Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cider is awesome! Put yeast in juice! Drink!

Warning: This post may have been written under the influence of hard cider. 

Twenty bottles of cider - that's a lot of booze.

I'm not a beer drinker, and while I like wine, I love cider! Wine is perfect for romantic, swanky dinners, but for a casual meal, you can't go wrong with cider. If you've never fermented your own alcohol before, don't despair; cider is as simple as it gets.

What you need:
Fermentation vessel, either a plastic bucket with a lid or a large glass jar (carboy) with a stopper.
Air lock
Juice, added Vitamin C is ok, added preservatives are not. Check the label.
Yeast, either liquid, such as Wyeast Cider Yeast, or dry, such as Nottingham Ale.
Bottles, 16oz or 750 ml
Siphon hose
Campden tablets, bleach water, or vinegar.
Racking cane, optional

The bucket should be food grade, with a lid that has a hole for an air lock. I use a six gallon size. These, and the yeast, are easily obtained from your Local Homebrew Store, or you can order them online. I spent about $50 to get set up on my first cider – that may sound like a lot, but when you consider the cost of a six-pack is easily $10, that I got twenty 750ml bottles out of it, and that I will continue to reuse the bucket and air lock for future brewing, it's pretty cheap!

For my first cider, I stuck to the basics. I used five gallons of locally grown Colorado apple juice, a vial of Wyeast Cider Yeast, a 6 gallon plastic fermentation bucket, and racking cane and hose. I obtained the juice from a local grocery and the bucket, yeast, siphon hose, and racking cane from my Friendly Local Homebrew Store (Hop To It!) in Boulder, Colorado – hence forth known as the FLHBS. Five gallon buckets from Home Depot work, too, just make sure it's food grade.

I has a bucket.
If you want to start small, I recommend buying your juice in one gallon glass jugs. You just add the yeast and pop on the stopper and airlock! Who knew booze could be so easy?



Start with room temperature juice. If you are using liquid yeast, let it come to room temperature, too. When I made my first cider it was January and bloody cold, so I set my juice on the radiator to warm up a bit. Just don't melt your juice jugs. While you are waiting for things to warm up, sanitize your bucket, and airlock. You can use diluted bleach water (one tablespoon per gallon of water), or vinegar, but I use Campden tablets (one tablet per gallon). Put the airlock in the bucket, add your sanitizer, and swish it all around. Make sure to sanitize the lid, too. If you are using Campden tablets, you don't have to rinse anything, just dump the solution out before you pour in your juice. If you are using bleach water, or vinegar, give everything a good rinse before adding anything else. When your juice is no longer cold, pour it all into the bucket, and add the yeast. Snap on the lid, or, if you are using glass jars, the stopper, and add the airlock. I fill my airlock with hard liquor to keep out any airborne microbes that may infiltrate the yeast population - I used applejack, because I had it. Some people use Everclear to ensure maximum booziness, but you can also use water.

Now all you do is wait. I let my first cider ferment for a month, but that's not a hard and fast rule. Some books say to let it wait six months, and others say ten days. The important thing is to wait until it the airlock stops bubbling – that means the yeast have consumed all the sugar and your cider is pretty much done. If the airlock still bubbles once every two minutes or more, give it some more time before you bottle. Bottling too early can lead to bottle bombs - you don't want to mess with that. 

After a month, I bottled my cider, using 750 ml clasp top glass bottles from my FLHBS. You can also recycle old beer bottles or wine bottles, but you have to buy a capper or corker, and new caps or corks. I dig clasp top bottles, because you can reuse them indefinitely without throwing away caps or corks.

Those are Campden tablets, I swear.
If you want sparkling cider, all you have to do is add some sugar when bottling, two teaspoons per gallon. Add the sugar to the bucket and stir, then let it sit to allow the sediment to settle back down to the bottom. Don't add more than this – see above warning about bottle bombs. I also used a racking cane and siphon hose to bottle my cider. You can do without the racking cane, but you have to suck the hose to get it flowing, and use your (clean!) finger to stopper it between bottles. I find the racking cane to be less sticky and more sanitary. Just attach the hose to the cane end of the racking cane, put the end of the hose in a bottle, pump the cane a few times to get the cider flowing, and continue with each bottle. Stop before you get to the very bottom - that's where the yeast goes to die.


I let my cider age in bottles for a month before drinking. Like wine, it gets better with time, and so far every bottle is smoother than the last. Some books I have read recommend waiting at least six months before drinking - if you have the patience, go for it! I started drinking the still cider after a month, and the sparkling after a few months. I recommend chilling sparkling cider before opening, unless you want a dramatic cider-splosion! Be sure to always put away a few bottles for future drinking. After a year or two your cider may have transformed into something amazing.

For a very easy to understand, simple, and interesting introduction to homebrewing, check out Strong Waters, by Scott Mansfeld.

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