Trial and error with homemade cider

I was sat at the dining table pouring over some editing – and as it happens, eating an apple – when my phone buzzed and I saw a text from my next door neighbor. Their apple tree was working overtime, producing more fruit than they could chop and freeze for future pies, and would I like to take some of it to make cider?

I had never made cider, even from a kit, but I decided that there was no better time than during the time soup of lockdown to try to learn, even if it meant making some mistakes along the way.

apple

After spending a bit of time looking up beginners recipes for homemade cider, I arrived at my neighbor’s house to find the garden lawn scattered with apples. I gathered up as many apples as I could carry and got back to the kitchen to set to work. After rising the apples, I set about quartering them and removing the cores. Some had bruises and wormholes, which meant that special attention was needed when preparing them, taking an extra moment to slice off the black or rotten bits. I decided that I would stick as many apples as would fit in the slow cooker for softening – it was a red hot day and I didn’t really fancy creating a ton of excess heat on the stove top. I put the apples in on high, along with 3/4 a cup (150g) of sugar and enough water to cover (I could fit about 9 cups, or a couple of litres, without the slowcooker overflowing). Four hours later, they were soft enough to mash with a potato masher.

I hadn’t appreciated how many apples it takes to make even a small amount of cider; it’s a LOT. Having generated a somewhat disappointing volume of strained liquid from my softened-then-mashed apple and water mixture, I wondered if I might have messed up the water ratio. A quick Google revealed that a whopping 20lb is standardly required to produce about a gallon (3.7 litres) of cider. I used to think that handling brewing grain was cumbersome, but making cider from scratch at home has given me a whole new appreciation for how hard cidermakers and orchardists work to produce beautiful craft ciders.

My intent for my first batch was to try spontaneous fermentation, but unfortunately this never got off the ground. After a few days of checking on the cheesecloth-covered wide-mouth jar in the fermentation fridge (giving it a good stir each time), I wasn’t seeing any signs of yeasty life. Eventually I gave in and decided to taste a little of the (almost certainly 0% ABV) cider. Naturally it was a little too sweet given the excess sugar that had not been converted.

Not to be deterred by the failed attempt at using wild yeast, I acquired a cider yeast from the local homebrew store and set about making a scaled-up batch, this time on the stovetop. Naturally, the apples softened much faster thanks to the direct heat, and after a cool off in an ice bath in the sink, it was time to strain through a fine mesh sieve into my sanitized fermenter. It went straight into the fermentation fridge held around 66F (18.9C).

cider bottling

After two weeks, I bottled it and put it straight into the fridge. Final gravity reading suggests an ABV of 4%. I tried a little glass of it at bottling stage. It has aromas of earth, funk and citrus and tastes lightly astringent like a tart lemonade, with a funky sweetness in the aftertaste. I’m looking forward to see how the flavor changes after another couple of weeks in bottles. I also have more apples on the way from my neighbor, so my adventures in cidermaking are not quite over yet!