Article - Making Cider at Home Part 1

Making cider at home. Part 1: the apple varieties.

By Peter Allen- “Pete the Permie”.

When I moved to our property “Telopea Mtn Permaculture” in Monbulk Vic in 1994 we started by planting about 100 fruit trees in our food forest/chook run immediately and then 50-100 more per year since. Friend’s commented “What will you do with all the surplus fruit” my reply was I would worry about that when I got there! 13 years later I am increasing the plantings as fast as I can to keep up production.

One of the lovely side issues with growing your own fruit at home is that you often end up with a surplus or lots of fruit that you cant sell, even at the local market, this may be due to bird pecks, codling moth affected, huge amounts of small fruit because you did not thin them when small or just plain ugly looking fruit. Don’t despair you have many options, one is to preserve or make jams and condiments but another is to turn this excess in to alcohol.

My first attempt with help from our friend Adam was to make plum wine; it was excellent, sweet and thick like port. I gathered I could do better sharing a bottle of wine with my friends than 1 kg of plums. Over the next two years we made 9 different wines from fruit and our first batch of cider, soon some of my old heritage varieties of apples starting to bear fruit and we had the opportunity to increase our production of cider using some of the old English and French proper cider apples.

How to make cider at home it is very easy just using a demijohn or a beer making outfit, details on how will be explained in Part 2 of this article next issue.

But first you need to gather the ingredients- ie. apples and good yeast. 

Apples aren’t apples. The commercial varieties now grown for the supermarket industry supply only one of the ingredients needed to make a good cider being the sugar content and maybe some acid (granny smith and other cookers) but cider needs a balance of sugar , acid and tannins the same as good wine grapes do for wines.

There are some 44 cider varieties in Australia that supply a mixture of these ingredients; some called the “Vintage” varieties supply them all in the one apple. (Shown in bold in the chart below)

The UK Directory of apple cultivars lists 118 varieties of dedicated cider making apples in the UK. Then there are over 20 varieties of pears to make “Pear cider” or Perry as it’s called. These are also used in Australia to add much needed tannins to the apple cider when only sweet varieties are available.

Almost all apples can be used in cider making including the sweet ones from the shop most of these come under the sweet (dessert apples) or sharp (cooking) category.

The following are available in Australia to grow at home.
Increased acidityCider varieties:Commercial varieties Cider varieties:
Sharp Low in tannins (<.02%) High in Acidity (>0.45%)Brown’sApple Improved Foxwhelp  Granny Smith Jonathon Pink lady Bramley’s seedling   Most other cookersBittersharps High in tannins (>0.2%) High in Acidity (>0.45%)Kingston black Stoke’s RedSomerset Redstreak Most of the crab apples, 4 Perry pear varieties are also in Australia.
Sweet Low in tannins (<0.2%)  Low in acidity (<0.45%)  Sweet Coppin Sweet Alford Eggleton Styre Reine des HativesGolden delicious

Fuji, Gala

Gravenstein   And most other dessert apples.


High in tannins (>0.2%) Low in acidity (<0.45%)  
Brown Snout Bulmer’s Norman Dabinett Frequin Rouge Golden Harvey Michelin Tremlett’s BitterYarlington Mill  

Increased Tannins (polyphenol)

This gives the fruit an astringent taste and body to the cider.

I may be biased but if you have an excess of red delicious apples off your nursery brought tree then find another use for them and re-graft some decent varieties onto your tree, it makes an insipid thin juice unsuitable for cider or much else unless you want to pack them in boxes and send them 2000+miles away in “My Opinion”.

Granny Smith & Golden Delicious (with added tannin) are used often in the Australian ciders and give a thinner, light colored drink, this is sweetened to give what Australians have come to expect cider to taste like. In reality a good cider should have more bite to it (from the tannins) and when no chemicals are used to preserve it the liquid will oxidize turning browner and increasing this astringency.

This mainly happens if you leave it out to get warm and leave the lid off, you can add some lemonade to make a shandy this will please those drinkers with a sweeter tooth.

So to get some balance in your home cider making you can add the bitter sharps to the desert eating apples or add bittersweet varieties to the cooking apples, to have a supply of your own you can have a separate tree or graft a piece of the desired cider apple on to the top of your existing tree having the edible fruits down lower, the birds should more often leave the more astringent cider varieties alone.

  Some Cider History

UK this is the main home of the great cider varieties amongst other apples. Farm workers were often paid in Cider in the past. In the south around Devon the make this was the new cider taken before the full secondary fermentation (Malactic) that smoothes the flavor out this was called “Scrumpy” and it can be as young as only 4 weeks old but be careful it is stronger ours is around 7.5-8.2% alcohol.

USA one of the requirements for land claims by settlers in the US was that they established an orchard, even though grafted trees were available most planted the cheaper “spitters” supplied by Johnny Appleseed these were grown from seed and contained plenty of tannins, they were mainly suitable for “Hard cider” the Americans term for alcoholic cider. This was the main source of alcohol and sweetness in the early colonies even children were given an allocation to drink as it was often the safest liquid to drink.

From these millions of trees planted some were selected and have become the dessert (eating apples) that we know today. Some US cultivars have become household names world wide, Jonathon, Delicious, Baldwin & Macintosh. Unfortunately most of the rest of this gene pool was lost with development.


Other great cider areas of the world are Ireland, the Normandy area of France and the Bask country of Spain around Asturia that has over 1000 years of cider making traditions and has legislated that cider must contain 100% of the listed allowed cider varieties this will mean the currently used dessert varieties such as Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Macintosh will no longer be able to be used, the current rules stipulate only 51% is needed.

Cider is worth making yourself it is much easier than beer and uses the same equipment if you have it already, it also seems to not belong to any demographic in Australia like some other drinks. 

If you are not ready to make your own yet there are many small boutique cider makers popping up around Southern Australia and this will only increase as the boutique beer did from1985 when people got sick of just a few big corporate brewers controlling the taste available. 

Vic.      Snake Gully Cider- online sales

            Bress – 03 5474 2262

SA       Brookmans check the advert for “The food Forest”

Grafted bare-rooted Cider trees or Scion to graft. Peter 0418 665 880.

  Next issue How to make the cider at home.

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