How to make Cider - Part 1
After a couple of requests from some of my readers from across the pond I feel compelled to give my take upon the ancient and dark art of cider making. Now regular readers will know that I'm as about as expert on this subject as I am on say; lobotomy operations, the art of chess or even writing for that matter! So for me to try and produce a readable, practical guide to making cider using ‘The Murphyfish method’ should be interesting to say the least! I’ll endeavour to make this as plain and as simple as possible, although from me you would expect nothing else! Having said this though, the very beauty of the method that I’ve put together from various sources and other peoples accounts is in its simplicity.
A lot of the recipes and methods that I came across talk in much more detail, using chemicals and some more natural bits n bobs to produce cider comparable to shop bought. But I’m a simple man and when myself and my friend Chunky Monkey set about making cider last year we decided to forgo a lot of the science and plumb for the simplest method that would result in a drinkable and alcoholic brew. The results were firstly a great deal of fun and laughter in the making of it, a lot of expectation and of staring at bubbling glass jars and finally a brew that proved to be far more enjoyable than we could have ever hoped! Every person that sampled the stuff finished their glass and held it up for more. This, more than anything, says that the method that we cobbled together between us worked fine enough for these two bumpkins!
Apples;- Yes apples, now I know some you might well be thinking ‘well that’s bloody obvious’ but before you start smirking and wallowing within your smugness, a word. Several cider recipes that I perused last year in an effort to gain an insight into this dark art named specific types of apples that were “absolutely essential” in the production of drinkable cider – hogwash. There may well be truth in that certain apples encourage certain qualities within the finish product but if, like me, you do not have access to such fruit and like me, which is more than likely the case, your apple identification runs to Crab apples, Cooking apples and then other apples well then worrying about specific types of what apples to use is pointless.
One thing that I gleaned from the abundance of material out there on the subject is that the more diverse a mixture of apples you use, of whatever types you can lay your clammy hands upon, the better. But words of warning, try a least to make some sort of record from whence you obtained your different apples and in what quantities they were roughly mixed. The reasoning behind this is if, like me, you manage to produce an acceptable and palatable cider then it’s wise to have a record or recipe if you like, of what made it successful.
Apples should be picked when ripe or as near as damn it with any bruised of rotten ones discarded. After picking I tend to store my apples for a week or so in cardboard boxes again discarding ones that appear to be rotting. It’s at this point that the inner sanctum known as the garage begins to smell like an orchard.
One final word (for now) is that you’ll require around about 20lb’s of apple to produce 1 gallon of cider. This is because there is no water used in my method so all the liquid comes from the fruit. So be aware that if you decide to produce more than just a couple of bottles then a large quantity of apples will be required.
Yeast; - But more specifically cider yeast. Now do not expect this befuddled hobbit to know the ins and outs of yeasts but apparently different types will give different results in the fermentation process, hence cider yeast is the one for me. From the little that I’ve learned so far, yeast is a fungus (I think) with several different species/varieties that consume the apples’ sugar at different rates so giving different quantities of waste off in the forms of carbon dioxide and alcohol, hence the different effects upon the end product.
It is possible so ferment cider using only the natural yeast that is found on the apples but I felt that was a little bit of ‘leaving it to chance’, hence the addition of the ‘produced’ yeast. After all it’s a lot of apples and effort to waste if it all goes tits up!
Lemons; - I add about 1 full lemon to each one of my production sessions which is about 3 gallons at the moment. This is added to introduce some acidity and seems to help the process along. Like I said I’m no expert and I do not know exactly why this works, but it does.
Strong cold tea; - This helps provide or increase ‘tannin’ in the cider. The best way that I can explain tannin and it’s need in cider production is by being lazy and giving you this link to follow;http://www.cider.org.uk/tannin.htm. Yes I know it’s a small cop out but I didn’t want to cheat and pretend that I know all the ins and outs of this part of the process.
And that’s it, just four ingredients! Well that's part one done and dusted, part two will give a run down on the equipment used and the method of turning apples into something a little bit special. I hope that this is making sense so far.
How to make Cider - Part 2
The Equipment required;
Just as the ingredients mentioned in part one are straight forward and simple enough, it just so happens that so is the equipment required, well at least the equipment that I use is!
A selection of containers will be required for tasks such as washing the apples, a place to keep sliced apples, to hold the pressed juice etc. For all containers I strongly urge the use of stainless steel or food safe plastic to avoid issues such as contamination, affecting the taste via leaching amongst others. All containers must be clean, and I do mean clean! The biggest lesson that I learnt from least year’s cider making was that it is a lot of wasted effort if you loose a couple of gallons of cider by not ensuring that everything is clean.
Although effective the process soon had us both knackered and several ‘recuperation’ breaks were required by both. So for this year’s production I was looking for an easier way to reduce the apples into a state into which they could be pressed, especially as I had been abandoned by the Chunkster due to work commitments with his fledgling company. For a brief trail last year I sneaked a food blender into that hallowed space known as the garage and very effective it proved in reducing the apples into the right consistency for pressing. Unfortunately my experiment was cut short when my plan was uncovered (luckily for me it was the only thing cut short!). This year though I have obtained a second, all singing and dancing blender from a recent car boot sale for the princely sum of £2.00. So for this year a blender was the weapon of choice for mashing the apples. Again you must insure that the item is clean before use, and I do not mean a quick rinse under the tap.
The press above was obtained last year by the Chunkster and myself for around £50.00 each. This was by far the greatest expense of the operation but once obtained a well made press should last for years if properly maintained. The idea of the press is relatively simple; apple mulch is loaded into the top and is pressed down using the wooden plates via the threaded bar and capstan piece. As the wood is forced onto the mulch the resulting pressure forces the juice through the vertical slates to be collected in the drip tray and then into a suitable container.
For the initial fermentation stage I use traditional demy johns fitted with pressure releasing air locks. For the bottling stage I prefer the ceramic topped bottles where the top is held in place by a strong ‘spring’ and the seal between glass and ceramic is obtained via a rubber seal.
As well as the above there are a few items which make life that little bit easier; a couple of sharp knives, food safe chopping board, flexible spatula, food safe lubricant, anti bacterial cleaning spray, a transfer jug, lint free clothes, mesh bag, stirring spoon (a big un)and finally a CD player with a varied selection of your favorite music as the process can be quite time consuming. I would venture that early ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Rye Cooder, Steve Earl and perhaps a little of the Wurzels are suitable accompaniment whilst laboring over your apples.
At the risk of repeating myself I cannot stress strongly enough how important I feel that keeping everything, even your hands, as clean as possible is.
Before use I wash or soak every piece of equipment mentioned in the above paragraphs in a solution more commonly used for the cleaning of baby drinking/feeding containers before allowing it to air dry. There are of course recognized brands available but I stick with the cheaper supermarket own brands to save a few pennies and they do the job just as well. As well as this I invest in a decent anti bacterial cleaning spray which I constantly use to wipe down various items and surfaces throughout the process. Perhaps you may think that this is a little over the top but believe me when I say that the dejection felt after all the work required to produce a couple of gallons of apple juice is all for naught just because of not paying a little time and attention to cleanliness is not a good feeling at all – the term ‘well pissed off’ certainly comes to mind!
Well I think that covers the equipment required and so ends part two of this here Hobbit’s feeble attempt to explain how I make cider. If you’ve got this far then I haven’t done a bad job so far. The third and final installment will follow soon and is the best bit, being the actual cider making process.