I have an apple tree in my back garden and a lot more time on my hands than i should. for this reason i decided that rather than let the apples fall and rot, id use them to make hard cider. unfortunately i had a few obstacles in my way; no juicer, no press, no money!
So what follows is an instructable on how to build a press and get from apples to scrummy scrumpy with as little cost as possible.
i took a few tips and ideas from the following sources, thanks to all those who published 'ibles already.
Homemade cheese and cider press
hard cider from scratch
Making Your Own Cider
and many more
also before i forget check your local laws for brewing in your area. its usually legal if you're of legal drinking age and you're only brewing a small batch.
Hard cider is of course alcoholic so please drink responsibly homebrew is not just about making bucket loads of cheap booze its enjoying the satisfaction of tasing something youve made yourself.
As with any homebrewing, results can vary wildly! in worst case scenarios you can end up with nasty infections or otherwise spoiled produce. sanitation is key but things can still go wrong, dont come whining to me if your cider gives you the runs !
Step 1: Equipment List.
Ok you'll need a few things. it looks like a long list but mostly its stuff you already have. for the specialist brewing equipment find out where you local homebrew store is and buy from there. If not its the trusty internet for you!
For the press
- Wood - i used the cheapest 2"x4" for the struts and spare MDF for the plates
- An old plastic tray
- A car jack. scissor jacks work great but the oldschool cartoon style ones work too
- food grade bucket/s to catch juice in
- Tools - tape measure (and set square ideally)
- Power tools - saw, drill
for the juicing
- Apples - i got a gallon of juice from a BIG bucket of apples
- A bucket and spare clean plank to crush apples in
- Muslin bags. mine were a bit loose weave, clean tea towels would work well aswell
- funnels and filters to strain juice
- a demijohn (a carboy to americans) x2 if possible. Other vessels will work so long as its food grade!
- an airlock (better a propper one than a hose and bucket of water)
- sanitiser (some people use diluted bleach but the stuff from the homebrew store is cheap)
- campden tablets (not essential but advised by many)
- Cider yeast (easy enough to get in the UK but champagne yeast is supposed to work well aswell)
- Yeast nutrient, a hydrometer, pH strips and brewing sugar is good too but not essential
Step 2: Collect Your Apples
My generation is getting the self sustaining craze that our parents were given by 'the goode life' thanks to cooking shows and websites like this to give us things to do in our spare time.
Therefore my main aim was to produce something with as few additives as possible and from only apples growing in my garden. Many sources and recipes suggest you'll get a better tasting cider with more levels of flavour if you use a variety of apples. I have one variety growing in my garden so thats all I'm using.
so step one:
PICK SOME APPLES
-get someone (in my case my brother) to help you! ladders need steadying, apples need catching, trees need climbing etc. having a helping hand makes it easier faster and less boring.
-pick good apples. Any rotting or bug eaten apples should be discarded but if its just a little bruise or blemish don't worry about it.
-leave the apples in a bucket for a week or until you have finished your press as this will give them time to ripen further and release more juice later.
Step 3: Building the Press
while your apples are ripening further in their bucket (keep them indoors if poss) its time to build the press. I went for simplicity here and it worked great in the end!
basically you need to make a square frame from good solid planks. I wanted the area in the middle of this frame to be 60 cm high and 40 cm wide so did my calculations from there. i could put up exact measurements of things here but it depends on what wood you can beg, borrow, steal or worst of all buy. A picture says a thousand words here so if you just look at them you can see how i made it.
- Cut your 2 side struts, cut your top and bottom cross bars.
- Mark out where your cross bars will go and cut holes in your side struts for them (i was informed this is called a mortice joint)
- Drill holes in this marked out area then use a power saw to cut out the middle.
- All being well the crossbars should snugly fit with no need for screws bolts or anything. Sadly this didn't work for me and when i was using a hammer to tap the cross bar in, the side strut cracked. i fixed this by drilling a hole through and securing with a big chunky carriage bolt. it may be better to make the holes a bit bigger and then use a carriage bolt to keep the crossbars in their holes.
- Mark out 2 square plates (slightly larger than the inside width of your frame) on the MDF and cut them out. then cut notches on either side of each plate to allow them to fit inside your press without any forward backward movement.
- cut a small notch in your plastic tray to allow collected juice to run out
thats it... its done! the car jack goes between the top crossbar and the top plate to exert downward pressure onto the apples but were getting ahead of ourselves... onto the next step!
Step 4: 'they' Call It 'pommice'
Some say pummice some say pommace. i favour the latter as its gotta have some latin roots as french for apple is pomme.
That intro makes it seem like the next step will involve something refined and cultural. what it actually involves is using a 2 by 4 to pound 7 shades of PAIN out of a bucket of apples !!!!
Ok your press is ready and your apples have spent a few days-a few weeks in a bucket contemplating their doom. in this stage youll need a knife and a chopping board and the muslin bags or tea towels. Again it helps to have someone to help in this stage! one of you can go through the apples chopping them in half or quarters and cutting out any gross bits. a little bruising is fine but not smelly brown mushy blobs barely recognisable as fruit.
As they are cut in half throw them into a food grade bucket and mash them with a clean plank of wood. i hear fence posts are excellent for this but i used leftovers from the press. Some people build special machines for this called 'scratters' but that takes more time and effort and im only working small scale here. You can also buy pulpers like the pulpmaster but the low tech method workd great too.
the broken up apples are called pommace and once you have enough in the bucket that pulping more apples becomes difficult its time to press!
Step 5: The Pressure Test!
with the design of press i made the most effective way to press the pommace is by packing it into cloth bags. i used muslin bags but cheescloth or even clean teatowels would to. The pommace wraped into a bundle like this is called a cheese (theres lots of strange terminology like this... i kinda like it...makes me feel like a propper brewer).
I pulped apples untill i had enough for about 4 cheeses. i put them on the plastic tray in my press and at this point make sure that your juice collecting bucket or bowl is underneath the press as a lot of juice will be dripping from the cheeses already! i didnt bother but research suggests that uniformly sized cheeses are better as you get more juice from them!
once you have some cheeses on the tray place your top pressing plate (i wrapped mine in clingfilm for cleanliness) into the frame and position the jack between the plate and the top bar. it may be necessary to add something like a chunk of wood (or as i used a cable reel) between the bar and plate.
now its time to press. slowly slowly is tha mantra of the cider maker and at this point you want to really slowly increase the pressure on the cheeses. it may be necessary as the juice flows to tilt the press to get the juice to run off properly. im sure there is a better way of doing this but im a beginner too. its sometimes good toward the end to leave the pressure on for a few minutes while you do something else (like mashing your next lot of apples) and then come back to give the jack handle one last turn!
At this point you also find out how well you made your press. Theres a helluva lot of pressure being exurted onto the crossbars now (particularly the top one) so as your increasing the pressure be careful. at the risk of sounding like the hippy i probably am, listen to the wood! You will start hearing it creak and strain as you increase the pressure signifying that its reaching its limit.
the juice will be flowing magnificently now so collect it all up! evry last drop and be careful your bucket or bowl doesnt overfill. once the juice flow ceases or your press sounds like its going to self destruct. stop and let the last fwe drops drip. then release the pressure. Throw away the dried out pommace (or compost or feed to chickens or pigs if you have them). and start with the next batch untill theyre all pressed!
Step 6: Filter, Sterilise and Make Your Starter!
now the cheese cloth/muslin bag / old tea towell will have kept any big floaty bits behind but just to make sure were going to filter it once. Its also time to start thinking about sterilization. up to this point my apples were not sterilized nor was my equipment...just very clean. it seemed silly to sterilize everything when the juice i was collecting wasnt sterile anyway. but now it gets important to sterilise! i left my demijohn sterilizing overnight to be sure (follow instructions as per the steriliser you buy). also at this stage sterilise your funnel too. i didnt want to filter straight into the demijohn so i filtered into another clean bowl by passing the juice through a jelly bag (used for jam making). once this was done i poured the juice through the funnel into the 1 gallon demijohn.
there are many ways to make cider but a little research suggested that the cider can be sterilised at this point to kill of any unwanted bacteria. whilst boiling will do this it will affect the final taste of the cider and apparently prevent it from clearing fully. instead i sterilised by adding a crushed campden tablet (one per gallon is usually the recomended dose). These are sold in homebrew shops or online and are used to stop the fermentation of wines at a specific point.
leave the tablet to work its magic for 48 hours and leave the demijohn somewhere cool out of direct sunlight. while it was sterilising I made a yeast starter. You can use water or some of the juice if you want but i used water. a cup of boiled water (left to cool) in a sterile jug with a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 1/4 a teaspoon of youngs dried cider yeast. I left this covered with a paper towel for 48 hours aswell on top of the boiler so it was all nice and warm for the yeast!
you can also make a natural starter but its more complicated. if you wanna do the 100% homemade thing then check out this website and watch the videos if you have a few mins to kill.
Step 7: Optional Step - Unleash the Inner Science Geek
NOTE - This step can be left out if you're happy leaving it to the gods of chance and dont want to get more equipment, sterilise more stuff and pansy about with chemicals and whatnot. I have a biology degree and therefore was exited about doing all three!
Measuring the original gravity (OG) and pH can help you to know how strong and how sharp your cider will be. Recipes vary but most suggest that an original gravity reading of 1.050 to 1.055 is a good starting point for your cider. This means there is enough sugar to be converted into alcohol. If your final gravity (FG) is about 1.010 then you will have a 4.7% hard cider. Sounds about right.
the equation to work it out is (OG - FG) x 105 = % ABW (alcohol by weight)
and if your used to the ABV measurement its % x 1.25 = ABV (alcohol by volume)
pH can be tested with pH strips. You're looking for something in the range of 3.9 - 4. im not sure why really but aparretly if its too acidic to start with you get something that tastes a bit like vinegar at the end.
pH can be raised by adding precipitating chalk and if your OG is too low you can add brewers sugar to up it. I was lucky enough to have an OG of spot on 1.055 and a pH of 4 fluke combined with a little knowlege of cider apples (anything thats a bit sour to eat, knobbly and ugly and that goes brown quickly will be a good cider apple). For that reason if you need to adjust your levels then youll have to do some research into what quantities to use.
Step 8: Pitching and Plugging.
lets make some booze!
you should now have a sterile demijohn filled with 1 gallon of sterile apple juice allong with a jug containing your yeast culture and nothing else.
OK adding the yeast in brewspeak is called pitching the yeast! dont know why! dont really care!
This step is easy, you simply pour the yeast yeast into the apple juice. now to ensure that there is no oxygen in the demijohn during fermentation we need to put an airlock on the top of the demijohn. Make sure its been well sterilized. Put the bung and airlock ontop and if you want, for extra measure run some vaseline around the edges to ensure no air can leak in or out.
Now as with every other step many people do things differently here. The airlock needs to be filled with a liquid. Some say water some say sodium metabisulphate some say vodka some say sterilizing solution. I chose vodka! my reasoning is this; some airlock liquid could somehow get into your cider, sterilizing solution would affect the taste and maybe even poison somebody if a bleach based sterilizer was used. if sodium metabisluphate got into the brew it could well kill off the yeast making the fermentation stop prematurely. Water and vodka would not affect the cider (or its dinker) if it got into the brew so these are both ok but vodka will kill most bacteria and one more precaution coudn't hurt!
Now the hard part is over. Its the waiting game now. Put your demijohn somewhere cool (20 degrees C or lower) and out of direct sunlight. Also somewhere where it wont be moved or vibrated as this will kick up more sediment and if your juice is as dark as mine theres a LOT of sediment to fall !!!
check in now and then to see how its doing and count how long it takes a bubble in the airlock to rise. after a couple of days my fermentation skyrocketed and it was, at the peak, getting a bubble evry 0.6 seconds! It then slowed down and theres a bubble every minute or so. Finally it pretty much stopped and after 2 weeks i moved onto the next step.
Step 9: Rack Off!
Not an insult, another bit of brewspeak. This step is relatively simple depending on if you,ve ever used a syphon.
many ways to do this but i went for the most sanitary. as opposed to the by mouth method (see my other i'ble)
1 - remove bung.
2 - fill sterilised plastic hose with clean water.
3 - place thumb over one end
4 - quickly instert one end into the cider and the other over a spare bowl or bucket
5 - when clear water is out and cider starts to flow put thumb over end again
6 - remove thumb and syphon al but the sedimenty dregs from one carboy to another.
7 - put bung and airlock on new demijohn.
NB the lowest point of the starting vessel must be higher than the highest point of the finishing vessel to get all the liquid out
try not to suck up any of that sedimenty gross at the bottom... its gross.
Step 10: Wait... Bottle......... CHARGE!!!
OK now put ur new demijohn somewhere nice and cool and away from sunlight. I went for the garage and at this time of the year day temp is maybe about 14 and night maybe 10.
Wait another 2 weeks or so - people say idfferent things here some say 1 week some say 2 months some say till spring time. Each to their own - mine own was 2 weeks.
By this time the cider should have cleared nicely. the fermentation may well have all but stopped entirely! now its time to syphon again but if you took an OG reading now would be the time to measure the Final Gravity. I syphoned straight into streilized bottles (mostly brown but one clear so i could see if it cleared). To each 500ml bottle (i got 10 in total) i added 1tsp of brewers sugar. This will give the leftover yeast something to ferment into CO2 making my cider sparkling rather than flat.
I used a capper and new crown caps (total of maybe £10) to seal the bottles and left them somewhere warmish for maybe 4 days.
This is how far ive got. I had a sneaky taste after Id filled all the bottles and it tasted nice but we'll have to wait and see. I'll leave the bottles for a week maybe before I taste but ill get this ible up before all the apples are gone encase you want to try yourself!
Step 11: Drink Up!
ok so i got impatient and tried a little early! Rather than waiting 2 moths or so i waited 2 weeks... maybe im an alcoholic.
on opening there was a reasurring 'pffsht' as i took of the top. a good sign that there will be fizz. the cider was also very clear - see the pic for proof.
what the pic cant show you is how it tastes. Its dry. i mean dryyyyyyy. if it were any drier it would be a powder! that said i really like it. More like a strongbow or blackthorn rather than a traditional cornish cider. i think ill leave it another 2 weeks to see if the flavours develop more but this may be a side affect of only using one apple. one type of apple i mean not one single 3foot high apple.
ill try the blind taste test on my cider loving friend in a week or two and see how it goes!
p.s. its alcoholic, i calculated it as 7.4% and i just about felt the effects after half a glass.