How can you be certain that the craft cider that you are drinking is suitable for vegans? One way is to buy it from speciality suppliers such as Handmade Cider Co. An alternative approach is to make your own cider at home from whole garden apples and a packet of champagne wine yeast…
The traditional small-scale way to obtain clear apple juice for your cider making is generally known as “Pulp and Press”. For this you need a hand cranked scratter, to chop up the fruit into pea size pieces, and a hand operated basket, or pneumatic-jacked rack and cloth, press. Homemade or mass produced the required kit is big, heavy and expensive. To overcome these limitations a novel cider making process called “Juice and Strain™” (J&S) has been devised and proven in practice over five apple cropping seasons. Before describing this breakthrough method, what are the main vegan-related issues associated with cider making and drinking?
Vegans and cider
Cider is apple juice fermented by the action of either naturally occurring yeasts in the fruit, or by an added commercial yeast. Thereby, fruit sugars are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
If you use your own garden apples then you can be certain of their provenance, and if they are truly an organic product. When it comes to commercially available fruit this may not be the case. Many orchardists spray to control weeds and nuisance fruit crop pests, or employ pheromone insect traps to minimise codling moth damage in particular. Moreover, grass orchard floors are common and are often used to graze sheep prior to their slaughter.
However, a major issue for vegans consuming beer, cider or wine is the possible addition of animal derived fining agents used to clarify the finished products. Isinglass from fish, egg whites, or animal gelatin are commonly employed examples. Bottle label contents information may not state that fining agents have been used. This is because they have been used as “production aids” and are removed by further processing, rather than ingredients which would need to be shown.
Our cider making beginnings
In 2011 we retired neighbours and friends in Scillonian Road, Guildford, Surrey found ourselves with an abundance of surplus garden apples, approximately 500kg. That was after making apple jelly, apple sauce, apple pies, tarts and turnovers and giving away apples to family and friends. To use our surplus fruit productively, I suggested to Nick, across the road from us, that we could perhaps try making cider. Neither of us had done this before. But what did we have to lose?
We did not want to spend serious money on our project. Neither did we want the hard graft of manually crushing apples. My daughter offered us her little domestic juicer, which would accept seedless apple slices and off we went. Three hours later three of us had generated just three demi johns full of juice and a horrible mess in the kitchen. Worse, we’d managed to take only a small bite out of our bumper crop of apples.
By chance, Nick was in a charity shop a few days later and spotted a 450W centrifugal whole fruit juicer on the shelf – a Breville JE2. To our delight we discovered that our productivity was transformed with a tenfold increase in efficiency. We persevered and in that first cider making season we produced, after straining, 300 litres of clear apple juice, most of which we fermented out to golden crystal clear cider.
However, it was not an entirely happy outcome. Following a full and frank exchange of views with my wife, I realised that the juice and then strain method of obtaining clear apple juice was in need of innovative improvements to eliminate mess. The alternative would be a ban from using the kitchen.
The J&S process is born
In the winter that followed I bought online a range of second hand centrifugal juicers in the Breville JE series. These ranged in power up to 1200W, the latter being a particularly robust semi-commercial machine designed for juice-bar use – a Breville JE4. Remarkably, they all gave a 65% yield by weight of juice on a 5kg of apples scale. The main difference between these machines was the fruit processing rate. The higher the power rating, the faster it appeared that you could work. For example, the 1200W juicer completed the task in just under two minutes.
While carrying out this study it dawned on me that all of these juicers had a spout to which a “juice containment and delivery adaptor”, aka a hose, could be attached. This would then allow the raw juice to be fed directly into “a juice clarifier and solids separator assembly”, i.e. a fine mesh nylon straining bag contained in an 11 litre bucket that has multiple small holes drilled in its base. This then sits snugly in the top half of a 25 litre fermenting bin equipped with a bottom tap. And so the J&S process was born. Overall, whole apples are fed in at one end and clear apple juice, by the demi john full, is drawn off at the other. And it works giving a clean, easy, efficient and relatively low cost process that is suited for use in a domestic kitchen. A kit will shortly be available on the market from http://www.vigopresses.co.uk/.
Making cider by the J&S process
Before you get started make sure you pre-sanitise all parts of the kit which will come into contact with fresh apple juice by immersion in sodium metabisulphite solution for a few hours. The solution is prepared by dissolving four Campden tablets per 4.5 litres of tap water. Apples should be double washed and any showing signs of mould discarded. If making fresh apple juice for immediate consumption use only hand picked fruit, and not windfalls.
Set up your J&S kit and process your apples. While this is happening rehydrate a commercial yeast in some of the fresh apple juice. We use a champagne yeast which gives a crisp and dry cider. This is done for consistency and reliability reasons. Measure the specific gravity of your apple juice and ensure that it contains enough sugars to give you at least 5% alcohol by volume in your finished cider. Typically two of us, using two juicers alternately, can J&S 100kg of apples in an afternoon session generating just over 56 litres of clear juice.
Inoculate your juice, contained in a pre-sanitised demi john, and seal with an air lock. Keep at 15 – 20 °C for three weeks and your cider should drop clear and give a hydrometer reading of 1.000 or below. Your cider will be ready for drinking. However, it will improve with storage over the winter to be bottled in the spring.
Our first short YouTube video on Onslowsdry channel gives a quick impression of what is involved, see: http://youtu.be/Qvc0cCh5r0c.
Spreading the word about J&S
My hobby in retirement has turned out to be publicising J&S around the planet. Articles and letters have now been published in six English speaking countries. If our activities are of interest, you will find all the highlights logged on my blog, see: http://juiceandstrain.wordpress.com/. We find that our J&S sessions are highly sociable and enjoyable and I can recommend sharing a bottle (or two!) of last year’s homemade cider to quench your thirst as you work. Or perhaps just enjoy a cup of tea. Whatever your preference, I wish you every success in making your own vegan craft ciders.
Dr Nevin J Stewart – a retired industrial chemist