If you’ve been trawling the internet looking for a guide to scrumpy cider then look no further, this is a no nonsense guide to get you off to a flying start! Traditionally scrumpy is a cider made from scratch with apples and nothing else unlike some ciders which can have concentrated apple juice or sugar added, especially commercial ones where added sugar and water is often used. Scrumpy cider can get very technical so this guide aims to give you the basics to start your first batch.
A Brief Guide to Choosing your Apples
You’ll always need more apples than you think so collect as many as possible. You can also use a mix of different apples to produce different flavours so just go for it and experiment! Apples like Cox and Russett mixed with a very small quantity of crab apples make a good cider. Usually a mixture of 90% sweet to 10% crab apples produces a good cider. However that isn’t set in stone and you can try a different percentage mix if you like. You can also just use the apples you have just make sure that they are ripe. Also don’t worry if any of the apples are bruised just throw them in too, however you will have to get rid of any rotten ones. Most apples will make a dry cider.
How to Store Your Apples
Sometimes you may have apples that ripen at different times and therefore you will need to store them. You can store apples for around 2-4 weeks but they’ll need to be checked regularly to remove any rotten ones and storing them in a cool dry place is ideal. It is not recommended to store them any longer than 4 weeks. Traditionally it has been seen as necessary to store your apples for up to a month to make sure the apples are fully ripened before pressing, this ensures that all the starch in the apples has been converted to sugar to enable good fermentation. Generally they’re ready for pulping when you can press your thumb into the apple and the print is retained once your thumb is removed. A useful website to use is The Wittenham Hill Cider Pages there’s lots of useful advice and in depth knowledge which is very scientific and fascinating from the author Andrew Lea.
There are also a couple of cider kits available with everything you need, depending on your budget, to start making your own scrumpy.
This is the key to successful home brew. Make sure that all your equipment is thoroughly sterilised following the instructions of which ever steriliser you have. Brewsafe is a no rinse sanitiser which will save you loads of time and is highly recommended.
Pulp your Apples
Gather your apples and give them a soak in clean water to get rid of any dirt and creepy crawlies. Chop your apples into quarters which will make it easier to pulp them. A handy piece of equipment for pulping is our Quick Chop Pulper and Bucket seen here on the right.
There is also the classic crusher shown here on the left which is suitable for larger amounts of apples. At this point before transferring to the press the juice and pulp will become brown in a matter of minutes and this is where the colour of your brew is determined.
The juice can be extracted after pulping using a press either bought or hand made. See the bottom of this article for apple press recommendations.
There are two methods of making cider one is using the traditional method and allowing wild yeast to ferment the cider, the other is using a cultured yeast sachet. Both can produce a great cider. It is a matter of experimentation and deciding which method you prefer. You can even try both and see whether you can taste the difference.
Once the juice is in your vessel you can add a campden tablet the dosage is one crushed tablet per 4.5 litres (1 gallon) leave for 24 hours. This will release sulphur dioxide into the juice and subdue any bacteria and wild yeast. This is common practice by most cider makers however if your juice is particularly acidic it is best not to add a campden tablet at this stage. If it has low acidity levels you can add one tablet.
Don’t add a campden tablet if you are using the traditional method and fermenting with wild yeast which is already present in the apples.
If you have added campden tablets after 24 hours add your cider yeast, a 5g sachet is sufficient for 23 litres (5 gallons) of juice and ferment between 18 and 24 degrees. Although if possible it is best to ferment on the cooler end of this scale as, generally you will get better results. If fermentation has not commenced within a fortnight you may need to add some yeast nutrient. It is also worth giving the brew a stir to get oxygen into it which encourages healthy yeast growth. Fermentation can take weeks or months.
Top Tip: Avoid air contact once fermentation is in progress and keep your vessel topped up with more juice or water if necessary as this will reduce the amount of air contact with the liquid preventing any contamination from unwanted organisms. Fit an airlock to your fermenting vessel which will allow Co2 out and stop oxygen from getting in.
Signs of fermentation are bubbles escaping through the airlock, a bowed lid, a fizzing brew and froth on the surface. Please note that if the airlock doesn’t bubble this doesn’t necessarily mean that your brew is not fermenting, brews ferment at different rates. A hydrometer is the only true way of knowing how your fermentation is progressing and is great for allaying any fears of a stuck fermentation. Take a reading before you add the yeast this is your start gravity you can then monitor the progress of your brew through the hydrometer readings.
When the bubbles through the airlock have slowed this shows that fermentation is close to ending, if you take a hydrometer reading and it is below 1005 you can rack off to a secondary vessel to clear. You can add a campden tablet at this point. Repeat this process if more sediment forms. Keep it in a cool place as this can help the sediment settle and improve the clarity of the cider. If your cider is acidic leave it to ferment on further in the original vessel and start the racking process once the cider tastes more palatable. If you added a campden tablet before fermentation this may not work. Keep it in a moderately warm place during this time. This is called malolactic fermentation where malic acid is converted to lactic acid which is less sharp.
Once fermentation is complete you can add one campden tablet which can be added during your last racking and then bottle your brew.
Top Tip: If your finished cider is hazy but tastes good don’t worry a hazy cider doesn’t mean it is a bad cider.
Determining the level of alcohol in your cider
You can measure the level of sugar in your juice prior to fermentation with a hydrometer take a reading before you add the yeast and this will give you your start gravity. You should start somewhere between 1040 and 1065, if it’s lower than 1040 and you want to increase it you will need to add more sugar. A start reading of 1040 should be approx 5% alcohol, 1065 should be approx 8% alcohol. Keep in mind that your yeast will only be capable of fermenting a particular amount of sugar as once it’s alcohol tolerance has been reached it will die. A typical cider yeast will be able to handle approx 8% ABV. Most ciders will ferment dry even if you use sweet apples.
If using a large amount of apples there are some great fruit presses from Vigo to help make the process easy. They vary in size and can handle different amounts of fruit for example the 9L spindle press shown in the picture holds up to 8kg of crushed fruit and produces up to 6 pints (3.5 litres) of juice. Using any press you need to collect your pulp in a muslin bag and twist up any slack so it is tightly packed in and then press. Repeat this until all your apples have gone. Then you’re ready for fermentation
In order to get the best juice yield out of your apples, add some water to the left over pulp, the Wittenham Hill cider guide recommends 1 or 2 litres of water to every 5kg of ‘broken up pommace before re-pressing’ this will be a bit weaker than your previous pressing but can be added to your overall juice. After that the fermentation process is the same as above, just transfer the juice to the fermenter and off it goes.
A small and light design that will produce up to 3 pints (1.7 litres) of juice and it won’t clutter up the kitchen. It is great for small batches and is our most popular press.
This press holds up to 11 kg of crushed fruit and produces up to 8 pints (4.5 litre) per pressing. It is cast iron and oak construction with a cross beam which swings to one side.
Ideal for larger batches it can hold 30 kg of crushed fruit, produces up 22 pints (12.5 litres) of juice per pressing and has a hinged basket that can be raised and swung to one side for easier emptying.
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