Note (8/30/2016): It's hard to believe it has been almost a decade since I first published this Instructable, and I am continually amazed by how active of a resource it remains for many first-time cider brewers. This is a great community of makers and I am happy to have made a useful and long-lasting contribution. If you have any questions, chances are they have been asked and answered in the comments.
Since publishing this Instructable all those years ago, I followed my passion for making things, became a professional blacksmith, went back to school and began a career as an Industrial Designer. If you are interested in my other work, please visit my website www.abandazian.com. Thank you!
Now that it's fall and the apples are ripe in my neck of the woods (New Hampshire), I thought I'd share a recipe for home brew hard cider. It's a very simple first-time home brew and it's very rewarding. I've never liked the taste of beer or any other alcohol for that matter, but a good cider is hard not to like.
Firstly, this Instructable will explain the process for producing all natural, organic, 100% hand made hard cider, an alcoholic beverage made through fermentation of apple cider.
This is for instructional and educational purposes only and should not be attempted by anyone under the age of 21. State laws may prohibit home brewing in your are. Brewing cider involves the use of active yeast culture, which may cause some food allergies and, as always when home brewing, there is always the possibility of contamination. Sterilize all containers and tools and use only fresh ingredients. And always drink responsibly.
Now that that's out of the way, let me explain the basic process. First you get a lot of apples and juice them/press them, etc. or buy a lot of apple cider (this recipe is for 1 gallon of cider). There are two basic methods after you've procured fresh, unpasteurized apple cider:
1. Put the apple cider into a container with a vapor lock and let the wild yeast that occurs naturally in apples ferment the juice into booze. (This takes a very long time and yields unpredictable results, but if you want simplicity, it doesn't get much easier than this. My instructable will deal mostly with option 2)
2. Pasteurize the apple cider with heat or Campden Tablets and then add brewers yeast (champagne yeast works well) with yeast nutrient and put it in a container with a vapor lock (takes less time to ferment and will yield a more stable cider)
In addition, just to clarify, there are 3 primary apple beverages that will be discussed here (not including applejack or apple brandy)
Apple cider - Unfiltered apple juice that contains oxidized pulp, resulting in brown coloration. Comes in many pasteurized and unpasteurized varieties.
Hard Cider (Or just Cider) - Alcoholic beverage fermented with yeast from Apple Cider
Apple Juice - In this country, Apple juice refers to ultra-filtered apple-cider that has been watered down and supplemented with other sweeteners (Such as Motts, Juicy Juice, etc.)
Terminology varies from place to place, which is why it is important to specify.
Step 1: Ingredients and Materials
Apples (about 20 lbs, preferably of several varieties)
Champagne yeast (from a homebrew market or online shop)
Yeast nutrient (homebrew shop)
Campden tablets (optional)
1 cup Brown sugar
1 cup White sugar
-Juicer or apple press (if you don't have either, just buy fresh cider from a local orchard)
-Glass Carboy/fermentation tank (I used a 1 gallon jug of Chianti left over from a party)
-Vapor lock (You can use a length of tubing and a cup with water, but I recommend just picking up the real thing for 1.25)
-Rubber stopper to fit your jug
-A large stock pot
Step 2: A Word About Apples
Johnny Appleseed was in fact an Applejacker, meaning that he made apples into the hard liquor Applejack. If you want to learn more about Johnny Appleseed or the remarkable history of apples, I recommend you pick up the book "The Botany of Desire."
Anyway, the point is, apples are awesome and to make apple cider you need a heck of a lot of them (1 bushel = 42 lbs of apples = 3 gallons of juice). It's good to have a mix of apples if possible in about a 1:2 ratio. For instance 10 lbs Red Delicious to 20 Lbs Granny Smith will yield a nice, dry cider, while 10 lbs Macintosh and 20 lbs Cortland will be a much sweeter mix.
Step 3: Juicin'
NOTE: When apple juice comes out of a juicer it looks clear and frothy at the top. This is normal. Apple cider turns brown when exposed to air (as do apples in whole form) so really fresh cider will be clear until it has a chance to darken up.
Once you have run your apples through your juicer, remove the pulp from the pulp collection tub and put it in a few sheets of cheesecloth or an old pillowcase (make sure it's clean and free of dyes or soap residue!!!!) then squeeze the ball of pulp over a basin to the get last bits of juice out. This is important. About 10% of your cider is still stuck in the pulp after juicing, so don't neglect this.
Feel free to save the pulp and make apple sauce or apple butter with it or bake it into a cake or make apple bread or whatever. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Step 4: Cook
-to kill any bacteria in your apple juice that might contaminate your brew
-to kill naturally occurring wild yeast
NOTE: If you want to do this old school, you can skip pasteurization and just put it in your carboy and let the wild yeast ferment it, but this will probably take a lot longer and might taste a bit off.
Put your cider in a big stock pot over medium heat and allow it to cook for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly with a metal or sanitary plastic spoon. DO NOT ALLOW IT TO BOIL!!! The temperature should be kept just below boiling at all times. If you allow it to boil your cider will become cloudy and never fully settle.
You can add the 2 cups of brown and white sugar here if you'd like. This will raise your alcohol content and make a slightly sweeter final product, but it is not absolutely necessary.
When the cider has cooked for 45 minutes, allow it to cook. Meanwhile, you should sanitize your carboy by adding half a cap-full of bleach to a gallon of water and allowing it to stand for half an hour. Then rinse thoroughly with cold water.
Once the cider has cooled to room temperature, poor it into your carboy leaving a few inches of room at the top for the yeast (if you have too much, just drink it! mmmm, warm cider!)
NOTE: I mentioned Campden Tablets earlier. If you chose to use this method you should not cook your cider. Basically what these tablets do is create a chemical gas in your cider that will naturally sanitize it and kill all the yeast. I have never used this method, though a lot of people prefer it because cooking does not always kill all of the yeast and you tend to lose some of the aromatics when you pasteurize with heat. If you want to use this method, I recommend you research it further, as I am not overly familiar with it.
Step 5: Brewing With Commercial Cider (Creating a Starter)
This is an optional step but after reading some comments on the original instructable, I thought it would be a good idea to include a few options for advanced brewing techniques, especially because this step is essential for those of you who are not making cider from scratch.
Here's the deal: if you want to make hard cider from store bought cider (which is a good option if you don't own a juicer or want to make high volumes of cider without putting in a lot of time squeezing apples), you will inevitably run into issues involving Potasium Sorbate. Now, there are a lot of rumors out there about Potassium Sorbate and its effects on Homebrew. Let me clear some things up:
-- Potassium Sorbate is added to most commercial ciders to stop yeast from reproducing after pasteurization. Potassium Sorbate DOES NOT KILL YEAST. It prevents yeast colonies from reproducing, which technically causes the colony to die, but it doesn't have the same effect that say, introducing a pesticide to the colony would have. Most importantly, IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO GET AROUND POTASSIUM SORBATE FOR THIS REASON.
-- You CAN brew with pasteurized, commercial cider. Pasturization kills yeast and since we are introducing new yeast anyway, it doesn't really make a difference. Just make sure your juice contains juice from apples and the unavoidable Potassium Sorbate. If it's got anything else in it, I'd steer clear.
Anyway, as I mentioned, PS inhibits yeast reproduction, but it won't kill yeast by itself. Therefore, to get around it all you have to do is get the yeast started reproducing (i.e. create a starter) before you pitch it in and you're all set.
To Create A Starter:
Basically you will be taking yeast and putting it into a nutrient bath that is free of Potassium Sorbate and allowing it to begin fermentation over night so that it has a running start and won't be inhibited by the PS in the rest of your juice. For this you will need:
Brown sugar or Honey (optional)
A juicer or, failing that, a blender and a mesh colander.
A food-grade plastic or glass container (I use a sanitized 1/2 gallon milk jug)
Step 1: Juice your apples or chop them in your blender/food processor until they are the consistency of apple sauce then put the mush into a mesh colander and squeeze out the juice into a bowl. Now you have pure, untainted, unadulterated apple juice.
Step 2: Heat your apple juice to about 140 degrees F for 10 minutes or so. Stir in the sugar or honey. Heating the cider is optional, but it helps to get rid of any possible wild yeast (basically up until this point we've just followed the first few steps of the recipe)
Step 3: Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (a little on the warm side) and pour it into a clean, sterilized milk jug or similar food-safe container.
Step 4: Add your entire packet of yeast and agitate gently until the yeast is mixed in. Put the cap on and wait.
It should take a few hours to start bubbling, so rather than waiting around for the cap to pop off from the Co2, I usually just cap the bottle my starter is in with an airlock and leave it alone over night. By the morning it should be fermenting vigorously.
Now when you go to make your cider, all you have to do is pour the juice into your sterilized carboy and add the starter. It should begin to ferment within hours, but be patient if it takes a little while.
I have done this several times with commercial cider containing Potasium Sorbate and I have never had a problem getting it to ferment.
As I mentioned, this is an essential step to making cider from store-bought juice, but if you're making cider from scratch it's not a bad idea either. It will speed up your fermentation process if you make a starter and if you're worried about your yeast not working out, it will ensure that they are alive and kicking before you pitch it in to your hard-earned juice.
Step 6: Add Yeast
For only a gallon of cider you will only need about 2/3 of the packet, but you don't have to be too precise. Follow the instructions on the back and dissolve the yeast into a little bit of warm water. Add a tablespoon of Yeast Nutrient to your mix (apples have a lot of sugar but not much nutritional value so adding yeast nutrient will keep your yeast healthy and maximize their efficiency)
Pour the yeast solution into your carboy and agitate slightly to get a good mix. Now put your vapor lock on (fill it up to the appropriate line with water or vodka) and secure it in the top of the rubber stopper. This will allow carbon dioxide produced from the metabolize of sugar to escape without letting bacteria and other baddies into your brew. If you don't have a vapor lock, you can place one end of a length of tubing in the opening of your carboy and put the other end in a glass of water (below the surface). When the build up of gas coming from the tube into the water reaches the atmospheric pressure on the water it will bubble up (which is the same thing that happens in the vapor lock, but a store bought one is much more compact).
Step 7: Primary Fementation
Now you'll want to "rack" your cider, which basically means that you want to remove the fermented cider and dispose of the apple sediment and yeast that is still at the bottom of your tank. You can use a rubber hose to siphon liquid from the top (remember, you only want the cider, so don't siphon the silt on the bottom) into another sanitary container. Then after you've washed out the apple pulp from your carboy, siphon it back in
Cork it and affix the vapor lock and allot it to finish fermenting (about a week or two). This will improve the flavor and help make your cider less cloudy.
Step 8: Aging and Bottling
Once it has aged as long as you'd like, it's ready to bottle and drink.
Keep in mind, it takes a few tries before you get the process and the recipe down. There are many tasty commercial ciders out there that you can use as controls to see how your own recipe came out.
Good luck and happy homebrewing!
-Acts of Subterfuge