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The Basics of Cider Making
The art of making a good cider is of a great simplicity. Harvest clean fruits during dry weather; split the varieties; Use only well-ripened fruits; discard rotten fruits and do not use those that have frozen; Do not add water to the pomace; From the freshly pressed juice, fill well-prepared barrels that have no bad taste nor bad smell; Let the must ferment in a sheltered area, at a temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit; Rack when fermentation slows; Collect the liquid in very clean barrels, purged from air; Then a few months later, you will have a clear cider, of a nice orange color, and with a fruity taste, well appreciated by the gourmets. One couldn’t present a better summary of the art of making a good cider. However, we may note that Messieurs de Boutteville and Hauchecorne wrote a 400-page monograph to develop what appears in this short summary... The first part of this book is intended for the novice cider maker. I will start with the materials needed, tips on how to procure good apple juice for cider, and a basic method that will, I hope, help you make a cider good enough on your first trials so that you will want to continue experimenting and improving your cider-making abilities. First, however, I would like to introduce my mantras, short guidelines or principles that I will repeat often and that guided me as I learned cider making.
1. Seek Quality Cider.
L. de Boutteville and A. Hauchecorne, Le Cidre, 1875
In my opinion, there is no real point in making our own cider (or any other drink, for that
The New Cider Maker’s Handbook
matter) if we don’t create a product of great quality. To make cider, we need to invest time and energy. And the cider needs to be really good to justify this activity. If you prefer a tendollar bottle of cider, wine, or beer bought at the store to the cider that you produce, you probably won’t be making cider for a long time. On the other hand, if you put a bottle of your own cider on a table beside a bottle of real French Champagne and discover that your cider is being drunk faster than the Champagne because people think it tastes better, then that is a really rewarding experience. to evolve in the best possible environment to yield a high-quality product. And we should not forget that we can’t control everything: cider is alive, and sometimes it doesn’t go the way that we anticipated. Sometimes this variability will be for the better, sometimes for the worse. When this happens, though, it is important to try to understand and learn why.
4. Good Cider Needs Time; Cider Makers Need Patience.
On the Internet discussion forums, beginners often ask why their cider is not ready a few weeks after starting the fermentation process. Beginners are generally impatient. We need to repeat that Patience is the mother of all virtues for a cider maker—at least for those who seek quality. Good cider needs time to make itself. It should not be rushed. So if you prepare your cider in October and follow the guidelines set forth in this book, please don’t expect to be drinking it by New Year’s Day (though you may safely plan to enjoy it by the following year’s holiday season).
2. Good Cider Needs Great Apples.
To produce this excellent cider, well, you need great apples. The quality of the cider will never exceed that of the apples used to make it. So let’s never forget this statement of utmost importance: It is at the orchard that the quality of the cider makes itself. This, because it is at the orchard that the apples fill up with sugar and flavor, with the help of sunshine, soil, and everything else that surrounds the tree—in other words, the terroir.
5. The KISS Principle.
KISS stands for “Keep it simple, stupid.” In addition to being a cider maker, I am also a mechanical engineer, and KISS is an important concept in machine design: one should always seek the simplest solution that will do the required job. (Note that not all machines are designed with this concept in mind, but that’s another story.) I have found with time that KISS also applies to cider making. It often happens that inexperienced cider makers want to do too much on their first trials: chaptalize the juice (adding sugar, molasses, or honey); use other fruits to modify the flavor; make acidity
3. The Cider Makes Itself.
As cider makers, we need to be modest. We don’t really “make” the cider. The cider makes itself, and as such the term cider maker is not really appropriate. We will see later that the apple juice naturally contains all the required ingredients to transform itself into cider. And to be precise, cider making is in fact a complex biochemical transformation that is performed by microorganisms called yeast. The cider maker is merely a guide. What we do is to provide favorable conditions that will permit the cider
The Basics of Cider Making
corrections; add some tannins; or even make a naturally sweet (keeved) cider or provoke a malolactic fermentation. (Don’t worry about these technical terms; they will be explained later on.) And then they come to the discussion forums on the Internet and ask what they should do next because things don’t seem to go that well. In my opinion, it is far better just to keep things simple, to ferment good-quality, pure juice without additives and use well-proven techniques—at least in the beginning. Once you have mastered the basic cider-making practices, then it is time to try new things and experiment.
By documenting what you do, you can closely monitor how things are going with your cider and make interventions, if necessary, at the best moment. Good notes also permit you to compare results from year to year, from one blend to another. That way, when you make a cider that is particularly successful, you can repeat the same process, just as a scientist strives to achieve “reproducible results.” Conversely, when things don’t go that well, good notes are useful to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
6. Clean Before Storing; Sanitize Before Using.
No piece of equipment, bottle, or anything else should be put into storage until the next usage without having first been well washed. This is particularly important for bottles and carboys, as they are very easy to clean when just emptied but not so easy to clean once a deposit has dried in them. All pieces of equipment need to be sanitized or disinfected just before use. One should not assume that because something has been stored well cleaned, it may be used as is whenever it’s required. Although not very glamorous, hygiene and cleanliness are of the utmost importance in all cider-making operations. The cider room or cider house, as well as all the material, should always be perfectly clean. A great deal of the time we spend in cider making is in fact spent cleaning, the price we pay to avoid cider troubles.
A Note on Units
A final point I would like to make before beginning with chapter 1 is on the units that will be used throughout this book. I expect that most of the readers will be from the United States, and the US customary units will be used first. But then, I also expect this book will have readers in Canada, England, and other English-speaking countries where apples are grown, and where the International system of units (SI) is used; so the SI equivalent unit will be added in parentheses, as in the following examples: 50ºF (10ºC), 55 gallons (208 liters). In some occasions, the order will be inverted, as for example, a reference temperature that is defined in Celsius would be given in that scale first: 20°C (68°F). When discussing small measured quantities, I will use grams (g) and milliliters (mL) since even in the United States, most precision scales and graduated cylinders are in these units, and they are much easier to use than ounces. There are also a few standard units that I will use often without giving the equivalent in the other system. One of them is the 5-gallon carboy,
7. Remember What You Did.
Good note-taking and rigor are the keys to both good quality and improvement over time.
The New Cider Maker’s Handbook
a standard quantity of apples that I use often is the bushel, which contains between 33 to 40 lb. (15 to 18 kg) depending on whether it is level or well filled. For more on units and their conversion from one system to another, please see Appendix 1.
which permits making a 5-gallon cider batch. This really describes a big bottle that is commonly used as fermenting vessel by hobbyist wine, beer, and cider makers. In SI this volume is 18.9 liters, which is usually rounded to 19 liters. Similarly,