Step 1: Materials
1 - bottle of the cheapest vodka you can find (isopropyl alcohol also works for this, but requires a bit more rinsing)
1 - gallon size sauce pan (or whatever large size you might have)
1 - pair of tongs
Bottle and Bottling:
1 - 5 gallon water-cooler jug (or a 5 gallon carboy)
1 - large funnel
1 - pack of coffee filters
1 - 6" section of 1/4" inner diameter PVC pipe
1 - 4' long 3/8" inner diameter, food rated vinyl tubing (The "food rated" quality is important for safety.)
1 - rubber stopper, 1-3/16" x 1-1/2" x 1" to go on the jug
1 - empty 20 oz bottle
1 - drill with 3/8" bit
2 - 1 gallon jug of apple cider, preferably unpasteurized. NO preservatives.
1 - 5 lb bag of granulated white sugar
1 - WLP775- English Cider Yeast
I don't have receipts for any of this, but here are my best estimates, and estimating high for worst case. (Also, rounding up to nearest 5 increment, for those checking my math.)
Vladimir vodka: $15 (only maybe 1/3 of it was actually used in this project though)
Bottle and bottling: $40. (We had to buy a full 5-gallon water jug, which drove the price up. Empty jugs would lower the cost down to around $25. Check Craigslist for empty jugs.)
-Coffee Filters: $1 (only like 1/10 of these were used though)
Air Lock: $15. (All parts can be picked up at your local Lowes or Home Depot. Also, this cost is assuming you already have the drill and bit.)
-Stopper: $5 (came in a larger pack)
-PVC pipe: $3
-Vinyl tubing: $5
-20 oz bottle: $1
Wine Contents: $30 (Shipping for the yeast hits this number pretty hard. It was almost as much to ship the yeast as it was to buy it.)
-Cider was about $4 each with tax
-Yeast was about $14 with shipping
-Sugar was about $7 with tax
One time (Start-up) cost: $50 (bottle, air lock, and funnel)
Content cost: approximately $9.50 per gallon for 4 gallons, or $11 per gallon for 2 gallons
Step 2: Bottle Preparation
Fill the 5 gallon jug about 1/3 full of hot water from the sink, then add 2 shots of vodka. The vinyl tubing I had was just large enough to go over the small part of the funnel, so I put the funnel under the faucet and the vinyl tubing into the jug. If your funnel doesn't allow this, you can fill other containers you have full of water and pour them directly through the funnel placed on top of the jug. Put the rubber stopper on once you have enough water. (A note from experience: push down firmly on the stopper to make sure the jug is sealed tightly. Otherwise, you're going to have a mess). Swish the hot water and vodka all around the jug to thoroughly rinse it. Afterwards, remove the stopper and empty the water back into the sink.
Refill the jug about half full of hot water from the sink. Add a liberal amount (no less than 5-6 shots, but more is ok) of the cheap vodka to the water. The alcohol in the vodka will kill any random bacteria in the jug, so don't be afraid to use a lot. Add another gallon or so of hot water and swirl the contents to mix the water and vodka. Finish filling the jug with hot water. Swirl it around a few times, then let the bottle sit until the water reaches room temperature. Go on to the next step while you're waiting.
After the bottle reaches room temperature, pull the cork off and empty the jug again. Let the bottle air dry for a few hours. Optionally, you can rinse it again with warm water to get any of the remaining alcohol out of the jug. Let it air dry again if you do.
Note: Isopropyl alcohol will work in place of the vodka, but isopropyl alcohol is not safe to drink where the vodka's alcohol is safe to drink. If you use isopropyl, make sure to rinse the bottle out again, very thoroughly, before you add any of the drinkable contents.
Step 3: Make the Air Lock
Using your 3/8" drill bit, drill a hole roughly in the center of the rubber stopper. Shove the 6" PVC pipe through the stopper so an inch or so is sticking from the bottom. It sometimes helps to cut the end of the PVC pipe at an angle if it won't go through. Alternatively, you can twist the drill bit slightly to bore the hole a little bit wider. You want a tight fit though, so don't bore it out too much.
Step 4: More Sterilization
If you haven't already done so, make sure your 5-gallon jug is cooled down and let it dry. You might want to wait about an hour or so to make sure it is thoroughly dry.
Step 5: Start Brewing!
In your sauce pan, pour approximately one-half gallon of the cider and set the burner on low to warm the cider. For each gallon of cider you plan to make, add approximately 2 cups of sugar to the warmed cider. Stir the mixture until all the sugar has dissolved. We had no problems getting 4 cups of sugar to dissolve in the half gallon of cider, but if you are making more cider than we did, you can repeat this process with more warm cider if you cannot get all the sugar to dissolve. When the sugar dissolves, the cider should look cloudy, but not actually show the sugar.
You can add more than two cups of sugar per gallon. It's mostly a matter of taste. If you add more sugar, the wine will come out a bit sweeter and slightly more alcoholic (1-2% more at most, give or take). At a certain point, adding more sugar won't increase the alcohol content, but will still make the wine sweeter.
Using the funnel, pour one full gallon of the cider into your 5-gallon jug, then slowly pour the warm cider into the jug. Shake the jug around a little to mix up the cider. Next, pour in just under half the vial of yeast (the vial is supposed to make 5 gallons, but we're only making 2). Afterwards, add in the rest of the cider.
Place the air lock on top of the jug and press it down hard to make sure it has a good seal. Place one end of the vinyl tubing over the PVC pipe sticking out of the jug. Fill your empty 20-oz approximately three-fourths full of water and add a shot of the cheap vodka for sterilization purposes. Place the other end of the vinyl tubing in the 20-oz under the water.
The yeast thrives in dark places with temperatures between 68 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit, so store the entire apparatus in a warm, dark place. We put ours in the closet with the water heater.
Step 6: Wait
Once the foam subsides in your 5-gallon jug and the bubbles stop in the 20-oz, the fermentation is basically done. However, it is recommended to leave the wine sit for another 2-3 days once the bubbles stop to let any remaining yeast die.
Step 7: Bottling
When you're bottling, don't be greedy. For a good tasting wine, you want the quality product with as little yeast as possible. The closer you get to the bottom, the more dead yeast you'll end up with in your bottled wine. Think of drinking pulpy orange juice. That's kind of what the wine's texture will be like if there is a lot of dead yeast.
The easiest place to bottle your finished product is in the jugs the cider came in. If you are bottling to give some to friends and family, 2-liter bottles from Pepsi or Coke (or Mt. Dew in our case) make ideal containers. Make sure you wash them out and sterilize them like the 5-gallon jug at the beginning before pouring any of the finished product into them.
Sterilize your funnel and the container (you remember the first rule, right?), then place the funnel in the container. Wet down one coffee filter and place it snugly at the bottom of the funnel. The water helps the filter stick to the sides of the funnel, which will prevent dead yeast from bypassing the filter. Slowly pour the cider from the 5-gallon jug into the funnel. Don't overfill the filter. Only fill the filter about half to three-fourths full at any time for best results. Change your filter often. Initially, you will have a fairly steady flow of cider through the filter into the container. When it noticeably slows down, let what remains in the filter finish draining and then change the filter. Throw the old filter away and wet down the new one like the first. Don't be stingy with the filters. By changing them fairly often, you're going to save yourself time from the slow drains, and also have a higher quality finished product. Also, if there is a lot of the dead yeast stirred up in your wine, set down the 5-gallon jug and let it sit for a few hours before continuing your pour to allow the dead yeast to resettle.
Once you are finished filtering as much as you are comfortable with, empty the rest of the yeast-laden wine down the drain. Let the bottles sit for about 24 hours before you consume any. This will give any dead yeast that slipped through the filter time to settle to the bottom and will give you a much smoother wine. Serve chilled or room temperature, whichever suits your taste.
Congratulations! You have just brewed your own apple wine! Now it's time to relax, have a nice dinner, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Step 8: Alternatives and Other Suggestions
You can partially carbonate the finished product. By adding approximately 1 cup of sugar per gallon to the wine after bottling and by adding a little more yeast, you will reactivate fermentation. The yeast won't live very long because the wine is already concentrated close to its tolerance, but it should produce a bit more alcohol and carbon dioxide. However, instead of releasing the CO2, keep it tightly bottled in. I would recommend doing this in the glass jars as they are stronger. Check it every day for a few days. You should see some bubbles, but not many. When the bubbles stop, open the lid and you should have slightly carbonated wine.
If you choose to make grape wine, you don't need to add any extra sugar to ferment the juice. Grapes have a high enough concentration of sugar naturally, which is why they are a usual choice for wine. By replacing the apple juice with all-natural grape juice (no preservatives again), you will make standard wine.
For a cheaper method of brewing the wine, you can just do everything in the jug that the cider comes in. Pour out approximately one 8-oz glass per gallon of the cider first to make room for the extra ingredients. Follow the directions, making substitutions as necessary.
Instead of the air lock system that we made, you can use a balloon. Make sure the balloon is large enough to hold a fair amount of carbon dioxide. For smaller quantities of wine, this might be an easier method, but if the balloon breaks or slides off, the air lock is ruined. The wine will still ferment, but contaminants can get into it. The air lock system we devised is more reliable, but is also more of a hassle. One nice thing about the balloon method is that the balloon will inflate with carbon dioxide, and when the wine is done, the balloon will deflate. This provides a convenient method of checking the wine's status.
Activated baking yeast that you can buy at any major grocery store can be substituted for the Cider Yeast. It is approximately 50-60 cents with tax for a two pack of the yeast. One pack of the yeast is enough for a full 4-gallon batch, but adding both packs will speed up the process.
Step 9: Final Notes
I'll leave you with a couple interesting facts about the project and brewing in general:
Alcohol is actually a waste product of the yeast. As yeast breaks down the sugar, it releases alcohol and carbon dioxide.
The type of yeast you use will determine the amount of alcohol by volume you'll be able to achieve because the alcohol will actually kill the yeast. Some yeasts are more tolerant to alcohol and will produce stronger wine, but the max you'll be able to achieve just by brewing is somewhere around 15-17%. To get anything stronger than the 15-17%, you will have to distill your wine. Home brewing is legal nearly everywhere (as long as you are the appropriate age to consume alcohol), but distilling is not always legal, so check your local laws before trying to distill the wine. And of course, don't provide alcohol to anyone below the legal drinking age.
I'm sure I'll get a question about this if I don't mention it. The carbon dioxide being released is in negligible quantities and will not build up to toxic levels as long as you have a reasonably ventilated space and you're not producing hundreds of gallons of wine at a time. Also, carbon dioxide is almost entirely inert (to the best of my knowledge. I'm an engineer, not a chemist), so there is very little fire risk if you want to put the brewing wine in the same space as a gas furnace or gas water heater.
Enjoy your wine! Feel free to experiment with the recipe to suit your tastes and leave comments of recipe suggestions.