Sammy's Simple Cider -- with pics
Well, it’s that time again. The leaves turn, the temperature drops, pumpkins appear, and apples become abundant. If you’ve grown up in the North like me, you automatically associate autumn with fresh, delicious apples. There were plenty of apple orchards that would sell freshly squeezed cider. I consumed this nectar of the gods en masse in my youth, and in college, I’d promise myself I’d get around to making hard cider sometime. Now, years later, I’m in the South, and while the apples and cider may not be as fresh and delicious, they’re still plentiful. So, finally, I decided to make good on my promise and brew up a batch of the good stuff.
Now, after making my decision, I started searching for recipes and methods of going about making cider. Pretty much everything Google threw at me seemed difficult, confusing and time consuming. I thought to myself, how hard can it be? People have been making cider for centuries, long before good sterilization techniques and specialized equipment. So, finally I stumbled upon a site that had some good, simple info. It turns out cider making really isn’t that hard. In fact, if you get some unpasteurized cider and just let it sit, eventually, you’ll likely get some form of hard cider. This method, although dead simple and natural, takes time and produces inconsistent results.
Here’s what I want to do: follow a simple, repeatable method with room for experimentation that produces a decent hard cider and document that method in detail. I want to show you beginners out there how easy it is to jump into this. I’ve tried to take pics and notes along the way. Hopefully by the end, you’ll be able to make your own good stuff.
Hard cider, at its very core, is a combination of 3 things: Juice, Yeast, Time. That’s it; simple as that. My* method uses a bit more than this, but these are the three things you’ll need at a minimum. For this experiment, I made a 4 gallon batch, made with ingredients and tools that are readily available year round.
Ingredients (Shopping list at the end)
4 1 gallon jugs of 365 Organic apple juice from Whole Foods
1 packet Saflager yeast (available from any homebrew shop)
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
There are some things that you’ll need and some things that are nice to have.
If you use the gallon jugs from whole foods, you’re good to go. They come in 1 gallon glass jugs which are perfect for this (and reusable for future home brewing adventures). Otherwise, you can invest in a carboy (homebrew shop) or bucket (hardware store). I would stay away from metal because I’m afraid it might react with the acid in the juice
2. Airlock & Stopper
I bought 5 #6.5 drilled stoppers (homebrew shop) and 6 “S-Type” airlocks (homebrew shop). You need 4, though 6 is nice (I’ll explain later). If you want to be really ghetto about this, you can use 4 latex balloons with a small whole punched at the top of each one. The point of this is that you need to cover the jugs so that air can get out, but nothing can get in. This point is really important.
I used Star San (homebrew shop), but bleach and water will do the trick. Use 1 oz bleach per 1 gallon water. That being said, Star San is infinitely easier and not too expensive, I’d recommend this one.
4. Hydrometer – optional
This device measures the amount of sugar in a substance by taking its specific gravity. You can determine how much alcohol is in a substance by taking it’s specific gravity (sg) before and after fermentation. The difference in these two numbers will tell you how much sugar the yeast have eaten, thereby telling you how much alcohol they’ve produced.
5. Wine thief – optional
This is a device that acts sort of like a turkey baster (you could use a turkey baster). You’ll need some way of getting the liquid out without disturbing the yeast too much
6. Crappy vodka
Huh? Vodka? Yup, if you’re using an airlock, you should fill it with vodka. This helps kill any of the bad stuff that tries to get in, while letting any of the air that yeast makes out.
Start by getting all of your ingredients together in one place and decide on a spot for your cider to sit. This should be a cool, dry, dark spot. I chose a dimly lit room that was hardly used in my house. Grab a big bowl and mix in about ½ gallon of water with ½ oz of Star San. Add 4 of your stoppers and 4 of your airlocks. If you’re using a hydrometer and wine thief, put those into the bowl as well. Also put the plastic or glass jar that the hydrometer came in into the bowl (or fill with the Star San/Water mix). The key is that from now on, anything that touches the cider is clean and sanitary. If some random bacteria get into the cider, they could throw off the flavors.
Step 1 – Gather Ingredients
I made 4 gallons, 1 ginger, 1 spice, 2 plain. If you want to follow this, put your ingredients into the juice. Replace the caps and shake to combine.
Step 2 (optional) – Take Initial sg readings
Take the initial specific gravity (sg) readings using the wine thief and hydrometer. Start by dipping the thief into the jug and wait for it to fill. Then, cover with your thumb, pull out and empty juice into hydrometer cylinder.
Put enough in so hydrometer floats. Write down the # at the line of the liquid. (Hard to see in the picture, but the reading is about 1.51). Do this for all of your gallons (dump liquid back into gallon jugs when finished with each).
You’ll likely get a different reading for each jug (especially if you are using things like ginger and spices). Write all of these down (I just used masking tape on jugs to keep track). Step 2 is the longest part of brew day.
Step 3 – “Pitch” the yeast
Now, you’re ready for your yeast. Each pack of Saflager yeast makes 5 gallons of booze. Really, it’s not that important to get the exact right amount of yeast. What I did was use a 1/2 tsp of yeast for each jug. Just use a measuring spoon and toss it into the jug. This is called “pitching” the yeast in brewers terms.
Cap your concoction with the original caps and shake to combine. Uncap and you’re ready for the next step.
Step 4 – Cap and lock
Now that you’ve pitched your yeast in all 4 jugs, it’s time to cap. Remove a stopper from the Star San solution and wipe down with a clean paper towel. Next, wipe the inside of the neck of the jug so it’s dry. Shove the stopper into the opening and make sure it’s tight. If either the stopper or the glass is wet, it will likely pop out. Just keep at it (twisting it in a bit helps too). Once it’s in there and steady, grab one of the airlocks from the solution and fill to the “max” line with vodka. I used a measuring cup to pour the vodka. You can use water too, but the vodka will kill any nasties that try to get in. Be sure to use your cheapest stuff though. This is one of the few occasions to leave the Grey Goose in the cabinet and reach for the Vladimir instead. Next, insert the airlock into the stopper hole. Again, this should be snug. Repeat procedure with all four jugs.
That’s it! Kick back, relax, have a cold one to celebrate.
Day 1 after Brew Day
You should start seeing bubbles coming through your airlocks. In fact, you’ll probably see bubbles forming on top of the juice just hours after you add your yeast. The foam on top is called “Krausen”. This stuff might look pretty nasty but it’s perfectly natural. Your juice might start smelling like sulpher, again perfectly normal. All of this means your yeast have awaken and started to do their thing. I guess now’s a good time to talk about yeast. Basically, a yeast cell will eat sugar and produce two things: CO2 and alcohol. So, the thing that’s responsible for centuries of social lubrication is actually nothing more than yeast poo. Nice.
When you start to see bubbles, that means the yeast are doing their thing and producing CO2 and alcohol. If you start to see juice or krausen coming up into your airlocks, you’ll have to replace them with clean ones.
This is where the extra airlock come in. Whip up a batch of sanitizing solution and throw an airlock or two in there and let them soak for about a minute. Then, take an airlock out and fill with vodka. When you’re ready, remove the dirty airlock and replace with clean one. Now you can dump the gunk in your dirty one, clean and sanitize it, and replace another dirty airlock with it.
From here on out, just check in on your brew every day or so. For the first few days, you might have to change out the airlocks every few hours, but the krausen should subside within a day or two. I have 2 extra airlocks and 1 extra stopper, just in case an airlock happens to break inside the stopper.
Note: It’s important that you don’t let the airlock get clogged. If you’re the CO2 that the yeast produce has no way to escape, you’ll have one of two things happen:
1. Your stopper and airlock blow off (this is what you hope for in this situation). Your fermenting cider will likely come pouring out like a shaken soda freshly opened.
2. The bottle explodes. Otherwise known as a bottle bomb. You’ll have bits of glass and fermenting cider all over your room.
Needless to say, both of these situations are very no bueno and can easily be avoided.
Step 5 – Wait and taste
Fermentation should take about 1.5 weeks. Using your thief (or turkey baster), try some every few days. You’ll notice it getting drier and drier. This means the yeast are eating the sugars and producing alcohol. If you’re using a hydrometer, go ahead and start taking readings. They should now be anywere between .99 to 1.10. Once you’ve reached this level, you’ve got options.
Step 6 – Process
You can now do a couple of things. The easiest thing is just to refrigerate the entire gallon of cider. Sanitize an original cap and screw it on and throw it in the fridge. Simple as that. The pro is its simplicity. There are a couple of cons though. First, it’s a still cider, meaning no carbonation. Some people don’t mind this, so this method is good for them. The other problem is that you never really kill the yeast, just put them to sleep. If you were to cap the cider air tight and not put it in the fridge, you risk an explosion because the yeast may still produce alcohol and CO2. Some people have had no problems with this, others big problems. Best bet is to cap it and leave it in the fridge.
Another option is to prime, bottle and pasteurize. I won’t go into it here, there’s plenty of info on these forums about this, but essentially, you add some sugar, bottle the cider in airtight bottles, let it do its thing for about a week and then pasteurize to kill the yeast. This is actually what I did and it was rather simple. There’s a GREAT tutorial on this forum which explains the process in detail here:
Yet another option is to “cold crash”. I won’t go into it much here but it involves somewhat of a combination of the above two methods.
Step 7 – CONSUME!
Congratulations, you’ve made cider. Imbibe on!
I most certainly did not come up with this method myself. In fact, you can find this info all over the net, just have to piece it together. A great resource is this board itself. This is the post that originally inspired me though:
And Pappers has a really great tutorial on stove top pasteurization:
4 1 gallon jugs organic apple juice (~$8 each [jugs reusable])
Ginger (if using)
Spices (if using)
Local or Internet Home Brew Shop
6 S-type airlocks (~$1.50 each [reusable])
5 #6.5 drilled rubber stoppers (~$1.50 each [reusable])
1 pkg S-23 Saflager yeast ($5.50)
1 8oz pkg Star San (~$10 [will last you quite a while])
1 Hydrometer (~$10 [reusable]) optional
1 Wine thief (~10 [reusable]) optional
1 small bottle cheap vodka
How did the ginger turn out? How strong was it?
Great post! Just as a small point, I don't like to dump the must that I use for measuring gravities back into the main fermentation chamber. The risk of infection isn't worth the extra 4 oz or so, but you're probably right that it doesn't make much of a difference.
This is a great site that I've really enjoyed:
Nice write up, cider will probably be fantastic.
One nitpick, I think you mean the SG was 1.051, since 1.51 would pretty much be just straight sugar :P
@james: Ginger was actually my favorite. Not too strong at all, just a slight hint of ginger.
@McKinley: thanks! I'll check out the site.
@pimento: Doh! You're absolutely right :)
Good stuff, I have 2 gallons of the spiced fermenting away right now. Going to go the bottle and pasteurize method, hopefully I don't set off any bombs.
Doesn't the lager yeast need to be fermented at around 50*?
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