Cheapest Way To Make Cider

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Hello all! I'm new to this whole homebrewing thing, and I'm also a starving college student in the midst of his undergrad program. As such, and as someone that highly enjoys the sport of drinking, one night my friend and I decided we should be able to make our own cider for less than $30.00 including materials.
On New Year's Day, we went to Wal-Mart, and with our measly little budget, we began to shop. The first thing on our list was a container. In the sporting goods section there was a BPA-free 5 gallon water jug for $10. While that took up a third of our budget, it was worth it to us to pop for BPA-free, and they had no glass containers. Next was the liquid. We pushed our cart over to the juice isle, and they had bottles of 100% juice (from concentrate) for a little under $3 a piece. We threw 4 of them (enough for 3 gallons) in our cart, and then went and picked up a bag of white sugar, a strip of Red Star yeast (for bread making, apparently) and we had everything.

As most of you know, as the yeast is noshing on the sugar, it releases gasses. All the people with money use glass carboys and airlocks. Well, our "carboy" was a camping water jug, and we sure didn't have the money to invest in an airlock. What we did have though, was ingenuity. The principle of the airlock is simple: allow built up gasses to escape, while preventing fresh air and contaminates from entering the fermentation process. Well we didn't have any extra tubing lying around at home, and the tubing at Wal-Mart was way too expensive, so we bought a pack of straws.
All in all, our total cost was $29.60 for all the supplies (though we had some at home).
At home I sanitized the water container and all parts with boiling water. Then, we poured in the 3 gallons of apple juice and the sugar (2.5 cups of sugar per gallon of juice, so 7.5 cups total), sealed it up, and shook it like a broken VCR for a good 30 seconds. Then we poured in one package of yeast, lightly agitated it, and sealed it up. Now, you might be asking yourself "but what about the airlock?" Well, that's where the fun part is. See, those red Solo cups I mentioned came in handy here, as did the packing tape and the straws. We taped a Solo cup to the side of the container, stuck a straw in a hole on the back side of the water jug, led the straw down to the Solo cup, and filled the Solo cup with clean water.

We weren't sure if this was going to work, or if we were going to end up with 3 gallons of nasty, but after a couple of days the water in the cup started to take on the aroma of apples. We let it ferment for 14 days, broke it open, and we had 3 gallons of pretty good, quite sweet, hard apple cider! We drained it through coffee filters initially to get out a lot of the yeast, then I cold crashed it in smaller containers that could fit in the fridge.
The images attached are all the things before, during, and after (except the Boddington's Ale, that was for while we were mixing it, it's thirsty work!).
And yes, I did recycle old alcohol bottles from our glass recycling container, as well as some mason jars we weren't using at the moment. Again, sanitize the containers with lots of boiling water (but be sure to warm them up with warm tap water first or they'll crack from the temperature change). The picture of the cider bottled is before it was cold crashed, hence the cloudy look. It's clearer after the crashing and re-bottling.

I'm starting on a batch of berry cider in the next few days. Again, this will be done on the cheap but I will more than likely be investing in a glass carboy (but still using the redneck airlock). My goal is to keep doing batches as cheaply as possible, but every batch buy one more nicer thing for it. From the carboy to fresh pressed organic apples, one step at a time, my cider making experience shall bring together poor college students everywhere for the love of cider and science!
Please note, if you do try this, the plastic takes on the taste of the cider, and it NEVER LEAVES. Now, this is good, because you can use the same container for the same mix, but it's bad, because you can't store water in it again, or make any other type of cider in it because it'll take on all those flavors as well. That's why I'm choosing to upgrade to the carboy. Though it's very cost prohibitive for the starving college student, I can experiment with different recipes without having to worry about cross contaminating flavors. All my recipes you'll be able to do with a plastic container, but I'm upgrading in the name of cheap experimentation!
You've inspired me to make a batch! I'm really curious as to the abv%, I know it was done on a budget, so I may have to experiment. :)
Nice, but if you want to really be cheap, you shouldn't have bought the container. You can ferment your juice directly into the container you bought it in. Just keep the lid on semi-loosely to let the CO2 escape. For each gallon jug, just pour out one glass to drink, then pour a little into a saucepan and mix in your cup of sugar, and then pour that back into your juice. Shake with the lid on, then add your yeast, and then put the lid on loosely.
For a "starving college student," you could have saved a ton of money and not purchased the Boddingtons and instead acquired a food grade 5 gallon bucket from Lowes and a proper dry yeast.
hmmmm...for the cost of straws you can buy an airlock: they are $1 or less. Then stop by Lowes, and buy the food grade 5 gallon bucket and will be $6 with tax. Now you will have a nice 5 gallon fermenter that won't take on flavor.
If you are going to continue the process I would spend $10 for a bottle of Starsan, and another 5 gallon bucket. Mix the starsan with distilled water and it will last for several months. Much easier than boiling water for sanitation, and probably less expensive.
keep the gagetry you have gathered. It WORKS! But give up on the bread yeast. Go buy some champagne yeast, you'll be glad you did when you taste the difference. BUT don't dump it read up in here about how to "wash" yeast. Cheers
Disagree with most of the post; agree with the comments about $1.50 for a proper airlock and at a minimum the cheap Lowes bucket. Also disagree with the posts about champagne yeast. A clean fermenting ale yeast like Nottingham, S-04, or US-05 will be better...especially the way this guy is doing it.
Kudos on the ingenuity, but for $30 you could have done better with a little research on the many, many online brewing forums.
5 gallons of juice: $22.50
Yeast: $3.29
Sugar: $2.88
Airlock: Free (or find a balloon or condom, sanitize then put over opening and prick with a pin)
Carboy: Free
Buy unpasteurized local cider from the orchard ($5/gal). Add wine or champagne yeast to the room temperature cider (in the milk jug that it came in). Place a piece of foil over the opening or loosely reattach the screw on lid. Allow to ferment at room temp 4-5 days. It's ready to drink after refrigerating. total cost:$7/gal and you can reuse the yeast to make it less expensive.
Great job for newbies! I hope as your next batch ferments, you can figure out your own set of techniques. Don't be swayed by the negative sounding posts put here, as there are always different methods to get to the same end. Hang in there and be proud of yourselves for being for what you have done on a very tight budget. Because selling your home made hooch would be unlawful, if you were to take on investors, your out of pocket expenses for each batch will be greatly reduced. As mentioned before, different types of yeast give somewhat different results, you might ask your Local Homebrew Store for his or her input on the best yeast for your type of desired product.
Ahhhh, brings back memories of doing the same thing in college. Apple juice, sugar, raisins, and bread yeast. Fermented it in the gallon glass apple juice jugs and strained it through coffee filters. Although we didn't have the smarts to build any sort of airlock... just left the cap a little loose. Unfortunately we tightened the cap a bit too much once and woke to the sound of the bottle exploding in my roommates closet and the smell of hard cider everywhere. It was fun trying to explain the situation to the RA...
Grab a pack of US-05, please... for the love of god is good.
You can ferment in anything number 2 plastic, 5gal buckets at Home Depot and Lowes run ~3$. Water jugs work too, or just steal a 5Gal water cooler jug from the pile in the student center.
Until I read the comments I thought you had the cheapest method. I, for one, didnt know about buckedts at Home Depote and lowes.
Sounds fun. I might try this. I've only made one cider and the last two bottles are in the frig at nearly a year old. The last one really was nice.
Just a side note, Boddington's is a favorite of mine, especially after a work out. I got introduced to it by a friend I played racquetball with. He is from Burrmingham, England. It seems like there are not too many of us Bodd's drinkers around, but they all love their cider.
Anyway, I might do another cider soon if I can find some good applejuice. I doubt if there are any farms around here in Texas that grow apples but probably Wholefoods grocery would have a good selection of organic and unprocessed juice.
If you intend to carbonate your cider, none of the glassware pictured is suitable. Well, maybe the small flip-top, and less of a chance for the growler. Empty 2 liter soda bottles will work nicely for what you are doing, and you can even ferment and carb in the same one. Simply close the cap off when it is slightly sweeter than you want your finished product; wait until it gets 'soda hard'; and then put (and keep) in the fridge to halt ferm. Cold crashing before carbing will be less troublesome at drinking time (sediment), but would require a transfer from something into the 2 liter.
It was a good attempt but you need to let it ferment out for at least a month it will become crystal clear, dryer and your alcohol will be much higher. I would continue using your water jug and add a second fermenter and have multiple batches going at once. Get away from the bread yeast. champagne yeat would work but may not tolerate the 8 to 9% alcohol I use montrachet wine yeast it doesn't add any flavor and drys it out real nice. I follow this recipe works every time.
Also you can sometimes find carboys at garage sales and more often you can get 1 gallon glass jugs.Look around.Oh and also,use a better yeast:)
I read this a few days ago and I started to comment, but didn't want to rain on your parade so I opted not to. Great ingenuity on your part, but it definitely seems like the efforts to save money were based on numerous inaccurate assumptions. I would have also assumed airlocks were more expensive than they are, and surely a decent strain of dry ale, wine or champange yeast is expensive, right? Either way though, it worked and your efforts are commendable. Also noteworthy is that you pulled it off in a single-store, saving $$ on gas, right?
PS - I was quite pleased that your mind is in the right place. One making such a concerted effort to save money might be expected to have a case of Beast Light, or whatever the current college swill of choice is. You on the other hand, have a proper four-pack of good beer - I like where your head is :)
First, I agree with above poster, buy the "BEAST" to save money and get a little more basic equipment. It will serve you over and over. But I like your little experiment. It reminds me of how I learned to make wine at the ripe old age of 13. If nothing else it is a 'learning experience'.
The funny thing about saving money and homebrewing is that you seem to figure out all the short cut's on spending after the need to.
One point to everyone is I rarely use commercial air locks on carboys. I wrap the top with tin foil and rubber bands. Less clean up and no suck back when moving bottle. I've made 100's of gallons this way and never a spoilage. When primary is done I use plastic wrap to make a tighter seal. Just food for thought.
I say well done, some people are put off homebrewing because they think it will cost a lot of money, as you've proved, you dont need to! As others have pointed out, airlocks are cheap, but if like me you'd need them posted them it works out more expensive, which is the same for other equipment you dont have easy access to.
My only concern is those glass bottles - if there is still sugar and yeast in them, they will be likely to break/explode due the pressure. You can recycle plastic bottles too you know ;) You'll need to keep those glass bottles and jars below 5 degrees celcius in the hope the yeast wont wake up again for more sugar-munching!
You can let the juice ferment away for a month or two before bottling, by that time it should be nicely clear and you'll get less sediment in the bottles. Cider vastly improves after several months of aging, but mine rarely lasts that long...
thank you for an interesting blog post and i wish you the best of luck for your future brews!
I just wanted to say, that as with most things on the internet, how you read them or perceive them is key.
I didn't mean to be dismissive or demeaning with my post. I just wanted to show you where you could get things for the very cheapest. I remember being a poor college kid and drinking crappy booze. I wish I knew then what I know now about brewing. I would have been a much happier drunk!
Good work on the post, I enjoyed reading it. I liked the idea of challenging yourself. Long before I got into brewing as much as I do now, I tried the old fruit juice, bread yeast and time trick. It wasn't bad. . . it wasn't good either. But for the cost, I could drink just as well as buying crappy commercial stuff or even better, but with the pride of saying I'd done it myself.
Kudos, keep at it. Your friends will give you a hard time on your failures, and silently drink up your successes (if they are like mine). But you can at least say "I made that!"
Not a starving student, but a incurable cheapscate here is some advice to make cheap cider.
Aldi! Aldi sells apple juice at $1.49 a 1/2 gallon X 10 that's 15 bucks for 5 gallons of cider!
Also invest in champagne or wine yeast. It's 50 cents a packet. Also you can reuse it! When ya bottle your cider just pour new apple juice on top of the yeast cake, shake vigorously and voila more hard cider! You can reuse the yeast cake for about 5 batches.
For less of a hangover get away from using white sugar! Go with 2 lbs of brown sugar per 5 gallon batch. You can get 2 lbs of brown sugar for a dollar at most Dollar stores.
Now this might piss off some of the most conservative brewers, but if ya have a snap card, ie, food stamps, everything but the yeast can be bought with that...
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Wow! Thanks for all the comments everyone, I've learned a lot just from reading these. Since this first batch I did a second exactly the same and it turned out just as well, though I kept the empty juice bottles and transfered from the water jug to the bottles to cold crash after fermentation was done (again, I only fermented two weeks). For those of you concerned with the bottles breaking, as soon as I took the pictures I put them in the fridge and let them sit for a few days. The yeast settled to the bottom and after a few times through coffee filters it was clear and still a bit bubbly.
I had no idea about the cost of carboys, or the food grade buckets at Lowes (through there's a Lowe's a couple blocks from my house, I'll have to try that one) and the "local" beer, wine and cheese store is about 35 minutes away so it was cheaper to get what I did at Wal Mart than pay the gas money to get to the legit store.
Also, I just got a full time job, so hopefully I'll have more money to play around with and I might actually invest in a carboy and champagne yeast, though I will still try to keep things frugal and I'll still post on the forums about inexpensive ciders as I experiment.
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I'm curious to the abv% as well, I know it was effective, but we didn't have any way to measure it at the time. I'll be picking one up when I make it to the real home brew store eventually haha.
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I live in L.A...there's not much in the way of apple orchards around here. Though I just found out my next door neighbor makes his own wine, so I'm gonna pick his ear a bit and see if he has the hookups for fresh juices.
Very well done. Well written. Ignore the bad attitudes on here. I think you've inspired me to try to brew up a cider and I had no thoughts to do so before reading this thread/article. Great work.
@CotC, I know with my ciders using 2 lbs of brown sugar and champagne yeast I get a consistant ABV of 10%. If I use dry ale yeast it comes in at 8%. Also I have a buddy who does not add any sugar and uses champagne yeast and gets a nice lawnmower cider at 4.5%.
I would hazard a guess that you are coming in around 8 to 10% ABV.
i like it. seems like something i would do.
instead of bread yeast, you can buy an organic apple and chop it up and toss it in, and let the wild yeast do it's thing. a little more expensive(by about a dollar), but tastes more like apples and less like bread when you're finished. also you probably won't have to go far (or online) like you would proper wine/cider/champagne yeast.
as for the airlock - try a sanitized balloon...
just some food for thought.
Yea I have to agree with the previous threads...baking yeast vs home brewer yeast....go with home brewer Cider Yeast. This guy at a 49er game had this home brew concoction that tasted like caramel martinellis ....all i can say is YUM...great job!
If your patient you can pick up a cheap glass carboy on Amazon for $25 shipped (you have to pick up something with similar free shipping for $5 to do this though but occasionally you can find airlocks or even a bung at only a slight premium but it works out well) if you're pushing it on the cheap. I'm sure it's from China or something but at present I haven't had any issues out of some 3s I bought (I think they were only 15) and a 6 I bought just for Apfelwein. They're standard sizes though FWIW.
I've gotten a total of 8 glass carboys and one beat up sanke keg at $15 each on Craigslist.
Many bakeries/delis will give you a food grade bucket if you ask.
My Walmart has empty five gallon water bottles at $7, and I've gotten a few of those by just asking people.
You're in college, people use beer bottles, and if you volunteer at a Home Brew competition, they ask people to take the empty bottles home with them.
I share my beer with friends. They give me bottles. One of them gave me a turkey fryer. I am way ahead by sharing.
My first brew was bottled in 2 liter soda bottles. I still often bottle part of my batches in plastic to drink in public and at sporting events.
I used Redstar champagne yeast in a cider that got Best In Show. It's pretty cheap.
Good job on the cheap. It's possible to do slightly better for similar equipment; You can do much better on equipment for not that much more money.
Didn't have the money to invest in an airlock? Come on, an air lock is like $1.29.
I understand trying to do something on the cheap but some of this is a little ridiculous.
ok - his goal wasn't necessarily cheap, more like cheap & redneck! like how would mc gyver do it with materials in his house or what not... not too chabby!, i myself would like to lower the cost of my brews - good beer kits shipped are about 35 to 50 bucks.
I like experimenting and doing things on the cheap sometimes just to see if it can be done, lol. I thought your experiment was rather clever. I agree with the comments about the food grade buckets you can get at Lowe's, you spend a lot more on the container than necessary. The only thing I can add that may be helpful is that when CO2 is produced, it creates a positive pressure in the container, the only way nasties can get in is by gravity. A loosely covered lid is all you need, it will allow the gas out and nothing will get in. I use aluminum foil on my small batch containers