A Guide to Making Cider!
If you've been trawling the internet looking for a guide to scrumpy cider then look no further, this is a no nonsense guide to get you off to a flying start! Traditionally scrumpy is a cider made from scratch with apples and nothing else unlike some ciders which can have concentrated apple juice or sugar added, especially commercial ones where added sugar and water is often used. Scrumpy cider can get very technical so this guide aims to give you the basics to start your first batch.
Brief Guide to Choosing your Apples
You'll always need more apples than you think so collect as many as possible. You can also use a mix of different apples to produce different flavours so just go for it and experiment! Apples like Cox and Russett mixed with a very small quantity of crab apples make a good cider. Usually a mixture of 90% sweet to 10% crab apples produces a quality cider. Also don't worry if any of the apples are bruised just throw them in too, however you will have to get rid of any rotten ones.
How to Store Your Apples
Sometimes you may have apples that ripen at different times and therefore you will need to store them. You can store apples for around 2-4 weeks but they'll need to be checked regularly to remove any rotten ones and storing them in a cool dry place is ideal. It is not recommended to store them any longer than 4 weeks. Traditionally it has been seen as necessary to store your apples for up to a month to make sure the apples are fully ripened before pressing, this ensures that all the starch in the apples has been converted to sugar to enable good fermentation. Generally they're ready for pulping when you can press your thumb into the apple and the print is retained once your thumb is removed. A useful website to use is The Wittenham Hill Cider Pages there's lots of useful advice and in depth knowledge which is very scientific and fascinating from the author Andrew Lea.
My apple trees this year, hopefully the harvest will be good although quite a few seem to have dropped off already!
There are also a couple of cider and scrumpy kits available with everything you need, depending on your budget, to start making your own scrumpy. Our Scrumpy Equipment Kit everything you need to make proper scrumpy, it even includes a high quality Vigo fruit press. All you need now are apples!
Sterilise, sterilise, sterilise
This is the key to successful home brew. Make sure that all your equipment is thoroughly sterilised following the instructions of which ever steriliser you have. Brewsafe is a no rinse sanitiser which will save you loads of time and VWP is the strongest steriliser we have.
Pulp your Apples
Gather your apples and give them a soak in clean water to get rid of any dirt and creepy crawlies, don't worry, this won't wash away any natural yeast as most of it is found inside the apples themselves, although it is true that some yeast does occur on the skin, we do supply cider yeast if required though. If you are relying on the wild yeasts found naturally in the apples then it may take a few weeks for fermentation to begin, if there is no activity after two weeks you may need some cider yeast to kick start the process. After soaking chop your apples into quarters which will make it easier to pulp them. A handy piece of equipment for pulping is our Quick Chop Pulper and Bucket seen here on the right.
There is also the classic crusher shown here on the left which is suitable for larger amounts of apples. At this point before transferring to the press the juice and pulp will become brown in a matter of minutes and this is where the colour of your brew is determined.
Extracting the Juice and Fermentation
For smaller batches you can use a kitchen juicer to break the apples down (although it is a time consuming method of extracting the juice), the liquid can then be transferred to your fermenting vessel, once there you need to place it somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight. It will then proceed to ferment naturally from the wild yeast, as mentioned above it may take a couple of weeks for the fermentation to start and after that usually takes 2-3 weeks to complete however it can take as long as two months! Keep taking hydrometer readings to monitor the progress of your brew. If you prefer you can also add cider yeast a 5g sachet is sufficient for 23 litres (5 gallons) of juice. Signs of fermentation are gas bubbles escaping through the airlock or sometimes a bit of froth on your juice.
Fermentation is complete once there are no more bubbles of gas escaping through the airlock or if you are unsure you can take two hydrometer readings over 48 hours if they are both stable the fermentation is complete, if they have changed continue to ferment until they are the same. A hydrometer is the best way of tracking the progress of your brew and highly recommend.
If using a large amount of apples there are some great fruit presses from Vigo to help make the process easy. They vary in size and can handle different amounts of fruit for example the 9L spindle press shown in the picture holds up to 8kg of crushed fruit and produces up to 6 pints (3.5litres) of juice. Using any press you need to collect your pulp in a muslin bag and twist up any slack so it is tightly packed in and then press. Repeat this until all your apples have gone. Then just follow the fermentation process mentioned previously.
In order to get the best juice yield out of your apples add some water to the left over pulp, the Wittenham Hill cider guide recommends one or two litres of water to every 5kg of 'broken up pommace before re-pressing' this will be a bit weaker than your previous pressing but can be added to your overall juice. After that the fermentation process is the same as above, just transfer the juice to the fermenter and off it goes.
A small and light design that will produce up to 3 pints (1.7 litres) of juice. I think it looks pretty good too and won't clutter up the kitchen.
Did you know the gardening genius that is Monty Don used a Vigo press in a episode of Gardener's World! He said; "the press has turned what was going to be a waste product - windfall apples-into fresh apple juice"
Before bottling add a Campden Tablet to your brew this helps to prevent bacterial contamination, it's usually one crushed tablet per gallon. Also make sure that your bottles and bottling equipment are thoroughly sterilised.
Bottling can be very tedious and time consuming so I'd recommend using the little bottler or an auto syphon which makes bottling quick and easy. The budget option is a syphon tube and pinch valve which will do the job but not as efficiently.
If you would like carbonated scrumpy now is the time to add a heaped teaspoon of brewing sugar to a 500ml bottle, two teaspoons for a litre etc. Carbonation drops are also available for this purpose and once again make your life much easier. I'd recommend adding two drops per 500ml bottle.
TIP: You need to use suitably strong bottles such as PET plastic bottles, glass beer bottles or glass swing top bottles. Glass wine bottles will not take the pressure! These are our clear glass swing top bottles, perfect for adding that professional look.
Now all you have to do is wait for the cider to condition, the longer the better, I leave it for about 2-3 months before drinking, but if you can wait and leave it up to a year it'll turn into a wonderful cider. It's usually Christmas before I have some so I always like to set some aside to mull with winter spices, I use a spiced cider sachet which adds a great warming Christmas flavour to it.