Cider – Milling the stuff

I currently have a project role at Heineken, based at the Cider Mill in Hereford.  It really is a great company, with terrific people.  Even though I, like many others, are contractors, they treat us as part of the team, with all the benefits of being a Heineken employee.  As a Test Manager, I know bugger all about brewing beer, or milling cider.  (Cider is milled, not brewed).

I am going to write this article over the course of milling our cider, so day one was 22nd  November.

Anyway, our project being new to the Cider Mill site in Hereford, was invited to spend a few days, over a few weeks, to mill and vinify some cider, the old fashioned way.  The first day was bloody hard work.

The recipe starts with “take 1,500kg of apples”

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Here we start with around 500kg each of Dabinett, Yarlington and Brown Snout varieties, from orchards around the area.

We wash them down, get rid of the squishy ones.  This was the last of the winter crop, so quite a lot of squishy ones.  3 hours later, all apples were washed and the bad apples thrown away.  I have not sweated as much since my Army days, many years ago.

Here’s a picture of apple sorting:

Pttm, Going Postal

The decent apples are put in a bucket and then into the grinder here:

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This cuts the apples into little bits, so we now shovel them into a “Cake”

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You take a “flat” which is just a piece of wood with lots of gaps in it, put a square metal shape on top, cover with a sack cloth, shovel the apple mixture in, fold the sack cloth over.  Then repeat with another “flat” on top, so you have about 8 of them.  Position under the press, turn the motor on and increase pressure to 400psi.  The juice then goes to a pipe sucking it into a medium sized vessel which has some filters on it.

You then move the pipe from the medium sized vessel, and again with some filters, you pump it into the main FV (Fermentation Vessel) here:

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You can taste the product at this point, it’s apple juice of course, but tastes quite earthy.  The magic starts now, the special Yeast that Heineken make their products with, is added to the FV.  This yeast will transform the natural sugars in the apples into alcohol.  We expect it will be around 6 to 7%, but for now we have to wait about 8 days for all this to happen.

8 days later:  When the juice went onto the FV first, we could have added some glucose, so the ABV would have got to be around 15 to 20%, but you then have to dilute it.  You get more liquid, but you also dilute the taste, so we agreed not to add glucose, but make it as natural as possible:

The test results are back, various graphs and charts showing alchol percentage, amount of yeast left and other things.  I am not allowed to show these.  Trade secrets.  We had a tasting session, I like it, but needs to be sweeter, in fact most thought it was not sweet enough, so some apple concentrate was added to make it sweeter.

From the FV, the cider was moved to another vessel called an Maturation Vessel (MV).  Here, as you would expect, the cider matures, but also the temperature is taken down to around 4 degrees, so this stops any residual yeast from converting sugar to alcohol.  Flocculation (my new favourite word) also happens, so the dead yeast combines together and falls slowly to the bottom, where is can be drained out. This is called “Lees”.

The “Lees” is not wasted, it is pressed again with various filters and the alcohol is removed, to be used in other batches requiring more alcohol.  The “Sludge” that is left is sold to pig farmers.who only pay where the sludge is 5% solid or more, so bascially, they collect and no charge to the Cider Mill at all.

The liquid is now pumped into a Conditioning Tank (CT), where it is filtered again and temperature controlled at just over 4 degrees C.  Some ciders that are cloudy are not of course filtered as much, ours is though.  The filtering makes the juice much clearer, and a few days later we are ready to bottle it. and give it a name and a label.  We name and label it after the project name, which is BEAM, so we call it Beamers.

14th December and we trudge across the site in the snow to bottle it.

We wash the bottles, and use a filling machine which carbonates the liquid and then put a cap on the bottle.

Pttm, Going Postal

Not finished yet though, the bottles are now put into vessel P1 which is just water at just over 30 degrees, for 20 minutes, which brings it up to room temperature, then into vessel P2 which is water at 60 degrees C, again for 20 minutes, and this process pasturises the cider, and allows it to be kept for several months without any danger of going off.

Our labels are printed and we put one on each bottle.  We managerg to get 257 pints of cider, so next Monday we will have it delivered round to the project office to divvy up the spoils, take it home (obviously not allowed to drink at work).  The final product is 6.5%, AbV a bit strong, but instead of wine we shall try this with our Christmas dinner.

Jolly good fun, but it really is hard work!  Cheers!

© Phil the test manager 2017