This is Part 1 in my How to Make Hard Cider Series, check out Part 2: How to Bottle Hard Cider if you’re in bottling mode.
This, right here, will change your world. No, not in the “this is the best hard cider I’ve ever had, I should sell this stuff and make a bunch of money” kind of way, but in the “Wow, I just made my own alcohol and it doesn’t suck and maybe I want to learn more about this” kind of way. I first started making my own alcohol, mainly cider and mead, when Joel and I lived in a dry county in Arkansas. Yes, that still exists. I always kept it pretty basic and was usually happy with the results, plus I learned a few tricks along the way. Today I’m going to show you how to make hard cider, which I think is the easiest and as good a place as any to start brewing your own booze!
You’re probably going to have to buy a few things to get started in your brewing adventure, but don’t worry, everything is cheap. I will go over all of it with you. Here is what you need to get your brew started.
I’m going to show you how to make two gallons of hard cider. If you’re going to make one, why not two? I actually think it’s easier to do two (you’ll see why later), but feel free to just do one gallon if you want.
- 2 gallons apple cider without preservatives in glass jars. Preservatives mess up the fermentation (trust me, I’ve made that mistake), but citric acid is ok. Santa Cruz Organic is one that works well. The glass jars will become your fermenting vessels and can be reused many times over. Think of it as an investment.
- 3-5 cups (24-32 ounces) brown sugar depending on how sweet or dry you want your finished product to be.
- 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 whole cloves, 20 raisins. Raisins are a natural yeast nutrient.
- 1 package Red Star Champagne Yeast (might as well buy more than one, you’ll need them!)
- 2 airlocks with rubber stoppers. Make sure the stoppers are the right size for your jug! These ones I linked to fit most jugs, but the Santa Cruz Organic jars have wider openings and may need bigger stoppers. Or, you can also buy the glass gallon jug with airlock all together.
- Sanitizer. This is super important, do not skip this! I like One Step brand as it’s very easy to use and inexpensive.
- A big funnel, a big spoon and a liquid measuring cup. You may not use the cup, but it’s good to have it out in case you need it.
- A big pot and a large bowl. (not pictured)
If you’re buying all of these supplies, whether it be online or at a homebrew shop, you might as well get what you’re going to need for bottling as well, an auto siphon with tubing (the mini works good for gallon jars) and a bottle filler. I’ll go over how to use these things in Part 2.
Ok, now let’s move on to sanitizing. It is very important that you sanitize EVERYTHING that will touch your cider. I usually mix up the sanitizer right in the pot that I’m going to brew in. Just follow the directions on the sanitizer that you have. The one I use is 1 Tbsp sanitizer powder to 1 gallon hot water.
Sanitize your big spoon, funnel, measuring cup, airlocks and rubber stoppers, and big bowl. Make sure the pot is properly sanitized at the end, and then I usually save some of the sanitizer in something, just in case you forget something or drop your funnel on the floor or your cat lays on your big spoon. It happens. If my fermenting jars are brand new with apple juice in them I usually don’t worry about sanitizing them, but otherwise you would do those as well.
Ok, now it’s time for the fun part. Put one whole gallon of juice into the pot and turn it on medium high to warm it up (don’t boil it).
I usually like to let them sit for a little while here, maybe 20 minutes or so, to steep the spices a bit, but it’s not necessary. Now you’re going to pour or scoop the cider from the bowl into the jars to top them off. Leave at least a good 2 inches or more of head space at the top of your jars.
You will have leftover juice, you can drink that now and think about how much better it will be when it gets you buzzed. Put the lids on the jars and mix everything around a bit to combine. The next step is to add the yeast, but you need to make sure that the liquid is not too hot. You can use a thermometer if you want (sanitize it!), but I usually just go by feel (don’t stick your finger in it! Just feel the outside of the jar). You want it to be lukewarm (less than 90°F), if it’s too hot it will kill your yeast. When you feel that it’s ready (I trust you), split the yeast packet between the two bottles. It doesn’t have to be exact.
You can actually make up to 5 gallons of brew with 1 yeast packet, so keep that in mind for the future. Recap the jars and now you’re really going to shake them up, about a minute or two for each bottle. The yeast like air, so you’re trying to aerate the liquid, plus you’re distributing the yeast and getting stronger all at the same time. I usually sing “Shake it like a polaroid picture” while I’m doing it. It helps.
Post shake. Sorry, I could not take a picture while I was shaking the jars. Omg, though, now it’s alive! You can see all of the cute little yeasts floating around in there, just waiting to eat all that sugar so they can poop out alcohol. That’s how it works, right??? Anyways, now you need to attach your airlocks to the rubber stoppers if you haven’t already, fill them with water to their fill line, then stick them in the top of your jars.
Now, you wait. I know, it’s hard. Put the jars in a cool (not cold), dark place, a closet is usually good. In a few hours you may notice some bubbling starting to happen. It was dark out when mine started going. Your airlocks will start to bubble as well.
By the following day it should really be going good. If you don’t see bubbles after 24 hours something might be wrong. Give it more time, but if you still have nothing after a few days then something is wrong. The only time I have ever had this happen is when I accidentally used cider that had a preservative in it. That was a sad time.
Now just let it ferment until it’s done. You’ll know because it will completely stop bubbling. This can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, depending on many factors, but temperature is one. When it’s warmer it will be done quicker. Mark on your calender the day you brew. I’ll let you know when mine is done and we’ll move on to How to Bottle Hard Cider.
Oh, which reminds me… if you don’t want to buy empty bottles for bottling your cider you better start drinking some beer and saving your bottles! I like to use the ones that come with a flip top (grolsch bottles), then I don’t have to buy bottle caps. Either kind will work, though. Think about what you want to use, then drink the beer that corresponds with that and save the bottles. How’s that for a homework assignment? Happy brewing!