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Home Brew Forums > Wine, Mead, Cider, Sake & Soda > Cider Forum > Cider questions from a first-time brewer
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Old 10-14-2009, 08:31 PM   #1
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Default Cider questions from a first-time brewer

Hi all, been reading the posts made here for a while, and I have some questions before I get started making my own hard cider.

I've not homebrewed anything before, but I picked up a "for dummies" book a while ago and have been reading through it to familiarize myself a little more with the process. Am I crazy for wanting to start brewing with cider instead of beer? Ideally I'd want the result to be something like Woodchuck, though maybe not as sweet.

I was planning on spending ~$100 on equipment to get started. Would a beer kit be best? I have a beer store nearby with a sizable home brew section, so I can pick up odds and ends. Everything I have read seems to assume a 5gallon primary fermenter and carboy, so I was going to go with that. I would bottle it, not keg it.

I am in upstate NY and have half a dozen cider mills around me, but there is a NYS law that says all cider sold must be pasteurized. Several of the mills I have talked to say that they just use the UV method which doesn't affect the taste. None of them add any preservatives. From what I've read this seems like it will be fine, as long as I add my own yeast (Nottingham seems to be the most popular).

Another issue I'd like to avoid (or at least minimize) is smell. I would do my brewing in the basement, but because of the condo layout, my girlfriend would have to walk through it to get to the garage every day. If it smells like rotten eggs (rhino farts?) then I'm worried my foray into brewing will be over before it even gets started.

The basement probably maintains an ambient temperature between 55 and 70 degrees. Our fridge/freezer is also not big enough to cold crash, but with the impending winter coming on, I could put it in the garage, but I worry about it freezing. Racking would seem to be much simpler.

As far as carbonating, I would like it to be lightly carbonated, but don't want to risk exploding bottles. Can I just reduce the amount of sugar I add before I bottle it?

Sorry for all of the questions, I've just recently taken an interest in homebrewing, and almost all of the other threads I've read seem to be questions from much more experienced brewers, so it's got me a little confused.

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Old 10-14-2009, 10:08 PM   #2
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Cider is a good pace to start. My first experience in home fermentation was cider, when I lived in Ithaca, NY. You've got great apples up there.

Beer kits are fairly complete. In fact, for making cider all you'll need is juice and yeast.

Cooler fermentation temperatures will reduce the smell and not adding any extra sugar helps.

Yep, just cut the priming sugar.

I'm not doing any cider this year, as the apple crop was poor and even the cheapest juice is $6/gallon. Made some blackberry wine instead.

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Old 10-14-2009, 10:10 PM   #3
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Cider is a good choice over beer IMHO. In most places, you can get plenty of great beers from the store. Great ciders are hard to find and it is fairly easy to make a decent one that will be better than Woodchuck and most of commonly available ciders.

If you really want to keep it cheap, you can brew in gallons while you are working out what recipes you like. I prefer a couple of better bottles to a beer kit

UV is OK. Notty is good. Just about any ale yeast is good and all are a little different, so it is somewhat a matter of finding what works best with your apples. When you call around to the cider mills, tell them you are making hard cider and ask what type of cider apples they have. If they give you an answer like "we use all different kinds", keep dialing or ask to speak to someone else. Hard cider apples are different than sweet juice apples and you want to deal with someone who knows the difference. Most presses have at least someone working there who makes hard cider. That is the person you want to talk to. He/she might even hook you up with some unpasteurized juice. In VA, unpasteurized cant be sold retail, but it can be sold directly at the press if it has a little warning sticky that it is UP.

Yeah, the ladies dont like stinky cider (or stinky cider makers). If you use any of the yeasts recommended in the sticky, you shouldnt have a problem.

Multiple rackings will usually do the same job as cold crashing. So will using a bucket of ice instead of the fridge.

You can have cider that is dry and bottle carbonated, sweetened with unfermentable sugar and bottle carbonated, naturally sweet and still or naturally sweet and keg carbonated. The only ways to do a bottle carbonated naturally sweet cider are with a lot of expensive equipment or nitrogen reduction, neither of which you want to do on your first try.

Read the sticky for more info on all of the above.

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Old 10-14-2009, 10:23 PM   #4
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http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f81/graf...-cider-117117/

Can't mention Cider without mentioning Graff. It was my first cider and is excellent. Very tasty stuff. You won't be disappointed.
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Old 10-14-2009, 10:41 PM   #5
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Thanks for all the replies. Right now I'm just trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can, but I guess I'd better get a move on before apple season ends!

I saw this kit which looked really good for the price, but is probably more than I need. I do have some money set aside for "frivolous" spending, though, so as long as I can keep it under $200 I will be happy.

For my first batch, I'd like to try some still, and some sweetened with the unfermentable sweeteners and bottle carbed. If I could also try some dry and bottle carbed, so much the better, but I'm not sure how I could pull that off from a single batch. I guess that problem is still a few months down the road.

I'll definitely do some more reading through the sticky after I get a better grasp on the brewing process as a whole. I'm planning on diving into my book this weekend. Assuming all goes well I'll be starting in a couple weeks!

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Old 10-14-2009, 11:23 PM   #6
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If you can get Northern Spys, that is a good Northern cider apple. Orchards are starting to get them here in VA. I understand they grow well up North. I tasted one for the first time about two weeks ago. Its a great cider apple. Since then I've been looking for NS juice. It is expensive here because hardly anyone is selling them as #2 cider grade apples. It tastes similar to a Stayman or Cameo in terms of having a distinct apple flavor and enough body to be the main juice in a mix. Hopefully they are plentiful in your area this season.

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Old 10-15-2009, 12:55 AM   #7
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Yes, I believe Northern Spys are relatively plentiful here (I know I've seen them at the grocery stores and farmers markets).

You mentioned brewing in gallons. How does that work? do you pour out some of the cider in a gallon jug and throw a 1-way valve in it, then add the appropriate yeast and sugar? Would you do the second long-term ferment in something else (like a half-gallon glass growler bottle?)

That route seems like it would be the ideal way to make sure that the smell isn't going to be overpowering, as well as to make a few batches at once and try some different recipes. It also seems like it would be the cheapest initial investment, since I could get away with $20 worth of valves and tubing and stuff.

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Old 10-15-2009, 01:50 AM   #8
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Yeah, the plastic gallons that the cider comes in can be used as primaries for small batches. I just pour about 4-5 oz off little off the top, add any sugar, pitch the yeast and put an airlock on it.

If you have a glass secondary, then you can just recycle the original jug after the rack. I have a glass secondary, which I like better if I were doing fewer batches, or maybe one that I wanted to have sit for a long time in the secondary, and growlers are good for that too, but then you are tying up your growlers

For test batches I usually use the original plastic jugs as secondaries also. When I get gallons for test batches, I get one or two extra empties and when the fements are done I rack the fermented ciders into the sanitized clean jugs. Then wash, sanitize, and reuse the empty primary jugs as secondaries. I do this before the crash, and sometimes afterwards. After all batches are bottled, the jugs can all go in the recycling bin.

I've never had a problem with taste or odor carrying over from one batch to the next, but I only keep a single jug for a few weeks and it usually only gets reused once, or at most twice. They are more permeable to oxygen than glass, so I wouldnt leave something fermenting in one for a long time.

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Old 10-15-2009, 02:02 AM   #9
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Make some Graff, super easy and excellent results. You can't go wrong and it will open your eyes to the possibilities of malt in ciders.

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Old 10-15-2009, 04:16 AM   #10
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I wish I had tried my hand at cider before beer. I love making both, but I would have learned more for less money starting with cider. The beautiful thing about cider is that to start you can go to the LHBS and buy a rubber stopper / airlock ($1), a pack of S04 yeast ($3), and some sanitizer ($4). Then for $5 buy a gallon of apple juice that does not have anything in it other than apple juice and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). You can ferment in the bottle that the juice came in. Hydrometer optional. Yeah, its that simple. Just take great care to make sure everything that you use is sanitized.

With beer, to get going down the right path requires a larger investment. If you dig where its going with the low cost cider, then kit out your basement for beer

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Make some Graff, super easy and excellent results. You can't go wrong and it will open your eyes to the possibilities of malt in ciders.
Malt rocks in cider!
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