I have the pleasure of interacting with people from all over the world and at all levels of cider making experience. But, no matter how many books and research papers papers I read, apples I assess, yeasts I trial, or experiments I conduct, I am fundamentally just a home craft cider maker. When I write or explore topics, it is usually from this perspective. One area where I noticed my writing is lacking is on equipment. I have a few articles about the topic, but not many. This is partly because there are so many different options and methods that can be utilized to make cider. Many people assume you have to scratter or mill the apples and then press them. I just use a juicer and strain the juice to remove pulp. Others steam their fruit to extract the juice and some freeze the whole apple instead of milling. This is only a small example of how variable different parts of the process can be. Start considering the variations to fermenters, storage containers, bottling, and other equipment and tools. The possibilities start to become daunting. To some degree, the equipment you use often depends on how much fruit you plan to process as well as the equipment you might already have at your disposal. However, those just starting out can often get overwhelmed with what you really need to get started. Those of us who have been making cider for awhile might find ourselves needing some encouragement to consider new ideas. I thought it would be worthwhile to look at the potential equipment a home cider maker could use. I structured these as a basic kit, meaning the minimum level you might consider to options that are more advanced. I also broke these down into the three key process steps, which are the following.
I am using these steps because they are relatively independent and have unique equipment associated with them. Again, my perspective is from the home cider maker who might buy juice or process around 100 pounds (~45kg) during any given pressing. If you are processing hundreds or even thousands of pounds, you will want to look at the advanced equipment or even professional equipment. I have created a PDF with active links that you can download. These links will take you to either your country’s Amazon site for purchase or to the manufacturer’s site. Thus will give you some details about the product and a reference for price. As with all the Amazon links on PricklyCider.com, using them to purchase these product from Amazon will result in me getting a small referral commission. What is nice is that it won’t cost you anymore money, but helps me cover the costs of maintaining the site. You will also find these PDFs on The Shop page along with other recommended products and even Cider Yeast that I am offering.
Fermentation is the first key step. Let’s explore the basics and then some of the more advanced equipment you can use to help you go from apple to juice to cider.
To purchase Speidel products in the United States, visit their distributor More Wine and for other countries, visit Speidel’s international dealer page.
The Basic Kit
If you are fermenting juice, you can often just use the container with the juice as your fermenter. Simply add yeast, install a stopper and airlock, fill the airlock with water or vodka, and wait until the fermentation completes. Use an auto siphon to remove the cider while leaving the sediment. You can use One Step or a similar cleaner and sanitizer on your equipment. If you have a juicer and will be processing apples to make your own juice, a funnel and brew bag are desirable to strain out the solids you get with a juicer. I recommend pectic enzyme to help ensure clarity and improve aroma as part of a basic kit. Most apples will produce a hard cider that is around 6% ABV, so I recommend testing the pH versus getting a device to measure gravity if you are looking for a basic kit. The pH will give you a feel for how acidic your juice is. High acidity can make it more challenging to drink while too low can make it susceptible to issues with aging. You usually want a juice with acidity between 3.4-3.7 though higher and lower can work well. While you can use previous juice containers that you clean and sanitize, you might need to get a fermenter or some glass carboys as part of your basic kit. Lastly, if you are wondering about what yeast to use, check out the cider yeast I offer in The Shop. Otherwise, I would recommend a beer yeast like SafAle S-04 over more common wine yeasts like EC-1118.
Upgrades & Enhancements
Once you start making cider, you will most likely want to upgrade a basic fermentation kit. The first upgrade is usually a device to measure specific gravity. I usually recommend a refractometer over a hydrometer as you can take the refractometer with you to the orchard and only need a little juice to measure the gravity. The downside is that after fermentation you have to do an adjustment calculation but there are various online calculators that make this easy. My recommendation is to save for a Tilt hydrometer, which is an awesome upgrade to your kit. It’s not cheap but it simple to use and you can actively monitor your fermentation process. Another upgrade I strongly recommend is an apple peeler and corer. Using peels in your ferment will allow you to leverage the naturally available polyphenols in apples that are often only found in Bitters, which are apples often called cider apples as they have high levels of tannins.
Acid levels are also important to understand so getting a pH meter makes measuring pH easier but the best upgrade relative to acid is an acid titration kit. This will allow you to measure the total acids in your juice or cider and will give you a much better understanding for blending. Once you start making cider regularly, you will often want to expand the amount of apples you are processing. If you like juicing, you might want a 24/7 continuous wide-mouth masticating juicer. If you are going really big, a Speidel mill and hydropress are usually ideal. These will allow you to process tons versus pounds of apples at a time. This will lead to much more juice, which means larger fermenters. I like Fermonsters as they have a wide mouth and are easy to clean and sanitize. They also come in various sizes including 1, 3, and 5 gallons. If you are goin even bigger, look for Speidel fermenters. These also have the wide mouth openings and but are thick walled. You can even age in these. You just need to top them up to avoid oxygen.
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