I began thinking about apple cider last year, but this year I’m actually making some. I wanted to create an easy recipe so that most people could make their own cider, have fun doing it, and be proud of the result – a bit like the hard cider version of Leslie’s Apple Wine.
Ingredients: Apple juice and yeast
The juice can come from anywhere as long as it’s 100% apple juice with no preservatives. Advanced cider makers blend specific varietals to get just the right mix of acid, tannin, and sugar – not to mention flavor and aroma. For beginners I strongly recommend clarified, pasteurized juice. I’ll be using not-from-concentrate apple juice from Costco. From here you can just pour the juice into a fermenter and add yeast.
Wait! Don’t you have to measure the sugar and acidity? Aren’t they supposed to be within a certain range? Yes and yes, but if they were outside the broad targets for making cider, the juice wouldn’t taste very good (too flabby, too tart, too bland, etc …) so the manufacturer will be managing the sugar and acid of the commercial juice. Even though he won’t have cider in mind, you’ll probably be ok – I did say this was an easy recipe.
Since the ingredient is just apple juice, the quantity is up to you. You want five gallons of cider? Use five gallons of juice. Have a small primary fermenter? Just use one gallon of juice. I’m using two gallons of juice and pouring it into a 3-gallon carboy – that will be my primary, and I’ll ferment it under an airlock. For each five gallons of juice, use one packet of yeast.
Best yeast for cider?
I think most yeast will work great – just keep in mind that each one has it’s own nutrient requirements, optimal temperature range, and alcohol tolerance. I usually recommend Red Star’s Premier Cuvee because it’s a reliable yeast that’s forgiving and gives good results. But I’m not taking my own advice this time.
I used to brew a lot of beer, and one yeast from my homebrewing days stands out: White Labs San Francisco Lager – it’s the only one I would pay up for. For this year’s cider, I’m using Wyeast California Lager (2112) a very similar (the same?) yeast that retains lager characteristics up to 65F. At $5/packet it’s not very economical, but it’s something I wanted to do – I’m hoping it’ll add something to the finished cider.
- Optional: Measure the specific gravity and titratable acidity of your juice. Adjust to SG 1.045 – 1.065 and TA 3.4 – 5.6 g/L as malic.
- Pour juice into primary fermenter.
- Add yeast.
If you want to make it more complicated, check out the “Variations” section, below.
Why not press your own juice?
Crushing and pressing apples yourself can be rewarding, and you’ll be able to control the blend that goes into your cider. If you know what you’re doing, you have the equipment, and you have access to high quality cider apples, you can make better cider this way. But if you’re new to cider making, it will just add an extra step – keep it simple when you’re starting out, get the basics right, then you can decide if the equipment and time are worth the cost.
And for small batches, the cost will be high. A combination apple grinder/press like the one pictured will cost about $750. A machine like that can be invaluable to a backyard grower, but not for someone just starting out making cider or someone who just wants to make a gallon or two.
Finally, buying clarified juice – juice that looks clear to the eye, not cloudy with sediment at the bottom – means you don’t have to worry about fining. In practical terms, it means your cider will be ready sooner with less work.
Cider can be sweet or dry – carbonated or still. Dry, still ciders are the easiest to make, but a lot of people, especially those who are new to cider, will prefer sweet and/or carbonated ciders. You can sweeten a still cider the same way you would a wine. You can carbonated a dry cider the same way you would a beer. Producing a sweet carbonated cider is tougher. You should get a few completed ciders under your belt before you try. But it can be done.
One approach is to carbonate a dry cider the way you would a beer, but disgorge the spent yeast as in the traditional method of Champagne production, and then, without spilling, add a syrup made with sugar, sulfite, and sorbate. Then quickly cap with a crown cap. I don’t have the space to cover this here, and it’s an advanced technique – don’t try it your first time!
So yes, you can make it as complicated as you like. But for your first cider, get some juice, add some yeast, and make cider!