Saturday, January 2, 2016

making hard cider

While it's known in other parts of the world as simply cider, here in the U.S. it's called hard cider, to designate that it has alcohol in it. For a few years now, has been making a comeback. Domestic production has risen 264% from 2005 to 2012. Cider was the drink of choice at one time, but the weird experiment in government overreach that was Prohibition ( 1920-1933) killed the cider industry. 

Good cider apples are different than your typical eating apple, so orchards switched to eating apples during prohibition. When Prohibition was over, grain based alcoholic beverages could ramp up a lot quicker than orchards, as trees take years to reach production. The profitability of eating apples is also hard to overcome.

Any way, cider seems like a very good option for permaculture, as it preserves the crop and the trees do not need annual tilling, planting, herbicides, etc... Currently, some mavericks are planting cider apple trees, but the demand is outstripping supply. Our farm has a few eating apple trees, and several large old "wild" apple trees that we need to clear around, prune, and see what they might be able to provide.

This fall, a nearby neighbor with an apple grinder and cider press invited all to bring their apples and make cider. We saved up several buckets of our apples and added to the mix. The resulting cider was a blend of whatever people brought, with most having no idea what variety they were bringing. We ended up with eight gallons ( 30 liters) of fresh squeezed cider, and needed a plan for what to do with it.

Coincidentally, the prior week we had finally bought home brewing supplies, and were getting ready to make our first batch of beer. So instead of beer, we put five gallons ( 19 liters) in the carboy, slapped on the air lock, and sat it in a back room. ( The rest was drank fresh or frozen for later drinking)
For anyone in South or Central Wisconsin, these folks were helpful and have a very well stocked store for home brewers:

The cider started working, but was very slow. As best I could tell from the hydrometer, we could theoretically end up with 5% or 6% alcohol. These were wild yeast, and you get the luck of the draw in how good they would be at converting the sugar. 

And even more coincidentally, a couple days later I was talking to another neighbor who had recently built a small ( micro?) cydery, and had been making cider for actual sale. He gave me some yeast nutrient, and said it would perk things up. It did. The yeast got to work and did bubble more quickly. After a couple weeks, things slowed down, and we got ready to bottle.

I'd read about the process, but reading and doing are two different things. I don't even remember all the terminology unique to home brewing. You rack bottles with a cane, as an example. When I do start cooking malt for beer, there will be even more terms to forget.

It took us a while to get the tubing to flow down to the bottles, and get a good routine down for filling and capping, but overall, it went rather well. We decided to experiment and put 1/4 teaspoon of sugar ( 1.25 grams) in each of two dozen of the bottles to get a little carbonation. All the others would be still cider, as the yeast had eaten up all the sugar, and would be generating no more carbon dioxide. 

At Christmas, we tried the carbonated bottles, and they did have some carbonation, and were drinkable. The cider we made was dry, tart, and not too bad, but the flavor profile was kind of plain. The still cider tastes the same, just no fizz.  I am getting used to it. Overall, a successful experiment, and now we have to empty the bottles so we can make beer. 

Always things to be done around here!

No photos of the process this post, I need to get better at capturing our escapades as they occur. For why it's worth, here is one of our better apple trees, in mid summer, with lots of apples ripening.


  1. Hi Steve,

    Great photo of that old apple tree - it looks very healthy - the apples are producing right now and I have many varieties of cider apples and cider pears. Every apple I'm told has a use - cooking, fresh eating / dessert, or cider. Isn't amazing how easily the apples turn to cider, it is a very low stress process, but as you correctly point out it is slow. I'm in the process of ageing the stuff for 12 months now and the amount of production and storage that goes into that is amazing. People probably prefer beer because it is a far quicker process. Incidentally I chuck in a bit of champagne yeast to each batch and with a bit of sugar it gets up to over 15% - especially after 12 months of ageing. Very dry and it gets smoother with age.

    PS: You have the best neighbours ever!



  2. Greeting Chris- ( re: your blog entry) Hot Christmases would be a jarring juxtaposition because of all the northern hemisphere imagery associated with it. Taking time to recognize the cycles, appreciate life, and renew connections are universal reasons to have a holiday, regardless of weather.

    About cider aging- I think for our next batch, we will try adding some champagne yeast and aging longer, as my reading had covered that. I wanted to do a basic batch first, as we are real beginners. This cider is more like scrumpy than a well crafted cider. I found that there are a wide range of opinions on how to do cider, as there are with any human endeavor, but if you just let nature do its thing, it takes a lot less understanding of what is going on. The 15% alcohol does sound like a good goal to shoot for.

    You also remind me that I need to plant some more trees! This time, I'll search out some cider varieties as well as fresh eating.

    Neighbors- yes, dumb luck favored us with our choice of home region. Good people all around. Quite a few off gridders, permaculturists, and natural builders. We are heading that direction ourselves. I sometimes think humans are self organizing in ways we might not fully understand.