Hard Cider Tutorial, Part One: Obtaining, Grinding, and Pressing Apples
At long last, it begins…
What begins, you ask? The 2013 hard cider-making tutorial I’ve been promising, that’s what!
Specifically, I’ll be making a batch of hard cider, documenting and photographing the process, and sharing it with you.
I’ll be doing this in the following stages:
- Obtaining, Grinding, and Pressing Apples
- Fermentation and Aging Your Hard Cider
- Kegging and/or Bottling Your Hard Cider
- Tasting Notes/Lessons Learned
These sections will appear as blog posts and then roll up into a cider-making tutorial page.
Today’s installment will cover the beginning stages of making hard apple cider: finding apples, processing them into juice, preparing the juice for fermentation, and associated steps and factors such as sanitation.
This story begins a few months ago as–after a few years of making hard apple cider from the unpasteurized, unfermented sweet ciders available in the fall–I began trying to source cider apples locally for this year’s batch of hard cider. Quite frankly, it’s been a frustrating process here in Colorado–a few factors conspired to keep me from obtaining the varieties I wanted:
- One of the worst years for apples on the front range of Colorado in years (primarily due to late frosts)
- Low availability of the varieties of apples in the U.S. that are good for cider–I’ve written about this factor before here
- Colorado being less of a hard cider-making region than others (e.g., New England), and thus having even fewer cider apples than elsewhere
- Other cider-makers beating me to the punch on the few cider apples I’d heard about in my region
Nonetheless, I did manage to find some Winesap and Rome varieties, both of which are listed in Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider, which has been my cider-making bible and a great source of information to date.
As the Boulder market is busy, I had to park a few blocks away–something I never noticed as a problem until I had to lug 120 pounds of apples to my car. My thanks go out to Jared, who helped me carry them, and Katie, who immediately knew who I was when I showed up…they were extremely helpful.
At this point, we assembled, washed, and sanitized (using a Star San solution) the grinder/press and glass fermenters that the pressed cider would be going into, and set up our washing line. The latter consisted of two plastic tubs, one with Star San solution and another with plain water for rinsing, which we used to sanitize the skins of the apples to prevent wild yeast and bacteria–which occur naturally in the skins of apples–from infecting the fermentation:
Note: Using a sanitizer wash isn’t strictly necessary(except with the carboys/fermenters)–in fact, some cider makers will go as far as to allow the wild yeast to ferment the cider without adding commercial yeast at all; however, I wanted to control the yeast character as much as possible, so we used this approach.
Once we had the apple washing station going, we started grinding the apples with the help of a friend of mine, Chris. This was a good time, if a bit of work–the grinder made mincemeat of the apples, even though they were firm and fresh off the tree. The process is quite simple–one person keeps the crank turning, and another feeds apples a few at a time into the hopper. The apples are shredded into pomace, which falls into the mesh bag-lined bucket below.
Note: Make sure to place a bucket under the collection plate at this point–you’ll get some juice seeping out of the bucket as you grind, even before you start pressing.
I’ve heard it’s a good idea to ‘sweat’ the apples, leaving them out on a tarp for several days to soften and allow the sugars to concentrate. I can definitely see the advantage of this, as the juice yield is likely to be higher at pressing and the apples will be easier to grind. Apparently, you could also freeze the apples and thaw them prior to grinding to achieve the same effect–more on that here.
Each time the collection bucket got reasonably full, we switched to pressing. With the collection bucket already in place, you then place a wooden plug (one that spans the diameter of the bucket) on top of the pomace, line it up with the screw above, and bring the screw head down onto the plug to exert pressure. At this point, the juice begins to run, and it’s a matter of waiting for it to subside a bit before incrementally applying a bit more pressure via the screw.
This is the slowest part of the overall process; the important part here is to have everything lined up appropriately and not to exert too much force at once, as you could damage the press. Tighten, wait, transfer juice to the fermenter as the collecting bucket fills, tighten, wait, and when more tightening yields little juice, discard the pomace (which can be mixed into a compost heap but which is too acidic to apply directly as compost) and return to grinding.
Most estimates I’ve seen are that a bushel of apples yields 2-3 gallons of juice; we ended up right around 2, filling one fermenter with 5 gallons of juice and with about 1/4 of a bushel of Romes left over. I attribute the low yield mostly to the facts that:
- These were very fresh, firm apples right off the tree that we didn’t sweat due to time constraints.
- We were gentle on the pressing side, not having used a press before and it being borrowed from someone else. That said, I don’t think we could have pushed it much more on this front.
Choice of apple variety could have been a factor as well, since the variation in physical and chemical characteristics among the many varieties is large.
From here, it was a matter of preparing the juice for fermentation ahead of adding the yeast. As we had already sanitized the fermenter and had been transferring the juice into it through a sanitized funnel, most of this was already done at this point except for sulfiting the juice.
Sulfiting involved adding crushed campden tablets–in my case at a rate of 1 tablet per gallon–to sanitize the juice of any bacteria or mold spores that may be present in the skins of the apples.
The campden tablets went straight into the fermenter (pictured below before we filled it to the 5 gallon mark) after being crushed with a mortar and pestle.
After this, it was a matter of replacing the funnel with a stopper and airlock filled with sanitizer solution, waiting for 24 hours for the sulfite to break down (an important step as pitching yeast too soon after sulfiting can inhibit its growth), checking the gravity, adjusting to the desired sugar content of the juice, checking the acid level of the juice, and adding yeast when all was correct.
I’ll start the next post–Fermenting and Aging Your Hard Cider–with the gravity, acid, and yeast discussion, but for reasons I’ll explain in that section, it’s important to have your equipment lined up beforehand…otherwise, you may end up like me in a mad, last-minute dash to the nearest homebrew store to obtain ingredients or equipment you suddenly realize you need. Look for the fermentation post in a few weeks.
My thanks go out to my parents, Bob and Kay, for their assistance in the process (and for my dad’s photography) and to Chris, who supplied some muscle, curiosity, and humor.
To review, in this post we covered sourcing apples, washing them, grinding them, pressing them, transferring the juice to a carboy, sulfiting the juice, and various tangential steps.
Below is a list of equipment and ingredients you’ll need in place before you start your pressing. Most of the fermentation prep equipment and ingredients are available at Northern Brewer, More Beer, or at your local home brewing store. If you’re thinking of purchasing these online, please go through my links below or through the resources page as I will get a small cut of what you spend at no cost to you and will use it to keep the site going.
- A combination apple press or separate grinding and pressing units. See our resources page for vendor information.
- A tarp to place beneath the pressing area for cleanliness
- Wash basins (I used large, plastic storage totes) for washing and rinsing apples
- 2 collection vessels–plastic, glass, or good stainless steel–for collecting juice and transferring it to the carboy/fermenter.
- Apples! Cider Apples if possible–acquire and read Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider for more specifics.
- Fermenters sufficient for collecting all the juice you could conceivably produce (while we only filled one, we had a second ready to go in case we produced more than expected)
- A Funnel to fill the fermenters with
- A stopper and airlock for each fermenter
- Star San solution for sanitizing all surfaces that come in contact with the apples or juice
- Empty spray bottle to make sanitizer solution in (for spraying down surfaces)
- Campden Tablets for sulfiting the juice
- A hydrometer and test jar for testing
- Yeast–either cider, wine, champagne, or beer, depending on your recipe
- Yeast nutrient, in case you need to jump-start a slow fermentation
- pH strips of the lower pH range–not wide-spectrum strips–to determine how acidic your cider is
- A thermometer for mixing warm water to rehydrate your dry yeast in (if applicable)
Thanks for following me on this journey. I look forward to sharing the rest of the process with you–to be notified when the next post is out, subscribe via the sidebar or like us on Facebook. Stay tuned!
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