drinker Paul Gunningham finally got round
to attempting to make his own cider at home. Find
out how he got on!
get yourself some apples!
drinking the stuff for years, I thought: why not
have a go at making some cider myself? According
to the instruction books, all I need is some apples!
And I had some, having been given them by various
friends who had a surplus. Most of the apples I
was given were eating apples of unknown variety,
which I supplemented with some crab apples I picked
from some trees in a local hedgerow.
started out with about 80 lbs of mixed dessert
apples, plus around 12.5 lbs of crabs (pictured
right). It took me the best part of two days to
wash, sort, mill and press these apples using the
fairly basic equipment at my disposal - but this
was partly due to my inexperience, as you will see.
1: Sort & Wash the Apples
first step was to wash the apples. I found this
easiest to do out of doors, using the garden hosepipe
and an old tin bath we have lying around in the
back yard (pictured below left).
In, Garbage Out
washing the apples, I removed any bits of branch
or leaves attached to them, and discarded a few
that had started to rot and turn a brown colour
(pictured above right). As a general rule, if you
wouldn't be prepared to eat it, you shouldn't be
prepared to drink it - the "Garbage In, Garbage
Out" principle applies as much to cidermaking
as to anything else!
2: Mill the Apples
Having washed and sorted the apples, the next stage
was to mill them. I don't have a scratter, but I
do have a Pulpmaster I've used before for
crushing fruit for winemaking (pictured right).
It's simply a rotating blade that attaches to an
ordinary electric drill. There's a special pail
for use with it, which has a hole in the lid through
which the shaft of the blade passes. The pail is
around 2 gallons in capacity, about the same as
a normal household bucket.
The crab apples are small enough to crush without
any further preparation, but I've found that larger
apples are easier to crush effectively if they're
first chopped up into smaller chunks - I cut them
into eight pieces each, or four for smaller apples.
This may not be strictly necessary but I found it
helps. It also allowed me to remove a few bad portions
where worms or wasps, etc., had eaten the apples
(pictured below left).
Now - the crushing itself. I found this to be a
messy job. By trial and error I found it best to
load the bucket about half full with apples - chopped
if necessary - then put the lid with drill attachment
in place. Raise the drill to its highest level,
switch on, then lower slowly into the apples. Of
course you can't see what's happening, but you can
feel the apples coming into contact with the blade.
After slowly raising and lowering the blade (with
power still switched on) I found after about 30
seconds I could feel no more resistance, at which
point I switched off the drill and removed the lid.
The pulp and lumps of apple were distributed around
the sides of the bucket (pictured above right) -
and the lid, demonstrating the need to keep the
lid firmly closed while pulping!
At this point I would remove some of the
pulp - placing it into a second bucket kept handy
for this purpose - then redistribute the apple lumps
into the centre of the pulping pail, and repeat
the process. I would do this until most of the apples
in the original load had been pulped. I would then
add more apples and continue pulping in the same
way. At the very end of pulping, when all the apples
had been used up, I found it more or less impossible
to pulp the last few pieces - I just chopped them
as small as possible with a knife and added them
to the pulp. One point to note is that the pulp
very quickly gets oxidised - within seconds it would
turn from white to brown, as can be seen in the
photo right. This is normal and nothing to worry
about - and I doubt there's anything you can do
to prevent it.
A safety warning here: as with all activities
involving power tools, it is potentially dangerous.
It goes without saying that you should take great
care when using the Pulpmaster, or it might be more
than just your apples that get pulped!
the first day of pulping, I pulped all the apples
and then moved on to pressing (more on this below).
I realised that it would be better to mill and press
in parallel, which is what I did on Day Two. So
my recommendation is to accumulate enough pulp for
your first pressing and then proceed to press, then
return to continue milling while you wait for the
juice to run out of the press.
Moving on to more pressing matters - my press is
a fairly small one of only around 4 litres capacity
(pictured below left). It's a basket screw press,
fairly strong and sturdy, made of steel coated in
nylon to prevent the juice coming into contact with
the metal, which would ruin the cider (and probably
the press too, eventually).
Inside the basket goes a muslin bag to hold
the pulp in but allow the juice to run out. By trial
and error I found it best not to put too much pulp
in at once - in my case a few inches deep seemed
best (as pictured above right). The reason is that
if you put too much in, the juice in the centre
of the mass of pulp cannot easily run out through
the compressed pulp surrounding it. So, even though
it takes longer to do many small pressings rather
than one large one, you will end up with more juice
- which after all is the object of the exercise.
Patience should be your watchword when pressing
- more on that later, too.
Now the pressing operation itself: having loaded
the pulp into the bag inside the basket, I folded
the top over and placed the heavy steel pressing
plate over the top, then insert the screw mechanism
and start to tighten the screw. As the pulp is pressed,
juice runs out fairly fast at first, so before you
start, make sure you have an empty container big
enough to collect the juice, underneath the press
(pictured below left). In my case a kitchen bowl
of a few pints' capacity was big enough (pictured
Once the initial flow of juice had slowed down to
a trickle, I would tighten the screw further and
the juice would flow again. After repeating this
a few times I found that the screw would become
difficult to turn any further. I discovered that
after leaving it alone for a while, I could then
turn it tighter again fairly easily. By tightening,
waiting, and then retightening, waiting again, tightening
again, I was able to extract more juice. Patience
pays off again! It was to take advantage of the
"waiting periods" that I decided to mill
and press in parallel - while waiting for the press
I could continue milling, making use of the idle
time in the pressing operation. I did this on the
second day and not only speeded up the overall operation,
but I got more juice as well.
found that after repeating the tightening/waiting
sequence a number of times, the law of dimishing
returns kicked in. Once I found I was getting little
juice and I could not turn the screw without difficulty
I decided that I'd got all I could usefully get
out of that batch of pulp. Slackening off the screw,
I was able to empty out the cylindrical cake of
pulp and start again with a fresh load. I had originally
intended to soak the pulp and go for a second pressing,
but in the end I decided it seemed too much like
hard work and just threw it on my compost heap.
As I collected the juice from each pressing, I poured
it into demijohns (1 gallon glass jars). At some
stage I would take a sample and measure the OG of
each, and note it down (more on this later). When
a jar was nearly full I mixed in a crushed Campden
tablet with each gallon, to sulphite the juice.
This is not strictly necessary and I was in two
minds whether to do it. However, the advice I had
been given suggested that sulphiting reduces the
risk of contamination of the cider by undesirable
bacterial action. The down side is that it inhibits
the yeast activity and slows the start of fermentation.
This is nothing to worry about, as if the worst
comes to the worst, you can add a wine yeast to
get it going. I intended to leave it a while and
wait and see what happens - I was in no hurry...
picture above right shows two partially filled demijohns
illustrating the different appearance of the crab
apple juice (left) and the other apple juice (right).
As can be seen, the crab juice was a lot clearer
than the murky-looking juice from the dessert apples.
However it all cleared during fermentation (see
Having filled each demijohn I added a bung with
a fermentation lock, the lock being filled with
sodium metabisulphite solution. I always put a small
plug of cotton wool in the top of the lock, to keep
flies from drowning in the solution, in their attempts
to swim, Shelley Winters style, through the lock
to get at the scrumpy! On the subject of sodium
metabisulphite, I should mention that I previously
made sure all the equipment I used was clean, and
I sterilised it using more of the same solution,
which I then rinsed off.
for a moment to the subject of Original Gravity
(OG): this is a measure of the strength of the juice
with regard to the fermentable material. The higher
the OG, the stronger the resulting cider is likely
to be in alcohol. My cider came out at around 1054
to 1060, which is acceptable, being at the lower
end of the desired scale. If the OG had been much
lower I could have increased it by adding the appropriate
amount of sugar. I'm glad I didn't have to do this
as I was keen to make cider from juice which is
as pure as possible (notwithstanding the addition
of Campden tablets which I saw as a necessary evil).
I was fortunate that the acidity of the juice was
about right - probably a fluke as I had no idea
what type of apples they were! Many thanks to Andrew
Lea for his expert advice on this.
filled the demijohns and fitted them with airlocks,
I left them in a warm cupboard for a few days. After
this time, the juice was showing signs of fermentation,
getting vigorous after another few days. I then
moved the jars to a cooler room. The fermentation
continued, but more slowly. The rate of fermentation
varied between individual batches, but after a while
they more or less looked the same.
about two months I racked the cider off the lees,
which had many bits of crushed apple in them. The
cider was clearing nicely by this time. I left it
for another couple of months by which time the fermentation
had more or less stopped (as I could tell by the
levels and movement in the fermentation locks).
I then racked the cider into bottles (I used my
favourite old beer/cider bottles with internal screw
The final result? Judge for yourself!
and lessons learned
the interests of clarity I've simplified the
description above, to more or less say what I would
do now if I was doing it all over again. There were
a few things that I haven't mentioned. For example,
I did try fermenting a couple of gallons without
adding sulphite. These samples started to grow a
kind of mould on the top after a few days, so I
syphoned the juice off and sulphited again. In these
cases I later added wine yeast as the fermentation
didn't seem to be working. So I concluded that it's
safer to sulphite the juice if you want to avoid
also discovered that in my case the cider dropped
beautifully clear without any need to filter it
(not that I would have done anyway). This shows
that real cider does not have to be cloudy. You
can see this in the picture above.
yes, you're probably saying - but what does
it taste like? Very good, actually! I was
most surprised that the cider I made was very palatable,
contrary to my expectations, given my total lack
of experience at making it. Maybe this was beginners'
luck, but it's encouraged me to have a go again.
So go on, give it a try yourself!
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