Archives for posts with tag: home brewing

Over the last few weeks we have been hosting and taking part in a number of community apple pressing events. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who made their way down to Swan Barn Farm with their apples to take part, and get involved.

Apple washing

In the introduction to the fantastic Common Ground “Apple Source Book” Sue Clifford and Angela King say “Over the years we have bred or chanced upon hundreds of varieties of apples that suit the vagaries of the British weather, the mysteries of our locality and our taste. In half a lifetime we have squandered this cultural inheritance. Monoculture has taken over our countryside and monotony our shops… Yet we should be as proud of our orchards – as protective of them, the hills, valleys and the people who support them, and as imaginative about the food, drinks, songs and stories they generate as the french are of their vineyards and vines. Traditional orchards are cultural landmarks, the source of genetic variety, local recipies and customs. They are beautiful to be in and are Havens for wildlife.”

apple pressing day

I couldn’t agree more, I am so proud of the two orchards we have planted at Swan Barn Farm. On our apple pressing and Wassailing days they come alive, they are filled with the promise of bounty, taste, blossom and life. To see people making their way to us from the High Street with their bags and bucket fulls of apples makes me smile. I know that the way to properly protect a landscape, and ensure it lives on into the future is to give it value and relevance in the minds of local people. Making apple juice and cider might be a bit of good fun, but more importantly than that, for me, it is the best chance we have of giving our orchards a future.

 We pressed over a tonne of apples this year, the fermenters were all lined up in a row.


Most of them were carried back up the farm track with the people that brought the apples. We kept a few to ferment out though, watch out for our events over the coming year, where if you are lucky you might get a chance to taste some cider made from the apples that grow in our orchards.


Our historic apple pressing and scratting machinery was a big hit again, people love using it to squish and press the apples. You never grow tired of seeing the fresh juice flow straight out of the press. It tastes better than anything you could ever buy in a shop.

I am sure lots of the juice was drunk over the next few days, but I know that lots of people wanted to make it into cider. We try to explain to people the process on the day, but I have had a few requests from people asking for more information, so I thought I would try and post something useful.

We took the juice from the press and put it into the fermenters, where we added yeast, and nothing else. Over the next week or so the juice started to froth and bubble and come to life. By now the fermentation should have started to slow, and the pulp in it will be starting to settle out.

 ready to rack

The whole process is completely temperature dependant, so if your fermenters have been in a colder room than the one above you could still be weeks away from this stage. Be patient, it will all come good in the end!

The fermenter above is ready to be “racked off”. This simply means seperating the juice from the pulp and yeast. You can either use a syphon tube or simply gently pour it into a pan, leaving the sediment behind, and then wash out the fermenter and return the juice to it. I will top it back up to the same level with water (to keep out excess oxygen) and then leave it to go through a second, much slower fermentation. If you want to either speed this fermentation up a bit, or add extra strength (rarely neccessary!) add a desert spoon or so of sugar as well. With the airlock back on it will ferment slowly for several more weeks before almost all of the rest of the yeast and pulp has settled out, the bubbling ceases, it clears, and is ready to bottle. I bottle it in recycled Newcastle Brown bottles, and add half a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle. This sugar will be acted on by the last of the yeast, bottle conditioning and adding a light fizz. Presentation is all when it comes to home made drinks. A chilled pretty bottle with clear liquid and a delicate fizz is always more likely to win people over, I think anyway.

finished cider

I hope that helps, if you follow that basic process you shouldnt go too far wrong, there is loads of information out there on the internet if you need it, the only thing I would recommend is patience and time, once it is in the bottle give it time to settle and mature, if it isn’t nice it probably isnt ready yet. Give it till next summer for the ultimate in local, sustainable, feel good, fresh, appley goodness.

Good Luck, Happy Homebrewing, and hope to see you at the Wassail!

For a long time I have fealt that sourcing food locally can make a really positive difference to the world around us, and am more than happy to extend this philosophy to alchohol as well. The countryside is stacked full of all sorts of fermentable treats, and as spring gets going and the days start to warm up one of my favourites comes from the silver birch tree.

There are two native species of birch, but in practice both are fine. Find a nice open grown one with a clean looking stem that it is at least 18 inches diameter at the base. I always try and choose a healthy looking tree that is tucked away in a nice location.

Using a drill with a bit the same size (or preferably ever so slightly smaller) as the plastic tube you have brought with you, drill a hole at an upward angle into the stem of the tree. You don’t need to go very far in, about an inch is plenty.

You should see the sap start to run out of the hole straight away. Its best to try and do it when there is a couple of days of nice weather forecast. The sap flow is usually best at this time of year, but the exact timing varies depending on the weather.

Put one end of the tube in the tree and the other in your collecting vessel. It can up to take a couple of days to collect a gallon, but if you catch the flow just right you can fill a demijohn in less than a day. I usually seal the top of the demijohn to protect against flies or bits of twig falling in and then hide it with some bracken so it can’t be seen.

When your demijohn is full its important to stop up the hole in the tree so as not to leave it bleeding.

FInd a twig or bit of wood and chamfer the end to make a peg. This peg should then be knocked nice and tightly into the hole and cut off just proud. This will allow the tree to heal itself without further loss of sap.

If you forget to take a bung with you when you collect your demijohn the same technique can be used to make a demijohn stopper!

The sap is a clear watery liquid, which I always think tastes slightly of twigs!

There are loads of recipies out there for turning the sap into wine, I have used a number of different ones over the years, at the moment I am using one based on the one in Ben Law’s “woodland year” book.

You need:

1 gallon of birch sap, 2 lemons, 1/2 lb of chopped raisins, 2lb of sugar and a sachet of wine yeast.

Add the juice and some of the zest from the lemons to the birch sap and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the raisins and sugar. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Leave until lukewarm and then add a general purpose wine yeast. Put in a fermenting bin until initial fast fermentation has slowed down. Then transfer (leaving behind the raisins etc) to a demijohn and fit an airlock. After a couple of weeks when the sediment has settled out rack off into a clean demijohn. Then leave to ensure fermentation has finished and all sediment has settled before bottling. It should be ready to drink by the late summer, but will be even better if you leave it till this time next year.

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