Cider Pressing in the Revolution

Boxes of organic apples

Fresh picked apples, ready for the crush. 1000 lbs in all!

This post is rather long because in it I will share almost all of my secrets for making really Bitchin’ hard apple cider. But, I tend to ramble on, especially when its a subject I love. And the world is in a pretty fine mess right now, and plenty of people are finally getting pissed off about it. I cannot help a few reflections as I record the details of making cider. For example, hard cider helped fuel the American revolution, as it was cheap and easy to produce, and early Americans who mostly lived off the land did not have the resources to produce beer. It was a poor persons drink, but it did not depend on anything imported from Europe, thus appealing to the pioneer spirit of independence and self sufficiency.

I plan a cider pressing event every year.. I have done this since 2006. This year preparations went almost effortlessly. Equipment was reserved on my first choice of dates. The scheduled day was weeks earlier in the season, which boded well for apple quality and chances for good weather. For the past 6 years, it has rained for every pressing except for one. Apple prices have been stable for years. I had a good feeling about 2011, or cider press #8 of my cider brewing experience.

Kevin tasting home fermented cider

My friend Kevin enjoying the taste of my home brewed hard cider- he tells me its the best he’s ever had in America!

Meanwhile, politics today, which I have been keeping my head down about for the past few years, have all of a sudden exploded with activity, and hope. I have always been an activist, but for many years I have limited myself to “armchair activism”. I always vote, even though I rarely like the choices. I make a several calls a month to various elected officials on issues of concern. While a CEO I worked 60 or 70 hours per week, which left little time for much else. During those years I did fight attempts by big business to keep organic standards for beer watered down by allowing pesticide sprayed hops in organic beer. We actually won that fight, and all USDA certified organic beer will finally, really be organic by January 2013. It gives me hope that the current struggle over big banks and the top 1% holders of wealth in this country can indeed affect change for the better. But I have not done any marching in the streets since the 90′s when I worked for Greenpeace and volunteered for the Ruckus Society.

Having been there and done that, a part of me longed to drop everything and drive to Oakland to join the throngs in the streets and feel that powerful wave of change.. and what I hope will be a revolution, a paradigm shift, and end to the modern capitalistic feudal society we are living in. On the other side of that coin, I am repeating history in another way: dropping out of the daily battles of the corporate world, going back to the land, trying to lower my impact on the earth and build a stronghold for my family and friends in the revolution to come nurse their wounds should the need arise.

Which brings me back to cider pressing! Hard cider is one of the easiest fermented beverages to make, as long as you have good equipment. And the fresh juice, if consumed within minutes of pressing, is so tasty it tingles on the way down. Hard cider is really a simple beverage to produce, yet as with many other things, there is a challenge to achieving greatness. I have high hopes for batch #8, because this year all of the details fell together just right. Apple quality is good, the right equipment is in place, all of the cleaning and prep work was done ahead of time, participants are lined up, and plenty of food and beverages are lined up to keep our energy and spirits high. Because apples are fresh and plentiful in the fall, and the equipment is expensive to buy or rent, this is a once a year project, so for it to be successful its important to get the details right!

First of all, the apples chosen are key to making great cider. Variety is more important than cosmetics in this case. In fact, you don’t want the picture perfect apples you find in a large grocery store. Although such apples look great, chances are they have been handled too many times and have sat around too long, plus they cost about 3 times as much as cider apples purchased in bulk directly from a grower. Since apples grow all over the country it should not be too hard to locate a source, unless you live in the deep south. Mine come from a local farmer in the Santa Cruz area. His family has been farming apples for about 100 years, and his apples are organic. This year we are crushing Pippin, Granny Smith, and Jonathan apples. These are all good cider apples because they produce a decent flow of juice but they are not too sweet. I like my cider nice and tart!

Tub filled with apples

It is important to clean the apples before crushing.

We rinsed the dirt off in one tub, then rinsed them a second time in a mild solution of Potassium Metabisulphite.. this kills the wild yeast and other germs. I’ll talk more about the wild yeast issue later.

Cutting out the bad apple parts

Cutting out the bad apple parts

Because we are after the juice, we are not worried about any scabby parts or even a small amount of worms. Those will be left behind in the pulp, and will compost just fine. If there are any rotted bits, those should be cuty away, or else the rotted flavor and bacteria could taint the cider. Our friend Eden makes quick work chopping out the rotten bits- if only it were so easy to chop away the rotten elements in our country like over-bloated banks and corrupt politicians!

Next in line of importance is the equipment. There are actually a lot of options here, and I have tried many of them. But if you are going to press 1000 lbs of apples and you have one day to do it, renting the right equipment is the best way to go. Most homebrewing shops rent equipment that can be used for crushing and pressing apples. I rent mine from Seven Bridges Cooperative in Santa Cruz CA

Apple crushing machine

Apple crushing machine

Once the apples are cleaned they have to be crushed. This crazy looking machine is basically a giant stainless steel apple blender. They cost about $1000 new, or you can rent one for $50 or $60 a day. It can crush almost as fast as you can throw the apples in. There are hand crank versions that cost much less, and have a slower throughput. Plus they take a lot of manual labor. But, they will work without electricity, so a hand crank crusher would be a good thing to have if technology fails and we go back to the dark ages. If you search around on the web, you can find other ideas for crushing apples. If you only have a small amount of apples, a large food processor would work. Or, you could try the medieval approach: Take a 3 foot long 4 x 4 piece of wood or a hardwood log of about the same size. Pound a bunch of 4″ nails about halfway in so they stick out like flat-headed spikes about 8″ up one end. Fill a 5 gallon bucket about halfway up with apples. Then just pound them into a rough pulp with your handy “apple mace” Raawrrrr!

Clean glass carboys

Big glass jugs- called “carboys” are cleaned and ready to accept fresh pressed juice. These are 5 gallon jugs. Two factors really make pressing day go smoothly. First, clean the fermenters ahead of time. You will be too busy processing apples to clean them on pressing day! Second, sanitize them on pressing day (sanitizing must be done shortly before use to be really effective), with either an iodine, acid based, oxygen based, or peroxide based sanitizer. Do not use bleach.. unless you fancy chlorine tasting cider! Its also a good idea to make sure you have plenty of cleaned airlocks, stoppers, blowoff tubes, and a funnel and strainer ready to go. Also needed- containers to catch the fresh crushed apples and the newly pressed juice. I like stainless steel best, but clean food grade plastic buckets will do. The acidity of apple juice can react with aluminum, so please don’t use it.

Pressing apples with a bladder press

Pressing apples with a bladder press

After the apples are ground into a pulp, they should be pressed as quickly as possible. There are many different ways to squeeze juice from pulp. A simple way could be a colander and cheesecloth.. but this is not an efficient extraction method. The yields would be low, and the amount of effort would be high. Not worth it unless you are only doing 10 or 20 pounds of apples. So we skip right to the best technology for the volume we are pressing: a water bladder wine press. There is a lot to like in this press: because it uses water pressure there is little grunt effort involved in the squeezing part. You don’t need power either. You simply hook up a garden hose, and as long as you have water pressure of at least 30 psi, you will have an easy and efficient pressing.

Dumping apple pulp

Dumping apple pulp

Dumping fresh crushed apples into the bladder press. 4 Gallons of pulp is heavy when it is dripping with juice!

Fresh pressed juice

Fresh pressed juice

The fresh pressed juice exiting the press. There is nothing quite like the flavor of fresh pressed apple cider!
In my experience, a decent yield is 90 lbs of apples to make 5 gallons. With the bladder press this year we yielded 5 gallons for every 70 lbs. The $60 a day rental cost paid for itself because out of 1000 lbs of apples we yielded 20 more gallons, about $140 worth of cider considering the total project cost (equipment rental, apples, and yeast).

Mixing fresh pressed appletini's

Mixing fresh pressed appletini’s

As cider pressing day progresses, the hoe-down spirit gets ratcheted up a notch: Fresh pressed juice and good whisky or vodka make amazing appletinis! Our friend Jordan was eager to put his bar tending prowess to work, and a good time was had by all!

Pouring fresh pressed apple juice into a fermenter

Pouring fresh pressed apple juice into a fermenter

As the fresh pressed juice is collected, we pour it into cleaned and freshly sanitized fermenters. By sanitizing everything (including the funnel and the screen insert), we are reducing the risk of funky bacteria spoiling a batch. It is almost impossible to keep it really sterilized.. but since we are using lively fresh yeast the yeast will grow quickly and inhibit other bugs from taking hold.

Flask of fresh yeast

Flask of fresh yeast

Next on the list of necessities is yeast. This is a giant flask of yeast, enough starter culture to inoculate up to 50 gallons. I made this starter with one $6 vial of liquid yeast 2 days before pressing day. As soon as it started bubbling I started feeding it apple juice (from a sealed jar so it was sterile). On pressing day we fed it more fresh juice so we could be sure we had enough- our total yield from 1000 pounds of apples ending up being about 70 gallons. We needed to pitch about 7 liters of starter, or 500 ml per fermenter. To stretch the starter, we added fresh juice every time we removed 500 ml to pitch, and that yeast stayed highly active and lively all the way through.

Pitching yeast

Pitching yeast

I mentioned the wild yeast issue. It is perfectly true that you can make hard cider without adding yeast. I have done it before. There are some risks however. The wild yeast could be an unfavorable strain, perhaps from bread baking nearby, making an unpleasant tasting cider. Or, you could just end up with a bacterial infection, resulting in a bad batch that has to be tossed. Or possibly made into vinegar. Since we spent about $400 on apples and equipment rentals, I decided not to take the chance. This year, we add yeast to every fermenter of cider.

Ready to ferment

Ready to ferment

Once the yeast is added, its time to ferment. The little doohickey on the top is an airlock. It allows the CO2 and other gasses produced during fermentation to escape, while preventing any nasties from getting in. Something to keep in mind is that the foam produced in the early stages of fermentation often gets high enough to need an exit path from the fermenter. In this case, a tube that runs from the stopper to a small container of sanitizing solution or sterile water will collect the excess foam without creating a pressure buildup, which can lead to a fine mess!

By the way, it is fine to use a plastic carboy as Kevin is doing. If so, it is very important that food grade and preferable BPA free plastic is used, that the interior is scratch free, and it has not been used for anything toxic.

In 6 to 48 hours the fermentation will be visibly active. Ideally, it should start in 12 hours or less. Choose a spot that is dark, or at least out of direct sunlight. You want a temperature range of 65 to 75 ˚F for the best results. The really wild and crazy part of fermentation will slow down in 3 to 5 days. After a few weeks, it is a good idea to rack (siphon off) into a clean fermenter. This will leave the sediment gook behind, which will make a cleaner tasting product in the end. The gook is a tan colored mud at the bottom of the fermenter which is mostly made up of dead yeast, apple solids, and apple tannins, all of which can make the cider cloudy and less tasty. So, you can technically skip this, but the quality will suffer, and after all the hard work of pressing, why skimp the details later?

Spent apple pulp

Spent apple pulp

Once the pressing is done we had a few apples and literally a quarter ton of spent apple pulp. The apple pulp composts really quickly, so most of it went into the heap for next years garden, and the apple trees we plan to plant in the spring.

Chickens being fed apple pulp

Chickens being fed apple pulp

The chickens really love the apple pulp too. We fed them as much as they could eat. Party animals!

Bobbing for apples

Bobbing for apples

A good ole cider pressing country hoe-down would not be complete without a round of bobbing for apples! Its much harder than it looks. After the fun was done, the last remaining apples are made into pie. What could be better!

So every available container was filled, and the day was a resounding success. Not only was the weather perfect and the yield terrific, but we finished the job in a record 6 hours! We celebrated with more appletinis, hard cider, a Mexican Vienna style lager, and beer brats. At the days end our spirits were lifted, we were tired from hauling apples, juice, and pulp, and only some apples and maybe a few brain cells were hurt in the process.

So friends, now you know the basic secrets to great cider making. If you have any questions, please send them my way.

I want to thank everyone who participated, and especially:

Georgina: Awesome photographer!
Aaron (Groggy Swagger): For chipping in a little extra effort and cash (since I am unemployed)
Eden and Allison: for keeping the food train on schedule
Jordan: For the wicked bartending and for being the drunkest one (it was his birthday)
Patrick: For rocking the barbecue, being an awesome husband, and keeping spirits high!

For further reading and expertise on the subject of cidermaking at home, these are the best books in print:

Comments

  1. Georgina Lawrence says:

    It was tooooo much fun!! Thank you for sharing your brewing experience we us and hope to do it again next year:)

    • Makoy says:

      We have just been putting the alepps through a juicer, boiling the juice, skimming the solid mass that floats to the top, and freezing what’s remaining. It’s pretty yummy. It takes a lot of alepps to make a little bit of cider.

  2. Red says:

    I am a friend of Kevin’s, thoroughly enjoyed your post!

  3. Rahula says:

    I don’t know how I missed this the first time around, thanks for reposting it! I look forward to sampling some of the cider! Cider is the best replacement I’ve found for beer since having to stay away from gluten; plus it’s delicious, and I love the revolutionary connections you’re making.

  4. Janeen Pyle says:

    I like this post, enjoyed this one thanks for posting .

  5. Elijah Gayer says:

    Well I really enjoyed studying it. This tip procured by you is very helpful for accurate planning.

  6. It’s truly a great and useful piece of info. I am glad that you just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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