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Odds Blog: Adventures in cider-making

Posted by indigodream on 27 December, 2013

The fermentation has been underway for about 3 days here...

The fermentation has been underway for about 3 days here…

I have three prolific apple trees in the garden – a bramley cooking apple, a golden crab apple and a “Katy” cider apple. For many years now we’ve been picking the fruit and I’ve just been making them into jam for charity. However, as they all ripen at roughly the same time, there’s always been a degree of “apple congestion” as I either struggle to get the lot made into jam or processed and put into the freezer for winter jam-making.

The crop was huge this year – after looking at a whole heaped wheelbarrowful of Bramleys then the whole heaped wheelbarrowful of cider apples, we took the novel decision to actually make cider! But we want to make good cider, so our first step was to buy some books about cider making:

Both books appealed and both gave some information about the “french method” of cider making as I do love French ciders! We had some basic brewing equipment from our adventures in homebrew many years ago, but we needed to replace a few perishables (seals and bungs). Although we could have bought things online, we wanted to see/feel the equipment we might need.  Homebrew shops are in short supply – we found one in Lingfield and another in Sutton – we happened to be passing Lingfield so we popped in. We had been wondering whether to hire an apple press, but we decided instead to buy ourselves a decent press along with an apple chopper straight out of “Friday 13th” or similar slasher movie! We only realised later that Wilkinsons’ do a good range of brewing equipment.

The first fermentation is almost finished - as soon as the yeast is at the bottom it'll be ready for the first racking...

The first fermentation is almost finished – as soon as the yeast is at the bottom it’ll be ready for the first racking…

By the time we had a free weekend (in October) for brewing, the apples had been softening nicely in their wheelbarrow and were perfect for pressing. We set up a production line – I was inspecting, washing and doing the rough chopping, then Richard was doing the man-work (power tool and muscular) on the fine chopping and pressing.I should explain that the chopper is a sharp blade that attaches to an electric drill with a protective plastic bucket lid- you insert the blade into a bucket full of apples and turn the drill on. The lid isn’t to protect you from the blade but from ballistic bits of apple :-)

It took us a few hours to process the fruit, but at the end of it we had 5 gallons of super-sweet and delicious apple juice. A bit too sweet in fact – the hydrometer almost popped right out of the flask when I put it in the juice. We started the production line again – this time to generate some more acidic juice from the cooking apples.

We split the juice into 3 batches:

1 gallon of “Katy” cider apple juice fermented with english cider yeast (elegant demi-john in the photos)

1 gallon of mixed “Katy” and “Bramley” juice fermented with english cider yeast (traditional demi-john in the photos)

5 gallons of mixed “Katy” and “Bramley” juice fermented with wine yeast (french method)(not featured as in opaque plastic fermentation cask)

We haven’t done any homebrewing for about 20 years, but I don’t remember it being anything as technical as cider making!

The fermentation has since been observed, bubbles timed through the airlocks, SG measured, cider racked off, observed for malo-lactic fermentation, racked off again, sulphited and then left in a cool place to develop its flavour. We suspect from our SG readings that our brews are quite alcoholic – something in the 8 – 9% alcohol range! When I put the hydrometer in for the final reading, instead of popping out of the flask, it sank almost to the bottom – ah the wonders of science :-)

Here it is soon after the first racking - although we were really careful with the siphon we took far more yeast over than we expected...

Here it is soon after the first racking – although we were really careful with the siphon we took far more yeast over than we expected…

The result is almost ready to drink and it looks so appetising – clear, golden and quite unlike the scrumpy I was expecting from our first attempt. The “French” cider is exceptionally dry so now we need to read the chapters on blending and adjusting the flavour (though I like a dry cider myself). The “English” ciders are slightly sweeter. We’ve made still ciders this year but in the future we may have a go at a sparkling cider (taking the appropriate precautions against explosions).

We’ve had many, many offers of help with the tasting, and, to be honest, we were thinking that we’d drink it from the demi-johns rather than bottling it, which means drinking at least two gallons in one go! Hmmm, too many guests and we’ll end up with a thimbleful each; too few and we’ll end up in A & E. Of course, we could keep some for the January cruise – mulled cider would be the perfect warmer – maybe after we’ve arrived at the Royal Docks though :-)

Settling after the 1st racking and almost ready for the second - yum yum - it tasted ok even at this stage!

Settling after the 1st racking and almost ready for the second – yum yum – it tasted ok even at this stage!

How it looks on December 11th - it's had a second racking, been sulphited to stop fermentation, and allowed to settle. Now it just needs time to mature - should be ready in a few weeks' time - it's hard not try it though - it looks delicious - even though I say so myself!

How it looks on December 11th – it’s had a second racking, been sulphited to stop fermentation, and allowed to settle. Now it just needs time to mature – should be ready in a few weeks’ time – it’s hard not try it though – it looks delicious – even though I say so myself!

3 Responses to “Odds Blog: Adventures in cider-making”

  1. Capt Ahab said

    Cider – talking my language! To make it sweet you either stop fermentation before the sugar is all used up or you take the more direst route and add more sugar before drinking (but no more that 24 hrs or it will start to ferment again)- which will make it sparkling as a bonus. Most home made cider is still and dry. I am looking into a scratter and press – what does your look like? I feel a DIY experiment coming on.

  2. s/v Eolian said

    Perhaps you should reserve a portion to make some apple jack, using the good old colonial American method: freezing. Put some hard cider (we distinguish between cider – unfermented – and hard cider – fermented) in the freezer. Once there is ice, remove it. The remaining liquid will be concentrated in alcohol.

    bob
    s/v Eolian
    Seattle

  3. indigodream said

    Mulled, sweetened or distilled – mmmmm, all good ideas – just as well made enough for experimentation :-)

    Capt Ahab, I will post photos of our equipment next week when I’m back in England (in Wales at the moment)…R is particularly fond of the apple chopper which combines primaeval chopping technology with a power tool – awesome!

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