I’ve been reading this book – “Craft Cider Making” by Andrew Lea. It’s a mine of information, and my head’s full to popping. Not being a natural chemist (I’m more of a monkey-see monkey-do type of person), I’m still getting my head around things, but as ever I thought I’d write down thoughts here, so I can learn from mistakes and successes.
The jist of a decent cider seems to be to get the balance of certain key elements right, to get the flavour you’re after. The three key elements are sugar, malic acid and tannin. Last year we made a cider using culinary and dessert apples, which produced a sharp and acid cider, similar to that made in the South East of England. It was good – it tasted like cider, but a part of me wants to make something a bit more ‘West Country’ or ‘Normandy’. To that end, this year I’ll be looking to use our cider apple varieties, which seem to be available in a decent enough number to have a go. To try and make life easier, I’m choosing to mix varieties that should ripen at a similar time, to save having to blend juices at a later date.
The first cider will be made from:
- Tremlett’s Bitter
- Slack Ma Girdle
The first two apples are cider varieties, the latter being a culinary apple. Tremlett’s Bitter is a Bitter Sweet apple, ripening in Early October. Slack Ma Girdle is a Sweet apple, ripening in October, and Catshead is a Sharp apple, ripening in early October. The Catshead is used to raise the acidity of the mix, which might otherwise be out of the desired range.
The second cider will be made from:
- Medaille D’Or
- Newton Wonder
Again, the first two apples are cider varieties, the latter being a culinary apple. Dabinett is a Bitter Sweet apple, ripening in November. Medaille D’Or is also a Bitter Sweet apple, ripening in November. Newton Wonder is a Sharp apple, ripening in mid October. The Newton Wonder may have to be fermented earlier than the two cider apples, but I can blend the fermenting Newton Wonder cider with the juice from the cider apples once they are pressed, to allow them to all continue fermenting together.
I also plan to leave the apples outside for three weeks to allow the starch present to turn to sugar, which the yeast will feed on. Having had good success with the wild yeast method last year, I’m going to go that route again – leaving nature takes its course on the pressed apple juice.
This year I will also attempt to naturally carbonate the cider, by bottling it at a Specific Gravity (SG) of 1.005 (Edit 04/11/15 – Andrew Lea of The Wittenham Cider Portal recommends 1.003 might be more prudent, to help prevent bottle bombs). If this fails, if the cider moves below that, I can add a level teaspoon of sugar to each pint at bottling stage. This way they will continue to ferment slightly in the bottle, allowing the CO2 to saturate the cider.
I’m moving to swing lid bottles rather than capping them. As it’s for our own use, they’ll be worth it in the long run, and I damaged a couple of bottles last year whilst trying to cap them – which was painful.