MERIDEN — Wayne Young, the owner of High Hill Orchard, offered around ear plugs. As it turns out, pressing apples for cider is a pretty loud operation.
Approximately 20 people got together Sunday morning to watch Young take on a task his family has been doing since the middle of the 20th century.
“I’ve been here all my life,” said Young, whose family has owned the orchard since 1946.
Young offered a demonstration of his apple press to a group of home brewers. “I always like a mix,” Young said, placing Macoun, Macintosh, Monroe and Delicious apples into a noisy contraption made of wood and steel.
The apples are dumped onto a small conveyor belt. They travel up the belt — more like a chain to be precise — and are dropped into a hopper where the grinding mechanism is housed. The ground up fruit, called pomace, flows into a rubber tube. As the apples grind, the air around the five decade old press turns sweet.
Young then takes a small wooden rack and a piece of cloth and pumps the pomace into the rack, giving the motor a tap with his foot to get it going. Once he fills the rack with what looks like lumpy apple sauce, he folds the cloth over it and places a board on top. He repeats this process eight times.
Once completed, Young slides the racks into the two-ton press. Over 45 minutes, 2,000 pounds of pressure is applied to the packets of apples, causing the juice to gush through the cloth and into a vat below.
Behold, raw apple cider. Each rack, made with a bushel of apples, is good for about 25 gallons of raw cider.
“You are getting the maximum yield from the pressure in there,” Young said.
For the people in attendance, this is exactly what they are looking for. Drastically oversimplifying the process, adding a bit of yeast to raw apple juice and waiting a good amount of time will create hard cider.
“I don’t think anyone is just going to drink this,” said Ron Sansone from Spoke+Spy Ciderworks in Middletown. “It’s going to become alcohol.”
The juice from Young’s apples make for a particularly nice hard cider, he said. Young grows his apples without chemical fertilizers or herbicides, which he said damages the soil and thus the fruit trees themselves.
“You want to find a balance between sugar, acidity, and tannins … when you blend them you get a more well-rounded taste,” Sansone said. “Their juice is more appealing because it’s not pasteurized. It changes the flavor. It takes away some of the character.”
“It’s higher in minerals, so consequently it is higher in sugars. It has all of the constituents you need to make a good hard cider,” Young said.
The contingent of home brewers milled around, sampling some of Young’s non-alcoholic product (he doesn't ferment his own hard cider). Fermenting hard cider is not as popular these days as brewing one’s own beer, Sansone explained, saying that the process is much more like making wine.
Meriden resident Alan Harzewski has been coming to High Hill Orchard for his cider for close to a decade. He started off brewing his own beer, which led him to explore fermenting his own cider. He offered around a sampling of his own hard cider, made from Young’s apples.
“I like it for the blend of art and science. There are components of both,” he said.