Make sure that your apples are really ripe. The pips will be almost black. When the tree has dropped at least a quarter of its fruit and the pips are very dark, this is a reasonable guide that the apples are ready to collect. You can, at this stage, shake the tree if it is too tall to pick the fruit easily. Windfalls are fine for cider-making, but don't use rotten fruit. Early windfalls will not have a high enough sugar content, and are no indication that the bulk of the fruit on the tree is ready.
Collect the apples into reasonably small containers. I use ordinary dustbin bags about a quarter full. More than this may be too heavy and difficult to handle.
As my cider apple trees are not yet producing sufficient fruit, I am using a mix largely of Bramleys Seedling and Newton Wonder which are culinary varieties. These get juiced at Brentlands Farm, Brookthorpe into a range of containers from gallon demijohns to 25 litre plastic barrels which I supply. (Twenty five litres is the most I can lift into the car.) I aim to use clean containers and equipment, and use a steriliser powder available from homebrew shops.
Once home put the containers somewhere where you can keep an eye on them and where spillage won't be a problem. I do not sterilise the juice or add yeasts, but rely on natural yeasts on the juice or in the air to commence fermentation. Visible fermentation with bubbles rising will start very quickly, certainly within a week. The initial fermentation can be very active, with a lot of froth and crud spewing out of the top of the vessel. Hence the need to put it somewhere where spillage will not be a problem.
Leave the cap off the container. Unless the fermentation is very vigorous, keep the opening covered. I use a bit of cloth secured down with an elastic band. This is done in order to keep out the vinegar fly, which could initiate vinegar formation.
It is especially important to expose as little as possible of the fermenting juice to the air. Make sure the containers are always well topped up with liquid (if there isn't sufficient apple juice, cooled boiled tap water or cold black tea works fine for me) to give minimal free surface area. After about a month or two, when fermentation is pretty much done and bubbles are no longer rising, I screw the caps back on.
I tend to rack fairly regularly. Racking is the process of transferring the liquid from one container to another using a siphon tube, leaving any sediments in the bottom of the first container. I get the impression that this gives a clearer cider with a cleaner taste. I rack into demijohns if they are available, and put an air-lock on, as is normal in home wine-making. That way, you can really see how fermentation is proceeding, and you can put them somewhere warm to speed up the process. I'll be drinking the first of this year's cider by Christmas.
I have always used up my cider within 18 months, and don't know whether it would keep longer, though I imagine it would not improve.
It is also good fun to bottle up some of your cider into screw-top bottles. If there are still some sugars left it will naturally go fizzy by fermentation. Otherwise, you can add some sugar; I have standardised my addition of sugar for a final in-bottle fermentation to a tablespoon per 75cl bottle. Shake well. If you drink it a week or so later it will be pleasantly lively and on the medium-dry side.
I've only been making cider since 2005, but was a country wine maker before that. I've given up on the country wines, because the cider is so much easier, and, unlike my wines, tastes as least as good as anything you can get in a supermarket or pub.
Juliet Bailey firstname.lastname@example.org February 2015
Juliet has been a Gloucestershire Orchard Trust Committee Member
Juice/Cider/Perry Making Courses
- Artisan courses are occasionally held at Ragmans Lane Farm (Lydbrook, Forest of Dean)
- Accredited courses are held at Hartpury Heritage Trust Orchard Centre with Peter Mitchell
- Royal Horticultural Society courses are at Warwickshire College at Avonbank, Pershore
Publications on cider making can be found throughout our Publications page (under Directories). Also see our Links and Nurseries pages (under Directories).
Charles Martell's Apple Pomona and Perry Pear Pomona are out now in book form, with full descriptions and photographs. Order a copy from GOT by emailing email@example.com Full details at http://gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk/community/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=469