Getting started

Who doesn’t love cider?

I certainly does. When I were a nipper (i.e. at University) it’s pretty much all I drank. Strongbow, Woodpecker and Scrumpy Jack, all available for under a quid a pint. So, I drank quite a lot of it.

Then cider sort of went out of style for a few years. Well, it certainly did for me, as I became a fully fledged lager aficionado. Then Rekorderlig came along, closely followed by a slew of copycat ciders. They’re all so goddam sweet though, and who wants to drink cider sweetened with raspberry, passionfruit, feijoa etc? I don’t mind sweet cider, but the ’boutique’ ciders filling the supermarket shelves these days are basically RTDs. Lolly water, as the Kiwis might say.

I’m lucky enough to have three apple trees and two pear trees in my back garden, so last year, I thought why the hell not? Why not see if I can turn my fruit into cider? If I can, I certainly won’t be putting feijoa in it, that’s for sure.

My first thought is some sort of pruno (prison wine), because I know you don’t need much in the way of equipment or even ingredients, and I don’t want to shell out a lot up front. Surely I can do better than pruno though, given that I have access to all the ingredients (thanks to not being in prison) and equipment necessary? Quick bit of Googling and I go with literally the first hit (this one). The press design is startlingly simple, and I have pretty much all the components knocking about the basement so I knock it up in a couple of hours.

Fence posts and car jack

Novice cider press

The apple crop last year wasn’t particularly bountiful, partly due to weather, partly due to the brutal pruning the wife administered to the fruit trees the previous autumn. Also, I didn’t have the brainwave of going into cider production until halfway through the season, so probably half of the fruit were rotting on the compost heap before I get moving. Never mind, if this works we’ll do it better next year.

It takes me a good few hours to collect, smash and press (probably half a day). Like the example on the instructables.com site, I use a 4 x 4 fence post to smash the apples (in a plastic tub) to a pulp (covering the end with a couple of supermarket bags just in case the preservatives decide to leach out of the wood into my mash). I can smash maybe a dozen medium apples at once, then transfer the pulp to the plastic box. Repeat maybe 4 times and then we’re ready to press. The juice flows fairly freely out of the drain holes into my collection bottle, but I need to release the pressure on the jack, re-position the pulp and re-press another three times to get all the juice. Also, I have decided not to use a muslin bag, as I don’t have any muslin, so the drain holes in the bottom of the juice catcher get blocked up with apple gunk quite regularly. I reach the limit of the jack too, it starts to shed metal shavings so I guess I shouldn’t turn the crank any further.

Note to self: if doing this again next year, get a more powerful jack.

It’s certainly quite a labour intensive task, so I hope it’s going to be worth the bloody effort. I end up producing just about 10 litres of juice over the course of a week, managing to squeeze out about a litre per night. Each night’s bounty is chucked in the freezer while I decide what to do with it.

A chance conversation with the bloke that was filling my LPG cannister leads me to visit Baylis’ Chemist (King Edward St, South Dunedin) where I purchase a fermenting bin and some specialist cider yeast. A word about Baylis – they are really enthusiastic about homebrew, knowledgeable too. And more importantly, cheap. There is a lot to be said for being able to purchase pile ointment and brewers yeast in the same shop. Next up some reading on how to actually make the stuff.

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