I really love the culture around home brewing: It’s a great excuse to get together with people, drink, and make something. The only problem is that I don’t love beer. I do love cider, though (call it my sweet tooth, the historical connection with our founders, or how easy it is to drink). So after a home brew party last year, I started contemplating brewing my own cider. And I quickly found that making basic hard cider at home is easy–really easy. Like no boiling or major cleaning or major set-up involved.
Cider week is over, but cider season is still going strong. And if you like DIY projects (or cider and drinking), you can use this recipe, the first I used to make my own cider, which is especially good for the person who wants to give cider-making a shot and doesn’t want to spend too much money or time on a (delicious) science experiment.
This process will cost about $15 and make about 10 12-ounce bottles of cider. The whole thing takes 20 minutes to get started and then a couple weeks to complete fermentation. And experienced cider-makers will note that there are short cuts here (like pasteurized juice–don’t hate) but this is a good introduction.
To start, buy a gallon or two of pasteurized apple juice with no preservatives ($7 to $8), a packet of yeast ($3), and air locks with #6 rubber stoppers ($4). Find a big bowl, and to make it easier, pick up some Star San sanitizer (or bleach), a bucket, tubing, and a funnel.
You can buy the apple juice in almost any grocery store or farmers market; in stores, you’ll find sweet blended apple juices that will work just fine for cider. For locals, New York is the only state that requires apple producers to heat or UV treat (a.k.a. pasteurize, but the farmer won’t use that word) their apple juice, so all fresh farm apple juice from this state is good. UV-pastuerized treated juice does taste better, but heat-pasteurized juice will work fine, too.
You can buy yeast at your favorite local brew shop (I recommend Brooklyn Homebrew or online at www.northernbrewer.com), and what you pick up will depend on what the brew store carries. If your shop has it, I would start with Safale S-04 or Nottingham yeast. These work with just about any juice and are pretty easy to find. You can also use Safale S-05, and cider and some champagne yeasts will work, too, but be forewarned that they aren’t as reliable for this juice. The brew shop is also where you should grab a small #6 rubber stopper with a hole in it and an air lock (I like the three-piece one because it’s easier to clean). The air lock keeps the bottle from exploding and wild yeasts from mucking up your cider.
As a bonus, I strongly recommend you get three to six feet of PVC tubing and a small bottle of Star San sanitizer, because each will make your life easier.
Now that you have everything assembled, here’s the process:
1. Sanitize your stopper with either some bleach or the Star San: Mix two tablespoons of bleach or one tablespoon of Star San into a two to three gallon bucket of warm water. Drop the stopper and air locks into the bucket for 20 minutes with bleach or 30 seconds with Star San. Remove the stopper and air locks and place them on a clean paper towel.
2. Uncap the juice, pour one quarter of the yeast into the juice. Don’t stress if you put too much in, but the packet will make up to five gallons if you save your leftovers. Re-cap the juice and swish or shake it up a little.
3. Remove the cap and place the stopper in the bottle. Now add some boiled or bottled water to the line in the air lock, assemble it, and place it in the stopper. You’re done.
Later that day or the next, you should start to see bubbles and foam at the top of the juice. That’s fermentation, kids. Store the cider around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit–perfect apartment temperature. If you want a slightly sweeter, less alcoholic cider, wait a week. For a drier or more alcoholic cider, wait three weeks or until it stops bubbling–or until you’re ready to drink it.
The last crucial step in this process is cold racking, or separating your cider from the sediment and yeast that falls to the bottom during fermentation. This is where your PVC tubing comes in handy. If you bought it, follow this process for racking (and if you didn’t buy the tubing, I’ve outlined that racking process below):
1. Make another sanitizer bucket of water (use the same process outlined in step 1 above), and clean your tubing and a bowl or jug big enough to hold one gallon of juice.
2. Place the bowl below the cider bottle (I use a chair).
3. Remove the air lock, and insert the sanitized tubing about halfway into the liquid. Now suck on the other end of the tube to pull the cider into the tube about halfway, then put the tube into the bowl and the cider should start flowing out into the bowl.
4. Vacuum up the cider without touching the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Leave a little cider above the sediment. It’s okay if you suck up a little gunk, but try to minimize it.
5. Once you’ve transferred the good cider to the bowl, rinse the bottle and sanitize it. Now, siphon or pour the cider back into the bottle.
If you’re working without tubing, this is a slower and delicate process:
1. Gently move the cider bottle to a counter and sanitize your bowl using the process outlined above.
2. Remove the stopper and air lock.
3. Slowly, and I mean very delicately, pour the cider into the bowl, disturbing the yeasty sediment as little as possible.
4. Once you have as much liquid cider out as possible, rinse and sanitize the bottle.
5. Wait 10 minutes, then slowly spoon the cider back into the bottle without disturbing the sediment in the bowl. Repeat at least once. This way takes a while, but it works.
You now have drinkable hard cider in the bottle. Taste a little over ice, because you may want to sweeten it. That’s easy:
1. Pour a cup of cider into a sauce pan and add a half cup of white or brown sugar (or honey).
2. Dissolve and boil for a couple minutes.
3. Pour back into the full bottle and swish around. Taste, and add more sugar if desired.
What’s next? If you want, you can let the racked cider mellow for a couple weeks to improve the taste, or add a little sugar so it will naturally carbonate. You can also try variations: Use different yeasts, sugars, honey to make a ciser (cider sugared with honey), or add sugar at the beginning to increase the strength.