Cider Thoughts 2017 & Cider No.1

As the orchard matures, new trees become available and the choice can be overwhelming when it comes to choosing which to press together. Liking to keep things simple, as life can be complicated enough as is, I prefer the idea of pressing apples in batches – those that have ripened and been picked at the same time. This is how we’ve pretty much done it since day 1, and at our scale with one tree of each variety, it makes sense from a logistics point of view; no hassle with multiple single varieties all bubbling away only to be blended down the line when they’re all ready.

So every year I sit down, assess which trees are currently ready for picking and pressing, which category they fall into with respects cider making – sweets (for the sugar content), sharps (for the acid content) and bitters (for the tannin content), and how much we then need to pick from each. As is usual in the early season, we have plenty of sweet dessert apples, and the early cookers, like Queen and Peasgood’s Nonsuch, tend to be subacid, so not particularly acid. The term ‘subacid’ seems to be an old left-over description for the qualities of an apple variety that is neither particularly sweet or particularly tart – a dual-purpose for want of a better word. The Peasgood’s Nonsuch is classed as a cooking apple, but is not a bad eater in my opinion, although you’d be hard pushed to find a lunch box to pack it in to as they can larger than a baby’s head!

We have only one apple tree that falls into the “bitter” category that is ready early, and that’s the cider apple Tremlett’s Bitter – a Bittersweet apple (having both sweet and bitter qualities). However, this year it failed to fruit due to a late frost killing off the blossom, so it looks as though our Cider No.1 will be more along the lines of the South-East England method, using sharps and sweets (cookers and eaters) in a typical 2:1 ratio. It will, in theory, turn out lighter, crisper but with less body than a cider with more tannins, but that’s also something we’ve ended up with over the years from Cider No.1. It does lead me to think we’d be wise planting some other early bitter varieties as a safety measure. More on that later, as we have a few gaps in the orchard to fill, and I’m sure some serious pondering over one or two of last year’s ciders is in order!

Today we’ve picked:

  • 5% Slack ma Girdle (sweet cider)
  • 5% Elton Beauty (sweet dessert)
  • 10% Yellow Ingestrie (sweet dessert)
  • 35% Warner’s King (sharp culinary)
  • 45% Ellison’s Orange (sweet dessert)
Slack ma Girdle

We’ve included this variety purely for the sweetness factor. If we had other earlier cider varieties to complement it, I’d rather it went in there. As it was, it was ready and would otherwise be wasted!

Elton Beauty

Again, another one at the end of its shelf-life on the tree, it’s one of my personal favourite eating apples we have, along with the Ellison’s Orange below. It would have been a shame to lose the sweetness it brings to the cider.

Yellow Ingestrie

A tiny apple that people seem to find too unusual to eat fresh, though they’re actually missing out on something wonderful!

Yellow Ingestrie

Yellow Ingestrie

Once ripened properly, it turns a lovely warm buttery yellow. The shock in eating is the assumption it will be a bit anaemic in flavour and soft – like an over-ripe Golden Delicious. Nothing could be further from the truth – the flesh is fine, not gritty, almost buttery smooth, and it’s firm and sweet. They are the perfect apple for a young child’s lunch box to be honest! However, we had a good crop, so in they go to Cider No.1!

Warner's King

Warner’s King

Warner’s King

Our earliest culinary apple, over half have fallen off the tree – and these things can be huge! It didn’t look like many and I assumed I might have to pad them out with another cooking apple, but as it was they easily filled a third of the truck, leading me to look for another sweet apple to help balance out the ratios!

Ellison's Orange

Ellison’s Orange & Marsh Daisies

Ellison’s Orange

These have been a favourite at Melbourne Deli, our local customer whose customers appreciate the unusual and scarce varieties we grow here. However, they are at their best right now, and we have the Allington Pippin ripening right next to them which is also a great eating apple, so we’ve decided to pick the rest and add them to the cider mix. I’m hoping, as they’re an offspring of Cox’s Orange Pippin, that they’ll bring some of their complex flavours to the cider, although they are juicier than the Cox, in my opinion, so maybe that might come out a bit diluted. We’ll soon see!

A Full Cart

A Full Cart!

Penny the Guard Dog

No one touches Penny’s apples!

We’re leaving them outside to sweat for a couple of weeks before pressing. The press is booked for this coming weekend for plain non-alcoholic juicing, and then the weekend after for cider-making – then everyone’s happy! Even Penny, who might bag the odd apple to chew on.


Ciders No.3 & No.4 – “Half Cock” & “Cock On”

It’s a bit of a random post, as it was so hectic here grouting tiles and working on the kitchen extension before Christmas hit us, that I totally forgot to write up the last two ciders, or even take any photographs of the pressing day!

In a nutshell, our third cider was meant to be the trusty “Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine” – a mix of Dabinett, Rosemary Russet and Newton Wonder. When I came to pick the apples from the three trees, the Dabinett was bare! Scratching my head, I can only surmise that in all of the chaos life had thrown at us, that I had seen some on the floor and decided to plop them all into the Tally Ho! cider! Shock! As it was, the resulting third cider was a mix of Rosemary Russet, Newton Wonder, and as many dessert apples as I could scrump from our neighbours (again).

Again, I thought this was the cider I was going to attempt to carbonate naturally, measuring the sugar levels until we’d reached 1.005 and then bottling it, allowing the resulting CO2 given off by the yeast to stay within the cider. But, business again meant the 30 litre tub, sat behind me as I worked, fermented to dryness. No fear – I bottled half of it as a dry still cider – calling it “Half Cock” in tribute to the fact it wasn’t quite what I’d wanted to do. The other half I innoculated with 5g of sugar melted into water as a solution as I bottled it. After a two weeks in the kitchen where the remaining yeast could get going on the sugar, I moved it to the cooler garage. This one is a corker! It’s got a lovely ‘mousse’ as they call it – a fizz with gentler, smaller bubbles than you’d get in can of Coke or Pepsi, and cold it’s really refreshing! I just now wish I’d made all of it this way!

Cock On, Tally Ho!, Half Cock and Pickled GooseThis is the final line up of this year’s ciders – next year we’ll hopefully not have Half Cock or Cock On again, but the Sydney Camm’s will hopefully be fizzy at last!

Cider No.1 – “Pickled Goose”

We have a new cider – Pickled Goose! Cider No.1, as it has been fondly known since pressing it in early October, is a mix of Tremlett’s Bitter, Lord Derby, Ellison’s Orange and Forfar. It fermented reasonably quickly, over the course of four weeks, and is now bottled – ready to drink! I have to admit, I haven’t drunk it in anger yet, and feel the need to drink a bottle of it alongside cider No.2 (Tally Ho) is in order, to compare flavours. Again, as every other time, I’ve missed the chance to bottle it with some reserve sugar still unfermented, so it’s a flat dry cider. It didn’t help that I was away when it finished!

2016 cider 1e Pickled Goose

Pickled Goose cider

The name? Well, we have animals here as you know, but we’ve never used them on a label to date. These two chaps are Barty and Harold, our resident Pilgrim males – who are always acting up, deciding which bit of any unsuspecting human they should sample first. In fairness, Harold has a bit more about him and realises that the humans bring water and corn, so he tends to nip Barty on the back when Barty attempts an attack. During a chat with a friend from abroad, he misheard me and thought I’d mentioned ‘Pickled Goose’, and wrongly assumed it was some sort of thing the English did! Knowing how our two chaps behave, it seemed an appropriate name for a new cider, and there we have it! And before anyone mentions it, yes I know they’re ganders, but it’s just a matter of semantics 🙂

Cider No.2 – “Tally Ho”

Back on the 26th October we pressed our second cider, under the name “Tally Ho”, as this is the year’s random cider (you dive in and never sure whether you’ll come out the other side…).

For the record, we used Harvey, Sanspareil, Ashmeads Kernel, Barnack Orange, Ribston Pippin and Wyken Pippin. We also threw in some randoms donated by Mick at No.1, and a few off the good old Bountiful tree next to the house. Also, much to my chagrin once I’d realised what I’d done, we added a tree full of Dabinett. These were meant to be used in the third cider, mixed with our Newton Wonders and Egremont Russets, but alas this is not to be. I fear it was a bit too early for the Dabinetts, but hey ho, Cider No.2 worked.

2016 Tally Ho Cider

Tally Ho cider

I say worked, the specific gravity began at 1.046, and we had no bubbles whatsoever. So I moved it into the house, into a room which stays around the 16-17 celcius mark, and after a week still nothing. So I took a litre of cider No.1, which was happily bubbling away, and this seemed to get things going, albeit slower than a drunk slug. After a couple of days of slow bubbling, it all stopped again. I left it, thinking it might kick in after a week or so, and after two weeks finally tested the SG to see how bad things were. To my astonishment, it sat at 1.000, meaning the darned thing had fermented to dry without me noticing! I can only assume there’s a leak in the fermentation bin somewhere, but it’s bottled and ready. Again, it’s another 6% cider, and again, I missed the opportunity to bottle it before it had finished, meaning no chance of bubbles in the bottle. Ah well, next year!

Cider No.1 of 2016

2016 cider 1d

With the Ellisons Orange in the truck, it was time to pick the Tremlett’s Bitter

2016 cider 1c

The Forfar are in the foreground, with the Lord Derby in the far left of the truck

Around a week ago we picked the apples for the first cider, which would allow them to sweat for a week outside. This would give the starch time to convert to sugar prior to pressing, and a quick test with iodine tincture proved that they were indeed ready after one week. Typically I would wait for the apples to begin to drop, and I do remember a seasoned cider maker stating that he tended to use one third of the apples from the ground to two thirds from the tree. I think this was partially because he knew they were ripe in general, and also because those on the ground were busy picking up the necessary wild yeasts that would later help with fermentation. I’m not sure of the validity, but I do it anyway, in case!


2016 cider 1b

The 2016 Milling Station!

Today was the day we made our first cider – No.1 of 2016. The specific gravity was 1.046 at the start, 60 pints scratted and pressed into one large plastic fermentation bin. I loan the scratter from our local transtion group, and this time it came with no supports. Luckliy, two spare pallets hanging by, a few nails and a random piece of wood leant themselves to a scratter stand which also aided the back due to its bespoke height! Eat your heart out Heath Robinson!

2016 cider 1a

60 pints of fruit juice waiting to metamorphosize.

The cider was, as almost predicted, a mix of 33% Tremlett’s Bitter (cider), 33% Lord Derby (culinary), 20% Ellison’s Orange (Dessert) and 13% Forfar (Dessert/Culinary). Of course, to mess up the percentages there wasn’t quite enough to fill the fermentation bin, so I ended up adding 5 litres (mixing units now too I see!) of Bountiful, another culinary/dessert. The heaviness towards the culinary/desserts might help explain the relatively low SG, though it’s still within the bondaries of acceptable, for storage. It might just come out tart – we’ll soon see (hopefully)!


Cider Plans for 2016

Having watched various apples falling over the last few weeks, it’s time again to make cider plans – hurrah! We’ve started supplying a local farm shop with apples and pears – only around 3-4 kg a week, but it’s a wonderful feeling to finally start spreading the fruity love locally! The wonderful thing is that we swap it for some local meat, which keeps those food miles low and the taste is definitely worth it. The pears in particular seemed to go down well – the first basket was Beth, an extremely juicy variety whose development was impeded by the outbreak of WW2 and was only finally brought to market in the mid 1970s! And the second variety was Beurre Hardy, and old French variety from the early 1800s – a large and buttery pear with a slight hint of rose water. Like all good quality pears, they should be picked and left to ripen indoors for 2-3 days – it’s a nack we’ve forgotten in this age of supermarket shopping, but believe me, the taste difference is incredible!

Anyway – on to the important matters in hand – cider! We’ve two cider trees with a decent crop this year – Dabinett and Tremlett’s Bitter, so I’ve tried to team them up with equally as laden trees, one cooker and one eater each. Importantly, these two complimentary trees also have to mature at a similar time, or at the least, last well off the tree until pressing time. The final result is, in theory, with no scrumping from anyone else, three separate ciders – two incorporating the cider apples and one the more east counties traditional of two thirds eater to one thirds cooker. Below are the varieties, their use, and their orchard location number (so I know where to visit to pick!). I’ve also added a guess as to apple numbers – ‘lots’ means more than 100. Before you laugh your socks off, this is only the trees’ sixth year, fifth in the ground here, so next year should be even better! Cider plans 2017 will hopefully be even more of an adventure!


Cider 1 – mid October pressing

Tremlett’s Bitter (cider) – A2 – pick early Oct (some are already on the ground) – lots
Lord Derby (culinary) – C4 – pick late September – lots
Ellison’s Orange (dessert) – C6 – pick mid to late September – lots
Forfar (culinary/dessert) – H4 – pick early October (only 20 or so of these so just chucking them in!)


Cider 2 – late October pressing – “Tally Ho!” (our random cider for 2016)

Harvey (culinary) – H5 – pick mid September to mid October – lots
Sanspareil (dessert) – I3 – pick mid October – lots
Ashmead’s Kernel (dessert) – B4 – pick early to mid October – 20
Barnack Orange (dessert) – B3 – pick early to mid October – 20
Ribston Pippin (dessert) – D5 – pick late September to mid October – 20
Wyken Pippin (dessert) – D3 – pick late Septmber to mid October – 20


Cider 3 – early December pressing – “Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine”

Dabinett (cider) – H3 – pick early to late November – lots
Rosemary Russet (dessert) – I2 – pick early to mid October – lots
Newton Wonder (culinary) – C1 – pick mid October – lots


And here’s some fun – probably totally wide of the mark. According to “Craft Cider Making” by Andrew Lea, a cider guru, the ideal cider apple would have 15% sugar content, 0.4% Malic Acid and 0.2% Tannin. Now you can find various tables on the internet giving you these values for certain varieties but they really do depend on seasonal differences, local weather, year to year discrepencies and so on. However, for fun I’ve entered the values for the fruit I’m mixing (or an apple of a similar heritage where none is present) to see what each of the three ciders ends up with. The values are below:

 SugarMalic AcidTannin
Ideal Cider Value15.00%0.40%0.20%
Cider 111.1%0.41%0.13%
Cider 2???
Cider 313%0.44%0.15%

Unfortunately there’s no data for Forfar, an apple from the Netherlands, going back to the 1700s. That helps to scupper Cider 1 slightly, and the values for Ellison’s Orange from from its heritage variety Orange Cox’s Pippin, so they may also be wide of the mark. And Cider 2 is just not worth attempting to work out, with more than three apples’ juice data unavailable. Still, at least we know Cider 3 gets close to the mark!

Importantly, when we’ve finally pressed the juices for each cider, we’ll take an acid reading. We’re looking, ideally, for anything between 3.2 and 3.8 pH. Higher than 3.8 and we risk microbial infection of the cider. Lower than 3.2 and the acidity can be mouth puckering!

Roll on pressing – I’ll probably pick the first batch over the next weeek, with a view to pressing it the week after.

Cider No.2 – Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine

2016 cider sydney camm's marvel machineSydney Camm’s Marvel Machine is a popular phrase amongst a group of friends sharing a passion for flighty things (not the poultry type) and has always been a name chosen to adourn a cider. This cider, our second ‘mix’, is a little bit thought out, in that I know two of the varieties for sure! It’s approximately one third Dabinet cider apples, one third Rosemary Russets and one third a random cooker scrumped from Farmer John next door. You can see what it used to look like back in December, here.

As it used late varieties, in started to ferment, and then went dormant over winter, which is what I’ve been looking for. Come April it sprang back into life again and continued with a slow ferment. Still going this week with a bubble every twelve minutes or so from the airlock, I decided to measure the SG, which came out at around 1.000 – a bit above total dry. Bottling now is safe, but I don’t have the experience to know if there’s enough SG left to create a natural carbonation in the bottle – we’ll soon see, unless we drink it all before that happens! It did taste fuller bodied though, and a touch sweeter, but still very much a dry cider. This is the second time a Dabinet-based cider has overwintered, so this coming season I’ll make another version of Sydney Camm’s Marvel Machine, but replace the unknown cooker with a known variety, and bottle it with a slightly higher SG to ensure in-bottle carbonation.


Merrybower Cider – Tally Ho!

2016 tally ho cider 1I couldn’t resist a gratuitous photograph of the lovely line up of our Merrybower cider – Tally Ho! cider 🙂 Don’t they look smart all lined up! These aren’t for sale, but I’m making inroads into the process, for the day we may make too much and want to sell some. The name is indicative of the style of cider – a wild ferment from random(ish) apples, so you’ll never quite know what to expect when you dive into one! I have to admit it was fun designing the labels!

On a related note, the ‘special’ cider we only have one demijohn of, that was the second batch made last year, has woken from its winter slumber and begun to ferment again! I’m excited about this one in particular as it’s made from a mix of russets, cider and cookers. Fingers crossed we’ll be bottling it soon!

Cider Making – The Second Batch

2015 Second Cider MakingMore cider making! Today I made the second batch of cider – just enough for one gallon demijohn this time, and three pints of apple juice left over for drinking neat. The apples were a mix of Dabinet (cider), Rosemary Russet and a random cooker begged from Farmer John next door. The specific gravity came out at 1052, so a potential alchohol level of around 6.3%. As I sadly failed last time to intercept the fermentation in time to bottle condition the cider before the cider turned dry, I’m hoping the weather turns cold enough for me to have a bash this time. However, with doors still open as it’s too warm inside, and trundling around in a t-shirt as it’s around 14 Celsius outside, I fear this batch will also ferment too quickly. Ah well – it’ll be interesting to taste the difference between two ciders this year!

Year 2 – Cider Making

2015 Cider Making 1What a gorgeous morning to start cider making (hard cider to our friends in the US)! I’d booked the scratter and press from Melbourne Area Transition a few weeks ago, giving us time to pick the apples that were ready to crush, and leave them outside for three weeks to ‘sweat’ – if the weather had been wetter then we’d been advised to move them under cover as heat and wet can spoil them.

2015 Cider Making 2The press was a 20 litre cross beam press – a bit larger than our 5 litre spindle press, which really isn’t useful for any quantity of cider, but probably more suited for crushing soft fruits for juice.

2015 Cider Making 4The scratter could take around six whole average-sized apples in one go, or you could fill the hopper with cut apples. I chose the first method as it was easier with only one person, but it was a doddle!

2015 Cider Making 3The apples we used were roughly 60% dessert, 30% culinary and 10% cider. I had grand ideas of a ‘mix’ of certain types, but when it came down to it I took what we could get – around a third came from our lovely neighbours at number 1, the rest we scrounged from our trees – there were definitely Warner’s King, Elton Beauty and Catshead – the rest I really can’t remember, or I don’t know – hopefully next year I’ll be more organised!

2015 Cider Making 5The cider making method was simple – apples began in the green cart, a half bucket loaded into the white bucket, hosed down, washed around and inspected by Penny, who would have jumped in the bucket if there had been the slightest chance she’d fit! Then six at a time were dropped in to the scratter and munched into tiny pieces. It took about one full washing bucket to fill the smaller 2 gallon bucket which sat under the scratter. Two of the 2 gallon buckets of pomace filled the 20 litre press (don’t you love mixing imperial with metric?), so basically 2015 Cider Making 6two stints on the scratter for every stint on the press, and the press gave between 4 and 5 litres per pressing (that’s the white pouring jug under the press). The pomace left over after pressing didn’t feel as dry as that from the spindle press last year, but the pieces of apple seemed a bit chunkier than last year, so maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe because we’d let the apples sweat some of their juice out – who knows!

Anyway – it took me about 6 presses to fill my 7 gallon fermentation bin, and about three hours in total, maybe a bit more. Assuming it works, that’s around 55 pints (assume one lost to keeving later into another vessel) – not bad for three hours’ (enjoyable) work! Last year was heart-breakingly slow, with our tiny press, and I expected this year to feel as bad – in terms of the effort-to-produce ratio.

2015 Cider Making 7But this cider making experience was a whole different ball game! To see the juice pouring from the press was a beautiful sight – and makes me realise that we need at least a 40 litre press. We really do need to decide in which direction to take this, once we have some experience under our belt? Do we stay as hobbiests, making our own product for friends and family to enjoy, or do we expand the idea to create a mini business that can self-fund? We’ll have plenty of apples to play with, there’s no doubting that! Plenty of time to worry about that, and for now it’s great that people like Melbourne Transition rent out kit that can suit a serious hobbiest.

A quick reading of the Specific Gravity showed 1.046, at a room temperature of around 19 degrees, which is fine. Again, as last year, I’ve decided not to sulphite, to rid the juice of wild yeast. That would mean adding a known yeast back into the cider, but I quite like the idea of seeing if natural yeast, present in the air and on the apple and pressing equipment, can do the job for us. Health-wise – sulphites can cause problems with people suffering from asthma, or people with allergies to sulphites themselves.

2015 Cider Making 8As it was, Jay and Smiler came back from school just as I’d finished – impeccable timing! Seeing the press, the dived right in and pressed out another 4 litres of apple juice from the Forfar tree – a light and slightly acidic juice, but then we may have been a bit early picking them. It only seems fair to press something they can also enjoy.

Despite that being the end of our first cider making day, we’re not done yet – we have some later maturing varieties on the trees still, so hopefully we’ll do another pressing come late November, early December 🙂