We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again: Fall means apples. And the most delicious apples mean lots of delicious things to enjoy. A staple favorite this time of year is fresh cider. We all know it; it’s sweet, it’s brown, it’s delicious hot or cold, spiced or plain. But something you might not have considered making yourself is hard apple cider. Why not? With the popularity of home-brewing beer soaring, it has never been easier to find the supplies and recipes for fermenting almost any beverage! Coincidentally, the main ingredient you need for cider brewing is readily available this time of year: a good supply of apple juice (or “soft” cider) that hasn’t been treated with preservatives. (In case you’re wondering, cider is the unfiltered juice pressed from apples, apple juice has been filtered to remove the cloudiness.)
Briefly, the process of making cider consists of putting yeast into juice and letting the yeast turn the sugar in the juice into alcohol. Simple. Of course, to get the best possible and (fairly) repeatable result it is a bit more complex. Other things than yeast can grow in your juice, so cleanliness is important. Then there is the need for containers big enough to ferment a reasonable amount of juice. Of course, what is a reasonable amount varies from person to person. Many brewers like to work in 5-gallon batches. Others might experiment with just a gallon, or even smaller amounts, just for fun, or to try out a new strain of yeast. And yes, there are lots of different yeasts you can use. There are yeasts meant for bread-making, yeasts for beer brewing, and yeasts for wine-making. There are even wild yeasts everywhere outside, on fruits, leaves, in the dirt…
What is the difference in all these yeasts? Well, for one thing, it can be the source they came from, their preferred food, so to speak. Beer yeasts like grains, wine yeasts came from grapes, and many “wild fermented” ciders are made with the yeasts that occur naturally on apples. But another important way yeasts can vary is by how much alcohol they can stand before they die off. Or it can be by how quickly and thoroughly they consume the sugars. Or it can be in the types of other flavors they produce during fermentation. All of these factors can contribute to the success of a batch, and serious brewers like to use a specific kind of yeast each time so they can be reasonably sure of a certain taste to their cider.
Besides varying the type of yeast, the type of juice can be varied in cider-making as well. Some people choose their own mixture of apples and then press juice themselves with a home apple press. But it’s more likely that a beginner will start with juice bought either from a store or a local apple orchard. It is very important that the juice not have any preservatives in it, because they will kill the yeast before they even start! Choose an organic juice at the store to be sure, and ask at the farmstand if purchasing directly from the orchard. Another thing that can be varied is the amount of sugar, both at the beginning of brewing (more sugar means more alcohol, eh?) and at the end (to make a very dry cider sweeter). There are a ton of recipes to be found online if you get really curious.
Brewing a great cider at home can take months. Too long? Luckily, there is a quick way to brew a decent cider at home without too much fuss. Popularized by “Green Deane” on his website, essentially you add some beer yeast to apple juice, put a fermentation lock on the bottle of juice, and let it ferment somewhere warm but out of the direct sun (a kitchen cabinet or closet is good) for 5 days. Then you carefully move the cider to other bottles (leaving behind the yeast on the bottom) and cap them, then let set another day. Put that in the fridge and voila, fresh hard cider! However, it is important that everything you use is sterilized before putting any of your juice or cider into it. (Generally speaking, when a brew goes bad, you know it. It smells bad and tastes worse. Don’t drink it if you are uncertain!) You can read the original Green Deane post here:
There are many other wonderful online resources if you would like to know more about making delicious cider at home. For example, makehardcidereasy.com goes into greater depth about achieving success with the Green Deane method, and homebrewtalk.com is a wealth of discussions on brewing all sorts of beverages at home, plus people post their favorite recipes there. And if you are looking for equipment but want to talk to real people about brewing, a trip to the store Maryland Home Brew in Columbia, Maryland, would be just the thing. Otherwise, there are plenty of suppliers to be found on the web.
So what are you waiting for? Get thee to the apple juice and then start brewing up some fun at home!