Author: cidermaker

24 Apr

Thatchers 2020

I am a sucker for a new bottle on the shelf. Yesterday, while wandering the socially distanced supermarket aisles my eye was caught by a very fine looking brown bottle of Thatchers Vintage “pick of the year” 2020.

The french have long extolled the differences that the weather plays in Apple flavours while large manufacturers like Thatchers have up till now, worked there damndest to maintain uniformity through blending.

Is this a bold step in a new direction? Or just some clever marketing?

To find out the answer I did the only sensible thing I could and bought a few bottles. Just a couple mind; ‘premier’ ciders attract premier price tags, even in the local co-op.

With a listed ABV of 7.4% I was expecting this bottle to deliver on taste. However the first mouthful was a distinct disappointment. Instant reaction was “meh, pleasant but underwhelming”.

Sure, there was apple flavour there, but very few of the bitter notes we look for in Cider. The astringency was missing altogether. The sharpness had gone awol too. In short it felt as if I were drinking an overly rounded ‘don’t upset anyone’ apple juice.

As I went through the glass the ‘cideriness’ of the drink grew to an acceptable level. I certainly didn’t find myself disliking the taste but my temper just got worse as I pondered the wasted opportunity for a big producer to deliver a true ‘vintage’ Cider experience.

Thankfully it wasn’t too fizzy or too sweet. Had it been otherwise I would have been straight down to Myrtle Farm to shout drunken obscenities at them over the hedge (well it is a 7.4% brew).

21 Aug

Tasting Notes: Thistly Cross Whisky Cask Cider

I saw the bottle in a deli and thought ‘why not?’ Actually the label design isn’t up to very much and it almost put me off. There is something about the font that  felt very 1970s. But that aside,  I  was intrigued by the ‘whisky cask’ aged approach. One of my favourite commercial beers is aged in whisky casks and it is lovely. So in to the basket it went. I only bought one because the deli charges a small fortune.

Removing the blue saltire  crown cap from the bottle, I couldn’t help but smile. These people are clearly shouting ‘Scotland’ loudly and proudly. Good for them. At 6.7% I would only need to have bought and drunk a couple more bottles before I’d be raising the banner at Culloden with them.

With cider, the regionality is definitely part of the story. I really do feel that if a cidermaker doesn’t proudly state where their produce comes from, they are best avoided. Thankfully this clearly does not apply to Thistly Cross.

So on to the important bit…

The initial pour delivered a slightly sparkling cider with very little colour into the glass. On the nose I got gentle apple notes but little else to report.

However,  the first taste revealed a medium sweetness with a rounded smoothness that is rare in ciders. I think the ageing in oak has done something rather special to this brew. It is the epitome of easy drinking cider (think cider for people who don’t like cider), but despite that it does have enough character and complexity to keep a scrumpy lover interested well beyond the first mouthful. I can imagine that having found this at a beer or cider festival I would have returned for a second glass.

It comes from a small batch  firm on a farm in East Lothian where cidermaker Peter Stuart uses ex-Glen Moray whisky casks to age and mature his cider. The bottle proudly announces that it is suitable for vegetarians, vegans and coeliacs, which is a nice touch

If we are being picky it is just a little too sweet for my ageing palette and doesn’t last as long in the mouth as I would have hoped; I would love to try a drier version.

In summary, I enjoyed it and would happily drink it again, especially on a summer evening with friends.

23 Mar

Daliclass Apple – Tasting notes

When I see a new variety of Apple that I have never tasted before I have to buy it. This morning in Waitrose there was an Apple variety called Daliclass so into the wire basket it went.

The colour was yellow, strongly overlayed with red. I bought four. They were evenly sized and firm to touch (end of March).

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16 Feb

Cider Bottle Labels

Someone once said “we taste with our eyes” and if that is true then perhaps we should spend as much time considering the bottle that our cider is presented in as we do thinking about  the contents of the bottle.

Lets take a look at what other cider makers have achieved with their cider labels and see if we can get inspired ourselves.

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8 Feb

What is Turbo Cider?

Spend any amount of time talking about brewing and cider making and someone will bring up the topic of turbo cider. Now I hate to be dismissive, but most of the people who use the term apply it to barely drinkable loopy juice.

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10 Jun

A good spring for apple blossom

After last year’s disastrous apple crop left me with no choice but to forget about cider for a year, it was fantastic to see so much (admittedly late) blossom on the trees this spring (2013).  The great news is that the pollination has been high too and huge numbers of little apples are growing.

When the ‘June Drop’ happens at the end of this month I expect to see my trees get rid of many of the small apples and I am fully expecting to have to help them by manually pulling  a lot of little apples from the clusters to ensure we get a decent crop of good sized apples.

Although this is not strictly necessary if you are only growing for cider, we like to eat plenty of apples too so this is why we try and have harvests of nice tennis ball or larger sized fruits.

Now, a summer of watering, controlling weeds and pests, feeding with mulch and lots of tender loving care and with a little bit of luck on our side we may actually get to make some cider again this autumn.

5 Dec

Cider at Christmas

Cider is a great traditional base for warming winter drinks. You can bother with recipes but the basics are to heat a quantity of cider appropriate for the number of drinkers expected. Now add a selection of flavourings and possibly some sweetness. If you want to add alcohol do it just before serving, after turning the flames off.

There isn’t much else to say except to recommend spices such as nutmeg, ginger cinnamon, juices such as orange and sweetness from honey or dark sugars.

The additional alcohol can come from brandy, rum, whiskey, vodka… or highly flavoured drinks such as tia maria, ammaretto or others.  Do avoid cream based alcohol as it can make the drink look horrible.

Mulled cider at christmas isn’t difficult to make and really helps the christmas spirit come alive.

5 Nov

Pulping apples- tips and techniques

Pulping is the easiest and the hardest part of cidermaking. Easiest if you have the right equipment and hardest if you have nothing.

Firstly, don’t be tempted to use a kitchen juicer. They are simply not up to the task of juicing large quantities of apples and you will burn out your motor long before your first gallon demijohn is full.

No, you will need to pulp apples before pressing them. So how can that be done?

Well the best possible tool for the job is a scratter, but these contraptions are not cheap. They crush the apples between metal studded rollers and pull the apples to pieces brilliantly. As around if anyone in you area has one. Since they are very robust and only get used on a few days in the year, many owners are happy to allow fellow cider enthusiasts to borrow them.

If a scratter cannot be found (or built; there are plans on the web) then a pulping attachment for a drill is a good idea.

This is basically a blade that rotates in a bucket of apples. The puplpmaster is the best seller and is a cheap effective way of turning your apples into pulp.

The third and messiest option is to pound your apples with a large pestle and mortar. You won’t find one big enough in the shops, so this will require a bit of work. However, many a woodcarver has been asked to produce a 5 foot pestle and large bucket sized mortar from a felled tree and has been delighted to do so. Since it is basic wood turning (although at an uncommon scale) you will be surprised at how cheap this can be. A finished giant pounder also looks amazingly cool and will be a talking point when your friends come round to sample your cider.

5 Nov

Crab Apples

Wandering through my allotment this weekend I was struck by the fact that although everyone had had a pretty bad year for apples, the hardier crab apples had done OK.

If you find yourself in  the same situation, you could consider making a cider with crab apples as the main ingredient. The crab is a bitter apple and so is great for cider, but the tough skins make them a challenge if you haven’t got a high powered scratter.

However, if you freeze crab apples you will find that once thawed, they are as soft as any other apple and can be turned into cider with ease.

So, leave the apples out for the first frosts and let nature do the hard work, before squeezing out some excellent juice and get the brewing process going.

13 Jun

A bad year for apples

Here in the south east of England the first half of the year has been terrible for apple trees and so none of mine are going to produce a crop large enough to warrant getting the apple press out of the shed.

However in the west country things are somewhat different. So, the plan is to find a good orchard on the far side of the berkshire downs, bribe the owners and take the press to the trees.

This is actually a tried and tested way of doing things. In the nineteenth century itinerant apple press owners would take their moveable presses from farm to farm during the season and receive payment for their services.

18 Jul

What tools will taint cider

There are quite a few materials around the house you might be tempted to clean and use in your cider making adventures.  Some of these are fine, some may taint the drink with a smell or taste, and others may be downright harmful.

Things I avoid are:

Anything that once contained petrochemicals.

Nice big ‘cans’ look like tempting fermentation vessels, but who wants to go blind from petroleum poisoning? Not me.

Pine and other ‘soft woods’

Pine contains pine resins and these can be leeched out by alcohol into your brew. The greeks drink Retsina wine which is deliberately tainted with pine resin, but it is a very aquired taste (most people gag the first time they try it) so you are unlikely to be pleased with the results.

Don’t worry about wooden spoons. As long as you dont leave a wooden spoon sitting overnight in your cider, it won’t really matter what type of wood it is made from.

Dirty glassware

If I cannot get a demijohn or bottle clean I dont use it.  Glas should be easy to clean so if there is somthing subbonly refusing to leave, it is a fair bet it is in itself something quite nasty.


Cider is acidic, so keep it away from aluminum vessels of any description

Here are the items you can

  • Hard woods (Oak,Chestnut etc. are safe)
  • Food-grade plastics eg. HDPE. (but only if it specifically says ‘food grade’. Also never trust plastics that have been left outside in the sun and rain for weeks.
  • Food grade stainless steel
  • Glass
23 Jun

Build an apple press

Apple presses cost a lot to buy but little to build.

diy cider press

The basic model is a very strong wooden frame and a jack or screw to push down the pressing plate. The picture shows a very basic model under construction.  The wood is thick and heavy and free from large knots which affect the strength.

The wood is held together with thick coach bolts which are strong enough for a 25 litre press. Any more than this and the forces involved would demand some serious joinery.

The car jack (upside down) will shortly be attached to the top horizontal and then all I need is to build a set of lattices to contain the ‘cheeses’ of apple pommace wrapped in sacking, and attach a pressing plate and put together a tray to collect the pressed juice.

Total cost is about £30 but to buy an equivalent volume press will cost about £350

Here is a slightly smaller press.

10 litre press

This is a bought 10 litre press. It shows the tray at the bottom where the juice is collected. The basic design has changed little since the 1600s. The two uprights are known as ‘sisters’ in Dorset and Devon. In a homemade one you probably wouldn’t bother with refinements such as a metal siphon attachement (bottom left). A simple spout would do just fine.

17 May

The importance of cleaning

Cider making is easy to get right, but when it goes wrong it is a miserable experience. If it does go wrong it is usually because of poor hygene. Some nasty bugs get into the juice and mess it all up. Therefore at all stages, be mindful of keeping clean. We are all covered in yeast spores (really, you breathe in millions of spores every hour) and it only takes one vigourous one to ruin a batch. So, clean and sterilize should be your mantra

Cleaning demijohns

A demijohn is a strange shape and there are few brushes that can get everywhere. However a short length of chain can act like a brush.

Cleaning tubes

Siphon tubes are a pain and so after washing with soapy water I always sterilise mine.

Washing your hands

Don’t stop at the palms. You will probably roll your sleves up while working, so wash thoroughly up to the elbows to remove yeast spores before you start brewing.

6 May

Apple tree care

Now you are a cider maker, your apple trees are now so much more than just trees, they are your friends, your source of crop, your geese that lay golden eggs (too stretch a metaphor beyond all credulity).

So, look after them to ensure good crops of apples.

Firstly a pruning on the 6th Jan is a european tradition. This is when we wassial the tree which is a bit of ancient folk magic that was clearly inspired by the high esteem in which our ancestors held apple trees.

Prune out the dead wood and branches that are crossing. Take off tall branches if the tree is getting too big, but never remove more than a quarter of total wood in any one year.

A grease wrap around the trunk stops climbing insects who will later ruin apples, so reapply some grease annually.

In late spring remove grass from around the base and apply a top dressing of organic fertiliser.

Look out for diseases through the growing season and be prepared to nip anything in the bud, before it can spread.

At harvest time, clear windfalls away if you are not using them for cider and spike the soil to ensure good drainage if you have been walking around the tree a lot.

17 Oct

Basic Cider Making Equipment

The basics of cidermaking were known to the ancient celtic tribes and so as you might expect, cider can be brewed with very little equipment. At its most basic you need to crush and squeeze the apples and put the resulting juice in a container while yeast turns it into booze. A heavy wooden hammer will crush an apple ok, but will make a mess of the kitchen. A bath is a container that holds water, but how are you going to wash yourself if the bath is full of apple juice?

So, here is a practical guide to the basic equpment for brewing cider.

Firstly to extract the juice for the apples you can use an apple juicer. However, if you haven’t got one already, don’t go out and buy one for cidermaking. They are not ideal because they are slow and small. A gallon from a juicer will take half a day, but if you have the time and equipment, go ahead and use what you have got.

Otherwise, I strongly recommend a pulpmaster, which is basically a blade you attach to a drill and bucket to make a very big blender. They cost under £20 and are absolutely brilliant at turning apples into mush very quickly.

Next you need to squeeze the juice from the pulp.  Here is a tip, wait a few days between picking and pulping. When you come to press the pulp you will get more juice out.

They sell 1 litre ‘fruit presses’ on  the web and I bought one once. I have regretted it ever since.  Too small. You pulp a bucket full of apples in under a minute and then spend hours pressing small quantities. A large (minimum 5 litres) press is essential, but if you are handy with a drill you can make one  from wood and screws and old vice parts for under £50. There are plenty of plans online and buling a press is a great diy project.

Ok, so you now have a gallon of fresh apple juice. Your third piece of essential equipment is a buket. A food grade plastic container is the best choice for the home brewer.

7 Oct

Cider Recipes

Cider is made from apples, but by mixing varieties you can get different tasting ciders once the brewing is complete.

A recipe for a ’rounded’ cider.

60% Eating Apples
35% Cooking Apples (Bramleys)
5% Crab apples

This combination provides you with bitterness from the crab apples and tartness from the Bramleys along with the eating apples to make a well rounded brew.

3 Oct

Crab Apples

Crab Apples are an ancestor of the cultivated apples we all eat. With thousands of varieties in existence it is surprising that many people consider them useless.

The uses of crab apples

In fact, they have many uses, from Jams and jellies, woodworking and dye making, but for us the premier use is of course cidermaking.

3 Oct

Crab Apples

Crab Apples are an ancestor of the cultivated apples we all eat. With thousands of varieties in existence it is surprising that many people consider them useless.

The uses of crab apples

In fact, they have many uses, from Jams and jellies, woodworking and dye making, but for us the premier use is of course cidermaking.