Dear Barry: Cider Making Problems Solved


Dear Barry – Your Cider Making Problems Solved

A Light-Hearted Guide To Cider Making By Barry Butterfield

A problem shared.

Gary: So how do you make cider then?

Me: Well, I squash some apples and let the juice ferment. 

Gary: Great. 

(some time elapses)

Gary: I did what you told me, and it tastes disgusting – what am I doing wrong? Didn’t go with my steak at all. 

Me: Jesus Gary, where do I start?

Gary: Also the steak was delicious, it’s made of meat isn’t it?  – I’ve got a dog at home thats made out of meat, can’t wait to taste it. Is there a special way you cut it to make it taste just right? 

Me: Now Gary, are you asking these questions just to throw a light on the importance of using the right apples in cider making?

Gary: Honestly – yes, I don’t even have a dog.

Know Your Fruit

A great many people in Britain have gardens with apple trees in them. Almost universally the best thing to do with garden fruit is what the nursery man who grafted and grew the tree intended with it. Eat it, cook it or make apple juice with it. If you are going to make a cider, make sure you understand what that cider is going to taste like before you embark on the dispiriting journey of turning the wrong fruit into a wrong drink. There is some good(ish) news, but you’ll have to wait till the end before I tell you.

Apples are a mind-warpingly diverse fruit. From pineapple to oranges , banana to strawberrymarmalade bitterness to candy-floss sweet. And guess what? Cider made from different apples tastes very (very) different. If in your garden you have a Bramley’s seedling then the cider you get is going to have more acid in it than a 60’s bedsit.

It’s Not As Easy As It Seems

Homemade cider suffers enormously from the fact that the principal operation of cider production (crushing the juice from the fruit) is really easy. Fermentation if managed properly is also a relatively straight-forward procedure, which leaves maturing, blending and drinking. At every step of cider making there are decisions to be made which will leave their mark on the final drink. But I’ve spent a professional lifetime shouting obscenities at staff and colleagues to do things my way – and your way may be different. Read, experiment and enjoy the journey.

Many people embark on making a bit of cider when they’re fired from banking or IT, sell a dreary semi in Reading and find out that they can afford a castle in the Westcountry. In the grounds of their new country pile they discover ‘apple trees’ and in the local pub they find unwashed sons of the soil slugging back cider that doesn’t even look Swedish. After the first autumn of dodging wasps and slipping up on rotten fruit under their trees they resolve to put the apples to good use and make cider of it. Oops.

I Should Probably Apologise At This Point

For the observant and enduring reader who has made it this far – you will have noticed I have not told you a single thing about how to make cider. There are lots of websites that can tell you how to make your own press, how to ferment and all that. Instead I have poked fun at those in good faith who have attempted with the wrong ingredients to make a cider they expect to enjoy.

The Good News Is…

You’ve simply got to find some real cider apples if you want your cider to be balanced, to age well and most importantly you can impress your vile friends with. You need to locate a cider orchard, and ask the owner of those trees if you can buy a bag or two of their fruit. Taste the apples from the tree, they should be full of puckering tannin. When you cut the apple in half, it should turn orange from contact with the air within a minute or so. These are the apples which will make you a great cider. It’s all we grow or harvest – and it’s why our cider tastes like it does. It’s also why we rear Red Ruby cattle for beef rather than border collies.

A problem solved.

Gary: You promised me some good news about my ‘wrong apples’ Barry.

Me: Yes I did, carefully managed fermentations of non-cider fruit can produce a pleasant wine-like cider drink enjoyed widely in eating apple counties. And if you find the most bitter apples from a local cider orchard, then you can add a good proportion of your garden apples to the blend and still end up with a reasonable and enjoyable cider. 

Gary: Thanks a million Barry – you’re amazing.

Me: That’s enough Gary. 

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