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Home Made Cider

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Home made cider

During the summer of 2007 we decided to make our own cider. In the village where we live, there is a cider shed that not many people know about (location to remain unknown!). We go there most Sunday mornings when the local 'old boys' drink their own home-made cider, plum wine, sloe gin and more. Some of the cider is delicious and after going to the shed for a while it is time to pay them back and bring our own. They will appreciate it.

But donít forget, this is the first time for us as well. At the time of writing we still have a few questions that need answering (e.g. Do we need to wash the apples before pulping or will this get rid of the natural yeast on the skin, because we are not using campden tablets nor adding a yeast culture. Do we need to keep the bung hole open to allow yeast in the air to get in for a short period of time or do we close the bung hole with an airlock straight away? What kind of sugar do we use, white or brown? Do we leave the barrel in the house so the fermentation can start more easily because of the warmth or do we put it in the shed straight away? How full does a barrel need to be? Etc.)

The plan:

Step 1 - Get information. You've already started step 1 because you are reading this page!
Step 2 Ė get yourself a grinder (to pulp the apples), press and fermentation barrel(s).
Step 3 Ė late September, get yourself some apples.
Step 4 Ė wash and pulp the apples.
Step 5 Ė press the pulp and collect the juice.
Step 6 Ė if needed, add sugar to the juice and put into fermentation barrel.
Step 7 Ė wait a few months, until April, May and drink the cider.

Of course these 7 steps are just theory, how it all went in reality you can read below.

Saturday 29 September 2007 - Getting ready

Before we started we read up on the subject as much as we could. We already decided that we wanted to do the whole process ourselves. That meant that we needed a scratter to pulp the apples and a fruit press. More on that later.

What apples make the best cider? Many sources on the internet about what the best apples to make your own cider are seemed to contradict each other. Some say to go for dessert apples, other sources say to get mainly cookers (sources listed at the bottom of this page). Where we live in the countryside of  the North Cotswolds there are plenty of orchards with loads of apples that would go to waste if not used to make cider. We decided to go for a mixture of sweet apples, acidic apples and a small amount of crab apples. We donít know the variety of any of these apples, we will just taste them and class them as either acidic or sweet. We plan to use acidic, sweet and crab apples roughly to a ratio of 3:2:1.

As we bought five 6 gallon fermentation barrels we donít have to wait until we have enough apples to fill a 40 gallon oak barrel and we can spread the grinding and pressing out over different weekends. Another advantage is that we can make 5 different ciders. The initial plan was to make 2 barrels with different amounts of sugar (one with a pound of sugar per gallon and another with two pounds of sugar per gallon which should result in a stronger cider with a higher alcohol percentage), one with honey added to it, one with raisins added to it and a last one with pears added to it, but our plans changed during the process. Cooking apples and desert apples

We have been collecting apples for about 3 hours divided over 3 orchards in the last 2 weekends and have gathered quite a lot. As you can see on the picture on the right we have 7 crates  and 2 bigger laundry bins full of apples. We don't know what variety of apples we have but we are certain we have cookers and desert apples. We were not able to find crab apples. We will have to find some wild apple trees to get the bitterness and required amount of tannin. We tasted the kind of apples we have and found them a bit on the sweet side, we definitely had a lack of acid. Crab apples desperately needed I feel! So the plan to use a ration of 3:2:1 was out of the window straight away. You can only work with what you can get, I suppose. I guess we gathered about 60 to 70 kilos of apples, which to my estimation should be enough to fill two 6 gallon barrels if we get the expected yield. So we need at least the same amount of apples again. We were also given some pears, which we plan to use for the last barrel to give the cider a slightly different flavour. More of a combination between perry and cider although the amount of pears we've got should only give a hint of a different flavour.

Home made cider equipment

We bought the scratter (in fact all our equipment) from Hamstead Brewing Centre in Birmingham. You donít have to buy your own scratter or fruit press if you donít want to spend the money. There are many different other and cheaper ways to pulp the apples, or you can make your own (see links at the bottom of this page). I am not a handyman and decided to buy our own. The equipment should pay itself back over the years. People we know buy the apples for a ridiculously low price of £1,50 for a bag of 25 kilograms or so they tell us. Donít know where they buy it from. They buy 16 of these bags which will make them about 45 gallons of juice. They take the bags to a cider maker who will press the apples for them. All they do is add sugar and wait. apple scratter

We decided not to do it like that and do it all ourselves from the start, the proper way! If we end up with rubbish cider (as ifÖ) when it all goes wrong then so be it and hopefully we will learn from the experience. Trial and error.

We bought the hand operated fruit grinder (see picture on the left) which you can simply place over a container (we used a small plastic bucket) to collect the pulp. The handle operates two silicone rollers with stainless steel pins for crushing the apples.

We also bought a 20 liter basket spindle press. Even for me it was not difficult to put it together. It consists of a heavy duty metal base, which can be bolted on the surface you are pressing on. On top of the base you fit the plastic tray that collects the juice. On top of that comes the wooden basket which will hold the pulp together. The press did not come with a bag to put the pulp in. These bags are used to filter the juice, but also help getting the pulp out when the pressing is done. We bought one.




Washing and Grinding

We did decide to wash the apples before the grinding. Our setup - press, wash bucket, scratter Some of the apples came from trees that are in a field where sheep graze. And we picked quite some windfalls. The washing up can be done with a bucket of cold water. We dropped about 15 to 20 apples in the water at a time, washed them, quartered them if needed and put them in the grinder. The smaller apples did not need cutting and went in whole. The grinding process was hard. Much harder than I expected. Once an apple got caught between the rollers you had to use considerable force. This meant that the scratter  either needed to be secured well, or you have to use both hands. One for grinding and the other for holding the scratter. Our setup (see picture) for the first barrel was not steady enough and for the second barrel we fixed both the scratter and the press to a wooden frame. This way we were able to use a lot more force on the press (and we do mean a lot more!) and the scratter could be operated with one hand.

 We found out that you can only turn the handle one way: clock wise. It does go the other way, but than you will end up with much bigger pieces of apple in the pulp. The pulpRotating the handle clock wise means that the rollers with the pins turn towards each other, causing the apples to go between them where the gap is the smallest. If you turn the handle the other way, this will cause the rollers to turn away from each other and the apples will go on both sides of the rollers instead of between them. Also, turning the handle needs to be done at a slow speed. Turning it to fast will make the apples jump up and down in the grinder, instead of being 'grabbed' by the pins on the rollers.

I have no experience with other grinders, but I was pleased with the overall result. The apples were pulped to quite small pieces, which will increase the yield.






Pressing the pulp

The pulp in the cider pressWe used a small bucket to collect the pulp which made it easy to tip into the press. Two full buckets of pulp would fill our 20 liter press to the top. The press needs to be filled to the top otherwise the handle will touch the wooden basket while there is still more pressing to do. We always pressed the pulp in the press with our hands first to get more pulp in. The pulp already started producing the first juice at this stage which is visible on the picture to the right. You can already see juice in the collection tray without actually starting the pressing itself. The pulp starts to react with the air really quick. Even before we had the time to put it into the press it already started to turn a brown colour.

Our press uses 2 wooden pressing plates which you have to lay on top of the pulp. On top of these 2 pressing plates we use 4 sturdy wooden block to gain enough 'height'. The height of these blocks is the amount you reduce the height of the pulp with. The more height you have the more you can press. The pressing plates on top of the pulpIf you run out of pressingspace, you can place the blocks lengthwise on top of each other. We've done this and created thus another 6 inches pressing space and were able to get more juice out of the pulp. You have to be careful pressing with the block lengthwise on top of each other because the whole structure became rather instable, especially when you have to use force. Some say that the last bit of juice you can press from the pulp is the best. This better be true because the last bit is the hardest. Turning the handle (even after waiting a while for the juice to stop running out) eventually became so hard that the nut at the bottom of the base began to turn with it. If there are two of you one can hold the nut with the right tool while the other turns the press handle. But this effectively reduces the workforce to only one! What we did was use a tool (don't know the name of it) which we could lock on the nut and once the nut started moving, the tool moves with it until it met one of the feet of the base. The tool would stop there, holding the nut into place while we were still able to turn the handle.

We started with the blocks lying down, two on each side of the screw. We tried to fill up the press so much that there was no room to put the blocks upright. Once you start pressing, you will hear the noise that will make it all worthwhile, the dripping (at first) and later pouring of the juice out of the pulp into the bucket.

Ready to press! The first juice

It is a great sight and feeling. I was surprised the dark colour of the juice. These were the dessert apples and were very sweet. As you will see from pictures below, the cooking apples produced a much lighter juice. We tasted both, and somehow both had a sweet taste. Again an indication that we do need crab apples for our second barrel. Sweeter juice without the needed acid has a tendency to go wrong during fermentation. I assume it is the 'wrong' bacteria that will find they have an easy life. We don't use Campden tablets, nor added yeast in our first barrel. Taking out the bag with pressed pulp was difficult as well. It was pressed so much that the pulp had taken the shape of the wooden basket. Once we got it out, we dumped it into the boxes in which the grinder and the press came. I regretted this later, because after cleaning the grinder and the press when we were ready I would like to have the boxes to put them in and then put them in the shed. A mistake. We poured the juice from the bucket into the barrel after adding some sugar. Stirring in the sugar We did add about 2 kilograms of sugar to our 5,5 gallons of juice. Although the juice was already sweet, the extra sugar was added to make a stronger cider. We never bothered checking the Ph value of the juice as more professional cider makers do. We have 5 barrels and will have 5 different ciders when ready. In the picture on the left you can see me stirring in the sugar before it goes into the barrel. Note the different colour of the juice compared to the colour of the juice in the picture above. This is the juice of the dessert apples. The cookers gave a much darker juice.





When we started on the second barrel a week later (Saturday 6 October 2007) we decided to make it a lot fuller than the first one. First barrel, not quite fullWe were not sure if the fermentation had started yet on the first one either. During the week between making the first barrel and the second barrel people had told us to fill the barrel right up to the top so that when the fermentation starts the froth will pour out of the top. Then (after 1 or 2 days) bung it all up and store somewhere. We did this and the airlock on the second barrel is now making the 'plop' noises it should make.


The third barrel (Sunday 14 October 2007) we did the same as the second barrel, filled right to the top, but using mostly cookers this time. Not completely sure if they were all cookers because some of them tasted very sweet. Although by this time we had picked nearly 3 crates of crab apples, we decided not to use them. We added 4 kilograms of sugar in this barrel (6,5 gallon when filled to the top) to make a much stronger cider. Again, left it open, with a piece of cotton wool in the top for 2 days.

The first barrel we made (now 2 weeks ago, see picture on the right) still wasn't doing anything. We didn't fill this barrel all the way to the top as at the time we thought that you need some air and space in the barrel for the fermentation to work. This is true, but you only need a tiny bit of space and the air will be there when you leave the barrel open (with a cloth on top) for one or two days. You can clearly see in the picture where the juice level was before topping it up. After topping it up, the juice level came right up to the red screw top. We opened it and there was some mould on the top (not too much). We scooped the mould out and filled the barrel and put the airlock back on. The juice still looked fine. We checked the next day and the airlock was completely filled with froth! We decided that this was a good thing and left the airlock as it was. First we thought about replacing the airlock with a clean one, but we didn't want to expose the juice to more oxygen as it had enough of that already so we just left it. The second barrel is still going well, and we have very good hopes for the third barrel as well. It is definitely a learning curve, but not a long one. It is now 2 weeks after we started and we know a lot better what to do. We have turned into confident cider makers in 2 weeks! We now think that a barrel can't be too full with juice.





Cleaning the equipment

All we did was pour a lot of water over the press and scratter, dunk the wooden parts of the press in some water rinsing all the apple remains of it. empty press with muslimThe screw needs to be cleaned and dried, and then oiled with vegetable oil to prevent it from rusting and to keep it going smooth. I oiled it on the day of pressing, and again on the next day. For this purpose I have bought a cheap (pound shop) washing up brush to get right into the grooves of the screw. We put plenty of vegetable oil (the cheapest) on the brush and brushed all the apple remains from the grooves. These apple remains are now black from the grinding of metal on metal. This is a good indication that this is probably the most important part to clean. With a brush you should be able to clean it so that it almost looks new. This is not possible with the wood as that staines during the pressing process. And we have to admit that our 'muslin' (the pressing bag) does not look as white anymore as when we bought it.





Drinking the cider

We don't really have to tell you how to do that do we? If in doubt we'll be glad to help drinking your cider.

Some useful measurements (the bold line is the amount we ended up with):

1 pint - 0,568 litres
1 gallon - 8 pints - 4,5 litres
1 barrel - 6 gallons - 48 pints - 27 litres
5 barrels - 30 gallons - 240 pints - 136 litres
Oak barrel - 40 gallons - 320 pints - 181 litres
7000 litres - 1540 gallons - 12320 pints (tax free threshold)

At local pub prices we will end up with 240 * £2.60 = £624 of cider. Cheers!

A lot of the questions we had before we started have now been answered. Either by asking people and telling them what happened or just by trial and error:

Q: Do we need to wash the apples before pulping or will this get rid of the natural yeast on the skin, because we are not using campden tablets nor adding a yeast culture.

A: Yes, it is advisable to wash the apples. More so if you are picking windfalls. We picked windfalls from fields that had sheep in them. Some apples had slimy marks on them as if snails had crawled over them. Although cider making doesn't have to be a completely sterile operation (far from it) you don't have to make it dirty on purpose. I have found no evidence of people putting dead rats in their cider. I know of someone who puts a piece of bacon in his cider but that is not the same is it? I found that there is enough yeast left on the apples and in the air to get the fermentation starting. Either by the natural yeast or added yeast if you decide to use campden tablets.

Q: Do we need to keep the bung hole open to allow yeast in the air to get in for a short period of time or do we close the bung hole with an airlock straight away?

A: Keep the bung hole open, but only for one or two days. air locks and bungs Just enough to get the fermentation starting. Just put a cloth over it (tea towel will do) or some cotton wool. As soon as the fermentation starts you can put your airlock in it to stop air getting in. You don't even have to keep your barrel(s) in the house for a while, the fermentation will go on even in a colder environment. It will just slow down. On the picture you can see a selection of airlocks. The yellowish ones are older ones, borrowed from a villager. We decided not to use those and bought a few new ones on ebay, cheap. We used the ones on the right hand side with a bung made from cork.

Q: What kind of sugar do we use, white or brown?

A: We used white, because we have been advised to use white. Not sure if it makes any difference, but I don't like the taste of brown sugar as much as I like white so the choice was easy.

Q: Do we leave the barrel in the house so the fermentation can start more easily because of the warmth or do we put it in the shed straight away?

A: Leave it in the house or any warmer environment for the first two days when the bung hole is still open. As soon as you put the airlock on you might as well move the barrel to the shed. The fermentation should have started by this time anyway.

Q: How full does a barrel need to be?

A: Full. The fermentation gassed need to push the remainder of the air out of the barrel once it has been airlocked. Fermentation is an anaerobic event, meaning that it needs no oxygen. In fact it wants no oxygen. If you have to much space in the barrel you will have to much air in the barrel and the gasses that form during the fermentation can't replace all of the oxygen. Your cider will end up foul.

Some random pictures taken during cider making

Dot, the cat

Dot thought it was all very interesting and showed an immediate love for the empty boxes. Thanks for the help Dot! We couldn't have done it without you.

The view

The view from the front of the house. Not bad at all.

Say cheese!

The bag after pressing the juice out. The pulp has taken the shape of the press. The bag used to be white. It is not white anymore!

pressed pulp

The waste. We don't have a compost heap and on the local allotment they don't want it either on their compost heap as it attracts the rats. We put some of it in the garden waste bin, and some in bin bags to be taken by the bin men.

Some helpful links:

Cider makers FAQ - Ukcider
The Scrumpy User Guide - Making Your Own Cider
My Parents making Apple Cider

Please feel free to leave a comment about this page.

There is 1 comment
????? ???? –
December 16, 2013 - 20:46

very good submit, i certainly love this web site, carry on it

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What's new?

05-09-2011: Like most years, in the first week of September we have been to the Great Dorset Steam Fair 2011.

06-07-2011: I have added some photos from out daytrip to Weston Super Mare.

18-05-2011: We have been on a Tractor Run again.

23-04-2011: The Lynches in the Spring.

19-03-2011: On Sebastian's 2nd birthday we went to West Midlands Safari Park.

09-02-2011: New page with photos from the view of our house to the church and the old village added here.

08-02-2011: New page about our daytrip to Bourton on the Water added.

05-02-2011: New pictures of the Sunday Cider shed added.

28-11-2010: New pictures of the Sunday Cider shed added.

07-10-2010: You can now view the pictures of the Great Dorset Steam Fair 2010.

24-09-2010: We have been to the Netherlands again: The Netherlands 2010.

24-06-2010: The weather was nice and we decided to take a daytrip to the beach at Woolacombe.

21-06-2010: New pictures of the Sunday Cider shed added.

08-09-2009: Some photo's of our trip to The Netherlands added and more pictures of the Sunday Cider shed added.

31-08-2009: The long awaited pigroast at the Saturday cider shed finally happened..

31-08-2009: Although not as busy as last year, this year's barbecue at Aston sub Edge village club was still a success.

22-08-2009: Have you ever heard of The Lynches? It is the name of the woods we walk through on our way to Chipping Campden. These woods feature on a few pages on this website. Well, there is now somebody living in The Lynches, Ray Mears style (or is it John Rambo?).

24-07-2009: As promised, I have now taken a few pictures of the Saturday Cider Shed. More pictures will be added in due course.

09-07-2009: Finally. I've added a page about the cider shed on Sunday morning. Another page about the Saturday cider shed will follow shortly (I have to take a few more pictures first).

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