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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Making Cider

In my front yard is a gnarled apple tree, some decades old. The house dates to 1925, so it must be older than that, but it's old. Beginning in about July, it produces tasty, modest-sized red-and-yellow apples, a bit tart, not overly sweet, with crisp flesh. The past few years, we've collected them off the ground and moved them to the compost heap, but this year we prepared to make cider. I dutifully climed up and around the tree, reaching out dangerously for apples at the furthest point of my reach, as the ladder/limb below waggled precariously. I only managed to collect about a bushel--or anyway an apple basket, if that's a bushel--before we decided we needed to press them.

I will spare the texture of this grand narrative, except to offer a few observations along the way:
  • Steinbart's is your one-stop cidermaking shop. You can rent a press there (seen in these photos) for $10 a day, and also get instructions about how to turn it into cider. For brewers, this process looks incredibly easy, bordering on crude. Essentially: press and add yeast.
  • When I bought the yeast, I was shocked when the salesman sent me to replace the liquid yeast with dry yeast--an absolute no-no in beer brewing. Apparently vinters use dry yeast almost exclusively. The salesman was blase about it, and so I quizzed him: how many wine/cidermakers use dry yeast? (90%) How many brewers use dry yeast? (20%) Shocked but chastened, I bought the dry, which to add insult to injury was Red Star brand, famed for bread yeasts.
  • Apples are principally structure, and only minimally liquid. We managed to get less than a gallon out of our bushel.
  • "Summer apples" are reputed to be poor for cider, and I have no idea how they'll taste once turned into hard cider. But as raw cider, fresh from the apple, they were fantastic.
I have now collected another bushel off the tree, and I'm not sure what to do with it. I will use a few of the apples for a pomme lambic I'm making, but maybe it calls for anther trip down to Steinbart's. But damn, it's a lot of work for a few ounces of liquid.

I will keep you updated about the progression of this experiment.

First, the apples go into a hopper and are mashed by an electric motor.

The pulped apples fall into a slatted cylinder, which is moved underneath the press.

Finally, you crank the press down, squashing the pulp and driving the liquid out the slats.


  1. Incidentally, I don't really look like that. The backlighting somehow diminished my natural youthful look and made me look like a forty-year-old balding man with incipient wattles. And I don't look like that.

  2. Oh come one dry yeast is actually a good product to be honest there are usually more viable yeast cells in a package of dry yeast than there is in a vial of liquid yeast. Give Nottingham dry yeast a try in your next Ale I sure you'll be impressed. Enough ranting, I pressed cider last year, it's a lot of work but I made some fine hard cider. Make sure you age it for at least 6 months, as it will be only better with time. By the way I have made some killer hard cider from store bought juice, I would say on par with my from scratch stuff. Google Edwort's Apfelwein if you want to give it a try.

  3. Worried about your looks too... Jeff?

    Youth fades quickly. I comes whether ya want it or not... Unfortunately, I know this myself.

    Vanity aside....

    I'm curious about your Lambic recipe and Cider amounts. Can you please post your lambic recipe along with the REAL name of your Cider Yeast and weights/measures of apples used.

    You seem to not answer my questions or requests to share a beer. I try and promote your web site and add interesting (and even controversial) posts.... I keep hoping you will interact more with some readers, as well as, myself.

    So, how about those recipes?? ;-}

  4. Hey Jeff? Are ya trying to make it harder for me to sent posts? My last "Word Verification" was "gofukyerself" :-O

  5. I've got a pear tree in my back yard and after drying and canning as many as I possibly could my wife and I HAND pressed 3 gallons of pulp through jelly bags last fall. I pitched Wyeast Cider yeast, 4766, from the smack pack. Fermentation started quickly and was over with in 4 days. I bottled it into 12oz bottles with no priming sugar so that it was still. It definitely got better with age (I've got 6 left of the original 24) and compared favorably to a $15 750ml bottle of commercial perry purchased at Belmont Station. Good to know about rental possiblities from Steinbart, I'd rather not hand press again.

    On a similar note, I have an uncle that let some of his own apple cider spontaneously ferment in a gallon bottle. When he wanted to drink some he poured it off the top and added more sterlized cider to keep the fermentation alive. He kept it going for over 8 months. He also added some candied giner which added a nice flavor to it.

  6. That sounds really good Joe!

    With all that pulp, did it ever clear in the bottle??

  7. DW - the jelly bag was fine enough that most of the fiber stayed out of my carboy. I didn't rack to a secondary, which would have helped my cause, but a careful pour keeps most the rest of the setiment out of the glass. I'd say it looks like a not quite cloudy enough weisse.

  8. D Wort--

    It was Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast, dry, in a packet. Google to find out more.

    I am not dodging you on the beer thing--I just almost never make it out for beers (you may have noticed how much I write around that sad fact), plus I'm an introvert, which is also predictable for a blogger.

    As to the lambic, it was a basic recipe with about a third wheat malt, some Cascade hops that I've been aging for more than a year, and Wyeast lambic.