How do you make cider?
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
We get this question a lot in the tasting room & it's a relevant one - cider is something that is newer on the radar for most people. It is often drunk in a pint glass, like a beer, but is actually made from apples like a wine. At it's very basic level, cider is fermented apple juice.
At our cidery, we start with local apples, sourced directly from the family run orchards in our community (all under 90km away). Why don't we just buy them from a wholesale/packer? We are looking for heirloom varieties of apples that you don't find in stores. We think they provide better flavour for our ciders and we are providing a market for these apples that were just sold for bulk juice (very lowest price possible for the grower). In some cases, the orchardists were just letting the apples drop and rot on the ground because they weren't worth picking (!) We have also started harvesting small crops of cider specific varieties that we planted in our own orchard. (More on cider specific varieties another time.)
Once the apples are at our production facility, we stack up the bins 4 high and let them sit (a bin is roughly 4'x4'x4' boxes of apples containing 15-20 bushels - each bushel is approx 40lbs, so bins are 600-800lbs of apples each). The apples sit & 'sweat' for a couple of weeks to allow them to fully ripen and flavours to develop. They get washed and fed through a grinder (think of it like a large food processor). Common question: no we don't peel the apples, they get put through with skins and seeds. The chopped up apple then gets stacked into our 'rack & cloth' press and squished to extract the juice. Juice gets pumped into a tank for fermentation. The leftover apple pump (pomace) is then put aside and taken for the compost heap. Once composted, it will be spread back on our field to fertilize our trees. The process is simple (juicing apples) - just very messy.
Fermentation turns the apple juice into an apple wine (aka cider): yeast + sugar => alcohol + CO2. Cultured wine yeasts can be added or wild/natural/spontaneous fermentation can occur with the yeast already on/in the apples. We do both. The choice of yeast and temperature of fermentation will greatly affect the flavour of the finished cider - a yeast selection can be a closely guarded secret to a cidermaker (so don't be surprised if you don't get a straight answer) We ferment at cool temperatures for a longer time period to enhance the aromatics.
The cider is then 'racked' or transferred to another tank or barrel to sit and mature until ready for bottling. This is where magic happens - the flavours change & acidity can soften (a process called malo-lactic fermentation).
In Spring, the cider is ready to be filtered and bottled. We bottle condition our cider, so in each bottle, a little more yeast and sugar is added to allow natural carbonation to take place (those lovely tiny bubbles). Some of our cider is made using the Traditional Method, which means they also get disgorged to remove the yeast sediment (lees) once the carbonation has finished. More on that another time.
There are some amazing resources for those who are looking to get more information on how to make cider. Send me a message if you have any specific questions!
New Cider Makers Handbook, Claude Jolicoeur
Craft Cider Making, Andrew Lea
Cider Workshop forum:
Cider Institute of North America