Monthly Archives: October 2014

How Common Were 18th-Century Cider Mills?

While it seems pretty clear most American households in the eighteenth century had access to cider, it’s less clear how many had access to cider-making equipment.

One study of probate inventories (a listing of personal possessions taken at someone’s death) from mid-century Kent County, Delaware does quantify how many were around. [1] The author surveyed 121 probates and broke them down into three categories: those worth £50 or less, those worth £50 to £225, and those worth more than £225.

The chart below shows the percentage of various items within each bracket. Cider mills are second from the bottom and highlighted in red. By the way, you’ll notice that presses aren’t listed. For the moment, the assumption is that if a mill is present, so was a press.

What do these numbers look like in real presses? Well, 6% of 48 probates equals 3 and 30% of 24 comes out to about 7. Which means only ten of the 121 probates, or 8%, include a cider mill.

That so few are present speaks to the expense of cider-making equipment (which is why only wealthier households had them) and the fact that a few could serve an entire community.

It should be said that probate inventories are a wonderful source for researching household items, but they are far from complete.[2] They often leave out cheaper and commonplace items. However, it’s probably safe to assume that cider mills are always listed because they aren’t either of those things.


1. John Bedell. “Archaeology and Probate Inventories in the Study of Eighteenth-Century Life.” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXX1:2 (Autumn, 2000), 223-245.

2. Also not everyone’s possessions were probated, so some cider-making equipment might be lost to history.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cider

Some New Cider-Sipping Reading



Just a quick post to let you know I added half a dozen new titles to the Historical Cidering page, including John Evelyn’s Pomona, one of the earliest English works on cider.


Leave a comment

Filed under Cider

Prepositions Important When Preparing Cider

Recently Damien over at Blackledge Winery lent me his copy of C.J.J. Berry’s First Steps in Winemaking.

Admittedly, I usually stick to cidermaking books, and haven’t read many on winemaking. That’s clearly a mistake. Not only was there was a greater discussion of yeasts and various fermentations than I’ve seen in cidermaking books, it was full of great bits and asides.

In talking about introducing sugar to the must (unfermented juice), Berry mentions there are two ways to do it – “to the gallon” and “in the gallon,” which he defines as:

To the gallon: one adds an amount of sugar to a gallon of juice, the final solution equaling more than a gallon.

In the gallon: one adds the sugar and then adds the juice until the gallon mark is reached. Uses less sugar and juice.

Based on his experience Berry says “to the gallon” requires half pound more of sugar than “in the gallon.” For example, if you’re making a dry wine, you would add 2.5 lbs. sugar to the gallon or 2 lbs. sugar in the gallon.

Details like this aid in a closer reading of historical (and modern) cidermaking texts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cider

My New Job Title

According to Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, I am not a cider maker, I’m a:

Ciderist, n. A maker of cider

Though I prefer Cyderist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cider

Cider Was a Gateway Drink In 1838

How does one get to the land of Inebriation? According to C. Wilterberger, Jr’s 1838 Temperance Map it all starts with cider.

The map is an allegory of one’s descent into drunkenness and the (one and only?) route to salvation. As you’re floating on the Ocean of Animal Appetites, you enter Cider Inlet, which leads you into Inebriation. Inebriation consists of the territories of Indulgence, False Security, False Pleasure, False Comfort, False Hope, Total Indifference, and Ruin. However, from Ruin you can sail up the Ocean of Eternity to the land of Self Denial, and it’s territories of Plenty, Enjoyment, Prosperity, Improvement, and Industry, where Adam’s Ale seems to be the most common drink.

Temperance Map

Here there be ciders….
Click image to enlarge. For a larger image click here.
Library of Congress

It’s clear from the lake names that as you travel from west to east in Inebriation, the drinks, and presumably your life, get harder. Cider, mead, and perry are all on the west coast, at the very beginning of your trip, seemingly harmless but leading you to danger.

As mentioned above, there is Cider Inlet, which entices you in from the Ocean of Animal Appetites.

Cider Inlet

Perryville is the capital of Hospitality Island.


Meadville is on Indulgence Island.


And finally Cider River leads into Wine Lake.

Cider River

Having now seen the implication of our work, we apologize for leading you to Inebriation. It’s really not all bad though. At least we have Quoit Town.

Quoit Town


Filed under Cider

Our Two-Year Anniversary & Two New Cyders

It was just two years ago this week that I started my first cyders. It began because the museum I work at holds a Harvest Day event every October and one of the farmers, who had been pressing apples, asked if I wanted any raw juice. I said yes, thinking maybe I would finally try one of the eighteenth-century receipts I had. Who knows, I thought, maybe it’ll be drinkable.

Such are the humble origins of Pommel Cydery.

And so two years and one more Harvest Day later another cyder season begins. This year’s first cyders are encores of previous experiments.

I was beginning to despair of ever finding fresh pear juice and was about to give up on making perry. But then, by chance, I saw IMG_1091that a local orchard was selling locally-grown, fresh-pressed, and unpreserved pear juice. So the experiment is happily renewed.

My previous perries were store-bought juice and pitched yeast. The resulting drink was thin and bland. This time I decided to add a little light brown sugar, enough to raise the potential ABV to almost 9%. Not all of the sugars in pear juice are fermentable, so it’s likely that the final ABV will be less than 9%, even if it ferments out fully. Either way, hopefully this one will be better than its predecessors.

Earlier this year I made a honey and wheat cyder (cyser, really, since it used honey). It was based on an eighteenth-century receipt which didn’t specify how much of each to use. I chose to put in a very small amount of honey and wheat. So small in fact, that they probably had no effect on the final content. That cyser came out similar to a dry white wine and at about 6%, which is generally what unaided apple juice will ferment to. Clearly I didn’t add enough honey.

Using a gallon of raw juice from this  year’s Harvest Day pressing, I added half a pound of wildflower honey and 2 oz. of wheat flower. The hydrometer reading came out to a potential ABV of 6.5%, lower than I wanted. So I added the rest of the honey, bringing it to a possible 8.5%.

l – Pear juice & 1/2 lb. of light brown sugar – potential ABV 9%
r – Apple juice, 1 lb. wildflower honey, & 2 oz. wheat flour – potential ABV 8.5%

Within twelve hours the pear juice was fermenting away with large, airy bubbles. The honey wheat cyser took almost twenty four to get going. Both are covered by cheese-cloth for now to provide enough air for the yeast to multiply and grow. In a day or so the cloth will be replace by vodka-filled air locks.

These are only the first cyders of the season. I plan to make additional varieties, focusing on eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century styles. Among other things, this means fermenting with raw (or as close as possible) juice and natural yeasts. I’m not pitching lab yeast because science is nice and all, but Pommel Cydery’s mission is to experiment with history.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cider

How Many Apples Does It Take To Make a Bottle of Hard Cider?

According to Angry Orchard’s new commercial (you can find it here) there are two apples in every bottle of their cider. Two whole apples.

I’m assuming they mean what amounts to the juice from two apples, since we usually associate a volume of juice with so many bushels of apples and not so many individual apples. Why they feel the need to say this remains unclear, though I would hazard a guess that it makes their product seem more wholesome. I dunno. But the commercial raises an interesting question: how many apples does it take to make hard cider? Or, more precisely, how much apple juice is in a bottle of hard cider?

Let's consult the oracle... the internet that is.

Let’s ask the oracle… the internet that is.

There is a legal definition which lays out the minimum amount required. According to Federal law hard cider only needs to consist of 50% apple juice or the equivalent of reconstituted juice concentrate.[1] The rest can be water, preservatives, adjuncts (flavorings), or whatever else that’s deemed edible.

You probably don’t know any of this because legally no one has to tell you. Federal labeling laws for beer and hard cider (defined as any alcoholic beverage with an ABV of 7% or less) and wine (an ABV between 7% and 24%) don’t require the exact ingredients to be listed, much less their proportions.[2] Labels also don’t have to include which yeasts or fining agents were used. The latter can be a problem for consumers since some finings can cause allergic reactions or are contrary to one’s lifestyle (for example isinglass and gelatin are both derived from animals and are vegan-unfriendly).

The label does have to say whether something has sulfites or certain coloring agents, but that’s about it. The rest of the mandatory label info is essentially concerned with who and what to tax.

Since there’s no law compelling them and no profitable reason to do so, cider companies tend to not reveal their recipes.

So how much apple juice is actually in every hard cider you drink? The world may never know (but it’s safe to say at least 50% will be).[3]


1. Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 24 →, Subpart B—Definitions → §24.10 Meaning of terms → Hard Cider

2. Labeling laws are overseen by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Department of the Treasury (did you think it was the FDA?). You can find the links to the relevant laws here:

For wine see Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 4 → Subpart D—Labeling Requirements for Wine → §4.32 Mandatory label information.

For malt beverage see Title 27 → Chapter I → Subchapter A → Part 7 → Subpart C—Labeling Requirements for Malt Beverages → §7.22 Mandatory label information.

3.Unless you go to Great Britain, where it’s a minimum of 35%.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cider