Of course the first point to consider when making your own cider, are the apples. Traditionally cider is made from windfall apples, and this is certainly not a bad idea; allowing the apples to reach maximum ripeness on the tree means they will contain more sugars and will produce a better-flavoured cider (but stronger!). Secondly, the best ciders are produced from a mixture of different apples with different levels of tannin and acid. However, we know that not many people have their own orchard and that in all likelihood most cider makers will only have one apple tree to work with, so don’t worry too much; we can supply you with the ingredients to adjust the acidity, sweetness and tannins. It is best to allow your apples to mature in a cool place for a week or two before crushing and pressing them. This allows them to continue ripening and softens the skins. Keep an eye on your apples during this time and remove any that become rotten as they can infect the whole batch. It is worth considering at this point the yeast that you wish to use to ferment your cider: Cider can be made by only using the apples’ wild yeasts. These occur naturally on the apples skin and inside to a lesser extent. However, relying on wild yeasts is not always predictable and the chances of your cider going off are increased. For consistent results we recommend using a specially cultivated yeast. You’ll find these under the ‘Cider Making Ingredients’. If you wish to use the natural yeast do not wash the apples as this will remove the yeast.
Now it’s time to start getting the juice out of the apples: A kitchen juicer can be used but, unless you have one that separates the juice from the pulp, you'll end up with apple sauce which isn't good for pressing.
A "PulpMaster" is the best item for macerating smaller quantities. This is a blade that fits into an electric drill and makes life a lot easier. It can also be done the old fashioned way, that is by putting them in a bucket and smashing them with a heavy length of wood, but if you intend to make all but the smallest quantities of cider, this quickly gets very tiring.
Now to the really fun part: pressing. This really requires a sturdy fruit press. (See under ‘Cider Making Equipment’). These may seem expensive but they are virtually indestructible , which is vital when dealing with a hard fruit such as apples, and are the only efficient way to extract the juice. Alternatively you can build your own press; you can find plans for these in our book, ‘Real Cider Making on a Small Scale’ (look under ‘Cider Making – Books’ in the left hand column). Load your crushed apples into a large coarse nylon straining bag (See under ‘Cider Making Equipment’) until it’s not quite full and put this into your fruit press. Wind your press down until it is quite firmly pressing on the fruit – but don’t force it! After a few moments you’ll see the juice starting to flow; collect in a sterilised bucket. (If you are going to ferment the cider using a cultivated yeast at this stage you can add crushed campden tablets - 1 per gallon of juice- or sodium metabisulphite to prevent the juice from spoiling and to kill any wild yeasts and bacteria.) When the juice has stopped running then tighten the fruit press again and allow the juice to run freely. Repeat this until no more juice runs. Pressing the apples gradually means you don’t over-strain your press or your muscles!
As a rule-of-thumb, a standard supermarket carrier bag of apples should give you about 1 gallon of juice if properly milled and pressed.
Now that you’ve got your juice, it’s time to start making your cider. You can fine tune it by adjusting the acid content - you can measure this with pH strips and an ideal range for cider would be 3.6-4.2. If it needs to be more acidic you can adjust it using malic acid, which is the acid naturally found in apples. (Use one teaspoon per gallon and then re-test.) If you need to decrease the acidity this can be done with precipitated chalk, again at one teaspoon per gallon before retesting.
At this stage you can also add pectolase (pectic enzyme) at one teaspoon per gallon should you wish to make a clear cider as this will break down the fruit cell walls and allow the yeast access to all the sugars. Leave out this stage if you would like a cloudy cider.
You can now measure the OG using a hydrometer. A good target to aim for is 1055. If you have not been able to obtain sweeter apples to bring the juice to that level it is possible to compensate using sugar.
Place the juice into a sterilised fermenter with an airlock. If you have added campden tablets at the pressing stage you will need to allow the juice to stand covered for 48 hours before adding yeast. Cider and Champagne yeasts both give good results.
Check the gravity regularly and once the required level is reached add a crushed campden tablet.
The cider is then ready to mature.