How to make Cider
This article is about how to extract juice, ferment it and make it into a drinkable cider. It is not about the production of fruit liqueurs where near pure alcohol is purchased and added to fruit juice. Fermented wines are trickier to make, although if you get it right they can challenge many wines produced from grapes. These wines are not as sweet as liqueurs, they can be quite dry and have a complex flavour only reminiscent of the fruit they were made from. After all does a grape wine taste strongly of fresh grapes?
Of course if you are considering selling fruit wines you will need the appropriate state licence, local government approval for your premises and you will need to register for WET tax. In practice you will probably never have to pay WET tax as the first $500,000 of WET tax can be claimed back in the same BAS statement where you pay it. If you plan on distilling your wines you will also need a distillers licence from the ATO along with a still and bond store.
One of the main differences between fruit wines and grape wines is a difference in the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand - www.foodstandards.gov.au) in that with fruit wines, unlike grape wines, it is allowable to add water and sugar. This increases the tools available to the fruit wine maker, although these two ingredients should be used with caution. Too much water will reduce the flavour and colour of the wine and too much sugar will make the wine too sweet and the discerning pallet will identify added sugar.
The title states that the article is about cider. In reality cider is apple fruit wine and the same methods are used. The first challenge in making wine is to select the fruit to make the wine from. Bear in mind that the wine will be a reflection of the initial fruit used. Hence tastless fruit will produce tasteless wine and also fruit with rots will carry a rotten fruit flavour across to the wine. The higher the fruit sugar content the higher the alcohol content of the wine if no sugar is added. As a rule of thumb if a fruit is at 12% TSS then, when fermented to a dry wine, it will have about 6% alcohol. Think about the flavour of the fruit being used and what will be left when the sugar is gone. A 'Golden Delicious' apple is lovely fresh but it is a high sugar, low acid and low phenolic apple such that the cider produced, while being high in alcohol, will be a low acid and low phenolic drink and hence have poor flavour. This is why in more established industries, such as grape wines and cider production overseas, there are specific cultivars of fruit grown specifically for wines. Choose a fruit that has good acidity, good levels of tannins (bitter compounds) and adequate other flavours that can be transferred to the wine. Also consider blending different fruit at this stage to achieve the desired result. Adding a few strong apple cultivars to desert apples can make the difference in making a satisfying cider.
Having chosen the fruit to make the wine from the next challenge is to obtain a fruit juice, with minimal oxidation. If working on a small scale then a domestic fruit juicer may be used but be aware it will take about one hour to produce about 10 litres of juice so commercially larger systems are required. In cider manufacture it is common to mill the fruit into small pieces using a wide range of equipment and to then squeeze the juice in a press. Again there are a range of press styles and sizes that may be used and as this is essentially the same process as grape wine production there are many units of a whole range of sizes that are freely available in Australia. This same equipment and process could be used for pears or other large crisp fruit. For small soft fruit such as cherries the press may be all that is required.
Having extracted the juice it is necessary to ensure that oxidation is minimised and the juice is placed in a container for fermentation. Oxidation is minimised by minimising contact of the juice with air, the addition of antioxidants or heating to destroy oxidase enzymes. Consider heating the juice to eliminate the wild yeast that will be present on the fruit and to destroy polyphenol oxidase, responsible for fruit and juice browning. Be aware that this heating can destroy ascorbic acid (vitamin C) if it has been added. This is an appropriate time to taste the juice and add acid or tannins if it is felt they are necessary. Different acids have different flavours so you will need to choose these carefully. Common fruit acids are citric, malic and tartaric and there is a whole range of different tannins. These will be available from your wine equipment supplier.
The fermentation container can be any container used by the grape wine industry, such as stainless steel tanks or plastic drums. Remember that they should be food grade and able to resist alcohol degradation. Bear in mind that at the end of primary fermentation (4-8 weeks) there will be a lot of solids in the bottom that will need to be cleaned out.
The next decision is what yeast to use. Here there is a huge choice and all will affect the flavour of the end product. The first decision is whether to use the naturally occurring wild yeast from the fruit or a purchased yeast. In Tasmania a major grape winemaker allows the natural yeast to develop for 'Pinot Noir' grapes but uses purchased yeast for his more delicate white wines. Each orchard and winery will have a different range of natural yeasts such that using natural yeast results in an specific orchard or winery flavoured wine. For the beginner it is wise to use purchased yeast and there are many of these available for wine, beer and bread making. In making a choice consult with others and your local wine equipment or home brew supplier who will stock a range of yeasts. Think about a wine or beer that you like and consider if the flavour will match the desired wine.
Having added the yeast the next step is to place the must in a position for primary fermentation. If the wine is in a warm location then the fermentation can be extremely rapid producing volumes of carbon dioxide CO2 that fizz out of solution. This has four effects worth mentioning. Firstly the fizz can create a lot of foam which can potentially ooze out the top of the container so position the container in a location where this will not matter. Secondly, the rapid activity creates a lot of heat which can make the fermentation even more rapid but may also cause it to die away if it gets too hot. Thirdly bubbles produced in the rapid fermentation will carry away many of the volatiles, potentially reducing the flavour of the wine and finally the rapid fermentation will result in a very short period of primary fermentation. For these reasons consider a cool fermentation so place the wine in a cold location such as a spare cold room (set at say 15°C). The main downside of cool fermentation, especially if not using a temperature controlled environment, is that fermentation can look complete over winter but restart again in the following spring when the temperatures start to rise again. It is wise to be aware that this can happen.
When primary fermentation has finished, usually after six to eight weeks, and the wine has had time for the solids to settle to the bottom it is time to 'rack' the wine. This is where the wine from the top of the tank is removed from the solids in the bottom of the tank. For this purpose a positive displacement pump is great (mono, piston or diaphram) as these pumps do not need priming. Be careful to use sterilised equipment and put the wine into a sterilised tank that can be sealed from air. For fruit wines sugar can be added at this stage to increase the sweetness of the wine to a desired level but be aware that this will almost certainly result in more fermentation. Fermentation will continue till about 15 to 20% alcohol (depending on the yeast used) at which time the alcohol level will prevent any further yeast activity.
Traditionally sulfur (actually its sulfur dioxide)is used for sterilising equipment, however, some people suffer from sulfur allergies so other methods can be used. sulfur has the added advantage in that it prevents oxidation of the wine although there is a maximum permissible level allowed in wine. When placing the wine into a new tank try to avoid mixing with air as much as possible to reduce oxidation and try to fill the tank completely. When fermentation is complete then either fill the tank with more wine or consider adding carbon dioxide to the top to limit oxidation. For small scale operations this can be obtained from a CO2 capsule used in soda siphons. These capsules also fit whipped cream vessels as used in commercial kitchens and these are more readily available. Make the tank airtight but with a relief valve such as a water bubbler so if any fermentation occurs the gas produced can escape. The wine is matured in this tank.
During the maturation process the wine acidity drops and the wine changes its flavour and usually becomes more mellow. This process can in fact continue for several years. Keep the tank sealed to stop vinegar flies from entering. These flies can introduce a bacteria that lives on the alcohol and convert it to acetic acid. Keep sampling. One of the things to be looking for is any cloudiness. During maturation the wine should become crystal clear and if it is not then there are a range of clarifying agents such as bentonite, egg white, egg shell, isinglass, casein or silica that may be added to aid in clarification. As cloudiness can be due to different causes such as proteins, pectins or nutrients you may need to experiment with these clarifying agents to determine which one is effective for each batch of wine.
After about nine months the wine can be bottled. For still wines this can be into almost any bottle. For sparkling ciders then some more sugar is added prior to bottling and this restarts fermentation so a bottle and cap system capable of withstanding the pressure is required.
Personally I think that the general consumer has become a little bored of grape wines. After all over the last 40 years we have moved from beer to cheap cardboard box wine to bottled wine to quality bottled wine so maybe the population is ready to try fruit wines. This may explain the recent interest in ciders.