How to make cider

Freshly pressed apple juice streaming from a wooden press

Area Ranger Cat Hadler looks after the countryside of South West Hampshire, and loves to forage for wild ingredients. Every autumn, she'll be found in Mottisfont's Millenium Orchard and the surrounding woodlands gathering ripe apples and crab apples to make cider. Here's her step-by-step guide to creating your own.

You will need:

  • Apples (if not using cider apples specifically, a variety of different types is best, and you will need crab apples to provide the tannins needed for the process)
  • Sugar
  • A presser
  • Demijohns (for every one to fill with juice, you will want a second for 'racking off' into)
  • A syphon tube (preferably with a stop valve at the end)
  • Bungs and air locks (rubber bungs are best, as the cork ones sometimes come apart upon removal) - as many as you have demijohns
  • Sterilising tablets
  • Cotton wool (big, thick blocks are better than balls)
  • Airtight lock bottles

Now, make your cider...

Cat gathers vast quantities of apples every year to make cider
A large pile of apples
Cat gathers vast quantities of apples every year to make cider

1. Prepare the bottles

Sterilise your demijohns with sterilising tablets, using 1 per demi john, and then rinse afterwards.

2. Wash the apples

Submerge them in a tub of water and rub them around – not too vigorously, as the yeast lives on the skin.

Cat uses an old bathtub to wash her apples - a bucket would work well for smaller quantities
Apples submerged in water in an old bathtub
Cat uses an old bathtub to wash her apples - a bucket would work well for smaller quantities

2. Prepare and 'scrat' the apples

Cut and quarter the apples, and cut out any mould or rot, which can taint the juice. Don’t worry about getting rid of pips or stalks.

Then, 'scrat' the apples – essentially, you're trying to form a pulp from the chopped apples. You can use a 'scratter' to do this - a metal basket with a cog mechanism in the bottom, which crushes the fruit; or, try a more low-tech method such as mashing them in a bucket with a sturdy wooden club.

Pulping the apples before pressing results in far more juice than simply trying to press the apple segments. 

3. Pressing

Put the pulp in the press and extract the juice into a clean trug or bucket.

Cat enlists friends to help with the scratting and pressing process
Two people power a cider press to produce juice
Cat enlists friends to help with the scratting and pressing process

4. Start the fermenting process

Fill up the demijohns with juice and put wad of cotton wool in the top, to prevent dirt getting in but allowing for fermentation overflow.  

Place the demijohns somewhere warm (such as an airing cupboard, or next to a radiator) to kick start the fermentation process. Over the next 2-3 days you should see brown frowth coming up over the neck of the demijohn - hence the cotton wool - before it recedes back.

Once the liquid has calmed down, you can remove it from the warm place and put it somewhere out the way at room temperature – preferably somewhere that doesn’t have much temperature fluctuation.

Remove the cotton wool, clean the neck of the demijohn, and top up with cold water until the liquid is 2-3cm from the neck. Then put in a sterilised bung and airlock, with the airlock being half filled with sterile water. Once the airlock is on tight, the bubbles will be furiously popping their way through.

For the first week or two you'll see very fast bubbling, and there may be an eggy smell as it ferments – this is normal.

5. Racking off

After a couple of weeks or so, when there is about an inch of sediment on the bottom, and the bubbles have slowed down, it's time to 'rack off' the juice.

Ensure the second demijohn and syphon tube have been sterilised. First, place the full demijohn at height (on a table, for example) and putting the one to be filled at a lower level (on a chair or on the floor).

Add sugar syrup to the empty demijohn at the rate of 170g per gallon – melt the sugar first in a saucepan over a low heat with a splash bit of water until it is a syrup, then pour it in the empty demijohn before you syphon the juice in.

Put the syphon tube in the first demijohn, without disturbing the sediment on the bottom. Suck the end of it to get the juice flowing and then quickly put it in the empty demi john to begin filling (don't try it at this stage - the flavour is not pleasant).

Avoid syphoning the dregs at the bottom. Once you have syphoned your juice, top up your newly filled demi john with cold water if necessary.

Replace the airlock and bung (sterilise them between demijohns to avoid taint). Then, replace the demijohn in your chosen location of room temperature – the air lock should proceed to bubble again although more steadily this time.

After a few more weeks – the higher the temperature, the faster it ferments – look for the sediment layer and the clearing of the juice. Once it goes a clear sparkling gold, you can bottle it.

6. Bottle your cider

Sterilise all your bottles, and add spoonfuls of sugar to each (1 tsp for dry cider, 1.5 tsp for medium, 2 tsp for sweet).

Use your sterilised syphon tube to rack the juice off from the demi john into the bottles - again with the demijohn on the table and bottles at a lower height. You can taste is at this stage, but don't worry if it doesn't tast good - it's not ready yet.

Once bottled, keep them upright and put them somewhere cool (such as a garage or outhouse) to undergo a second, cooler fermentation over the winter months.

7. Get ready to drink...

Try it during winter - the longer you leave it, the better it will be. Ranger Cat usually begins to drink her batches from April onwards; by that time, the cider will have a fizzy pop when you open the bottle and should pour out clear, gold and sparkling.

When pouring, it's best to leave the dregs in the bottle as they will cloud the glass.

Cat's ciders have come out at 8.2% - but each batch will differ, depending on how long you leave it before drinking.