From: Linden Subject: when to bottle cider

Message Body:
I have made cider and followed everything. The airlock has been plopping away but has stopped it now it has been doing this for a week, what do I do now

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Hi Linden

If your secondary fermentation has indeed stopped and there have been no bubbles for a week, then yes it is time to bottle your cider. It still won’t be great to drink yet but after a few months gently maturing in the bottle you will be ready to drink your first bottle of homemade cider sometime around Christmas. If it doesn’t taste too great, don’t throw it away. Wait till Easter and try a second bottle. I did this with my first ever batch many years ago. The difference those few months made to the taste was incredible.

From: Lynn Hadley
Subject: Pulping the Apples

Message Body:
Can you use a magi mix to chop up the apples before you put them in the press

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Hi Lynn

My very first foray into juicing apples was with a magi mix and it does work. The problem though is that it is just so slow. To chop enough apples for a gallon of cider will take from here to Christmas, and your kitchen will be a mess. Oh, and you will probably burn out the magi mix motor too.

A cheap and effective alternative is to buy a pulp master for around £15 ($20) . This is a lidded bucket with a blade built in to the lid. You attach a drill and can pulp an entire bucketful of apples in less than 20 seconds flat. You can do it outdoors and not concern yourself with ruining you kitchen gadgets. Let a pulp master be your first investment.

Best of luck

From: Jim Proctor
Subject: Clarity of my cider

Message Body:
After 4 days of stage 1 fermentation, I have a hydrometer reading of 1.040 SG. I believe that I am ready to do my first racking. I am trying to achieve a nice clear cider. Please explain what I will be observing after the cider is put into the carboy. I anticipate seeing the cider gradually clarify itself and the lee’s settling on the bottom. Of course I will use an airlock on the 5 gallon carboy and I expect to still see some fermentation activity, but it will be decreasing. Should I continue to take hydrometer readings during this process? Also, I would like a hint of honey flavoring in my finished cider and I would like about a 6% alcohol level. How can this be achieved? (I probably should have prefaced all of this by saying this is my first year attempting to make hard cider and I using an heirloom apple variety called Pierce’s Pasture which I have growing in my meadow in Vermont.)
Thanks in advance for any advice and comments.

Wow Jim, lots of questions here, so let’s take it one at a time.

Firstly I would like to address your point about wanting a 6% cider. Your alcohol level is worked out by calculating the difference between the reading before the yeast started working and the final reading. Since your reading was taken after four days fermentation I am afraid I cannot help you on this one. Personally I never aim for a specific percentage in a final brew. I let nature do its thing and generally get a cider somewhere around the 7% mark when I bother to actually check it. 

If you want a hint of honey flavour then you need to add a bit of honey, but not let its sugars ferment out. Again I usually let my brews go fully dry (let them continue until the yeast stops  because it is all dead) however, you will have to try a more advanced method. Read up on keeving and  you will see what is involved.

On to your point about clarity. We are so used to clear apple juice and clear beer, so when a homemade cider turns out cloudy there is a temptation to assume that something has gone wrong. In 99 percent of cases a cloudy cider is perfectly good to drink and should not be thrown away. Let your palette be your guide. If it tastes good, it is good.

However, if you want a clear cider, here is what you do.

To clear a cloudy cider the best thing you can give it is time. Cider always starts cloudy and over a period of weeks or months should clear naturally. So, yes Jim, you should expect that when you transfer to your secondary fermentation vessel you will at first see a cloudy mix which should slowly clear. Cloudiness is caused by particulates of apple and yeast and these should eventually settle to the bottom of the barrel, carboy, demijohn or whatever vessel you are keeping your cider in. The speed of clearing is highly variable. It depends upon the temperatures, apples and yeast used as well as how much of the lees get transferred in the siphoning process. Again, just be patient. 

If there is lots of obvious gunk settled at the bottom of the vessel, then you can rack off the clearer cider above into a new vessel and that will clear faster. Do this every couple of months if the cider is not yet cleared.

The other methods of clearing cider is to borrow a beer brewing technique and use isinglass or gelatine or other treatment specifically designed to clarify the brew. This is usually in the form of a powder that is sprinkled onto the top of the cider. It joins together into a sort of semi-permeable parachute which drops slowly through the cider, pulling the particles with it to the bottom of the vessel.

Then there is the “cold crash” technique. If you have a huge refridgerator you can put the whole barrel in there for a couple of days. This will apparently cause the yeast to drop out to the bottom, but living in a normal house I have never had the opportunity to test it.

So, as I said at the beginning, your best bet is probably just to be patient and let time do the clearing for you. Oh, by the way, if you boiled your apple juice before adding the yeast you will have set the pectin so the cider will never clear… But if you boiled your apple juice then you are probably a bit confused already. Remember our motto  “Drink responsibly… And often”

Tony Privitera emailed to ask:

Does apple scab (or powdery mildew) affect cider (reg or hard)? Is there an extra step I should do or is it ok to consume? Thank you.

Well now Tony,  the fungus that causes Apple scab is not necessarily too bad if it is is only a mild attack. The flavour of the apples is hardly affected, if at all. However, if the scab fungus causes the apples to crack their skins then other nasties could get inside and rot the fruits. So check as you pulp and discard rotten apples but go ahead and use scab apples if they are still ok inside.

Once the apples are juiced, the fungus is no longer a problem.

Remember that Apple scab will overwinter on fallen leaves and in the soil, so be sure to collect leaves and incinerate rather than chucking them on your compost heap.

Got an email from: Jackie Turner who asks an interesting question on the topic of russet apples

Message Body:
“My husband always heard you need a good hard freeze before making cider from them. Is this true in your opinion?”

So the question is should you wait until after the first hard frost before picking your russet apples?

Well that’s not quite as silly as it first sounds. Russets are generally late croppers and utterly delicious but famously tough skinned and with a close texture. A long time ago somebody realised that if you wait until after the first frost the apples get softer.

What happens is that the frost causes the cells in the apples to break when the water inside them expands as it freezes. This means that because the cell walls are broken, when you press those apples,  a lot more juice can come out.

This doesn’t just apply to russets of course. Any apple will produce more juice if the cell walls have been weakened.

Rather than wait for the first frost, some people put their apples in the freezer overnight and then let them thaw out the next day before pulping and pressing.

Others simply leave the apples in a pile in the garden or orchard wait for that first frost to do the same job.

Impatient idiots like me have never bothered with this and simply pulp and juice apples when I have enough of a crop, regardless of the weather.

In the name of academic research we resolved to answer, once and for all the important question of what Drinking vessel produces the best cider drinking experience. Science is a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

Each drinking vessel was to be scored on a scale of 0 to 10 for each of the following factors.

  • ease of use
  • Lip comfort
  • Hand friendliness
  • Atmospherics
  • Cool quotient
  • Flavour

We chose the following vessels for analysis.

Plastic (PET) bottle (2 litre)

Traditional handled and dimpled pint glass

Nonick Glass

Champagne flute

Tulip glass

Pewter tankard

Porcelain Stein

Methodology

In order to ensure the alisity of the experiment we used the same cider for each tasting. We chose a 2014 home brewed concoction that ran at about 8% and had been christened “The Destroyer” a couple of weekends ago.

The results

Starting with the PET bottle we rated this poorly for almost every factor except atmospherics. It turned out the reason the judges had it on the list in the first place was that they all remembered their formative cider experiences involving large bottles of white lightning down the park with their mates as teenagers.

When full, a 2 L PET bottle is too heavy; when half full it becomes unwieldy and when empty you probably have a headache. The shape of the bottle opening does nothing for the mouth and can (in one instance) even lead  to a chipped tooth.

Handled pint glass. This was the class that I assumed everybody would like best. The traditional dimpled and handled pint glass that was popular in pubs up until the 1990s. The glass that looks vaguely like a hand grenade has thick sides and the comforting weight. However one or two of the judges felt that this glass made them look uncool. I pointed out that they were drinking home brewed cider. Their and my understanding of the word ‘cool’ is clearly at odds.

Next we tried drinking cider from a nonick glass. I didn’t even know that these glasses had a name. We are talking about the standard pub glass with a slight bulge about two thirds of the way up the glass. The consensus of opinion was “meh”, “neither one thing nor the other” and “it’s fine”.

The team were starting to sway slightly at this point and I became worried for the efficacy of the experiment. Nonetheless we soldiered on.

Thankfully the next class was a standard champagne glass so only a small drink. Everybody enjoyed drinking their cider from the champagne glasses. The reason was that you could see the champagne (sorry, cider) very clearly and get a great idea Of its true colour and even watch the bubbles rise.  Using a flute  like this made the whole cider drinking experience seem a lot more upper-class and indeed more jovial. We all liked this. The only downside was that you have to keep refilling the flute every couple of minutes because it only holds a small amount of cider.

Next we moved on to tulip glasses. Please very popular in Europe but less so here in the UK. Luckily we had been to Belgium recently and come back with a number of branded (Leffe I think) tulip beer glasses. Basically these are bigger, more bulbous and more solidly built variants on champagne flutes. So you get all the benefits of a flute, I.e. bubbles and sophistication, and also you get more drink in the glass. So far, this was the clear favourite.

Next I pulled out the big guns, In the shape of some pewter tankards. Now these are traditional cider drinking vessels of the highest order. We all Enjoyed the coldness that seemed to be associated with pewter. We enjoyed the historic significance of drinking from those vessels that we all remember handing from shelves at the back of pubs. Above all, there is a sort of rustic charm that chimes beautifully with the rustic nature of cider itself.

One of the judges then spoiled the whole thing by telling us that pewter lead in it and we would poison ourselves to death if we didn’t stop drinking from them right away. At this point we were to far down the path of experimentation to focus on the iPad and check on google whether this was true or not.

So we switched to the final vessel a German porcelain stein with pewter lid. I think we declared it a winner, but my memories are pretty hazy from that part of the evening and my scribbled notes are unreadable.  Oh, well the only sensible option is to re-run the experiment next weekend.  All in the name of science of course.

From: Ian Smith
Subject: Starting the fermentation process

Message Body:
I have filled two small metal beer barrels with apple juice and relied on the yeast on the apple skins to start the fermentation. Very little is happening after two days although there are signs of minor action. When I did a dummy run in an open container fermentation started quite quickly. What can I do to rescue the situation?

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Hi Ian.

My thoughts on your dilemma are as follows.

You say that you have two barrels, so why not play safe with one and be brave with the other? You can keep the ‘wild yeast’ experiment going in one barrel and use the other to guarantee at least half a crop in case the other fails.

Add campden tablets to one barrel to kill off any yeast. Make a new starter using a sachet of purchased cider yeast and pitch it in 24 hours after the campden tablets have done their work. This is your backstop and should produce a standard cider.

As for the other, more interesting barrel. Well you say there are signs of ‘minor action’, so I would be tempted to help that get going. Nothing too drastic. Just wrap a couple of blankets around the barrel for added insulation and give it more time.

Good luck Ian, and do let us know how you get on.

 

We received an email from Stephanie yesterday. She asked the following:

 I’m just wondering how long it takes for the yeast to start foaming. I pitched my yeast on top of the cider, it floated for a bit and then sank, should I be concerned about that?

Good questions Stephanie and here are our responses. 

Firstly you did the right thing by “pitching” (get you with the Brewers lingo) the yeast onto the top of the juice and then seeing it later fall to the bottom. 

Yeast loves a “blood warm” environment and should divide like crazy if the juice is around that temperature. However, it rarely is as warm as that, so the yeast just takes longer to get going. It is like us. We find it easier to jump out of bed in summer than on chilly winter mornings. 

So give your yeast time. It may take anywhere from one to eight ours to get working. If nothing has happened in eight hours, don’t panic. Leave it overnight and when you get back in the morning it should have used those night hours to make a start. 

Still nothing? Ok, it is emergency resuscitation time. Here is what to do. We are going to make a starter.

Take a litre of juice and warm it gently in a pan. If you get it to the temperature of a hot bath you have already gone too far. You want it just below blood temperature.

Take it off the heat. Taste a spoonful. It should taste good. Add new yeast and give it a whisk. Cover and leave for an hour. You should now have a jug of yeast munching on apple juice. Bubbles of CO2 should be rising to the surface. So, pour this jug back into your main vessel and within 6 hours the whole thing should be bubbling nicely.

If your starter jug is not bubbling then it is likely that your yeast is dead or you are trying to make cider in a refrigerator. Neither works, So, go get a new packet of yeast and chuck that in.  And shut the bloody door! Problem solved.

“This year my apples are very small; is this a problem?”

Well possibly, but probably not.

Firstly, remember that some trees just produce small apples. Crab apples are generally plum sized or there about and are great for cider making, so you could be on to a winner.

If your spring was a good one, then perhaps too many apples got fertilised by the bees and bugs. You may want to hand thin the fruit next year to get larger sized apples. Take out a  half of the apples (leave  just 1-2 fruits per cluster) and the tree should then have enough energy to ensure the remainder grow big and healthy.

If your tree is producing small apples and there are also other signs of stress, such as curled leaves, blight, blackspot or bug infestation, this can account for small apples. The tree is just too busy trying to stay alive to be able to put effort into the apples.

However, chances are you have a crab or a tree that grew from a seedling and didn’t grow true to variety (which is the usual scenario for seed grown apples). If the tree is otherwise established and healthy, why not consider grafting other varieties to the root stock and enjoying pretty instant success in growing big juicy apples?

Or, better yet, graft on a mixture of apples that are good for cider making and have your own cider blend waiting for you to harvest each year.

Here we are just a few weeks from harvest(although some of you with early cropping apples will be closer even than that)  so it is a great time to get the equipment out of the shed for an inspection. 

Start with your scratter. The device that turns apples into apple pulp is one of the most important parts of cider making. Many are made from wood and wood doesn’t have an infinite life span. So check whether the whole thing is sound and solid. Next look at the teeth. Are any of them loose? Are any rusted? Most important of all, when you cleaned it at the end of last season did you miss any bits? Tiny pieces of apple that have been sitting on your scratter all year will harbour germs. Perhaps now is a good time to give the whole thing a thorough scrubbing. Once that is done put it together and insure the ends of the spindle are lubricated. Make sure the boxing has not become warped. Finally, make sure that iwhen you put it away after it’s good cleaning, it is thoroughly dry. If your scratter is going back in the shed, put it in a polythene bag so that you don’t need to do more than a simple wipe down in a few weeks time when you use it.

As for the Apple press it self, the most important part is the screw. Give it a good few turns and make sure the thread is running freely. Other than that it is a matter of cleaning much as you did the scratter.  Take the time to get into every corner. I have been known to work on my press with an old toothbrush. On a nice sunny weekend spending a few hours cleaning your press is therapeutic work. Enjoy making sure your kit is clean and ready for use and think of the amazing cider you are going to produce.

Next, make sure that all of the smaller pieces of equipment you use are still to be found. Four example, my long handled spoon has disappeared. Had I discovered this when I actually needed the spoon it might have been a minor disaster.  But because I took the time to check now, I still have a week or 2 to go shopping. While on the subject of shopping, have you bought yeast?

Unless you are one of those brave cider makers who lets the neutral Yeast take its course, you will want to purchase some good quality cider yeast.

And what about airlocks and bungs? Do you know where your hydrometer is? All of this planning now Will save you from heartache in the future.