Selecting a juice to make cider with can be as simple or as complicated as you desire. With today’s food industry, it’s probably not shocking that an apple juice may not be just juice. Even with cider fresh from the orchard, It’s important to make sure that the juice has not been chemically stabilized with preservatives such as sulfites. These preservatives are added to inhibit yeast growth which is the opposite of what we want.
Three main types of sweet cider for cider making:
I prefer to use fresh orchard cider because it takes a lot less work than to press my own apples yet the juice is very fresh. However, in the future, I plan to create my own juice blends as I experiment more with cidermaking. Different juice mixes will result in vastly different finishes.
Fresh Pressed Cider At Home
Although pressing cider at home is labor intensive, the results are rewarding. The biggest benefit of pressing your own apples is that you know exactly what kinds of apples have been juiced. This will allow you to blend a cider to your preference and experiment with flavors.
Whether you want to use make use of the apples that grow on your tree at home or source specific cider apples from other growers, the pressing process is fairly straightforward.
Steps To Press Cider
The complicated part of pressing your own apples for cider is selecting the apple varieties. The University of Illinois estimates that 7,500 varieties of apples are grown around the world leaving no shortage of options. They also state that it takes about 36 apples to produce one gallon of juice so the blending opportunities are nearly endless.
My very first batch of cider was made from apples that were growing on a backyard tree and I didn’t want them to go to waste. So, I picked and juiced them, a process that took nearly 5 hours for only 2.5 gallons of juice! Even though I don’t know the variety of apple, the finished cider turned out great. This goes to show that even without complicated research and blending you can produce a great cider!
Fresh Pressed Orchard Cider
Fresh pressed cider from a local orchard is a great way to get high quality juice for making hard cider. Orchards that produce their own cider have the proper equipment to press large amounts of apples at once saving tons of time. Depending on the orchard, the sweet cider may be raw or pasteurized.
Like cider pressed at home, raw orchard cider that has not been treated in any way will contain naturally occurring wild yeast.
The local orchard up the road from my house sells gallons of fresh cider for $8.00 per gallon. This sweet cider was unpasteurized and had a specific gravity of 1.046
Commercially Produced Juice
Depending on your location, time of year and/or budget, store bought commercial juice may be your only option and there is nothing wrong with that. Store bought juice can make a nice cider but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. As with any cider, it must be free of preservatives and should be made with 100% apple juice. Watch out for the apple juice concentrate and sugar/corn syrup mixes, they will probably result in very little flavor.
A common cider available in my area is Musselman’s Cider. This apple juice is 100% fresh pressed pasteurized cider and cost about $4.50 – $5.00 per gallon. This sweet cider typically has a specific gravity of 1.044 (approx. 5.5% ABV potential) so I usually don’t add any additional concentrate or sugar to the juice.
The nice thing about store bought juice is how easy it is to use. Because it is already pasteurized, the sweet cider is ready for fermentation right out of the bottle. Simply pitch yeast and put on the airlock and you are in action!