The Spiced (Cider) Must Flow

showing the ramp and sprayer of the cider press

A fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice with breakfast seems like a trope that’s straight from a late 1980s sitcom. Making orange juice is easy; press until the liquid comes out. Apple juice (and, by extension, apple cider) is the same principle but requires much more force to squeeze out the juice. So what if you, like [Peter], have 900 lbs (408.2 kg for those metrically minded) of apples that you want to make cider out of? The obvious solution is to create a somewhat automated homemade cider press with lasers.

An earlier effort to make 25 gallons of cider took several full days of struggle for four people, so [Peter] knew he had to plan better next year. [Peter’s wife] milled and glued red oak into a large, sturdy frame that could press down with proper force and not break. [Peter] reached out to the local metal shop to fabricate a stainless steel tray with a custom drain. The cider basket itself and the pressboard were maple with waterproofing oil.

However, just because you can press apples, doesn’t mean you’re ready to make cider. They still need to be washed, cut, and ground into a pulp. A ramp was fashioned that it could be set in a truck bed with sprayers to wash the apples as they rolled by. A laser circuit with an LM393 opamp and a photoresistor allowed the sprayers to only activate when there was actually an apple to spray. Apple grinders are tricky as they need to survive the drop of several one-pound balls while staying at a reasonable speed. The grinder dispenses the pulp into a mesh nylon bag in a 5-gallon bucket, ready to be pressed. For the curious reader, 900lbs of apples yielded 60 gallons of delicious cider.

If you’re looking for a smaller scale press, here’s a cider press that’s a little simpler to make.

18 thoughts on “The Spiced (Cider) Must Flow

  1. Those looking to build an apple mill for smaller quantities should also consider a new stainless steel garbage disposal unit. A bit of plywood and a 2×4 makes a tray to mount it on. Sit it on sawhorses or similar. I use that method to mill 15-30 gallons worth of apples. Larger apples have to be cut by hand, and occasionally I encounter overheating that forces a 15 minute break, but generally it works. It’s more accessible to those with more limited tools or skill-sets than the one in the article here, and certainly easier than a hand-cranked mill.

    1. I use a chipper shredder. Run a couple bags of ice through first to clean out any of the loose junk. I can dump in 100 pounds of apples and have two 5 gallons of mush in under half a minute. You have to throttle the thing all the way down. Garbage disposals are not the right tool for the job.

      1. Actually the key difference with cider is the the apples are macerated and allowed to oxidize. If you have a steam extractor try it on cubed fresh apples and the product you get is what is sold as apple juice. Hard cider is cider that has been allowed to ferment. There are various harder items, applejack is made by freezing hard cider until the water freezes and leaving behind a higher concentration of alcohol. There are also some distilled apple whiskies.

    1. Amercians “improve” everything by manufacturing it into cheap crap in the pursuit of maximum profits.

      Hard Cider in the US cheap low-quality malt liquor (not very different from flavourless American beer) with chemical flavourings.

      1. Woodchuck and Downeast are both very much fermented apple juices. Some of the mass market beer companies might be doing junk, but faking Downeast’s line would be way more effort than just making it (and, for that matter, they’re rather pleasant to visit, sample, and get a growler of something interesting from.)

  2. Here in the US, we have both “cider” and “hard cider” in addition to apple juice. Cider is generally a darker, more flavourful version of apple juice only available around fall, and hard cider is cider, but fermented. Apple juice will almost always be a relatively clear golden colour, whereas cider will be closer to brown and much more opaque.

  3. The problem with this type of press, where the filtering zone is on the periphery of a cylinder, is that the juice must travel a path that can reach the value of the radius.

    This is why presses where flat pockets a few centimetres thick are stacked, separated by draining plates, are much more efficient, for the same pressure force.

    I mention this because I have experienced both…

    1. The old tradition used straw to form several cakes that were compressed together – the straw acted as a drain layer. Over time cheesecloth replaced the straw, but since that doesn’t drain as well, plates were added. The “Edwardian Farm” (*) shows an absolute monstrous press being used with straw:

      It’s worth noting that the screw press isn’t a true radial press though – there is a cone of high pressure juice at the bottom of it that is trapped by the ever-increasing density of pomace. The modern hydropress is truly radial and incredibly efficient, yielding a higher percentage of available juice than anything before it could. A hydraulic bladder presses pomace radially against a stainless screen. The increasing radius means that the juice flows easily. Unfortunately they aren’t inexpensive.

  4. Comments: you’re not limited to a paltry 1 or 2 hp on the disposer. Think external motor and gearing.
    Allow the yeast to do the primary separation of pulp and liquid (works on my beer)

  5. A good quality juicer and a bit of patience gets you from giant pile of apples to multiple gallons of apple juice. Might not be the most efficient method. But already have a juicer that can take whole apples.

    Still, I do cut them in half to check for suspicious centres as they’re all organic from a few local gardens. Rule is – only juice things I’m willing (at a push) to eat.

    Have built a press before, maybe 20 years ago, then later borrowed a hobby one from a colleague. This is way less effort. Music on – process apples. Even a really inexpensive juicer works. Just don’t do it in the kitchen. The mess is horrendous.

  6. The American craft-brewing scene is in a great place right now, both for beer and cider.

    The problem for the ciders is a lack of decent cider apples, russets and bittersweets. Most dessert apples don’t have enough acidity, sugar or tannins to make great cider. The acidity protects against infection during fermentation, the sugar increases the alcohol levels helping to protect against infection post-fermentation (*), and the tannins add greatly to the flavor. Good cider apples are barely edible.

    Modern breweries and cideries are much cleaner than the old barns used in times past, and modern processes can help too. For instance, pasteurizing or sulfiting the juice into a sterile fermentation vat and using a cultured yeast strain vastly reduces the chance of an infected batch. Sugar water, malic acid and tannin powder can be used to adjust the juice. It’s not ideal, but if all you have to work with is a dessert apple tree, then you do what you must to make a great tasting cider (whilst waiting for your other trees to grow)

    The commercial scene has this problem too – most cider orchards in the U.S. got ripped out and replanted with dessert apples (that can be used for soft cider) decades ago. That problem is both time consuming and costly to fix, and not without risk – is the cider boom going to last the five years that the trees will need to start bearing fruit?

    Other things worth noting for a homeowner making cider from dessert apples. If you are also canning applesauce or freezing pie mixes, process those peels into your cider. The peel is where the tannins are concentrated. If you can’t plant a cider apple tree for aesthetic reasons, consider that crabapples are high in acidity and tannins, and very pretty in bloom.

    (*) The relationship between yeast, sugar, alcohol and temperature is the crux of cider-making. The barn ciders fermented slowly, and the fermentation stopped naturally when the yeast can no longer multiply due to the combination of alcohol and temperature. Any sugar left at that point would depend on the original sugar content and the strain of yeast. (Different strains have different tolerances for alcohol). At that point the cider would be flat, any living yeast dormant. When the weather warmed up in the spring the yeast would start a secondary fermentation if any sugar remained, adding effervescence whilst eventually drying out the cider.

    Today, it’s common to rack the cider after primary fermentation. It’s also common to make cider in an environment where the season temperature change is much less of, if any, a factor. That may be related – if you don’t rack a cider kept in a warmer environment then it’s more likely to ferment to fully dry, requiring more sugar to be added later if you want a non-dry and/or non-flat cider.

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