How do you like them apples: The cider making process
A good cider really comes down to one ingredient – apples, and living on an orchard there is certainly no shortage of them. I’m the fourth generation to live on Cedar Creek Orchard, which is just south west of Sydney, and my parents have been making apple juice since before I was born.
Let’s get one thing out of the way though, I actually hate picking apples. Mum and Dad? They love it. So, the first step of my cider making process is to grab the juice off them. It makes things easy. They already make the perfect juice which is free of any preservatives so the yeast can do its thing. I then take the juice up to my cider room, creative name I know, and then the magic begins.
Brian Rutzen, known as “Cider Brian” in the US, once told Beer and Brewing Mag that cider making is not so much a recipe, but it’s about making a series of choices.
From what juice you use, to the strain of yeast, to whether you want a sweet or dry cider, and how to rack the cider, the choices are endless and come down to your preference.
“There’s not a right way or a wrong way. It’s what you like and the choices you make,” he said.
I agree wholeheartedly with this outlook. You should always make a cider that you yourself would drink, and I also believe your juice and the yeast can make or break you. You can nail the rest of the process, but if these two elements don’t work with one another, you will have an inferior product. I use fresh preservative-free juice, and prefer a dry cider over a sweet one.
After I get the juice ready, I pitch yeast into it to kick off fermentation. For this, I use a champagne yeast, called “IOC Be Fruits”. To be more specific, it’s a S.cerevisiae yeast with low nutrient demand, fast ferment speed and proven low SO2 production.
Fun fact: Most cider recipes will call for a champagne yeast. These yeasts do a terrific job at converting sugars to alcohol. Another fun fact, cider making is very much aligned with the wine making process of white wine or champagne, it’s not like brewing beer at all.
Yeast is like a baby. You need to take care of it. You need to monitor and check on it, to remember to feed it. Important notes are, what nutrient you use and what temperature your ferment is. We keep ours at 14 degrees. If you do all of this you will have a nice clean quick ferment.
I let the juice ferment to complete dryness for about three weeks. In this time, it typically goes from a gravity of about 1.054 to 1.000 SG, which means there is zero sugar left.
During this time, you will notice the flavours enhance. It starts sweet then the dryness will come through between 1.010 and 1.000 SG. You will begin to taste more acidity and the tart.
Now, what happens next depends on what type of cider you want to make. Our cider is a new world cider, we aren’t aiming to drink this dry and aged, so we rack off into new tanks and start the fining process. This can take a series of racking off the lees (the yeast that has lived its useful life and compacted on the bottom of your fermentation vessel).
It’s important to cool your cider down if you want to speed the process up. Yeast will slow its production down dramatically when temperatures are close to zero, but it won’t kill all of the yeast.
You can do a few different things here, we use a fining agent called “Inobent”, that basically grabs the proteins, the haze, in the cider and settles it to the bottom of the tank. Larger operations will use a centrifuge (science b**ch) to separate the proteins and end up with a clear cider!
Then comes the filtering and back-sweetening, which winds up taking about two weeks.
One of the ways in which Cedar Creek differs from other ciders on the market, is we back-sweeten with fresh apple juice, rather than concentrate. Why take shortcuts? By doing this, the cider has a fresher taste, and secondly apple juice is what the family does. We have no shortage of it, it just makes the most sense for us. (It’s also just so goddamn good if you haven’t heard).
Looking at Cedar Creek’s cider, I don’t think the product would be possible without the family business. Every day growing up I would think, ‘how lucky am I to grow up on an orchard, with a massive family and motorbikes on property’. I try not to take it for granted, but I definitely do. It was an exceptional upbringing and now I get to share a bit of that with NSW, and hopefully the rest of Australia.