Autumnal Experiments: Homemade Hard Apple Cider

A while back we posted instructions on making your own delicious limoncello. After several highly successful batches of that wonderful and potent concoction, we developed a rather high opinion of our own homegrown booze-making prowess and decided it was time to step up our game. This time, we thought, we would tackle fermentation. We would make yeast our tiny alcohol-producing slaves. It was time to make hard apple cider.

Our finished cider, minus a few samples. Bottles from the East End Brewery.

Our first attempt took place autumn of last year. We researched, we invested in pleasantly inexpensive supplies, and the experiment itself went swimmingly. The result, however, was….. meh. We were a bit hasty in our preparations and now with the benefit of two rounds behind us I can say that we probably let the cider ferment longer than it needed to. But we’ll get to that later. The point is, round one didn’t seem worthy of your attentions. The internet is, after all, chock full of enthusiastic boozehounds, expert home brewers, and spambots who expect nothing but the finest quality content here at IPTB.

But this autumn (it would be silly to make cider any other time of year) we determined that it was time to make a second go at home fermentation. And with a few lessons learned the results have proven….. marginally better. But we’ve learned still more lessons this time around and so we figured it was time to share our findings with you.

Supplies

Happily, we found that the actual equipment necessary for home fermentation is extremely affordable. The basics are these: a one-gallon glass jug ($5) in which to store the cider during fermentation, a three-piece airlock ($1) which will allow carbon dioxide released by the yeast to escape without letting contaminants in, and a drilled rubber stopper ($0.85) to mediate between the two.

There are only three ingredients to buy for a basic hard cider. The first is just plain old apple cider. The trick here, though, is to find cider that has been pasteurized but does not contain Potassium Sorbate. Unfortunately you’ll find this in most grocery store ciders. It’s added to inhibit yeast, which is precisely what you don’t want when making hard cider. Your best bet here is to get your cider directly from an orchard, but if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, their apple cider is Potassium Sorbate-free. Second, you need yeast. There is a multitude of brewers’ yeasts available, we went with Champagne yeast. And the final ingredient is sugar.

The Process

To start off, you’ll want to heat your cider (about a gallon to fill the jug) on the stove and dissolve two cups of sugar into it. To add a little more flavor during this step, we also steeped a couple cinnamon sticks in the cider. Once your sugar is all dissolved, allow the cider to cool to room temperature. While you’re waiting for the cider to cool, make sure that your jug is thoroughly clean. You don’t want any outside contaminants getting into your cider.

Not boozy yet, but super delicious.

Once your cider has thoroughly cooled, ladle it into the jug, add a single packet of yeast, and cork it with the drilled rubber stopper. This is where the three-piece airlock comes in. Now the three pieces of the airlock are the base, the piston and the cap. In order for the airlock to work you need to fill the base with water and drop the piston in pointing upwards. The cap then fits on top. This way carbon dioxide released by the yeast is able to bubble out without building pressure, but the water prevents insects and other contaminants from entering your cider.

A three-piece airlock in action.

Once your cider is corked and sealed, simply find a dark, quiet place for it to rest. Soon after you add the yeast you should see bubbles slowly begin to form from the fermentation. Each day you should check your cider has stopped bubbling. This will probably take around 2 weeks, but be careful not to let your cider sit once it’s done as this can affect the taste (lesson #2 which we learned first-hand).

Then, simply pour or siphon your finished product into a new, clean bottle. We used growlers that we had left over from a local brewery. Obviously you’ll want to leave the yeast as undisturbed as possible at the bottom of the jug. In fact, it’s even a good idea to sacrifice the last few cups of cider left in the jug to make sure that as little yeast as possible makes it into your drink. As an extra precaution, we also strained the cider through a coffee filter while bottling. This takes a bit more time, but makes all the difference in your final product.

Common household items, uncommon results.

This last step is optional, but we found that it helped our cider out tremendously. Once you’ve got your fermented cider, you may notice that it tastes a bit bitter and/or yeasty. This can result from being left too long after fermentation has slowed down. A quick and easy fix is to cut your hard cider with more of the store-bought cider that you started from. This will lower your ABV but can increase drinkability dramatically. In the end you’re likely to end up with an ABV close to that of most beers.

And that’s it! From there the only step left is to gather friends to help you drink it. Now granted, this is a very basic technique for a very basic cider. There are lots of extra steps and ingredients that you can take to ensure a clearer, tastier cider. For further reading, I wholly recommend checking out The Homebrew Helper.

If you decide to attempt your own home brewed cider, let us know how it goes in the comments or post photos on our Facebook page!

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