Cider Making – Questions and Answers…

Which types of apples are suitable for cider-making?

Trunch Cider coop uses all varieties of apples and pears. However, the proportion of eaters to cookers should be 2:1 – otherwise the cider will become very tart. Professional cider makers have orchards with special cider apples.

What equipment do we use for home cider-making?

We use a commercial juicer for scratting the apples and a self-built press for pressing the pulp.

For a larger amount of later apples, we either have them pressed by cider maker Mark Jarvis – or, if it proves economical, we will juice them in Trunch as well.

Fermenting - which containers do we use

We use large plastic fermenting containers (30 liter) and airlocks. We’ve also got large barrels to ferment a large amount of juice.

Bottling vs Bag in boxes?

For our first run in spring 2014, we bottled half of the cider in 7.5l screw-top bottles. The rest was filled into 5l and 10l bag-in-boxes.

Pubs seem to prefer bag-in-boxes, whereas licensed outlets prefer bottles.

Equipment – Storage and Bottling (from The Cider Workshop)

This is important equipment, and making sure you have good (and clean) equipment will mean that you should be able to keep your hard earned cider for as long as you need to.

There are (as with all things) a vast range of equipment you can choose from. However, there are a few simple rules that you should follow:

  • Don’t use anything metal (unless its grade 316 stainless steel).
  • If you are using plastic, make sure it is HDPE (High Density Polythene) and as thick as is practicable.  Plastic is permeable to air – and if you are using thin plastic, this will eventually oxidise your cider/perry and ruin its flavour.
  • Keep things clean and sterile. Many a batch has been spoiled by unwanted bacteria in the container.
  • In general terms, your cider should fill the containers as close to the top as possible – to leave as little air in. they should have sealable lids (air tight) and don’t forget that you will probably need to fit an airlock to them (so either go for something with a hole for one, or that can be drilled out to allow an airlock to be fitted).

Find below brief descriptions of the main types of containers used – plastic, wood and stainless steel.

  1. Food Grade Plastic

Plastic (HDPE) is the popular medium for storing cider these days, the thicker the better if you want to store for any length of time. There is no significant benefit of one colour or another, although some people do favour a darker shade to keep out the light.
The main benefits of using plastic are that it is cheap to obtain, available widely and easy to clean. It doesn’t add any flavour to the cider or perry, so don’t expect any additional ‘oaky’ notes. However, it is reliable and available in many sizes (from 5 litres to an IBC of 1000 litres)
Ex-fruit juice concentrate containers are fine – but not if they previously contained citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime etc.). The oils permeate the plastic, leach into the cider for years, and the taint is impossible to remove.

  1. Wood

The traditional way of storing cider, wooden barrels will add its own character to a cider and keep it well. Generally larger than plastic tubs, although require more maintenance to keep them water tight. Barrels are also More expensive to buy than food grade plastic and harder to thoroughly clean.

Rather than being sized by litres, wooden barrels can be found as: Rundlet (15 gal/68l), barrel (26 gal/119l), tierce (35 gal/159l), hogshead (52.5 gal/239l), firkin/puncheon/tertian (70 gal/318l), pipe/butt (105 gal/477l) and tun (210 gal/955l). Of course, a visit to a number of cider makers will demonstrate that wooden barrels can come in much larger sizes than these! Oh, and just to confuse you, these names/sizes are different in the USA.

  1. Stainless steel

Favoured as a clean alternative to wood, stainless steel also has an extremely long life and can come in very large sizes. Stainless steel is a more commercial medium to use than plastic, whilst being more reliable than wood.

  1. Glass

Glass is the most common material for storing small quantities, although it is breakable and comparatively expensive. Care must be taken when bottling cider or perry that either it is fully fermented (i.e. not going to start fermenting and explode the bottle) or that the bottle is strong (champagne bottles). Even then, the SG of the drink should be below 1010.

Bottles will require either a crown cap, cork or screw cap to be fitted in order to seal them. This can be done cheaply, although normally requires a small tool for fitting the top/cap.

Larger glass containers, such as glass carbouys, will store more – although again these are expensive and cumbersome once filled.

Having said all this, the strongest pro for glass bottle storage (apart from the portable nature of storing small quantities) is that it does not allow oxygen to diffuse into the cider. As long as the bottle is stored properly (in a cool place, on its side if it has a cork etc.) the drink should be good for a long time.

  1. Bag in Boxes

A more recent addition to the range of storage options for the cider/perry maker, a bag in box (or manacube) is a collapsible laminated plastic container within a box – much the same idea as boxes of wine. Being plastic, the shelf life for BinB’s is far less than glass, depending on the quality of the laminate – some recommend no more than 3 months.

Pros of storing cider in Bag in boxes (BiBs)?

(from: Ciderworkshop) A bag in box (or manacube) is a collapsible laminated plastic container within a box – much the same idea as boxes of wine. Being plastic, the shelf life for BiBs is far less than glass, depending on the quality of the laminate – some recommend no more than 3 months.

What is the Specific Gravity? Why & when do we measure it?

Measuring the specific gravity (sg) with a hydrometer gives a good indication of the sugar content of the apple juice. This, in turn, will give a good indication of the potential alcohol of the fermented cider.

After fermentation, to work out the actual alcohol level, we take a new specific gravity reading, read the equivalent ‘potential alcohol’ from the scale, and subtract this reading from the potential alcohol reading taken before fermentation. The result will give us the alcohol level of your cider.

How long will the fermentation take? How do we know if the fermentation has stopped?

Observe the airlock. If the bubbles have stopped passing through the airlock, your cider may have finished fermenting. The use a hydrometer to measure the Specific Gravit – if the specific gravity is 1.000 or below the fermentation will have finished.

What do we have to consider when bottling the cider?

(from: Ciderworkshop) The strongest pro for glass bottle storage (apart from the portable nature of storing small quantities) is that it does not allow oxygen to diffuse into the cider. As long as the bottle is stored properly (in a cool place, on its side if it has a cork etc.) the drink should be good for a long time.Care must be taken when bottling cider or perry that either it is fully fermented (i.e. not going to start fermenting and explode the bottle) or that the bottle is strong (champagne bottles). Even then, the SG of the drink should be below 1010.

Bottles will require either a crown cap, cork or screw cap to be fitted in order to seal them. This can be done cheaply, although normally requires a small tool for fitting the top/cap.

How can we make sparkling cider?

By adding a very well measured amount of sugar dissolved in little water, added just before bottling. This leads to a second slower second fermentation.

If it’s the right amount of sugar, the sparkling will not be too strong. If too much – beware. Bottles might explode (especially if kept in warmer temperatures) , and opening a bottle without the cider overspilling might prove very difficult.

How can we make cider less tart?

It is possible to add artificial sweeteners. Adding sugar will not do the trick, as this will only ferment.

How do we turn some of the cider into cider vinegar?

Unpasteurised cider vinegar is a real treasure and keeps many health benefits.

Cider vinegar can be a side product of cider making. Instead of protecting the fermented cider against air exposure, cider vinegar requires open exposure to air. We keep ours in open buckets or vessels with a large opening. The vessel needs to be covered by muslin to protect against insects and stored for up to one year for the vinegar to develop. Initially a horrible looking scum forms as a top layer. But this layer contains the all important micro-organisms called the “mother”. It disintegrates over  time. Eventually, you get a naturally cloudy delicious cider vinegar.

How to craft cider (from The Cider Workshop)

1. Apples

In finding apples you can be as selective or free as you like – apples are generally available in the UK, from roadside trees, shops and specialist orchards. A friend or relative will almost certainly have a tree in their garden.

While this will give you a quantity of apples to make cider with, bear in mind that the quality of apple you put in to making cider will probably determine the quality of the drink. Most makers are not so lucky as to have access to a range of specific varieties – although you may want to consider what kind of apples you want for a specific style of cider (see styles).

When deciding on quantity of cider to make, do bear in mind that, even with the right equipment, you can expect to obtain around 10 litres of apple juice for every 15-20kg (33-44lb).

2. Prepare your equipment

Whatever equipment you have, make sure that it is clean (washed) and sterilised before using it for making cider. Cleanliness will never go unrewarded as far as cider making is concerned.

3. Prepare the apples

i. First of all, wash the apples.  This removes loose dirt and leaves. Also, it’s useful to check for rotten apples. A bit of bruising is fine, even a little rot. However, any that have ‘turned’ or decayed too far will need discarding.

ii. Mill the apples. This is a discussion in its own right. Very small scale cider makers need only use a blender to break the apples up into small chunks. Anything more than a few kilograms would be better done with a ‘Pulpmaster’ or small hand mill. About 3-400kg of apples will probably need some heavier or electric mill. See the equipment list for further information.

4. Extract the juice

There are several ways to do this. Essentially, contain the apples within a cloth (anything that will allow the juice to escape without the pulp), and press them.

Of course, if you are serious about crafting cider an apple press is a must have. Examples of these can be found in the equipment page. As with all things, the size and cost of press increase respectively, although again, you can make your own!

Don’t forget to catch the juice in a sterile container / bucket / demijohn / barrel, which can be used to ferment the cider

At this point you will/may wish to check the potential alcohol content with a hydrometer. Anything above a specific gravity of 1030 will enable the juice to ferment. 

5. Fermenting cider

What can we say, if the weather is sufficiently warm and all things are well, the juice will start to ferment between 12 hours and a few days. The fermentation will go on for between 7 days and a few months (depending on ambient temperature). The best way to monitor progress is to check every couple of days with a hydrometer.

You may wish to start things off with an aerobic fermentation (essentially, leave the lid of the container off but cover with something that lets the air in but not flies, because this allows the yeast cells to grow strong cell walls, and the first few days of fermentation can be a bit turbulent!) However, you should seal the container and fit an airlock at some point to stop excess air getting in (an anaerobic fermentation). As the cider ferments, a ‘blanket’ of carbon dioxide will form which will protect the cider from spoilage.

Cider fermentation will use up pretty much all of the available sugar, so you will end up with a dry, flat drink with a basic fermentation (yum!) A hydrometer reading of below 1005 will indicate things are nearing an end.

6. Storing cider

Rack off the cider from the lees by using a tube into a fresh, sterile container (with airlock to prevent air ingress).   At this point you have cider. However, you might want to leave it to mature for a few months before drinking. If you leave it until the following spring you may even get a malolactic fermentation (a second fermentation which will reduce acid tones in a cider).

Cloudy cider or clear cider???

This is personal, but you should consider whether you choose to leave the cider on the dead yeast (cloudy cider) or whether you rack it off (draw the cider off the dead yeast into a clean container). If you store the cider to mature, you may want to do this a second time as further yeast may have settled. In doing so you will have a clearer cider, although there is a further exposure to air to some degree.

7. Bottling cider

If you intend to bottle your cider, we advise glass ale bottles (with a crown cap) or champagne bottles, unless you are absolutely sure that there is no chance of further fermentation. Also, plastic is fine if you are intending to drink the cider within a few months. A number of people who sell cider use ‘manicubes’ (bag-in-a-box, essentially the same as the boxed wines you can get in supermarkets). These store larger quantities of cider, although this is time limited to a several months.