RG 2006 June

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

June, 2006



Champagne bottles

I am bemused and bewildered on hearing about the E 0.90 (Euro cents) cider in champagne bottles!

Currently I'm buying what is needed to do a run of 1000 x 75 cl bottle conditioned cider. At 1000 off, each champagne style bottle costs 57p or E 0.80. Ironically, these are made in France. Adding up the packaging costs, ie. bottles, corks, muzzles, labels etc, I get a total of 85p per bottle ie, E 1.18. All this before I even get to fill the bottle with my lovingly pressed, keeved, blended and several times racked, cider.

I do wonder what it was that could possibly have put in champagne bottles at 90 cents a go!

Using Sulphite

I've been biting my lip with all the recent argy bargy about using sulphite, but as no one else has put the other side of the story I just have to speak up. We have been all around this subject on ukcider a fair number of times and in my opinion making cider without using SO2 is like driving a car without insurance!

There is a very useful table on Andrew's website that relates campden tablets to juice pH. I have a copy of this pinned to the back of the ciderhouse door and I stick rigidly to it when I'm cider making. I am sure that it has been my salvation. (With the quantity of cider that I'm making now I find it convenient to use a stock SO2 solution of 100g of sodium metabisulphite in 1 litre of water. 5 ml of this solution equates to one campden tablet.)

It only takes one attack of mouse or Brettanomyces "farmyard aroma", or extra acetification for one to realise how important it is to take out the SO2 insurance policy. It really hurts to flush a barrel of cider down the drain. I speak from bitter experience.


The awesome St. Em


The May gathering of cider makers here has generated considerable interest in St Em. Andrew, Dick and I have since had a technical discussion on the various aspects of hydraulic presses. We have found that whilst some presses use accumulator tanks that pressurise the fluid supplied to the pump, others, like St. Em, have a reservoir tank that is open to atmosphere.

Some presses use hydraulic oil, but it seems that water hydraulic systems were commonly employed in the large pack presses used in cider factories before belt presses came on the scene. St. Em dates from the same era and although she is but a baby version of the factory pack press, her innards are also full of water.

We have also looked at how the pressure is controlled at the upper design limit. In theory a motor driven hydraulic pump could just keep pumping away until something got bent or broken. Hydraulic pumps have a pressure relief valve that operates at the maximum permitted pressure and allow fluid to be diverted back to the tank. The working pressure of a press is usually stated in tons ( 60 tonnes in St. Em's case). This is the pressure exerted over the whole area of the press rack. It this area and the area of the ram are determined, the operating pressure of the relief valve in pounds per square inch (psi) can be calculated. For St. Em to exert 60 tonnes at full compression it turns out that the relief valve should operate at 4700 psi. It seemed awesome to me and I began to wonder if it would actually reach this pressure without blowing something or other!

pressure test

I then realised that I would have no way of knowing what would happen, nor even if the press would produce a useful amount of pressure at all, until my first pressing this autumn. How foolish it would be to discover a problem with the seals or something, just when I am about to start making cider! There was obviously a need for a trial using a dummy load in place of the cheese. I removed the tray and buffered the press bed with plywood. Then I built an 18 inch dummy cheese using two layers of concrete building blocks.( Hard work, so I waited for the cool of evening to do it). Finally another piece of plywood on top of the blocks and I was ready to switch on.

I watched the bed of the press rise with much trepidation. The pressure gauge showed zero, though I would have thought that the sheer weight of the blocks would have made the pointer flutter at least. As the blocks eventually reached the top plate, my heart was in my mouth. Suddenly the squeeze was on, the pump started to labour, the pointer of the gauge started to climb rapidly. Within moments it had reached 4000 psi and the pump was really making a racket. Then one of the concrete blocks cracked under the pressure! I quickly switched off the motor. The pressure held at 4000 which was good news because it told me that the seals are good.

I still do not know if the relief valve operates at 4700 psi, but at least I'm confident that the pomace is going to get one heck of a pressing this year!


Juice quality

Con Traas asked:

Sometimes I wonder about the quality of the last few % of
juice extracted. It definitely tastes inferior to that from the bulk of
the pressing. Perhaps it's just that it's been oxidised for longer. Or
maybe there is a parallel with wine, where the best is made from the
first pressing. Any thoughts?

An interesting one, this. I've always thought the opposite to be the case. I am a great drinker of apple juice while pressing, as I love the stuff straight off the press. It just tastes so full of goodness and flavour . To know that it is also so pure and totally free of anything artificial (I only use fruit from unsprayed trees and there's not even any sulphite at that stage) makes it an even more joyful experience these days.

The first pressed juice is usually cloudy due to starchy particles, I suppose, but it is pleasant to drink. What I like best though, is the clear golden juice that drips out at the end of the pressing. Often when pressing goes on till gone midnight, I'm just too tired to take the cheese off and I leave the pressure on. In the morning I am rewarded with a few pints of this beautifully clear and tasty juice that has been chilled by the night air. It is wonderful to have with breakfast.

I found your posting about biennialism most interesting and informative. I've followed the thread with interest since Stephen aired it. My Stoke Reds are completely biennial now. The leaves have just appeared and not a single blossom. I'm resigned to looking forward to it as a single variety cider every other year. A biennial treat and better than Kingston Black, in my opinion. I couldn't bear to put all my jars of it out for the festival, had to keep a few back for Christmas and next year.

All that amazing festival time blossom has nearly gone. There was so much that I feared overcropping. However I think there must have been a shortage of insects. I noticed this morning that only about one quarter of the flowers have set fruit. Thank goodness!

I appreciated your balanced view of nitrogen as I am a great believer in putting farmyard manure around the base of my trees. I'm always a bit worried when I read here that nitrogen causes a too rapid fermentation, but I can't say that I've noticed it. Perhaps the amount I've added is not excessive because my orchard is on chalk which seems to act like a sponge to anything you throw on it. Without manuring it is difficult to get much growth rate at all.

There was a question about which trees do not have a biennial tendency. I expect this varies with each situation but in my orchard the year on year dependable croppers are, Dabinett, Somerset Redstreak, Tom Putt and to my continual surprise, Kingston Black. KB seems to thrive on chalk soil. There has to be some compensation for having to put up with the white stuff!