This guide has been produced by Leeds Urban Harvest with support from the Orchard Project, it follows on from the Community Apple Pressing guide.
Cider is relatively straight forward to make. You leave apple juice for a few weeks and natural fermentation will turn it into cider! But getting something you want to drink and share can take a bit more effort.
The basic process is:
-Put your juice into a clean and sterilised fermenter.
-Fit an airlock
-Leave to ferment
-Bottle or barrel
It’s important to clean and sterilise everything you use before letting it touch your juice or cider.
Types of fermenter
How much of your juice you want to make into cider, and how much space you have to ferment should guide your choice of fermenter. The smallest one is a glass demijohn which holds 5 litres, next is a 25 litre brew bin. This is followed by plastic good grade barrels, which come in 25, 60, 120, 160, 180 and 220 litre sizes.
Be wary of second hand plastic fermenters. They may have been used for non-food or something with strong flavours that will affect your cider’s flavour or make it undrinkable/unsafe.
While the smaller fermenters are easier to handle, lots of them will take up proportionately more of space. The larger ones need to be more than ¾ full to avoid the risk of oxygenation. You need to gauge how much juice you are intending to press, for example, avoid using a 220l fermenter if you only have 100kg of apples.
Anything bigger than 25 litres will be too heavy to lift, so will have to stay where it is until you empty it. It is common practice to use a trolley to move larger fermenters.
Fermentation is a relationship between yeast (naturally found on apples) and the sugar in the apple juice; yeast eats sugar and excretes alcohol and CO2 gas. Unfortunately there are bacteria and microorganisms that also like apple juice, which will spoil your cider. An airlock will allow you to seal your fermenter and let the CO2 gas out without letting the nasties in.
Cider can have a very vigorous initial fermentation which pushes excess yeast through the airlock; you can clean this off. Some cider makers ferment without an airlock during this stage, using a clean cloth to stop solids getting in; the gas coming out will stop bacteria invading. If you decide to use an airlock, make sure it doesn’t dry out.
Apple juice will ferment without adding anything to it, so many cider makers use this process. Others add sulphates to kill non yeast bacteria, or add commercial yeast that will dominate the natural yeasts and give a unified (some say less complex) flavour. There is lots of advice on the internet on this subject. Lalvin EC-1118 Champagne Yeast works well with cider, and is good for low fermenting temperatures.
Cider will naturally ferment out to be ‘dry’ because the yeast will continue eating sugar until it’s all gone. If you add more sugar to make it sweet, the yeast will start again until that’s gone too. Generally it’s stopped fermenting when there are no more bubbles coming through the airlock, which can be as quick as a few weeks. A guiding principle with cider is that it gets better with age, especially if this is done in bulk. LUH leave theirs in the fermenter for at least 6 months.
If you want to know how strong your cider is, you need to invest in a hydrometer and thermometer; most hydrometers are calibrated for 200 C and the reading needs adjusting based on the temperature.
- Your first reading tells you the original gravity (how much sugar you have) and is done before fermentation starts
- The second shows final gravity (how much sugar has been turned into alcohol) and is done at the end of fermentation.
In both cases, fill your clean and sterilised hydrometer jar to within an inch of the brim, then gently insert the hydrometer to take the reading.
- Then take a temperature reading and use the adjustment table supplied with the equipment to work out the original or final gravity (alternatively use an online calculator such as this one: https://www.brewersfriend.com/hydrometer-temp/)
This online tool – https://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/ tells you the alcohol content based on these readings. If you are doing this, make it one person’s job to take the original gravity of the juice and make sure they write it down somewhere you can find it in several month’s time when you take the second reading.
Storing cider for drinking
There are lots of options for storing your cider until you want to drink it, but this section deals with bottles and barrels. All of the options require ‘racking’, moving your cider from the fermenter into a smaller dispensing container. At all points in this process you should minimise contact with oxygen; it will degrade your cider and impair the flavour. While your cider is in your fermenter it has a layer of CO2 which protects it from oxygen. When you remove the airlock/lid this layer is gone and it’s then at risk of spoiling.
Syphoning is the easiest method of racking your cider. To stop the syphon tube curling back on itself, consider cable tying it to a length of wood and securing this to the fermenter. Make sure the mouth of the syphon tube does not sit on the bottom of the fermenter or it will suck up the sediment that you want to leave behind.
Once you have started the cider flowing it’s advantageous to keep it going to minimise the chance of stirring up sediment. Alternately secure the tube in place on the fermenter and stop off the end using a tap, or folding it over to maintain the vacuum and the cider in the tube.
Racking straight from the fermenter into a barrel is relatively risk free; for bottling it can be easier to rack into a decanting vessel and bottle from there using a syphon.
Your cider will be naturally still. To get a slight sparkle add 2tsp of sugar per litre before you seal the bottle / barrel and leave for a few weeks to allow this secondary fermentation take place.
Cider kit you may need:
- Sterilising solution
- Syphon tube
- Decanting vessel
- Hydrometer and jar
- Racking stick and clamp
- Bottles or barrels.
Further reading: This website is a great source of knowledge http://www.ciderworkshop.com/index.html#
Written by Leeds Urban Harvest with support from the Orchard Project
Visit us: www.leedsurbanharvest.org.uk
All text and photo’s, unless indicated, are the property of Leeds Urban Harvest and The Orchard Project. No reproduction without permission