103 Cider – basics

Oh, cider, lovely cider.

If you hadn’t guessed by the title of this article, this ones about cider. Mikey isn’t a big fan of cider, and he has even been of the position that it should not be part of the whole home brew thing nor part of this blog. Well, as can be seen in the Rules Of Home Brew, cider does count, regardless of what Mikey says.

Cider has been increasing in popularity lately, and, like beer, there is a ton of mediocre cider out there, but there is also a ton of great cider out there if you know where to look. A lot of the more popular ciders are a little too sweet for my palate, and there isn’t a lot of complexity in there either, or difference between brands. Many of the micro brewed ciders, however, have care put into them and it’s easy to find different notes and flavours.

Some of what I’ll be going through here has already been said in a previous post, so apologies if I repeat myself.

First of all, the most common ciders out there would be apple or pear ciders, sometimes with small amounts of other flavours added as well. However, cider can really be made out of any fruit juice. That being said, there isn’t much difference between cider and wine; generally wine is just an alcoholic drink made from fruit juice that has more alcohol that cider. So while “grape wine” is the typical wine made “apple cider” is the typical cider. But there isn’t anything stopping you from making grape cider (or apple wine for that matter).

The Cider Making Process

As mentioned the original 101, making any alcoholic beverage relies on making a sugary liquid, throwing in some yeast, and then waiting. Cider is no different.

Unlike beer making, however, no mashing needs to occur as the sugars found in most fruits are easily fermentable. This sugar is typically fructose and will break down into alcohol completely with the help of some yeast.

So that’s it! Make some juice, throw in some yeast, and you’re done.  I’ve written about the whole step by step process here.  The important part here is pasteurization to make sure any nasties are killed before pitching the yeast.

Cider Making Equipment

At a bear minimum a juicer is needed. Getting pre made juice is also an option, but just make sure there are no preservatives. Many brew shops have very good quality concentrated juice that will make a good cider just by adding water, similar to the canned wort you can buy for easy beer making.

The problem I’ve had with a juicer is it basically just pulps the fruit, leaving a very cloudy cider. A lot of juice is also lost to the pulp left in the juicer, and getting that juice out is very difficult.

Eventually, it’s probably a good idea to move onto a fruit press. These come in all sizes, and the bigger the better really. A fruit press literally presses the juice out of the fruit. This is much more efficient in juice production, but can be more time consuming. I’ve read in brochures, which I wouldn’t put as a credible resource, that pressing juice maintains many of the minerals and healthy stuff a lot better as well.

Of course, apples and pears also need to be chopped! This is actually an important part of the process, even if your juicer can take whole fruit, but I’ll go into this later. Once again, there are machines and rigs that will crush the apples for you, but I’ve never made cider in large enough quantities to require this.

Cider Ingredients

As mentioned, cider is typically made with apples or pears, but other fruits can be added as a base as well, or simply used to add some flavour. There is nothing wrong with experimenting. And of course, don’t be afraid to throw in some hops if you feel like it; hops can add some interesting flavours if selected correctly. Similarly, added some malt or grain flavours can be quite lovely.

The one thing to be aware of is citrus. Citrus is very acidic and can hurt/kill the yeast. Yeast is usually happy within a slightly acidic environment of about 4-5.5.  The pH of the cider (and beer) will become more acidic (fall) as alcohol is formed.  If using a more acidic fruit, any edible alkaline can be used (baking soda for example).  If you’re trying to balance pH though, due so cautiously as the juice can be ruined permanently.  Of course the juice can be watered down as well, but this will of course affect the gravity and therefore alcohol content. It can affect taste as well.

Of course if you’re trying to get the right pH, get some pH testing strips from your brew supplier.

In regards to yeast, like with beer, any yeast will do the job, but different yeasts will leave different flavours. Wine yeasts are typically better at higher alcohol brews, leave a cleaner taste, but can take a bit longer to ferment. A beer yeast will leave yeastier flavours, be a bit quicker, and will generally only be applicable for lower alcohols.

Anyway, generally cider has an apple or pear base and may have some other flavours thrown in for good measure.  Different types of apples or pears will give different flavours.  Some apples are more tart, some are more sweet, some a juicer, etc.  The ciders I’ve made so far use Golden Delicious apples, which generally are quite juicy and have quite a bit of sugar.

There are literally hundreds of apple varieties as seen here or on Wikipedia.  Of course what apples you have access to will depend on where you are, so experiment.  If you’re keen to make some interesting flavours, buy a few different types of apples (or pears), chop them up, and have a taste!  Remember: putting different varieties of apples and/or pears into them same cider is completely encouraged.

Finally, I’ve read different reports on how many apples one needs to get a litre juice, and they’re all very different.  Some sources quote one kilogram of apples for one kilogram of juice, others quote two kilograms, others discuss how many gallons of juice you’ll get from a bushel, which just leads to annoying unit conversions.  Long story short, it’s dependent on the apple variety and how the juicing method.  In my experience though, I’ve gotten just under a bit under a litre of juice per kilogram, and then have lost about a litre of liquid through the pasteurization process.  Basically, buy more apples than you think you need, and then make more juice than you think you need.  I’d start with about 1.5 kilograms of apples per litre of pasteurized juice.

That’s it (for now)!  My preference is for beer over cider, and I generally enjoy making beer more than I enjoy making cider, but it’s nice to change things up sometimes.


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