This year has seen bumper apple crops in UK orchards, thanks to a hot, dry spring followed by prolonged periods of torrential, summertime rain. Folks with an apple tree in their garden are no doubt probably sick of apple pies by now and will be pleased to know that you can make cider from pretty much any apple. Chances are that the apples in your garden will be either cookers or eaters (or a mixture of both) which can be used to make a lovely sharp apple cider, a style known as an ‘eastern counties’ cider.
If you are fortunate to have access to cider apples, then all the better – with these splendid fruits you’ll be able to make a full-bodied, tannic rich ‘west-country’ cider.
Ideally, you need to get your hands on an apple press which can be rather pricey, so it’s often worth clubbing together with a bunch of like-minded friends to help spread the cost. You may also be able to rent one from a local orchard group, and some commercial cider makers often offer pressing services for a small fee. Failing that, a large food processor will do the job if you’ve got a small number of apples to juice. Just bear in mind that you’ll need around 10-15 apples per pint of cider, so don’t come crying to us when you burn out the motor on your Magimix.
From start to finish, making cider can take a good few months but, with a bit of luck, your tasty golden booze should be ready to drink by spring time. Patience is foremost, but good things come to those who wait. Read on for a list of ingredients, equipment and instructions showing you how to make cider at home.
What you need to make cider
- 9kg/20lb apples (cider apples, or a mix of cooking and eating apples)
- 1 campden tablet (bought from a home brew shop or online)
- Cider yeast
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1 tsp sugar per bottle, for priming
- Cider press
- Scratting device (see ‘smash’, below)
- 2 x 1 gallon / 4.5 litre demijohns
- Cotton wool
- Rubber bung and airlock (bought from a home brew shop or online)
- Syphon tube
- Hydrometer (optional, but very useful)
How to make cider
Grab and clean
Gather your apples. If you are picking directly from the tree, no need to wash them, but for windfall apples, always give them a good dunking in a clean bucket of water.
Chop and remove rot
Halve or quarter the apples with a sharp knife removing any parts that have been molested by worms, and discard any apples that are blackened with rot.
To achieve maximum juice extraction, you’ll need to reduce the apples to a porridge-like pulp. You can buy specialist machines for this purpose (called ‘scratters’), but an effective (and cheaper) method is to place a quantity of apples into a trug and smash them up with a large wooden fence post or similar. You’ll find this is a great way to release pent up tension…
Load the pulp into your apple press, or whatever you plan to use for pressing the apples, then squeeze out the juice directly into a demijohn. Ensure that your demijohn is pretty much full, save for an inch or so at the top. Add water if you need to make up the volume, but no more than 1 pint per demijohn.
Add the campden tablet. This will kill off any bacteria, whilst allowing the yeasts to (hopefully) thrive. Leave for 24 hours for the campden tablet to work its magic, then loosely plug the demijohn with a cotton wool ball and patiently wait for the fermentation to begin. It should start in a few days, but if you don’t trust Mother Nature and her wild yeasts, add a sachet of shop-bought cider yeast to help things along. Adding pectic enzyme at this stage will reduce the risk of hazy cider and unappealing pectin blobs forming in your booze.
After the initial fermentation has settled down, fit the bung and airlock and place the demijohn somewhere cool where it can continue to ferment for several weeks. Syphon the young cider into a clean demijohn when the bubbles passing through the airlock have slowed, and you have a good bed of brown muck at the bottom (called ‘lees’).
Wait a bit longer…
Continue to ferment. When the bubbles have ceased passing through the airlock, take a hydrometer read
ing. Anything below a gravity of 1.005 is good to go, so syphon the cider again before transferring to bottles.
Your apple cider will benefit from maturation, so if you can bear the wait, store your bottles in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks (at least) before drinking. Overly acidic ciders will also benefit from this, as the maturation process will tend to smooth out any rough edges. Cheers!
Have you made your own cider? Tell us about your cider-making experiences in the comments!