

The crates I pick up from the rubbish around here. Grocers get their veg delivered in them and dispose of them afterwards. I've got hundreds! Shall I drop some over to you?

Laura said...

Oh dear, I've really been enjoying my parsnips in soup, etc, but you may have just given me a better use for them! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow - you must have one hell of a juicer. I'm also quite jealous as our apples and pears are marble-sized as they don't get nearly enough rain and nothing quite beats cider on a hot sunny day. If you fancy trying your hand at some country wines too check out the Jack Keller's site http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/ it seems you can wine out of pretty much anything.

chaiselongue said...

This sounds a great way of using all those kilos of apples!

We used to make elderberry and other fruit wines when we lived in Wales, and they were good, but here with vines and wine-making going on all around us we stick to the local grape variety. I think Laura will probably find her parsnips are better in her soup... I've never tasted good parsnip wine!

Laura said...

Good to know, thanks! :)

Heiko said...

Gorse flowers make good wine. I just saw a whole lot on a walk today (as well as picking up a load of useful crockery from a nearby skip, Laura.

Ruralrose said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you - was so sweet of you to post this for me! Hardly any apples this year, can't wait to try it next year! Peace

Heiko said...

You're welcome, Rose, I knew you had asked. Just remember the 2 cardinal rules: keep all your equipment srupelously clean and keep oxygen away from your must at all times.