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Apple Cider: A look at how to press your own

Oct 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Skills

by Samantha Schuller

Fresh apple cider is a delicious addition to fall menus, and pressing it at home makes for a great family tradition. Kids love pocketing windfall fruit and gathering around the press to watch sweet cider pour from the spout.

A bottled batch of apple cider. PHOTO BY SAMANTHA SCHULLER

Any apple that’s tasty to eat will make cider that’s tasty to drink. About 10 pounds of fruit will make a gallon of juice. Don’t worry about the fruit’s appearance—home-grown lopsided and spotted fruit are great candidates for the apple press. Fruit should not be rotten or squishy; don’t bother peeling or coring.

Many homebrew stores rent fruit presses by the day. In a traditional fruit press, the apples are ground up whole and the juicy pulp is fed into a bucket below. When the bucket is full, a lid just smaller than the circumference of the bucket is placed on top of the pulp, and pressure is applied with a leveraged handle. The juice is forced out of a spout at the bottom of the bucket and into a waiting 5-gallon pot or jug below.

If you don’t have access to a fruit press, you can use a juicer or mixer attachment to grind the apples, but keep in mind that any grinder with a spout too small for whole apples will require you to slice each apple into quarters. This is time consuming and best left for small batches of a gallon or so. (Don’t blend in a blender, or you’ll end up with applesauce.) Once you’ve got coarse ground apple pulp, strain it through a large mesh colander or single layer of muslin cloth and squeeze as dry as possible, collecting the juice below.

Raw apple cider will keep in the freezer; use wide-mouth glass jars or plastic containers, leaving at least two inches of headspace to allow for expansion. Keep thawed cider refrigerated and enjoy within a week.

Homebrewing hard cider

Brewing your own hard cider is an easy, inexpensive way to enjoy additive-free cider from local apples. Most commercial ciders control the brewing process with chemical additives and achieve stable alcohol levels with preservatives like sulfites. All-natural, small batch cider contains no suspect chemical ingredients and is incomparable in taste.

Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary ingredients on hand (see sidebar at right).

Bring your raw cider to a boil in the large stockpot. (If you are using shelf-stable bottled juice, you can skip this step.) Bring it to a boil at 220 degrees to pasteurize the juice, eliminating bacteria and wild yeast that can interfere with fermentation and flavor. Remove from heat, cover the pot with its lid to prevent contamination, and allow the covered pot to cool to room temperature while you sanitize your carboy or glass jugs and the auto siphon.

From this point on, sanitation is paramount. Home-brewers can only avoid chemical additives by precluding contamination, or risk ending up with a spoiled batch. You can use a diluted bleach solution to sanitize, but home brew supply stores also carry acid-based sanitizers that don’t need to be rinsed over and over again to ensure purity. Don’t be tempted to sanitize with vinegar to brew cider—you might end up turning your batch into apple cider vinegar by introducing the wrong strains of yeast! Whichever sanitizer you use, be sure to rinse according to manufacturer’s recommendations—and then rinse again.

When the juice reaches room temperature of 60 to 70 degrees, siphon it into a carboy or jug and add the yeast. Top it with the airlock, and place in a consistently cool location at 50 to 60 degrees—the garage works well. Be careful not to disturb the fermenting cider or tamper with the airlock for at least two weeks.

The yeast will get to work eating up all the sugar in your cider and converting it to alcohol. During the fermentation stage, your carboy will get cloudy and you’ll see bubbling action within your airlock. That will settle in about two weeks when the yeast begins to die off for lack of available sugar, falling to the bottom of the jug and forming a fuzzy film.

Now it’s time to rack, or transfer your cider from one carboy to another without disturbing the sediment below. This is where the auto siphon really comes in handy. Sanitize an empty carboy and the auto siphon, then transfer the cider to the new carboy, leaving the cloudy sediment at the bottom. Top the new carboy with the airlock again, and allow it to ferment for another 2-4 weeks, until it is relatively clear.

Now is a good time to taste your cider. It should be dry (non-sweet) and alcoholic. If you like your cider sweeter than your final fermented product is, sweeten to taste at the time of serving using additional apple juice, sugar, honey, or fruit syrup. If you add sweetener too soon before you drink it, you’ll end up feeding the small community of yeast that remains and continuing the fermentation process. Commercial sweet ciders do add additional sweetener before bottling, but kill off yeast populations with pasteurization or by adding sulfites.

These steps are the basics of cider fermentation, but once you’ve mastered these, there’s no end to the varieties you can come up with by adding fruit juice, hops, vanilla, honey, or anything that pairs well with apples.

What you need

Ingredients and equipment

brewing yeast (champagne yeast recommended)

raw apple cider (or preservative-free juice)

large non-reactive stock pot with a lid

long-handled wooden spoon

two 5-gallon carboys (or glass gallon jugs)

airlock

auto siphon (or length of flexible tubing)

food-grade sanitizer

Where to find equipment

Home-brewing equipment is often easy to find on Craigslist, but even purchased new from a homebrew store, you can get everything you need for less than $100. Homebrew store owners are knowledgeable in all brewing processes, and a resource for sanitizers, yeast, and additional implements.

Homebrew Supply Stores

• Down Home Brew Supply: 116 East 5th Street, Arlington, (360) 403-3259, www.downhomebrew.com

• Homebrew Heaven: 9109 Evergreen Way,  Everett, (425) 355-8865, www.homebrewheaven.com

• North Corner Brewing Supply: 1220 Central Avenue, Bellingham, (360) 714-1186, www.northcornerbrewing.com

• Northwest Brewers Supply: 1006 6th Street, Anacortes, (360) 293-0424, www.nwbrewers.com

• Whidbey Island Home Brew Supply: 715 SE Fidalgo Ave #102, Oak Harbor, (360) 632-1508, www.islandhomebrew.com

Homebrew Supply Stores often have presses available for daily rentals. Also try Craigslist, local orchards and community events (see calendar).

Published in the October 2012 issue of Grow Northwest

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