Apple Day has been and gone, the last of the fruit has been left for the birds, and the orchards are crisp with frost. But the cider is just getting started. Friend of the Fairfield Orchards and Chief Brewer Gavin Daffarn fills us in on what goes on behind the scenes to produce our local brew.
To ensure that we have enough apples to process during Apple Day, we collect about 40 crates of them over the two picking weekends. Tesco loaned us all these crates (below) this year, and a neighbour very kindly always allows us to store them in his garage.
On Apple Day, teams of volunteers, who respond to our trawls on Facebook and in Fairfield Matters, wash and cut the apples into chunks, discarding the damaged or deteriorated bits. The chunks then go to the scratter (a machine which further reduce the apples to a near-pulp), and finally the manually operated press extracts the juice from this pulp.
Tim Naisbitt and his team from Stotfold Press play a crucial role for us each year, donating their expertise, time and equipment to our Apple Day. Also, this year, the Parish Council bought us our own scratter and press; this enabled us to share the whole process with the youngsters, many of whom were keen to operate the kit themselves.
More than half the juice is given away as free tasters during the afternoon, or the community takes it away in bottles and containers that they bring for just this purpose, but we collect up to seven 25-litre fermentation barrels of juice for making cider.
How do we get from apple juice to cider? Mine is entirely an amateur process: it requires about 270, preferably dark, beer bottles, the bottle tops and the crimper device. A sachet of apple yeast is added to each fermentation barrel, which is then left in a room in the house at about 20ºC. Fermentation only takes a couple of weeks, and after another fortnight the liquid is syphoned into clean barrels; the remaining gunk (technically it’s called lees) is discarded.
The cider will be bottled around the end of January into sterilised, rinsed bottles, and stored once again in our neighbour’s garage. At the bottling stage, about 40ml of fresh apple juice is added to each bottle, by way of adding natural sugar to initiate secondary fermentation in the bottle. There’s plenty of technical advice available on the Internet for those who want to perfect their cider-making skills, but my process is simple and results in an unsweetened, mildly sharp, slightly fizzy product.
All of the resultant cider is given away free to our community on suitable occasions – many of you will have tasted our 2017 cider at Fairfield Alive in July, and of course at the Apple Day itself.