It is not just in tough times that we need to look after ourselves. Self-reliance is a means, a way of life that ensures a supply of needed (and in today’s example, wanted) things. Relying on shops, currency, health and other dastardly things like supply chains leaves a very vulnerable area of attack to anyone. The production and preservation of locally produced food is a crucial skill, one that we can always get better at. As one of the Simple Earth writers, I have produced Mead with the help of my wife, many times before, but never have we attempted a cider. This is a fun, useful and healthy way to preserve apples and also learn something new.
First, cyder or cider, has some health benefits. It can help and improve skin conditions like acne and dandruff, it aids and boosts digestion, controls LDL cholesterol and assists with regulation of blood sugar levels. I also assume that it boosts probiotic activity in the gut, like any other fermented food product, but that fact is open for debate.
Other, non-health specific benefits are budget, comfort and simplicity oriented. Making your own fermented drinks, alcoholic or not, are much cheaper than purchasing commercial products (which contain a lot of other weird things anyway). When we made mead, we put a lot of effort into temperature control and aging, which takes months or years to complete. Cyder is simpler and quicker, and less susceptible to failure because of bacterial ingress.
This is a time of global distress where travel is not possible. My demijon’s, airlocks and favourite champagne and ale yeasts are more than an hour’s drive from where I live now. There is no choice but to use what we have and invent the rest.
We started by getting together 4.5 kilograms of apples, Granny Smith had to do, nothing else was available. Simple-Earther wife acted as apple-slicer-director and promptly started chopping them up into the smallest bits while I went to the mountainside to get some local spring water.
The ideal and correct way is juicing the apples or using the puree. We had great success in the mead days however when using finely sliced apples. The more surface area you have, the better. If you have a juicer or blender, this might be your best bet, but know that racking will require more work. The shortcut of making these drinks are not to rack, this is your call. Racking can ensure a clearer drink separated from most particles and dead yeast cells.
The second part for considering is your yeast. Since we cannot travel now, bread yeast from a local superette does the job but will definitely leave more unwanted (or wanted?) phenols and esters. Esters are the fruity flavours that are created by the yeast (usually when it is under strain) and is detectable in some beers as a banana, pear or other fruity smell and taste. The natural fruity apple flavour in Cyder will mask some esters though, but I am adding cinnamon to our wort to add extra masking. Time will tell, as this is a learning process.
Ideally, I would have loved to use some yeasts that’s sold by the beer brewing craft shops, as these give you different sediment levels, esters and alcohol level control. I do not understand the alcohol tolerance of bread yeast, so have no control on when the yeast will die off or how much sugar to use to control the ABV%. Yeasts strains have differing tolerances, and can taper off fermentation when the alcohol gets to a specific level. If you have access to the craft beer yeasts, try them and by all means, if you have yeast nutrients like Nutrivin, use it to destress your yeast and improve the flavour and fermentability if your sugars.
Next up, equipment. All we had was our 20 litre water tapped water drum. Nothing beats glass or stainless steel, but here we are, stuck with P.E.P. Lacking the demijon’s and airlocks, we had to fabricate our own. As per the photo above, I used a cork-top from a fancy gin bottle. These have a wooden top over the cork, which helps the sealing a bit.
The irrigation tubing comes from my shed, cheap and suitable. Sterilising everything avoids bacterial ingress which will ruin a ferment quickly. The irrigation pipe matched one of my smaller drill-bits which made the task simpler, and I finished the job by using a hole-cutter on the water-jug cap – according to the size of the cork. It fits snug, and seals well. The opposite end of the pipe goes into an empty maple syrup bottle filled with clean water. This facilitates the CO2 escaping, but prevents gnats, dirty air and oxygen form entering the top. When fermentation starts, the CO2 lies on the surface of the wort, and acts as a barrier against bad elements.
By mixing sugar, yeast, water and finally adding the apple slices we create the wort. We adjusted our specific recipe to our memory of alcohol levels and the availability of ingredients. Sugar was out of reach, and we used honey, which should add an exciting nasal flavour to the cyder. A brief stir of the mix, and dumping in the apple marks the final stages of preparation. We can only be patient now. Waiting for the fizz to emerge as it generates CO2 is like watching paint dry, but if the temperatures maintain a fairly ‘mild’ warmth, it should bubble by day 2.
All you can do now is wait. If you want to determine alcohol levels, take a hydrometer reading directly after mixing the wort. It won’t be possible to account for the sugars stored in the apples at this stage, but it will give you a starting value. At the end, another hydrometer reading will give you a result and alcohol volume percentage. You can skip this if you don’t have a hydrometer, but it is useful to see when fermentation tapers off to determine when to rack. Within a few days, you might be able to sample some of your cyder. It might surprise you.
Best of luck, go nuts, experiment, research and share your thought. As always, keep it simple and easy, and strive for self-reliance.
In light of the hard times we are facing, we have issued the article for free. I hope it inspires you to try some of your own. If you feel it’s worth it, consider becoming a Patron, or tipping!
Editor: Hey, don’t forget our friend Charl created a video about his process too! Support friends!