If you are feeling brave then have a go at making your own cider. Making something you can call “cider” is dead easy, making something you that is drinkable is a bit more hit and miss but definitely worth a go. Either way you should undoubtedly embellish the story to your mates in the pub, they will be impressed with your tales of how you have made the “best cider you’ve ever tasted”...
Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Before you get started
Find somewhere nice and safe, warm and cozy to store the fermenting brew, the vessel will be heavy so plan in advance.
Clear the lounge if necessary, avoid the downstairs loo, possibly next to your bed for added security.
This is the easy bit, just get some apples in. You can put any in, you’ll probably need a whole boot full though as about 1 pint of juice comes from 1 kg of apples, if you’re lucky. Have a look at this website for more info on which ones to choose click here.
Where it gets more fun, and the science begins is when you start mixing up the apple types, or mixing up the juice afterwards. In days of old cidermakers would steal apples from local stray trees, a practice known as scrumping but we would never advocate such outrageous behaviour, not unless you have a reasonably fast bicycle nearby. It is probably easier to ask someone with some apple trees or buy them from a shop.
It is always important to keep one’s equipment clean and sterilised, you never know when it may be called into action, this mantra is true in cidermaking too.
You can buy or improvise here but remember metal stuff will rust lots and apples are acidic so go for “food grade”. As a starter find: Mill, Press, something to pour the juice into with a lid, tubes, airlocks, bung, steriliser, campden tablets (not Camden tablets, they are something very different), Yeast, bottles with lids, hydrometer if you want to know how strong it is.
making the cider
Wash the apples, don’t worry about the odd bruise they will be fine.
Mill the apples ie break them up into smaller pieces, don’t worry about the cores, to get going chop them with a knife and use a food processor, blender or whatever you have. If you get serious there are special mills like a Pulpmaster or a Fruit Shark for this, worth buying just for their great names – man can never have too many gadgets after all. This bit will take a while without the proper kit but it will be worth it trust me, he says crossing fingers.
Extract the juice – This is where the fun starts. Basically you need to take the mashed up pulp called pomace if you want to get techie and squeeze the **** out of it to get as much juice as possible out. You can use a cloth, pairs of football socks have been known, even old spin dryers (not tumble dryers, they are different). Check ebay if you want to find a decent press, they are about £50 but you’ll get lots more juice than squeezing by hand. Again your mates will be well impressed with it too.
Obviously you’ll be catching the juice as if comes out of the press / sock, use your sterilised bucket, tub or whatever. Yes the sterilising bit is important otherwise it will taste properly rotten.
You’ve now got two options, the fingers crossed method or what your Mum always referred to as the “safe” method and it is all to do with yeast. Either you rely on the yeast that is naturally in the apples in which case you can put your feet up and do nothing, or you kill off the wild yeast and add yeast purchased from your local yeast retailer.
If you want the “I have spent ages on this and don’t want to waste all these apples” option then add the Campden Tablets (1 per gallon) and leave for 48 hours, then add your cultured yeast (technically known as yeast wot knows about opera, books and stuff).
If your going Irish and crossing fingers then just keep the juice airlocked ie sealed for a couple of weeks.
If you want to know how the alcoholic strength then you’ll need to get a hydrometer. These are only about a fiver so probably worth it so you can check you aren’t going to be ruined after a pint. If you have to, add a bit of sugar or water to tweak the flavour.
There are a few other clever bits you can do now aswell, if you are that way inclined. A pectin enzyme (cue vague recollections from GCSE Biology, or was it Chemistry) is useful if the pulp has stood for a while or you are using dessert apples. A yeast nutrient can also help the fermentation - check here if you need more info.
After a couple of days, the magic happens ie the juice begins to ferment into cider. If you’ve got a hydrometer then check after a week or so and every couple of days afterwards and you’ll see when fermentation is finished - once the reading gets below 1005.
Some people like to keep the lid off for a few days early on, make sure the cider is covered though in case and foreign bodies drop in (am I allowed to say that these days ?). Cover it pretty soon after though, with an airlock or fermentation trap (ebay !) that allows gas to escape but not get in. This will stop the cider going off.
Siphon off the cider, leaving the bits at the bottom where they are, into sterile bottles and seal with an airlock. You can drink straight away or leave for a few months, something tells me you’ll want to drink it, does anyone really store it unless it tastes so bad they can’t bring themselves to drink it. If you want you can leave the yeast and go for a cloudy cider, you could also grow an enormous beard and take up Morris Dancing. A few other tips are use a good strong plastic bottle, fill it right up, make sure it is sterilised, don’t use a fruit juice one though, glass is good if you can seal it well.
If you want the cider to last longer in the bottle then add some more Campden Tablets as this kills off the yeast and makes sure that fermentation stops. A better solution is to just drink it more quickly and start the whole process again.