We live in an area with lots of apple orchards. Picking season has consequently become one of our favorite times of the year, when we gather as many apples as we can. We dry quite a few of them in our solar food dehydrator, and we also can some for pies and such to eat during the winter. However, the vast majority of our bounty we turn into juice.
There’s nothing better than freshly squeezed, 100% natural apple juice. The only downside is that it doesn’t keep for very long. We freeze as much of it as we can fit in the freezer, but that still leaves us with a lot of excess. So, a few years ago, we started making cider. It’s taken several years to get the recipe and process down, but we now produce a delicious, sparkling cider that has quite a kick to it. As more and more of our friends and neighbors get to sample our bottles, they have started to bring us more and more crates of apples (in exchange for a few bottles, of course)!
Over the course of this article, we hope to run you through the whole process of making cider, including how to decide which apples to use, how to make a grinder and a press, how to control the fermentation, and what is needed before and during bottling. It may seem like a lot of work, but once you make the equipment, you’ll be able to add to your collection year after year.
Fermentation:[Amazon links included for some of the products, so that you can see what they are.]
We have tried several different types of apples, all of which seem to make a pretty decent cider. The qualities you are looking for are high content of juice, sweetness and flavor.
There are so many types of apples, and the flavors and textures of the same apple can vary from place to place, so make sure you keep meticulous records of every apple you try. For each crate, record the amount of juice produced and its sugar content (using a refractometer to measure brix), and then later write notes about the flavor and how much sugar you had to add to get the sweetness you desired. It’s a good idea to have a notebook dedicated to cider trials, so that you can keep notes on each batch (we prefer not to use electronic devices for note-keeping when liquids are involved).
Each apple varies on the amount of juice produced. However, in general, you can expect between 2 ½ and 3 ½ gallons of juice per box of apples.
These are the apples that have fallen from the trees and are often in a less than ideal state. Most well run orchards want to get rid of the ones on the ground, as they can perpetuate the life-cycle of various pests that can ruin future crops (thereby increasing the need for chemicals). They are often given away in exchange for you gathering them.
If the price of apples is an issue, you can certainly use windfall apples for your cider. However, they do increase the workload, as you have to cut out any really nasty, rotten parts from the core. If you don’t cut out these bits, the moldy taste will carry over into your cider. Furthermore, they do not produce as much juice as healthy apples. We started off using windfalls, but now prefer to use ones from the tree, as these just need to be cut in half before putting them into the grinder.
This is a red apple, with some yellow color coming through the red. It is the first apple to ripen in our area, so we always do a few batches. In general, it is the one of the tastiest local varieties for cider.
This is a green/yellow apple that is very juicy and sweet, and produces a great flavor. Cider tends to be bland, so mix with other apples to bulk up your batch.
Unfortunately, we don’t know the real name for this apple. It is locally called the “Negra” and is the last of our apples to ripen. It is a deep, deep red (more so than the Red Delicious), and is by far the best we have tried for cider. It produces a lot of juice and is very sweet. It is usually the one that locals store over winter, as it tends to last the longest.
These are usually too tart to eat raw. However, you can add a few to any batch of cider to increase the flavor. Traditional cider was made mostly of apples like this.
Once you start experimenting for real, you’ll want to try some combinations, adding some varieties for flavor, others for juice and sweetness.
For each step of the following process, you will need to sanitize any bottles and equipment that you will be using. We started off using bleach water, but have since changed to a product called Star San, which is an acid sanitizer (phosphoric acid).
From here on out you should avoid pouring or shaking up the liquid. Doing so adds air to the liquid and can turn the cider bad. Use a siphon instead and if you have to move the bottle, do so gently and carefully.