Traditional Cider Making

Essential Equipment

Equipment can be hired from us. An apple crusher and a press costs £30 for 5 days.

Collecting and Harvesting

When the apples start falling the trees are shaken and the apples are left on the ground for 2 to 3 weeks to macerate and sweeten. It is important that the apples are fully ripe to ensure the sugar levels are at they’re highest and soft as it is very hard work to mill and crush hard apples. It is best to collect clean apples, that is without mud or cowpats, which can transfer e coli to the cider. Up to 10% bruised fruit can be used. This fruit should be less than half brown. Discard all fruit which is black. Pears rot from the inside out so special care must be used when collecting them.

Selecting Apples

In the west country and Herefordshire cider apples are used. A balance in made between sweet, bitter sweet, sharp and bitter sharp. Sweet for the sugar. Bitter for the tannin. Sharp for the acid. If the varieties collected are known it is not difficult to balance your cider. Otherwise taste the apples and make your own mix. Mixes are often traditional and some is made from a single variety. Cider can contain 20% pears and Perry can contain 20% apples.

In the rest of the country a mixture of cookers, dessert and crab apples is used. Cookers for the acid, dessert apples for the sugar and crabs for the tannin. Using too many dessert apples will give a bland taste. The best blend is probably 65% cooking apples (Bramleys are excellent) and 35% dessert apples. If possible add 10% crab apples as well.

Timings and Volume

The yield from apples is the weight in kilos divided by 2 = litres of juice. A grain sack (25 kilo) full of apples fills a 60 lt. Bucket when crushed.


If dirty the apples should be washed in cold water to remove mud etc. and then drained.


The amount of juice extracted depends on the quality of the equipment. The better the equipment the better the rate of extraction. You can crush with a balk of timber and very stout bucket used like a pestle and mortar. However it is far easier to use an apple crusher, traditionally called a scratter. Some cider and perry makers will leave the pulp overnight to maceration to soften. This increases the yield. I know a cider maker who ferments on the pulp for a week before pressing to increase the yield. After crushing the pulp now called pomace is loaded into the press.


The amount of juice extracted depends on the quality of the equipment. The better the equipment the better the rate of extraction. I use a basket press which works very well. If you have no equipment try squeezing the juice out in clean tea towels.

Checking and adjusting levels on specific gravity, acid and tannin

Specific Gravity can be checked with a hydrometer.

1.045 = 6.5% a.b.v. 1.050 = 7.2% a.b.v. 1.055 = 7.9% a.b.v. 1.060 = 8.5% a.b.v.

Glucose can be added at the rate of 8 oz per gallon, which increases the a.b.v. by 2.5%. However it is probably not worth doing this unless the gravity is less than 1.030, which seems unlikely. Acidity and tannin levels can also be checked and adjusted if required.


The fermenter has to be sterilized of course but there are two schools of thought regarding adding SO2 to the juice. FOR SO2 sterilizes the juice and stops bacteria multiplying. The dose should be heavier for less acid juice. 1 to 3 tablets should be added accordingly. This does not seem to affect fermentation. Jean Nowell of Lyne Down has the novel method of sterilizing the fermenter with the required dose and then adding the juice which is sterilized in the process. AgainstUsing SO2 is not traditional. I believe that fresh juice has its own anti bacterial properties. If it is put into a sterile fermenter and air is excluded no harm will come to it. As soon as fermentation starts bacterial growth is inhibited.

Traditional fermentation

Remember that “Cider is the fermented juice of apples with nothing added and nothing taken away.” The traditional way is to not add any yeast and ferment at a low temperature, usually in a cold shed or barn, so that fermentation will continue into the spring. Fill the fermenting vessels as full as possible and save some extra cider on the side for topping up so containers are kept full in the early stages.

End of ferment and racking

It is important to rack the cider as soon as the S.G. is below 1000. But rack before Easter anyway and then again when it is below 1000. This will help prevent “off” flavours. It is also wise to add 1 campden tablet per gallon to prevent infection and acetification. You can sweeten at this stage if required by adding artificial sweetener. If you use sugar the cider will start to ferment again

Storing further racking and maturing

The cider should now be stored in full barrels at as lower a temperature as possible. It should be racked at three monthly intervals. It is important to check from time to time to make sure the barrels are fully closed and no air is allowed to enter the barrel. Frankly I have found cider nearly indestructible. It seems to look after itself and even if mould grows on top it is still drinkable as long it is racked off the mould.

By Richard Burns.

Any queries phone Paul on 020 8644 0934

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