3 Dec 2011

Cider - Home brewed

This is the story of my adventure into the realm of cider making. Before I start on this post, however, I want to press the fact that I absolutely would not recommend doing any of what I have done in completing this task. It was a long, hard process which, despite all the effort I put into it, didn't have a very successful outcome.  I am writing this post however because it is something which I did which I would not like to go acknowledged.  I also hope perhaps to pass on some useful information to other people, and my friend Mark has been bugging me to post about it since I first started the whole process. So Mark I hope you are happy now.

I don't know why I decided to try and brew my own cider this year. Perhaps because I am living at home with not a lot to do, perhaps because we have an apple tree which grew a bumper crop this year and, no matter how many apple pies or crumbles I made, it would not be enough to use up all of the apples we had.  Anyway, whatever the reason was, I decided, perhaps rashly, to go ahead and do it.

Two of the apples on our tree

I started by buying all of the most essential equipment which I would need: a food standard 10 litre bucket, a length of flexible tube, a plastic demijohn with an air valve, some camden sterilising tablets and a pot of brewers yeast. I'm sure that most people embarking on a home cider brewing adventure would also invest in an apple press but I didn't have the money or space to waste on one of these so I had to come up with another way of getting the juice out of my apples. I researched many ways to press apples at home without a fruit press but they all seemed much too technical and manly for me, involving creating your own press out of bits of wood and a vice. I thought that, since I wasn't going to be making very much cider I would not need to juice that many apples to get the amount I wanted. Oh how wrong I was.

My genius idea was first of all to blend the apples in a blender then squeeze the juice out of the pulp by hand. This idea didn't get very far when I tried to use the blender and it would not start, technology, grr. Anyway so I decided on a more old fashioned method. I had found in the cupboard an old mincer which I remember from my childhood we used to use for mincing up leftover meat from roast dinners which we had stopped using when we realised that it was damaging the table. I thought that this mincer would make a good alternative to a blender to pulp the apples and I was right, in theory. In practice however, though the mincer worked very well for pulping apples, it took quite a long time to even do one. And with cutting, coring, pulping and squeezing to get through, it was quite a long process. I sat for 8 solid hours (making sure I had set myself up in front of the tv to keep me interested) and only got enough juice to fill half of my bucket. Half the bucket is 5 litres however and I was quite pleased with that, we didn't need any more than that. So I stopped.  And I am very glad that I did, when I woke up the next morning my shoulders and arms were not happy with me and were making sure to remind me of the exertion they had gone to on the previous day.

My home apple juicing arrangement

After the arduous task of juicing the apples, by far the hardest part of the process, I then added yeast and sterilising tablets to the juice and put the lid on, leaving it to one side to foam up for a few days. Then, when the bubbling had eased off, I transferred the liquid from bucket to demijohn, attaching a bung with a built in air valve to let the air out as the cider bubbled. At this stage I was quite happy with my cider, it was doing everything it was supposed to, and even though it smelled a bit yeasty, it definitely also smelled cidery, so I was hoping for the best.

When the cider had been in the demijohn for a few weeks it was time to transfer it to bottles and taste it. As you can imagine, after spending that much time and energy in making it, I was quite nervous about how it would turn out, not wanting to have wasted my effort and end up having to pour it all away. I can't say that I succeeded in this, the first taste that I took of the cider was absolutely wretched, totally undrinkable. I gave some also to my father, mother and brother to try; the men said that it definitely tasted like apples and like cider though it was quite bitter, my mum took a tiny sip and made a face of such absolute disgust that it would have hurt my feelings had I not been sure that I had made the same face when I had tasted it. I am not a quitter, however, and though things were not going my way at this point I was determined not to let that phase me just yet. I thought maybe the apples had just been a bit too sour for cider making so, what do you do when apples are too sour to eat? Add sugar, and that is what I did, I added a spoon of brown sugar to my glass of cider. The change was remarkable, it went from an undrinkable, toxic tasting liquid to a drink which actually tasted of cider. This made me very happy and I am sure that I read somewhere that some people add sugar to their cider so I did not feel like a failure and I decided that, since it is the winter and my cider is not as nice as it could be, I will make it into some delicious hot spiced cider and fill it with sugar and spices.

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