I like apple cider, it’s a lot easier to make than you might think. I know this is a tech site and I’m writing about making hard apple cider…but bear with me, it’ll become clear…or rather, cloudy. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.
I’ve been brewing beer for a few years now. It’s fun, I like beer a lot and it’s interesting to learn about the micro-biology that makes it all work. The more I learned about how the biology works the more I thought apple cider should be easy to make. But all the recipes I found seemed pretty complex and time consuming. I really just wanted to put juice in a carboy and add some yeast…just to see what happened. So I did, and it worked out really well! Here’s the steps I took and what I learned along the way.
Pick Your Juice For Your Apple Cider
I chose to use some pear juice we made several years ago but no one was drinking. I only had 1.5 gallons of pear juice so I had to add some apple juice to fill up my carboy. I went with Tree Top Fresh Pressed Unfiltered and bought five gallons, to be safe. Using a funnel, I added all the pear and apple juice to my sanitized carboy (I use StarSan).You’ll want to be sure you leave some head-room in the carboy for foam. Mine didn’t foam much but you still want to leave an inch or so. This is measured from the shoulder of the carboy, where it begins it’s curve up to the bottle opening.
Pitching The Yeast For Your Apple Cider
Then you add the yeast. I bought “Cider Yeast” from Baders, Beer and Wine Supply. You can actually buy it from them if you’d like or you can find a local brew-shop that will have it as well. It’s only $5 and is an easy dry yeast to use. Many apple cider makers use a champagne yeast. That may be exactly what’s in the package I bought for all I know. Now before you add the yeast you do want to make sure the juice is at the correct temperature. Try to do this before you open the juice in the first place. If it’s in the fridge, set it out the night before so it has plenty of time to come up to room temperature. This is important because the juice is very vulnerable to infection while it’s exposed to the air. The yeast will take care of this for you if you get it in to the juice soon enough, but the juice has to be warm enough for the yeast to activate or it won’t work and the risk of infection is higher. When I say infection I’m talking about nasty little bacteria that floating around in the air. It reproduces much slower than yeast, normally the yeast is able to overcome anything that has been picked up while you’re pouring in to the carboy. Okay, the yeast is in and all you need now is the vapor lock. I use a goose-neck lock but you can do it a number of different ways. Now you just let it sit…at least four days as long as 10 or so. This part depends on how sweet or dry you want your apple cider. The longer it sits, the longer the yeast have to convert the sugar in to alcohol, the drier the apple cider will be.
Bottling And Storage Your Apple Cider
It’s been a week or two and you’re ready to bottle. There are several options here, I won’t be going over all of them, but covering what I do. You’ll need a sanitized piece of tubing at least four feet long. I used a racking cane and bottle filling stick with a valve. I like to use 20oz bottles. They’re the right size for drinking as far as I’m concerned…I rarely if ever want just one 12oz bottle of beer or apple cider, so this just really works for me. I know some people that bottle in to previously used one gallon milk cartons. As long as they’re VERY clean this will work just fine. In fact, I know people that brew small-batch cider this way so they can experiment with different recipes quickly and inexpensively. Whatever works for you is fine. Now, my batch sat for 14 days in the carboy so most if not all of the sugar was consumed by the yeast. If you’re looking for a still cider, this is the perfect time to bottle. If you’d like a sparkling variety, you’ll want to add a gallon of apple cider to the carboy prior to bottling. It does two things for you: adds some sugar for the yeast to make C02 and adds a bit of apple flavor back in to the brew. Then just get that elixir in to those bottles and get a cap on them! You’ll want your cider to sit a room temperature for four or five days. If you’ve got a clean water bottle and cap around you can put some apple cider in this and cap it. squeeze it every few days until it gets really hard…then you know the CO2 is building and can judge when it’s time to move the cider in to the fridge.
To Age Or Not To Age Your Apple Cider
This was my first batch of cider ever so I wasn’t sure how long it needed to be in the fridge and I was anxious to try it as I’m sure you will be. So I opened one bottle on the fifth day of carbonation. I opened it over the sink…and was glad I did, there was quite a bit of pressure in there after only five days. The cider was good, dry with a strong grapefruit flavor. I moved the rest of it in to the fridge. It’s been about a month now and I opened another bottle last night. The carbonation has calmed down quite nicely and the cider has mellowed in to a very pleasant dry cider. The stronger grapefruit flavor has dissipated completely.
Notes On Clarifying Your Apple Cider
This is sort of a big deal. It’s the main reason I wanted to write this article. When I pour a bottle of my apple cider in to a glass, it’s very cloudy. I used a non-filtered cider and didn’t add anything to clarify it. I don’t mind it and it saves me a lot of steps and time. If you’re looking for a very clear cider, you’re going to have to add a few months to the process to allow things to settle. You’ll also have to rack from one carboy to another several times, about once a week. Each time loosing a little cider along the way. It’s all about choice and patience. I may spend that kind of time some day but for now, I’m very happy with the outcome of my super-simple cider recipe.
Brewing is fun, but it takes some money to get started…probably about $300 dollars if you go to a brew store for everything. Closer to $50 if you shop on Craigslist with some patience. You can get started making cider quickly and easily with a gallon of apple juice (try to get pure apple juice though), a vapor lock of some kind, even the simple kind pictures below with a hose and a spare water bottle for about $5. The work that people put in to their brews becomes very personal and you can take a lot of time or you can speed things along like I chose to do. The technology behind all the clarifying techniques and products are the only real difference. My solution is a very low-tech way of making cider but you can get as high-tech as you like…but that’s a post for another time. Perhaps the next in a series.