Undeniably one of our favorite flavors of fall, apples make everything from pies to cocktails taste better once the weather turns cool. But one of our favorite ways to enjoy apples is fermented cider. And fortunately, with the help of cider sage David White from Old Time Cider, mastering DIY hard cider at home has never been easier.
1 gallon fresh-pressed apple juice (see tip)
1 packet champagne yeast (available online, or at your local homebrew shop)
1 Campden tablet (available online, or at your local homebrew shop)
2 1-gallon glass carboy with lids
Mortal and pestle
1 1/2-pint glass jar with lid
1. Before starting, be sure all of your equipment is sterilized—we can’t emphasize this enough. We use Star San, which is commonly available in most homebrew shops.
2. Funnel juice into the glass carboy, and with your mortar and pestle (or with the back of a spoon), crush the Camden tablet. Add the crushed tablet into the juice (this will help kill any bacteria or natural yeasts that might be present in juice and allow for the selected Champagne yeast to thrive once it is introduced), cap and give a gentle shake. Set aside for 48 hours. After 48 hours, pour 1 cup of the liquid from the carboy into a clean glass jar and freeze for use later in the recipe.
3. In a measuring glass, re-hydrate the yeast according to the instructions on its packet and add to the juice-filled carboy. Fit bung and airlock into carboy opening and carefully add a bit of water to the airlock (look for a fill line somewhere in the middle)—this will let CO2 gasses out without letting oxygen in. Maintain airlock water level through out the fermentation process.
4. Place in a large utility sink or bathtub, in case overflow occurs during the start of fermentation, which should begin in 24-48 hours. Once fermentation begins you can safely place your container in a dark cool spot to do its work. Ideally fermentation should occur at around 55 degrees F to 60 degrees F. Check daily.
5. At 3 weeks, thaw reserved frozen juice and funnel into the fermenting cider. The sugars in this reserved juice will then start to ferment so be sure to recap with airlock and bung.
6. Fermentation can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to complete—you’ll know fermentation is finished when you no longer see tiny bubbles rising to the top. When all foaming and bubbles have subsided, siphon the cider into a clean glass carboy, taking care to not transfer over any of the dregs at the bottom of the fermentation jug by keeping the hose just above the sediment. Either cap and refrigerate in gallon jug, or funnel into swing-top bottles leaving 1 1/2-inch headspace at the top—you’ll need about 7 500-ml. bottles per gallon of cider. Keep refrigerated and drink within 1 month to ensure fermentation doesn’t restart—this could cause pressure to build and the glass to shatter. If you want to store the cider for longer check with your local homebrew shop about stabilization options.
7. Enjoy the cider still, or force-carbonate with a home carbonation system, like the Perlini Cocktail Shaker.
White suggests using fresh cider apples if you can (look for sharp heirloom varieties) and pressing or juicing them with an electronic home juicer for maximum flavor. If you aren’t able to press your own juice, farm-fresh is the next best thing. Store-bought juice also works—just read the label since apple juice that travels often contains preservatives, which can inhibit or prevent fermentation. “UV-treated” or “heat-pasteurized” juice is fine.
Thirsty for more cidermaking? Check out David’s blog, here, as well as books like Cider, Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions, and Making Your Own: Second Edition by Ben Watson and Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea.