Homebrewing Hard Cider

With the holidays around the corner, there’s never been a better time to start homebrewing! If homebrewing sounds like a daunting task, don’t fear! Homebrewing can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. In a nutshell, brewing alcohol involves the process of yeast fermenting sugar into alcohol and CO2. You cook your own meals to make sure you are getting the best ingredients and so that it’s tailored to your personal tastes, so why not brew your own alcohol for the same reasons?

Today, we are going to be making a simple hard cider. It’s one of the simplest, idiot-proof brews you can make at home. It also happens to be one of the best tasting cider I’ve ever had… Way better than all that sweet, artificial tasting garbage you usually get at the store.

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For the juice, I picked up a few gallons of 365 and Mrs. Gooch’s brand apple juice from Whole Foods. I highly recommend doing this because thus far, I find that I get the best finished product when starting with these juice brands. As a bonus, they already come in a vessel suitable for fermenting! Treetop brand works well, too.

Basically raw alcohol

Any other juice will do, including concentrate cans, but make sure that there are no preservatives. Added vitamin C is OK, but be warned: you will end up with a more tart final product. You can also use fresh pressed apple cider/juice.

Heat up some tap water until lukewarm according to the directions on the yeast packet (10ml water per 1g yeast).

A finger would have worked just fine but I’ve been known to over-do stuff.

Measure out the yeast. You can use any brewer’s yeast to see what you prefer, but I find that K1-V1116 works well in preserving the apple flavors, since it’s originally intended for white wine. These 5 gram packets of yeast are intended for 5 gallons, so I’m splitting the packet into 1 gram increments. If you don’t have a scale, a gram of this yeast is roughly 1/4 tsp.

Feel like we’re in an episode of Breaking Bad here?

 

This process “wakes up” the yeast and ensures an optimal number of yeast cells survive in the brewing process. I like to split the dry yeast beforehand so I know both gallons I’m making will get exactly the same amount of yeast. Dissolve the yeast into the lukewarm water.

Wakey, wakey!

Now is the time to mix up some StarSan solution. Simply spray or swirl the solution on your glass carboy, funnel, airlock, and anything else that might come in contact with the juice. Don’t worry about wiping anything down, just shake things dry. The sterilizer does not impart any taste, and wiping it completely dry will nullify its effects. If you are using a juice container like I am that can readily accept the airlock, there is no need to sanitize the container.

Fill the airlocks with sanitizer solution up to the line. I like these airlocks over the common “S” shaped ones because they are much easier to clean.

StarSan works by destroying cell walls but somehow it’s completely harmless to us. Yeah, science, b*tch!

Once the yeast solution has rested 15 minutespitch it into your glass jug.

The yeasties are basically living in their food. If only life was so easy for us…

Secure the airlock. If you are doing the ultra budget method, you can simply stretch a sanitized balloon with a pinhole prick in it over the mouth of the jug. The idea here is to let out CO2 but not to let in any of the outside air that contains oxygen and other microbes that can oxidize or infect your brew. We only want the yeast we pitched into the brew to be the dominant species in there.

“You shall not pass!”

From here, leave the brew to ferment in a cool, dark place. It’s best to do this in the colder months, ideally we want it to be around 64F at all times, at least below 70F if you can manage. If it’s too hot, you can dress the jugs with T-shirts and set them in a tray of water with a fan blowing over them. Coincidentally, dressing yourself in a wet T-shirt with a fan blowing at you is a great way to stay cool during the summer. See, look at all the cool stuff you learn here at NPL 🙂

Wet T-shirt contest?

After 2 weeks it’s time to bottle. Chill the jugs for 24-48 hours in the fridge, this causes the layer of muck (called trub) to settle to the bottom. Trub is made of inactive yeast, proteins, and other undesireables.

Trub shown settled on the bottom of the carboy (Wikipedia)

If you are going the budget route, save up plastic bottles. You can use a few 2 liter soda bottles or a bunch of 12oz bottles. You might end up with some residual flavor from what used to be in the plastic bottles, though. Best to use dark, glass bottles. If using beer bottles, make sure they are NOT screw-top. Your capper won’t be able to seal them!

Capper, caps, bottles, bottle brush, carboy/bottle washer. The last item changed my life, and it could change yours, too.

Sterilize your funnel, bottles, and caps. Add 1/2 tsp sugar to each 12oz bottle (scale accordingly for bigger bottles). Fill the bottles up with about an inch of empty headspace, 1.5″-2″ for the 2 liters. This ensures that the bottles don’t over-pressurize and explode. Try not to pour any of the trub into the bottles. Store these away in the dark again and wait another week. In this time, residual yeast will continue to digest the added sugar and carbonate the beverage.

I know it’s tempting to squeeze in another half oz of happiness in there, but don’t do it.

Once the week is up, crack one open and see if the carbonation is to your liking. If not, let it carbonate in the dark for another few days. If carbonated enough, throw them all into the fridge and enjoy as needed. Happy holidays!

So TIL I found out that this glass holds more than a bottle. That might explain a few things that happened since I got this glass…

Tips

  • Experiment!
    • Add additional flavorings, but make sure they are sterile. For example, I added 2 tbs lavender to a gallon by first steeping it into a concentrated hot tea, thereby sterilizing it. Other ideas: cinnamon sticks, mulling spice, nutmeg, hibiscus, limes, beer hops, tea bags (1 bag/gallon). Many people swear by the tea bag.
  • Sterilization is important! You don’t want to lose a batch of delicious cider because some punk-ass wild bacteria/yeast got to it first. I like to set my sterilized utensils on a sheet of sanitizer-soaked paper towel, just to be safe.
  • Make sure you always store cider in the dark. Light can cause off flavors, especially when using clear plastic bottles. Dark glass bottles can help block out light.
  • Temperature is key, weird flavors can come up when it’s too hot or cold during the fermentation process. I use a cheap mini fridge I got off craigslist, hacked with a thermostat to precisely control temperature. Yeast ideally want to live within a 1 degree fluctuation.
  • This recipe yields a cider at around 5.5% ABV. If you want a higher alcohol content, add more sugar before adding yeast. Start with 1/4 cup at a time. Try brown sugar for an interesting variant! You can use a hydrometer and calculator to determine ABV. You can also use a refractometer as well.
  • The longer the bottles sit, the more sugar is eaten up by residual yeast. If you want a dryer (less sweet) cider, let it ferment and/or bottle for longer. Sticking bottles in the fridge slows the sugar-eating/carbonation process. If you want a sweeter cider, drink up faster!
    • You can let the cider ferment for a month or more before bottling, and wait even longer after bottling as well. The flavors get smoother as it ages, this guide describes the absolute minimum time frame. If your cider tastes funky, set it and forget it for a while, it might get better!
    • Optional: Pasturize the bottles to preserve sweetness indefinitely. WARNING: if using glass, test your methods with ONE bottle first in a pot that can completely cover it! I lost 9/10 bottles once because I thought I knew what I was doing, and was lucky no one was around when glass exploded across the kitchen and living room.

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