Tuesday October 04 2011

I have tasted home brews of varying quality and strength, and a few of the drinks I have endured had the capacity to create headaches of extraordinary length and tenacity.

One man I knew even made cider in old diesel cans. He tried to wash them properly but, despite his best efforts, the lingering flavour of oil remained and he ended up sharing most of it with the local postman, who swayed off on his bicycle after his daily visit.

But I have also sampled some excellent homemade beers and ciders and, this year, mostly prompted by the huge crop of apples in my garden, I decided to make use of all those windfalls.


A windfall is usually classified as a piece of unexpected good fortune, like winning the lotto or perhaps inheriting a farm from a little-known distant relative, but the word, of course, originates from the bounty we receive each autumn when strong winds shake our apples to the ground.

Unfortunately, few of us make proper use of them and they often lie uneaten and are scavenged by birds, wasps and even enterprising rats. Most farms have a few apple trees in a corner somewhere and many REPS farmers have planted them as part of the requirements of the scheme, but then not all trees provide abundant fruit.

Some that I purchased as being grafts from old and endangered species are showing just why they became endangered. This practice is encouraged under REPS to help save our ancient varieties but not only do mine bear little fruit, they also have the nerve to get all kinds of diseases and are generously covered in lichens with just a few miserable little apples produced each year.

It must be a bit like rare breeds of cattle and sheep. There are good reasons why they are rare. The majority of them are bloody useless when it comes to competing with the more popular modern hybrids.

Most of us are at a loss as to what we do with our apples, apart from the few that get eaten raw or are made into tarts or chutneys. I remember in my childhood watching apples being preserved in airtight jars, after boiling, and others being wrapped carefully in tissue paper for storage on trays in a cool, dark shed. This usually was a disaster, with the fruit tending to dry out and wrinkle or, worse, it just sat there slowly disappearing as fungi ate it alive.

Probably the best and simplest way to preserve apples is to make them into cider or just juice them and freeze the surplus. In order to properly learn how to do all this, I enrolled on a course at Sonairte, the National Ecology Centre near Laytown, Co Meath, and was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the entire process.

It’s just common sense really, like making cheeses or jam or homebaking, and if you follow the simple instructions and remember that ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’, you will end up with a product that is not only drinkable but packs a decent punch with an alcohol content of around 8pc.

Our tutor, David Llewellyn, showed how it can be done while using the simplest of household equipment, and he even gave us samples of his own cider, which, not surprisingly, we all wanted more of.

He has an orchard in north Co Dublin, where he makes apple juice, cider and wine, and grows vegetables and sells his produce at local farmers’ markets.


David said that if you want to use some of the more sophisticated equipment available, just search ‘home brew Ireland’ on the internet for sites catering for this rapidly expanding market.

But he also demonstrated how apples can be pulped in a tub with just a fencing post to thump them and then pressed to extract the juice, with the pulp laid in layers separated by dish cloths and using a hydraulic car jack to apply the pressure.

He also recommended reading through the Wittenham Hill Cider website hosted by Andrew Lea and a book by the same author called Craft Cider Making. Both cater for the home enthusiast and are full of straightforward information.

Also, visit David’s own website,

Sonairte runs many courses throughout the year, teaching useful crafts and skills. Log on to for a full list and remember, do not drive after sampling your own cider.

– Joe Barry

Originally published in FARMING

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