Soft (non-alcoholic) ciders are produced at the early stage of fermentation, hard cider (alcoholic) cider is produced through longer fermentation; the soft can be siphoned off early and the rest left to eventually produce the hard type.

Soft ciders are very fruity, light and fresh, with a bit of ‘fizz’, this carbonation is produced by the yeast, as carbon dioxide, in the early stages of fermentation; it does contain some alcohol but at this stage it is negligible.
Most hard ciders have an alcohol content of around 3-8%.The alcohol level depends on the sugar content – the sweeter the cider the higher the alcohol content. Hard ciders can be slightly sweet through to quite sweet, less sweet but dry, sweet and also slightly dry or very dry.

Cider is best made from ripe apples. Unripe apples can be used, but the results are unlikely to be as good. Varieties can be mixed to refine flavours. The same process and principles can be used with pears or other fruits (such as quince) and even berry fruits such as blackberries.

Which Method?

There are several ways in which you can produce apple cider – some are more likely to have a better result than others. The ‘wild yeast’ way i.e. encouraging wild yeasts to grow, is a great way to produce a very natural product but it also comes with its problems. Unless everything goes ‘just right’ you could end up with vinegar or a musty flavoured cider, as the wild yeasts and bacteria are quite unpredictable and the result of all your hard efforts can be disappointing.

The wild yeast method

  1. Let picked, ripe fruit lie for up to 3 days before pressing – this concentrates the sugars.
  2. 5 to 6 kg of apples can typically make 4.5 litres of cider.
  3. Be sure all equipment and fruits are cleaned before crushing.
  4. Fruits are chopped then crushed and pressed. Don’t be concerned about pieces of solid apple floating in the juice. Try to crush the fruit as quickly as possible – a fruit crusher will do the job quickly.
  5. Collect the juice into a large fermentation barrel.
  6. Cover the juice with a muslin cloth to keep any insects out and leave overnight. Stand the container in a sink or in a bath tub - so any spill can drain away.
  7. Natural yeasts from the apple skins will start off a fermentation process quickly and fermentation will be fast, with bubbles appearing. The bubbling will carry any impurities to the top and over the side into the sink or tub (provided the fermentation bin is full).  Once the violent stage of fermentation stops, the liquid can be put through a sieve to give a liquid that can be moved to a final fermentation stage. Discard any excessive sediment from the bottom of the fermentation bin.
  8. Take the relatively clean liquid and add sugar and yeast. For every 23 litres add a few teaspoons of brewers’ yeast and 0.5 to 1kg of sugar. The more sugar added, the higher the final alcohol content. You may add a little extra sugar to each bottle at this stage to complete any fermentation.
  9. Transfer to a sealed container and keep warm for 10 to 20 days for fermentation to be completed. You can tell fermentation is complete when the liquid is clear and a scum has settled around the edges. It is then taken into a clean place and the clear cider can be racked off/bottled.
    It will improve with age and keeps easily for a year!

Heat Treated Method

This is a little more reliable and less prone to turning into vinegar; however, also more complicated in some respects.

After collecting the juice from the crushed and pressed fruit heat it to 74°C (bringing the heat up slowly). Cover the juice with a lid and hold it at 74°C for 10 minutes. This is the best way to kill off any bacteria but it also kills off the wild yeasts so you will have to replace these with a bought version. Cool the fruit juice by placing the container in an ice bath and bring the temperature down to 21°C – you can now continue with the fermentation process.