Recipe: how to make your own cider

The end of summer and the beginning of autumn are prime apple-picking season – make the most of your harvest with this simple and revolutionary recipe 

7th September 2017
Cider making

With juice and strain, whole apples go in the juicer at one end and clear apple juice is drawn off at the other. It couldn’t be simpler and the whole process is relatively mess free.

Once you’ve got your clear juice, simply add yeast and store in a vessel sealed from air by an airlock and you’ll have crystal-clear cider in a matter of weeks.

Cider making
Making your own cider couldn't be simpler ©Getty
To make five gallons of cider, you will need…

Ingredients

• 8kg (18lb) of apples per gallon (demi-john), washed twice. I make 40kg (88lb) batches

• 5g (¼oz) champagne yeast

• Campden tablets for sanitising

• Sugar (optional, for making sparkling cider)

Brewing kit

• Whole fruit juicer (the greater the wattage, the better. Ensure it has an outlet that will attach to a hose)

• Food-safe plastic hose, 40cm (16in) long with 2.5cm (1in) internal diameter

• Spring clamp

• Fine straining bag, 60 x 60cm (24 x 24in) 

• 5 gallon open-top brewing bucket with a tap at the bottom

• 2 x 2 gallon buckets. Drill 30 small holes in the bottom of the straining bucket. It should be the same diameter as, or slighter larger at the rim than, your brewing bucket, so that it can slot into the brewing bucket leaving plenty of room for the juice to flow through

• Hydrometer 

• Funnel

• 5 gallon carboy or 5 x 1 gallon demijohns

• Airlock(s) and rubber stopper(s)

• 1 pint measuring jug

Note: speciality brewing items, including fermenting bins, straining bags and food-safe plastic hoses are all available from most home-brewing suppliers

Racking and bottling kit:

• Rubber tubing for siphoning

• Siphon tap (optional, helpful for pausing the flow between bottles.)

• Serving tray (or any tray with a rim)

• Beer bottles (recycling boxes are full of them!)

• Crown-style bottle caps

• Hand-operated bottle capper

Step 1: Pick and clean your apples
Apple harvest ready for cider-making ©Getty
Apple harvest ready for cider-making ©Getty

Check for ripeness by cupping each one in your hand and twisting gently. If it comes away easily, then it’s ripe. A good indicator of ripeness is if a number of apples have already fallen. Do not use bruised, windfall apples for making juice. Discard any that show signs of rot.

PLEASE NOTE: If you’re using the juicer outdoors, it is essential that you use electrical safety trips. Also, the juicing machine must not come into contact with rain or indeed any water.

Step 2: Clean your kit
Cider making equipment
It is important to sterilise the equipment properly ©Philip Hartley

Wash your hands and sterilise all the equipment that will be in contact with the fresh apple juice. I use a solution of four Campden tablets per gallon of water to soak all the parts and buckets for a couple of hours before use. You can also buy sterilizing powder from home brewing suppliers and high street stores such as Wilkinson. 

Step 3: Set up your juicer and strainer
cider making Juicer and strainer
Prepare the juicer and strainer ©Philip Hartley

Rinse off then assemble the juicer parts. Attach the hose to the juicer’s spout using the spring clip and feed it into the straining bag, then place the bag in the straining bucket (with holes). Place the straining bucket in the open brewing bucket. Set up your straining and brewing buckets on a stool or box so you can fit your demijohn underneath the tap.

Step 4: Juice and strain
Juicing and straining cider making
Now for the fun part: juicing and straining ©Philip Hartley

Feed your apples into the juicer. When the pulp container fills up, empty it and discard the pulp. After every 12kg (26lb) or so of fruit, dismantle the juicer and clean the pulp off the mesh. The juicing part takes no time, but the straining needs a while to run its course. I obtain the last five percent of the expected 65 percent by weight of juice by wringing out the straining bag. Do not allow the pulp into your fermentation as it will taint the cider.

Step 5: Pitch the yeast
Cider making yeast
Adding the yeast ©Philip Hartley

While the last juice is draining, pitch the yeast into a measuring jug containing fresh, clear apple juice held at room temperature. This will allow the dried yeast to rehydrate and kick-start the fermentation. A 5g packet is enough for 5 gallons of juice. After half an hour, stir the jug to disperse the yeast thoroughly, then pour it into your demijohns. Fill these up nearly to the top with apple juice and attach the airlocks. Bubbles should appear in the airlock in about an hour.

Step 6: Ferment
Cider making
Pour and ferment ©Philip Hartley

Keep fermentation vessel(s) in a warm place (15-20°C) – after 3-4 weeks you should have a clear cider. Check it with a hydrometer . The reading needs to be one or less. If higher, keep fermenting. When the cider is finished, and knowing the original gravity of the starting apple juice, measure the final gravity and read the alcohol content from an alcohol by volume (ABV) chart. 5% ABV is the target minimum.

Step 7: Bottle your brew
cider making bottling
Bottle it up ©Philip Hartley

Siphon your cider into sterilised beer bottles that will take a crown cap (or a swing-top cap, shown above). If you want a still, hard cider, just bottle what you’ve got as it is. If you want a sparkling cider, then add a half a teaspoon of white sugar to a pint bottle, then fill it with your cider and cap. After a few more weeks, a secondary fermentation should be complete and you’ll have some fizz.

Step 8: Enjoy your cider!
cider making
Sit back and relax ©Philip Hartley

Your cider is drinkable once it has cleared. However, leaving your brew to age in a cool outhouse, garage or shed over the winter will improve it. Ideally, you should aim to be drinking last year’s cider as you’re making this year’s batch.

Serve your cider chilled and take care when opening, particularly if you’ve overdone the priming sugar. You can adjust the sweetness when serving by adding sugar cane syrup.

Obtaining the apples

If you don’t have your own apple tree(s), you could ask a neighbour with a surplus if they wish to donate their apples in exchange for some cider, or you may be able to negotiate a deal with a local fruit grower. Alternatively, you could buy apples from your local market. I’ve had many enjoyable haggling sessions with Bradley at Guildford Market, but invariably end up paying about £1 per kilo, regardless of the apples’ country of origin or variety. The fruit I’ve bought has always been exclusively dessert apples, but the finished ciders have all proved to be refreshingly enjoyable. Check out our top pick of harvest festival and apple days for some ideas.

Discover more great recipes from Countryfile Magazine.

Main image ©Getty

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