Published on January 20th, 2010 | by Prof. Heinous5
Home Brewing Hard Apple Cider
Hard cider is the ultimate lazy man’s fall project. I’m going to explain how with a little mistreatment and forgetfulness I made a little patch of heaven. Note that this is no direction set. There is a lot of information about brewing hard cider out there, so look it up yourself dammit!
Several months ago I set my mind to making cheap, strong booze. And I even thought I might spread some Christmas intoxication to the relatives. So, with a long family history in winemaking and an alcoholic girlfriend I set out. I found two five-gallon glass carboys in a neighbor’s garage and decided to liberate them for my project. For $35 a local farm supplied 10 gallons of fresh pressed apple juice.
Here is a point that I probably need to make. Cider can be made from just about any apple juice. The kids across the hall from my freshman dorm room proved that when they made cider in a gallon jug using bread yeast. I seem to remember some mild side effects. Regressing; commercially available juice has to undergo anti-microbial processing – pasteurization. There are several methods to pasteurize a solution, the best for the cider brewer being ultra-violet light (cold pasteurization). If the juice has been sterilized chemically, with sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate, yeasts will not grow. Preferably, the home brewer can find fresh pressed juice at a local farm or even borrow a Jack LaLanne and do it herself.
The apples from which the cider comes apparently change the character of the finished product as well. Tart apples are supposed to produce a dry light hard cider while sweet apples produce a dark and strong cider. I just got apples. They were red.
Next, I took a look at alcohol content. Yeast eats sugar and shits booze, basically. The apple juice has lots of natural sugars in it but I wanted diesel. So to 10 gallons of cider I decided to add 3 pounds of glucose (for making cake icing?), 2 pounds brown sugar, and a 1 pound honey bear. I wanted my cider to be a little spicy too so I prepped a dozen cinnamon sticks, a couple tablespoons of nutmeg, and WAY too many cloves.
Next we started the yeast. I had selected a champagne yeast because of its high alcohol tolerance (18%!). Starting the yeast consisted of heating half a cup of water to about 100 degrees and pouring the powdered yeast in. A little table sugar gave them something to eat and then we waited for bubbles.
On to sterilizing. Carboys, airlocks, and a section of clear plastic hose were sterilized using a commercially available solution. Just follow the directions.
Hard cider can be made without first killing natural yeasts (cider will harden naturally if you leave it out for a couple weeks) but failure to properly sterilize will result in unexpected flavors; good or bad is hard to say. With a little help I poured all ten gallons into a huge stainless pot and turned on the propane. The cider cooked on medium heat for 45 minutes. I took care not to let it boil. When hot, I added the sugar and stirred vigorously. I let the mixture cool considerably and siphoned half into each of the carboys. After adding the yeast and spices we sealed each carboy with an airlock and slid them into a warm corner to brew.
I checked on the cider every day and after a couple it began to bubble vigorously. When the bubbling slowed to about one bubble through the airlock every minute (2 weeks), I decided it was time to decant. I siphoned the first carboy into a sterilized 5 gallon bucket that I had procured from a local hardware store, careful not to disturb the sediment on the bottom, and removing the spices from the solution. That carboy was then cleaned out, sterilized, and the second was siphoned into it. Finally, I siphoned the bucket back into the second cleaned and sterilized carboy, and again affixed airlocks.
It was at this point that I made another fantastic decision that merits a side-note. I wanted one carboy to promote Halloween debauchery but at the time the cider tasted quite odd. Having only two weeks before the holiday, I reserved the first carboy. There was no reason not to go all out on the second carboy, though, so I dissolved another pound or so of brown sugar into a saucepan full of cider on the stove. This I poured in for a secondary fermentation. Again I let both carboys sit.
A couple days before Halloween I decanted again, removing more sediment and resulting in a quite transparent brew in the first carboy. I siphoned some into several growlers, refrigerated, and had a stupendous Halloween dressed as the late great Dr. Thompson. The remaining gallon of my first carboy I siphoned into the bucket and, feeling feisty, I slid outside on a particularly cold night. Freshly decanted, the second carboy sat for several weeks.
This may be a good time for a short history lesson. In the 1700s and 1800s apples were not grown for their fruit, they were grown to make alcoholic cider (wow, what a coincidence). This cider was then either distilled into brandy (apple brandy) or frozen so that water could be removed. The end product was then known as apple jack. Not the cereal. Apparently when done properly apple jack can be distilled up to about 65 proof!
So I froze the cider on my front porch and scooped out the ice. Several weeks passed. About the time I was ready to start bottling, I poured the remnants of the bucket into my second carboy. I bottled into wine and champagne bottles. The wine bottles went first and were corked in a conventional manner. The champagne bottles were to be used for an attempt at sparkling hard cider so I added a tablespoon full of dissolved corn syrup to the last of the carboy. In theory, the extra sugars will kick the yeasts back to work just long enough to carbonate a bottle! Be wary of adding too much sugar as the bottles may explode.
The champagne bottles had the last of the cider siphoned into them and were corked with plastic stoppers and wire cages. In order to spice up the appearance, the tops of the bottles were covered in aluminum foil and were dipped into hot wax. I affixed a label to the front and they were ready to go out to the family!
Results were impressive. Although I did not take specific gravity measurements I assume the first carboy was well above 10% alcohol. Everyone at the Halloween party would agree with that one I’m sure. Unfortunately, the champagne bottles never carbonated. I’m assuming that by adding the apple jack I increased the alcohol levels to a point unsuitable to the longevity of the yeasts. The first carboy had an overpowering taste of cloves. When I do it again I’ll go a little easier with this spice. This flavor mellowed during the secondary fermentation, however.
The finished product is difficult to describe. It is similar in flavor to a white wine. It still has the flavor of spiced cider but without the sweetness. Just about everyone who tasted it thought it was delicious, and it has quite the kick to boot! Just make some already! You really can’t mess this one up. But you can get rather messed up!
Edit – 5/9/11 : I had the good fortune of recovering one of my very own bottles of cider from a dead grandparent’s estate last fall. I must say, bottle-aging is a requirement in this process. Not only does the expectation of excellence improve the flavor, but the complex effects of time (lost on a Spartan like me) actually make the flavor of the cider better too! Take care, however; this is still strong stuff. Possibly even strong enough to advocate fighting one’s adult step-siblings at a family wedding…