How to “lay down” your Scrumpy! by Paul Gunningham
Advice on suitable containers to keep draught cider in, and how to keep it in good condition over a period of time.
Most (but not all – see below) of the suppliers will sell you draught cider and/or perry in plastic containers. These are fairly cheap, and once you’ve got them you can take them back for refills and save money – a gallon is a typical size, and is suitable for most users, but smaller (and larger!) ones are often available. Don’t forget to take the containers with you though; I ended up with – literally! – a shed load of empty cider containers because I kept forgetting to take ’em with me whenever I went down to the West Country and ended up buying new ones. I now keep a few empty gallon containers on standby in the back of my car in case I just happen to drive past a cider farm unexpectedly…!
Nowadays some suppliers sell their products in metric containers – typically 1-litre, 2-litre, 4-litres or 5-litre containers (note that a UK gallon is around 4.5 litres). I’ve found that many suppliers will happily fill your gallon containers even if they normally only sell metric ones, and adjust the price accordingly – but I can’t guarantee this will always apply everywhere! If the worst comes to the worst you will have to buy a new set of metric containers – but they’ll be reusable in future, too!
Types of Containers
Some suppliers sell cider in various fancy containers including earthenware jars, which look very nice but are an expensive way to buy it – although you might consider they make good presents. Be warned that some of the very small producers may not have containers for sale at all but expect you to have your own. Other producers will only sell quantities of 5 gallons or more, sometimes in 5-gallon polycasks on which a deposit is payable. These are a good idea if you’re planning a party – or just planning on drinking a lot!
It’s a good idea to ensure you get your containers by visiting one of the larger producers the first time you go scrumpy hunting. In an emergency, you could use some of those large 2 litre pop [soda] bottles – some producers are happy to fill these. I remember driving by chance past one small cider farm on a Sunday afternoon and tasting their excellent product, a quantity of which I indicated a desire to purchase. They were happy to oblige but I didn’t have any containers and they didn’t sell ’em. Luckily they found a couple of pop bottles their kids had just emptied – that was a close one!
The best advice I can give is: once you’ve got some of your own containers, take some of them with you, just in case you need them; and before visiting a producer for the first time, contact the supplier to find out what containers, quantities etc. they are prepared to sell. David Kitton’s book Guide to Real Cider used to state all this useful information, but this is something missing from the 1996 edition (see the Cider Books section for references).
Many of the producers also sell cider, perry and other drinks (typically mead, wine, cider brandy, etc.) in bottles – not necessarily all of these are made on the premises – ask or check the label before you buy. Many of the bottled ciders on offer, while being very pleasant to drink, may not qualify as real cider as they may have been pasteurised and filtered. Again, the best advice is to ask before buying. Some producers also sell other items such as cheese, eggs, honey, fruit & vegetables, pottery, gifts, etc.
Keeping Draught Cider
If you buy gallons of draught cider or perry, it will (in my experience) keep pretty well for many months – up to a year and even beyond – providing:
- it remains in full unopened containers, and
- you keep it somewhere cool.
Like real ale, farmhouse cider is a living drink and if it gets too warm the secondary fermentation can cause containers to split, burst or explode (depending on what they’re made of) if the pressure is allowed to build up too much. Also, once opened, the cider will go off in a few days – it’s the contact with the air that does it. Cider kept in plastic gallon (or other size) containers will sometimes swell or “balloon” with the pressure. In this case a good idea is to briefly slacken the lid by unscrewing it slightly, and then immediately to retighten it – this will relieve the pressure by allowing the excess carbon dioxide gas to escape without letting any air in. If this happens try to find somewhere cooler to keep the cider to prevent it happening again. In hot weather the fridge may be the best place if you don’t have a cool enough cupboard or cellar.
I’ve found the best way of ensuring your cider doesn’t go off is to pour the cider into smaller containers (say, one or two pints) soon after you get it home so you can drink it at leisure. Alternatively, each time you drink some, pour the remainder into a smaller container so there’s very little air at the top. I’ve successfully used all sorts of containers, including the 1 or 2 pint plastic fruit juice or milk ones (make sure they’re thoroughly clean before use). After use I find that just rinsing them out is usually sufficient to keep them clean so you can use them again. My own favourite containers are those old-fashioned screw-top beer or cider bottles (flagons) with internal screw stoppers – if I can get ’em – unfortunately they’re a bit scarce these days. Some people use beer bottles and put crown caps on them (available from Home Brew shops/suppliers).
Of course, if you’re lucky enough to live round the corner from a decent scrumpy maker, you don’t need to go to all this trouble – just pop round for a gallon refill when you run out!