It’s not yet apple season here in North Carolina but it’s coming fast and I’m already excited. That’s because it’s nearly time to put down my yearly batch of hard cider.
The great thing about making hard cider is that it’s very easy. It’s even easier than making beer, and it’s cheaper than buying any but the worst beer and wine. However, you have to be patient and have an adventurous palate. This won’t turn out like the “hard cider” you buy at the liquor store-the one with an ingredient list that’s 5 pages long. Your cider’s going to take a while to be ready and when it is it’s going to be dry. That means not sweet. If you like sweet “hard cider”, stick to the liquor store. If you want real hard cider, righteous hard cider, read on.
First, I will introduce the equipment you’ll need. All of this can be purchased at your local homebrewing store for around $100-150. Thankfully everything except the beer bottles and caps are one time buys.
Brewing carboy (1 or 5 gallon depending on how much cider you want)
Tubing that fits on siphon
Beer Bottles (about 50 for 5 gallons of cider)
A couple of notes: 1 gallon glass apple juice bottles work well as fermenters if you want to start small. You can also collect beer bottles instead of buying clean ones from the brewing store, but make sure the bottles are rinsed thoroughly if you do.
Now here’s the stuff you’ll need for each batch:
cider, sake, mead or champagne yeast
apple cider (make sure there are NO preservatives)
Notes on apple cider: No preservatives means nothing should be on the ingredient list except apple juice. Potassium sorbate might be listed to “preserve freshness” but it will end your homebrewing experiment in a hurry. I go right to the local orchard and buy the freshest stuff available.
So here’s how to transform your apple juice into delicious hard cider:
1. Rinse the carboy in bleach solution, then rinse with clean water until there’s no chlorine smell. This kills any organisms living inside the carboy.
2. Pour the apple juice into the carboy.
3. Add the yeast.
4. Put the cork in the carboy with the air lock sticking through it. Make sure the air lock is full of water. The water prevents outside air from invading the carboy, bringing unwanted organisms with it.
5. Put the fermenter in a dark, out of the way place that stays at an even temperature. In my experience the mid 70s are ideal.
6. In 4-12 hours, the water trap will start bubbling as the yeast consumes the sugar in the cider, converting it to alcohol and releasing carbon dioxide. This process will continue for up to two to three weeks. Leave the fermenter alone (resisting the urge to test the cider!) until the interval between bubbles in the water trap is at least ten minutes long.
7. Now rinse all the beer bottles, bottle caps, siphon, and tubing in bleach. Make sure to rinse with clean water until nothing smells like chlorine.
8. Siphon the cider from the fermenter into the beer bottles and cap them. Leave about an inch of air space between the cap and the top of the liquid in each bottle for best results. I recommend doing this with another person since you may need the extra hands to handle the various tubes and bottle switching operations. Also, cider can spray everywhere so make sure to have towels handy.
9. Leave the bottles in a cool dark place. You can start drinking your cider immediately but it will be very rough (this did not stop us in college, but I am not so fond of that taste now). My cider tastes the best between 6 and 8 months after bottling. I’ve heard that you can save it even longer (years) but in my experience the cider starts to develop off flavors after about 10 months in the bottle.
This is a very simple introduction to cider brewing but it should work as well for you as it does for me. Once you’ve made a batch or two, feel free to move on to more sophisticated recipes. I’ll post some of my favorite ones over the next several months.
A couple of things not to do:
1. Avoid adding pieces of fruit. It’s tempting, but they don’t add much flavor. Plus they’ve got lots of extra bacteria that can give your cider unusual (generally bad) side flavors. Yes, the picture I posted has fruit in it. You learn as you go.
2. If you add sugar prior to fermenting, the alcohol content will be greater. However, I have read that pure cane sugar adds bad side flavors. My first batches of cider had extra sugar and definitely were not as good as my later ones.