When I was a kid, fall meant a trip to the apple orchard and all the fun with apples that ensued (caramel apples, pie, maybe some bobbing games). As kids, we were intrigued with my dad’s ritual of turning the “sweet” nonalcoholic cider that we brought home from the orchard into decidedly harder stuff that the adults seemed to enjoy immensely. This week I’m following Nathan Poell’s easy instructions in Mother Earth News to whip up a batch of hard cider on my own.
Nathan says the best hard cider is made from sweet apple cider fresh from the cider press — without chemical preservatives, which will kill your yeast. (Don’t use it if it lists sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate on the label.) I can find fresh-pressed, cold-pasteurized juice at my local orchard.
- One 5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket with spigot, lid and airlock (sanitized using non-bleach, no-rinse sanitizers found at homebrew stores)
- 3 to 6 feet of 5/16-inch food-grade plastic tubing
- Stainless steel or plastic spoon
- Half-gallon glass “growler” jugs or other bottles (including caps or corks) to store the cider
- Optional: Stainless steel or enameled pot
- 5 gallons of preservative-free, sweet apple cider, preferably unpasteurized
- Two packets of wine yeast (Lalvin 71B or Red Star Cote des Blancs are good choices)
- Optional for higher alcohol content: 2 pounds of brown sugar or honey
- Optional for creating a starter: one 16-ounce bottle of preservative-free, pasteurized apple juice
- Optional for sparkling cider: 3/4 cup honey or brown sugar
1. Make a starter the day before you brew cider. Pour out a few ounces of cider, pour the contents of one yeast packet into the bottle, reseal it and shake for a few seconds. Once it starts to bubble (after about five or six hours), release the pressure within the bottle, reseal it and put it in the refrigerator. Get it out a couple of hours before you brew.
2. On brewing day, pour cider into the brewpot and simmer over medium heat for about 45 minutes. Don’t let it boil! Boiling creates a permanently hazy beverage. While simmering the cider, you can add the optional 2 pounds of brown sugar or honey, which will boost the alcohol content.
3. Pour cider into a sanitized fermentation bucket and let cool to nearly room temperature. Add yeast — or starter, if you chose to make one. Stir the mixture for a minute or two with a clean stainless steel or plastic spoon to aerate, then seal the lid and affix the airlock. Place the bucket in a room or closet where the temperature is 60 to 75 degrees — the closer to 60 degrees, the better.
4. Within a day or two, the airlock should start to bubble. This bubbling should subside within two weeks, signifying an end to the primary fermentation. After that, let the cider sit another week to allow the yeast to settle out.
5. To bottle the cider immediately, affix the rinsed food-grade tubing to the spigot on your fermentation bucket and pour the cider off into sanitized jugs or bottles and seal. Let the bottled hard cider sit for another two weeks. Cider gets fizzy after it ages for several months.
6. “Sparkling” cider requires a couple extra steps at bottling time. Boil 1 cup water with 3/4 cup honey or brown sugar and pour into a sanitized bottling bucket (i.e., another fermentation bucket with a spigot at the bottom). Siphon cider from your fermentation bucket to bottling bucket and slowly stir into honey or brown sugar syrup with a sanitized spoon. Bottle and let sit for several weeks so the residual yeast will have time to ferment the sugar and carbonate the cider.
Here’s to you, Dad!