Making Hard Cider – First Attempt

Hard cider has really been a popular beverage lately. I’ve seen quite a few new varieties hit the shelves at the grocery store lately and I’ve always been a fan. I thought it would be a good idea to make a batch to serve around Thanksgiving time, so this first attempt is just me getting my feet wet. I tried a beer/cider hybrid called Graf a while back, but I wasn’t too excited about the way it came out. I remember it tasting tart and the yeast seemed to dominate the flavor over the apples. This time around, I’m going for that sparkling cider taste; sweet, carbonated, and somewhere around 6.5% ABV. I don’t really care about the appearance – just as long as it’s sweet and full of apple deliciousness. I also want to experiment a little bit with some cinnamon, so when primary fermentation is complete, I might split the batch in half and add it to a smaller secondary fermentor. So here’s the recipe…

The Recipe (2 gallon batch):

  • 2 Gallons of Apple Cider* (pasteurized, no preservatives)
  • 1 lb. of Dark Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Packet of Dry Champagne Yeast (re-hydrated)

* I bought 4 half-gallons of White House “Fresh Pressed” Unfiltered Apple Juice. Since, by definition in the US, cider is just unfiltered apple juice, I’m calling it cider, despite what the product’s label says. This product has no preservatives and it’s non-filtered. Sounds and looks like cider to me.

Instructions

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Boil for a few minutes to kill any bacteria in the water. Remove it from the heat and add the pound of brown sugar. Stir in the sugar with a whisk until all the sugar is dissolved. Continue boiling for a few minutes. Chill the pot in an ice bath until the temperature reaches 70°F.
  2. Start rehydrating your yeast by adding it to about a cup of water, heated to about 90°F. A lot of people don’t rehydrate their dry yeast and I don’t understand why. It’s recommended by the manufacturer. I would think they know what they’re talking about.
  3. Sanitize a carboy and add your juice/cider and brown sugar syrup to it.
  4. Aerate the juice/cider. I use pure oxygen with a stainless air stone for 30 seconds. I usually do it for about a minute with 5 gallons, so I cut the duration in half for this small batch of 2 gallons. Now is a good time to take a gravity reading. My OG was 1.061.
  5. The yeast should be saturated by now. Give them a pep-talk and pour it in the carboy. Add your airlock and allow it to ferment like any other ale.

Fermentation is Complete – Now What?

This is the tricky part. Are you going to keg or bottle your cider. I’m going to keg mine. I mentioned earlier that I wanted my cider to be sweet. Well, it’s not going to be sweet when I taste it from the fermentor. It’ll probably be tart and bitter, and indeed it was, not to mention quite dry. I sweetened it up with about 3/4 cup of lactose. I had some lactose left over from my blueberry cream stout. I chose to sweeten this way because lactose is a non-fermentable sugar, meaning that when I add it to my keg, I’m not going to kickstart another stage of fermentation. You can also add potassium sorbate to the cider and then sweeten it with a sugar of your choice. This is probably the more common approach, but I just happened to have the lactose on hand. And that’s really all there is to it. Keg it, pressurize it to about 12 psi and wait for it to age.

Oh wait… you’re bottling?

If you’re bottling and want your cider to be sweet, you’re going to have to back-sweeten with something non-fermentable like lactose, and THEN add additional priming sugar to your bottles so that the yeast can generate some CO2 when you cap your bottles. I have also heard of people using Truvia to accomplish the same thing, but haven’t tested that theory personally.

Drumroll please…

The results are in! I tasted the cider every week for the better part of a month and it got better and better with age. At first, it was VERY dry and I was pretty disappointed. Then it started sweetening up and started revealing more and more character each week. I would say that 6 weeks have gone by and it’s pretty enjoyable now. It’s not the best, but I’m pretty proud for a first-attempt. I think if I were to explore ciders again next year, I would change my yeast to Nottingham (which I heard is a very good yeast for cider), and use some belgian candi syrup during the fermentation process so that I don’t have to back-sweeten it later. Any friends out there do a cider lately? Share some thoughts/insight in the comments below.

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