Lately, I have been experimenting with making hard cider. I’m really low-tech when it comes to this sort of thing. I make mead too, but I can’t be bothered with all that racking and bottling and stuff. So, I make an herbal tea, mix it 50/50 with honey, add some yeast and yeast energizer, throw an airlock on the bottle, and forget aboudit. When it’s time to drink the mead (3-6 months later), I just pour from the same bottle, which I store indefinitely with the airlock on it. I have the same approach to cider. The simplest way I know to make homemade hard cider is as follows:
1. Buy one of those gallon glass jars of organic apple juice from your local Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Trader Joe’s, etc.
Note: You can make your own apple juice instead if you have a juicer, because yum. I also like to simmer some spices in the juice before fermenting, like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc.
2. Drink a glass of the juice to make room in the jar.
3. Pour a little yeast in the bottle. It comes in little envelopes, and 1/4 of the envelope in a gallon jug should be more than enough. (I like champagne yeast, but there is such a thing as cider yeast.)
4. Add some yeast energizer to ensure fermentation.
5. Stir it all up.
6. Place an airlock on it, filled with water. See photo.
7. Let sit. I find this stuff is technically ready to drink pretty quickly. I have sipped it as early as a week into fermentation, and it is drinkable if a little harsh, but letting it sit will improve flavor a lot. Some folks let their cider sit for like 3 years, but 3-6 months is more reasonable for us beginners.
8. There are very accurate ways of figuring out when the fermentation has ended and you’re just aging, but it involves buying things, and this post is all about being easy and low-tech. So, just wait 6 weeks or so, and then it’s pretty safe to assume it’s done. At this point, you can switch the airlock out for the jug’s lid. I taste it at this stage to make sure the fermentation has actually occurred. You’re supposed to watch the airlock for bubbles and know based on that whether or not fermentation is happening, but I brew like I garden…low-tech and lazy!
You’re going to end up with a cloudy cider that has sediment in the bottom, and that sediment can affect the cider’s flavor, so there is an argument for “racking,” or removing the sediment. (More accurately, removing the cider from the sediment.) However, it is by no means necessary. If you want to rack, here is an excellent tutorial.
In fact, there are all kinds of things you can do to elaborate on the process, but you know, I just find I’m a lot less likely to try something for the first time if it seems really complicated up front. For me, starting simple can make the difference between trying something and just thinking about it!
If you do decide to add some steps to your cider process, there is of course a wealth if info on the Internet. If you’d like a book you can take into the kitchen with you, here is an excellent choice for beginning fermenters: True Brews. This book covers all kinds of fermented goodies, including cider, mead, kefir, and kraut. Now, if you find yourself totally enamored with brewing and you want to learn more, we have a beautiful book coming out in March called Home Brew: Beyond the Basics (available for pre-order). This book is all beers, baby! It is an easy-to-use, step-by-step, technical guide to beer-crafting, written by Green Man brewer Mike Karnowski.