Today (early September 2016) we went blackberry picking with friends and their kids. After half an hours wandering the local hedgerows we came across a large self seeded apple tree that was dripping with several hundredweight of fruits. We took a bite and found them sweet and delicious and in that moment decided that this was the weekend for our first cider making session of the year.
Picking was easy as the eight year old boy was eager to climb the tree and harvest some apples for us. We sat around the base, chatting, eating blackberries and throwing sticks for the dog while our young worker swung like a monkey from branch to branch, picking many pounds of lovely ripe apples.
Once home, we augmented our harvest with additional crabs from the tree in our front garden, some eaters from another friend’s garden and soon had enough fruit to make a couple of gallons of wine. We probably only want 1. gallon, but the parents of our little monkey harvester will probably want paying in kind for their son’s labours.
It turned out that other jobs already in progress had to take presidency so the apples sat in buckets for a week in the shed. However the next weekend was cider day and our friends once more brought the kids round to help turn their harvest into juice.
So, first job (well after cleaning and sterilising all the equipment) was to pulp the apples. If you are using a pulp master and bucket, be very careful about letting the kids help with this part. Scratters with big hoppers are probably safer, although again, be careful either way.
The kids liked getting their hands into the pulped apples and squeezing, but the best job was turning the big handle of the press and watching the juice flow into the buckets.
Of course the kids won’t be drinking the cider, so now is the time to give them a cup and let them understand the joys of drinking ultra-fresh juice.
The first press of the year is when you discover whether your equipment needs fixing or upgrading. The collection tray on my press sprung a leak (hence the tinfoil addition to act as an emergency chute in the photo below.) and the inside of the pulp master bucket is looking a bit scarred, which equates for more places for bugs to hide, so I may well replace that too.
By the end of the afternoon I had a bucket full of juice and was ready to add yeast to the must
I used young’s basic cider yeast, because that is what I bought earlier in the year.
I like to get my yeast working before I pitch it in to the big bucket of juice (or ‘must’ if you want to use brewing terms) so I take a pint of must, stir in a big spoonful of sugar and pop the yeast in there and whisk it up. After 20 minutes I like to see the yeast working away (see video) and I know that now if I pitch it in I will get good fermentation from the start. Watch the video. It is oddly compelling to see these little yeast explosions happening in close up.
But before pitching in the yeast You should check the Original Gravity with your hydrometer. Once that is recorded you can put your pint of yeast in to the brew. My hydrometer’s original gravity came out at 1040 which means if I brew it out fully to a dry cider it will reach 6%, but I may stop fermentation a little earlier than that for a medium dry finished cider.
Go ahead and ferment it out over the next few days and once primary fermentation has run its course, siphon off from the lees into Demijohns. I did this on day 5 and half an hour after transfer, the airlock was blipping once a second.
By day 6 this had slowed to one blip every two seconds. I will post part two when I bottle my first cider of 2016.