The day starts as it will finish, with cleaning…lots and lots of cleaning.
Out of bed, breakfast, shower and the sun is shining, which immediately makes things easier. First job is to get everything outside, the 20 odd sacks of apples, the press, the racks, the cloths, the tanks, the buckets, the mill and all the little sundries. Everything was cleaned and sterilised after it’s last use, but it’ll be done again, cleanliness is the first, second and third rule of cider making. Firstly the tanks are washed out with detergent and rinsed, then a no-rinse steriliser is added, I’m working with plastic tanks (specifically made for fermentation) so I’m being doubly sure that everything is super clean. They’re pretty weighty though, even when empty and surprisingly awkward shapes. This is where my overly long arms (seriously my wing span is 12cm longer than my height – which is not technically possible) come in handy for reaching every corner. My OCD on the other hand is somewhat of a hinderance as I need to sterilise the buckets, air locks, scoop, measuring jugs, hydrometer…you get the picture. Anything that comes into contact with the pressed juice needs to be sterile. This all takes a good couple of hours and just before lunch everything is set up ready to go. In between jobs I’ve had a two loads of apples dropped off by village neighbours in return for a few bottles of cider.
Now it’s time to enlist the family in the backbreaking art of pressing apples. First they’re tipped into a large bucket (the apples, not the family) and washed to remove any debris and do a quality check for any rotten fruit that goes in the compost bin. I’ve got a mixed selection of culinary and eating varieties from gardens and public orchards, some we spent hours picking or collecting, others were dropped off. Some we know the varieties, others we have no idea. There’s not enough of any particular variety to create a single batch, so it’s all going in together to create a local blend. After washing they go into the mill to be crushed before they’re scooped over to the press, whilst dodging the odd spray of juice from the mill which is unfortunately at eye level. As I’m using a rack and cloth press I have to lay a wooden slatted rack on the stainless steel base plate and then I use a frame (again stainless steel) which I lay the cloth in and then add the crushed apples before folding over the cloth to make a “cheese”, removing the frame and adding another wooden rack on top of the cheese ready to do it again. After stacking several high I add the top plate fold over the screw arm and start applying pressure via the screw, with a large container underneath to collect the pressed juice. After about 20ish minutes of slowly increasing the pressure, the juice is taken and poured into the large fermentation tank. Then the cheese stack is dismantled and the dry pomace is put in the compost, all the time making sure the racks and cloths are kept in sterilised buckets not coming into contact with anything that could contaminate them. After a couple of pressings I get asked where the cider is to fuel all this effort, shocking that we’re this far in and haven’t had a drop. We thought of drinking some of last years cider but at 7.5% it may affect our performance after a while. So our fuel of choice this year is Sandford Orchards – Devon Dry, a very session-able beverage if ever there was one. I obviously didn’t have time whilst pressing, but here’s a belated review.
Sandford Orchards – Devon Dry 5%
Colour: very pale straw
On the nose: ripe apples, shortcrust pastry, vanilla, butter and honey.
In the mouth: juicy green apples, fairly well balanced but skewed towards acidity, with less bitter tannins, but enough to give a bit of body. A hint of creamy vanilla and a very crisp finish. It is a little one dimensional and thin if I’m being super critical but to get 5% abv from fresh pressed juice (no concentrate), then there’s bound to be some water addition, especially as I don’t think it’s been back-sweetened by juice (watch me be totally wrong).
In a nutshell: very smooth, quaffable and refreshing, a great session cider example.
~300kg of apples, 12 pressings and 4 hours later we collect the last few litres of juice. We’ve pressed 235 litres into a 200 litre and 30 litre tank and a demijohn. I haven’t got any variable capacity tanks, so luckily I had just the right amount to find homes for all the juice. It’s a bit of a game of chance at the moment though, as I’m still getting used to the capacity of the press and what return I get from the fruit. Specific gravity readings are taken with a hydrometer to check sugar levels in order to work out final alcohol content. Lids are put on, a small amount of sulphite (50ppm) added to the tanks to kill off any unwanted bacteria or yeasts, and then airlocks added. Apple juice contains naturally occurring sulphites already but not enough at this stage to prevent those unwanted organisms interfering. A small sulphite addition allows the wild fermentation yeasts to be the dominant workers. Following this it’s time to clean again, cloths go in the washing machine, racks, press, mill and buckets are jetted and washed with detergent then left to air dry. This all takes another good hour or so and the rest of the family are conspicuous by their absence.
Cloth is wrapped round the airlocks, ready for the initial turbulent start of fermentation which usually throws out a bit of foam and everything is put away. Backs are sore and joints are aching but the smell of crushed apples and pressed juice still lingers in the air and there isn’t a better smell in the universe…apart from freshly poured cider obviously.