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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
The 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
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.
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.
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
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 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 from the front of the house. Not bad at all.
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
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
Parents making Apple Cider