Cider Making Course – Principles & Practice – Review

Course: Cider Academy: Cider Making Course – Principles & Practice

Date: 21st-25th February 2011


Before going on this course, I was a mere cider lover/drinker with aspiring ambitions to one day own my own cider producing business. This was due to me being made redundant within the next 2-3 years from my job in IT. All I want is a new career, doing something I love, which, to be frank, would be in the cider industry if I had my way, as I have a real passion for it. Coming away from the course put a whole new perspective on everything, but has still not put me off it. Just grounded me and shown me what I need to do to succeed.

Day 1 involved being told anything and everything about orchards from the lovely tutors, Liz Copas (NACM Pomology Advisor) & John Worle (Bulmers ex orchard manager). It covered everything from what rootstocks to use for what type of tree, to preventing trees from getting diseased. It was very comprehensive, and if you plan on building/managing an orchard, then this day is key for you. The afternoon saw us visit an orchard that is used by Westons for some of their cider apples. For me however, the day was useful in finding out that orchards are not for me. Well not yet at least! Maybe one day, if I happen to come into a lot of acres, I will do it, but it’s not in my immediate plans.

Day 2 we were taught by the tutor, Peter Mitchell (25+ years in cider business), and we started to be taught everything I was hoping we would. We were told the basics of where cider came from, how to tell what a good fruit is (and what is not) and the range of fruit available. Also, we learnt about the start of the cider process, by seeing how commercially you harvest the fruit through to milling and pressing the fruit. The practical side of things saw us sterilise a demi-john, fill it with juice and this is when the science bit began. I didn’t realise how scientific cider making was until this moment. We checked the PH & acidity levels, levelled these off as necessary, and added some SO2 to prepare us for the next day’s lesson.

Day 3, and the science just kept flowing and flowing. Some of it was just way over my head, but I gathered the basics of what was needed. There was a lot going on now. Everything from how not to spoil your cider (OXYGEN=BAD!!), to what yeast is best to use for which situation. In the practical side, we checked our SO2 levels were fine and added yeast the proper way. This is probably where I went wrong previously with my homebrew cider, but now I know what to do.

Day 4 was all about the blending, how to move cider around post-fermentation/blending, and all the downstream processing exercises. One thing I did take away from this was just how expensive bottling is! We also got taught more of the “less exciting” things like quality control, record keeping etc. It wasn’t brilliant fun to learn, but it is vital! The practical side of things saw us visit Peter’s onsite cider production facilities. It was a simple, yet effective, setup he has. The last part of the afternoon, we were split into 3 teams and challenged to make a cider from the base cider and various ingredients we had to hand. It was a fun and interesting way to spend the afternoon. Seeing how certain ingredients changed the way it tasted was very interesting and an eye opener.

Day 5 was the final day, and in effect, a bit of a warm-down day. It started with how to do market research and then went on to how to do business planning. Seeing how tight margins can be to make a good living from it was really interesting for me. The end of the day was a great way to finish the course with the sensory analysis (aka cider tasting). Me bringing in my dodgy homebrew was maybe a little bit embarrassing, but at least I could see where I went wrong with it now. Tasting so many different ciders that were brought in was great. At least now I know how to taste it properly. The final lesson saw us see the result of the previous day’s blending exercise. My team came last, but that’s because we were the consumers, rather than producers and experts. If it was put out to the whole market, it would have been tighter.

The course had a really laid back atmosphere, and was attended by amateurs and professionals alike (from the enthusiasts like me, to people working for Westons/Thatchers); a very mixed bunch of people. The food for lunch was spot on and finger buffet style.

So in conclusion, would I recommend this course? Definitely! It taught me more in 5 days then I ever imagined. It has made me appreciate what an art/science cider-making is. Here was me thinking before hand it was just put it in a vessel and leave it. Now I know just how much needs to go into it if you want a good, consistent cider. But it will be fun to do, even if it is just as a hobby for now.

1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Sounds like you had a great time, who knew there was so much to making cider! Looking forward to trying your next, improved batch of homebrew! 😉

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