HJW Coulson

Reprinted from the Journal of the Bath and West Society 1898/99 Volume VIII pp 92-96

THE awarding of the Champion Gold Medal at the Southampton Meeting of the Bath and West and Southern Counties Society to the cider made on the Home Farm of Sir J. H. H. Amory, Bart., at Lythecourt, Tiverton, N. Devon, led to an opinion being expressed by the Society's Stewards that a short account of the process by which this success was obtained would be useful to those who are interested in the production of pure and unadulterated cider. I propose, therefore, to give as concisely as possible a sketch of our system of manufacture, touching principally on those points which, from my own experience as manager of the business, seem most important.


In cider-making, as in most other industries, it is necessary to begin at the beginning and no man can expect to make good cider unless he attends to his apple-trees. I may say that we do not owe our success to any special selection of vintage fruits, the condition of our orchards precluding this; we have had to take the apples more or less promiscuously, as the time and labour required for sorting would make any such attempt far too costly. Blending the cider in a large vat, so that the bulk of the liquor may contain a mixture of all the various bitter-sweet, sweet and sour apples, seems to be the easiest plan.

Some three or four years ago, having been struck by the dilapidated and neglected state of the orchards in the district, we arranged with Messrs. Richard Smith and Co., of Worcester (who are large fruit-tree growers in the West of England), to send down a first-rate pruner, who gave us excellent instruction. Since then we have regularly pruned the whole of the thirty acres of orchard on the farm, and with the most beneficial results. The first pruning of neglected trees is a somewhat serious matter, but after it has once been done a man can run over an acre in a few hours. We prune severely - not merely cutting out the dead wood, but thinning the heads of the trees regularly, so that no branches can cross or touch. The advantages of this plan are manifold:

  1. We get much finer fruit both in size and quality.
  2. Canker is much reduced.
  3. The lichen and moss almost disappear.
  4. The trees are much less likely to blow down, as was exemplified most strikingly in the great gale in March last year.
  5. The herbage of the orchards is much improved by the admission of more light and air. The best time for this work is from November to March.
After the trees have been pruned, the trunks and branches are well brushed with a stiff besom and dressed with a composition of water, quicklime, cow-dung and paraffin, in order to kill and dislodge the various insect pests and grubs which infest them. We also find grease bands highly efficacious in catching the winter and other moths which ascend the trunks for the purpose of laying their eggs in the buds and crevices. The lichens and moss which festoon the trees in this district are much reduced by free use of the pruning knife, and can be finished off by the simple process of throwing fresh powdered lime up among the branches on a damp still day in winter. I am fully satisfied that the time and trouble involved in the proper culture of orchards is not thrown away, and that care and attention are fully repaid by healthier trees and improved fruit.


The next points to be attended to are the gathering, storing and ripening of the fruit. We pick the orchards over three times - the last time shaking down the apples still on the trees. The first gathering and the windfalls are kept separate, and made into second quality cider for farm consumption. Where possible we store under cover, using a granary - an old pound-house chamber - and a cart linhay for the purpose. When storing in the orchards we always make hurdle-stores, such as are recommended in this Society's Journal for 1893-94, page 87. This is an excellent plan, as the fruit is kept off the ground, and will keep for a month or six weeks without heating or rotting. We line the hurdles with rabbit-wire, to keep the apples from falling through. As far as possible, the apples are ground before they get at all rotten, and all black, rotten fruit is carefully picked out. No cider should be made before the middle of October, as experience shows that it keeps better when made after that date.


Our factory at Lythecourt is a large disused barn, light and well ventilated. This and the cellar beneath are whitewashed every year, and the presses, mill, &c., are at the beginning and end of the season thoroughlyscrubbed and washed with sulphite of lime powder. The motive power is a six-horse power steam-engine, which drives the elevator, mill, press, and two rotary pumps. The apples are thrown from the carts into a shute, which conducts them to the elevator. This elevator takes them to the mill. Beneath the mill is another shute with a trap-door at the bottom. This shute holds enough pomace to fill the cage-press beneath. The pomace is pressed once in the cage-press and then transferred to a large hand-power press, where it is pressed a second time - the juice from the second pressing being generally inferior is kept separate. The juice is pumped from the presses into four large vats, holding about 200 gallons each, and thence, if necessary, into a large blending-vat, which holds 1,000 gallons. The vats have loose covers, and are not filled above 9 inches from the top. The head is skimmed off the vats once, twice, or even three or four times, as the case may be.

The next and most important step is filtration. Lumley's "Invicta Fibre Pulp Filter" described in the Society's 'Journal', for 1894-95, pages 141,142, is, to my mind, the most valuable of all inventions for the cider-maker, and it is a pity that its high price places it out of the reach of farmers and small makers. When thoroughly understood, it filters even fresh pressed juice as clear as sherry, and stops or checks fermentation, without diminishing the flavour or body of the liquor. As a rule, we can filter six or seven hogsheads a day, packing and unpacking the filter four or five times. The cider is forced through the filter by a steam-pump, at a pressure of from 10 to 25 lbs to the square inch. It is important not to try and force it through too fast. After various experiments and alterations, we found that forty-five strokes a minute was the proper pace at which the pump should be worked. We have also a tap on the supply-pipe to regulate the flow of cider to the pump. Of course, the cider will not always go through the filter well: it requires practice, and the use of the testing-glass and saccharometer to ascertain when it is ready; but, as a rule, we find that after keeving for two or three days and skimming off the head once or twice, it goes through satisfactorily. Sometimes fresh juice will go through the day it is pressed; at other times it has to remain in the vats a week or more. When the cider is fermenting fast, it is impossible to clear it; but forcing it through the filter checks the violence of the fermentation.


From the filter the cider runs by gravitation through an india-rubber pipe into casks in the cellars below. A cider-maker cannot be too careful about his casks. The heads of all casks should be taken out every three or four years, and the casks should be thoroughly scrubbed out and scraped if necessary - all our casks are also steamed and sulphured before being filled. To sulphur a cask a strip of cardboard should be dipped into molten sulphur and dried. This match is lighted and let down by a piece of wire into a freshly washed cask, the bung is then driven in, and the match burns out filling the cask with fumes. It is, I think better to wash out the cask again with cold water, unless it is wished to stop fermentation entirely, in which case the cider can be pumped into the cask at once, and will absorb the fumes without giving the liquor any offensive taste. When the filtered cider is in the casks it is at once bunged down, and a small composition tube is inserted in the bung - the other end of the tube is taken into a bottle of water suspended from a nail in the cask. This acts as a perfect syphon-trap; the carbonic acid gas given off by the fermenting cider escapes through the tube and forces its way through the water in the bottle, but the air cannot get back again, and the cask is effectually sealed. Notwithstanding all this care the cider will continue to ferment slowly throughout the winter. All that can be done is to make it ferment as slowly as possible. The cellars should be kept cool, and the cider should be tested occasionally with the saccharometer. If it is fermenting too fast it should be filtered again. Our practice is to filter all the cider a second time between Christmas and Lady-day, and to sulphur the casks again if necessary to check the fermentation.


This, which should be done early in April, requires great care. The cider should be absolutely brilliant when bottled or it will leave a heavy deposit in the bottles. Tastes differ as to sweetness, but we bottle when the cider contains from 3½ per cent to 5 per cent. of sugar. All bottles should be wired and laid on their sides in a cool and dry cellar. Bottled cider should keep and improve for several years.


Having now shortly sketched out the plan of manufacture followed at Lythecourt, perhaps a few details as to the particular sample which won the Champion Gold Medal may be of interest. This sample was in no way different from the bulk of the year's make. In fact, it was almost by a chance that it was sent to the Show. Three lots were chosen by me and my foreman as being the pick of the cellar - the one finally selected not being among them. We did not quite agree as to which was the best of the three, and on returning to the cellar tried yet another sample, which was finally selected and sent in for competition. The following are the details about this sample as taken from my Cellar Book:

Soil of orchard where grown, alluvial on Red Sandstone; aspect, south; apples, mixed; cider made on October 31st; temperature, 45° ; total solids, by saccharometer, of fresh juice, 13½ per cent.; filtered November 7th, when the saccharometer showed 13 per cent. solids; filtered a second time on December 19th, total solids being 8 per cent.; bottled on March 24th, total solids being 5½ per cent. In conclusion, I may say that since the manufacture of the Champion sample, we have made no material alterations in our operations, except reducing the speed of the pump when filtering. We have now, I think, hit upon the happy mean and, while filtering at a reasonable pace, can at the same time be certain of getting the juice as clear and brilliant as the finest sherry. I need scarcely add that in no case do we make use of any kind of preservative or flavouring matter, trusting to cleanliness and efficient filtration for preserving the cider, and to the natural flavour of the apple for taste and aroma.

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