Hard cider: the grown up apple juice

I love apples. I always have. Apple juice was my drink of choice as a child and I still love the flavor (although not the sweetness).

Hard cider is my “grown up apple juice” and an ideal drink for a gluten-free girl who can no longer enjoy regular beer. (I haven’t found a gluten-free beer I truly like, as they tend to be on the lighter, hoppier side and I prefer ambers and stouts.) As I’ve unfortunately become sensitive to sugar (it makes me grumpy and tired), I also like dry ciders. I read labels at the grocery store on a regular basis as I like to know what’s in my food, but realizing just how sweet a lot of commercially available ciders are was a bit depressing.

Fortunately, I got a Mr. Beer Hard Cider Kit for my birthday in January, so now I can make my own.

Disclaimer: I’ve made three batches of cider to date and I may or may not know what I’m doing. So take my advice with as much salt as you want.

home brewed apple ciderThe kit came with everything I needed to make my first brew — a plain, 2-gallon batch from apple juice concentrate + yeast + sugar. I let it ferment for about eight days before bottling, as I was understandably very impatient and it turned out drinkable, not very alcoholic and a bit yeasty. It did improve over time as it conditioned in the bottles and we were quite able to drink it all up without any issues.

Before I made a second batch, I bought myself The Everything Hard Cider Book: All you need to know about making hard cider at home and some bulk no rinse cleanser for sanitizing. The book is thorough, yet has a recipe in the front for people like me who just want to get on with brewing something.

That told me all I really needed was a gallon of good apple juice and cider making yeast. (Plus maybe some yeast booster which I still haven’t bought and don’t seem to need.) I decided on Lalvin Dried Wine Yeast EC 1118 for the yeast (probably because it’s supposed to make a good dry cider) and got to work. The recipe was:

1 gallon apple juice
1 packet cider yeast

I didn’t take any photos of that batch. But it turned out great. Drier than the first batch, fairly alcoholic and tasty.

For batch #3, I decided to experiment with fruit. My second favorite fruit is raspberry, so a raspberry-apple cider seemed like a perfect combination.

homebrewed raspberry hard cider

Here’s the general recipe I used for raspberry-apple hard cider:

  • 1 gallon organic, unfiltered apple juice (I used our local grocery store’s brand)
  • About 2 lbs frozen raspberries
  • 1 packet EC 1118 yeast
  • 2-3 quarts water (this dilutes the alcohol content as I’m in it for the flavor, not the boozability)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize everything you’re going to use with the no rinse cleanser – a small sauce pan, the brewing vessel (including the tap), a vegetable masher, a glass bowl.
  2. Put frozen raspberries in a glass bowl and defrost (I used the microwave and probably cooked them a bit, but it really doesn’t matter).
  3. Mash frozen raspberries with the vegetable masher.
  4. Proof the yeast: warm a cup or so of water in a small saucepan until it boils. Take off the heat and cool until it’s 104-109F. Add yeast. Let sit for about 15 minutes.
  5. Pour a gallon of apple juice into the fermenter.
  6. Add the smushed raspberries.
  7. Add the proofed yeast (everything in the saucepan).
  8. Put in a dark place that’s about 68F for a week or two. I left mine for 2 weeks. You can taste it to see if it’s done — it’ll taste alcoholic and like all the sugar has been used up.

To bottle it:

  1. Sterilize everything you’re going to use: a small saucepan, a spoon, funnel, your bottles, measuring cup, strainer, etc.
  2. Mix 2oz sugar (apparently you’re supposed to use corn sugar, but I use cane sugar as I haven’t bought any corn sugar yet) in 1 1/2 cups of water (or about that much) and heat and stire until it dissolves.
    The sugar is what gives the cider its slight fizziness during the second stage of fermenting. If you want flat cider, skip the sugar steps and go straight to bottling.
  3. Pour the sugar syrup mixture into a 2-gallon container (or divide into two 1-gallon containers).
  4. Decant fermented cider into this container.
    Note: the bits of raspberries kept clogging my tap, so I ended up using a strainer in the funnel and one of those stainless steel tea ball things over the inside of the tap. Also note: the pointy end of a meat thermometer does a good job unclogging the tap.
  5. Swirl it around a bit to mix in the sugar.
  6. Fill your bottles. I’m using plastic PEP bottles as that’s what came in my kit. I’ll switch to glass eventually.
  7. Cap bottles. (I gave mine a squeeze before capping to squeeze out the air, so they’ll have room for the carbonation.)
  8. Place in a cool, dark place (around 68F again) for a week or two. You’ll know when it’s ready to chill and enjoy when the plastic bottles are hard.
  9. Put in the fridge and chill for 2 hours to weeks (however long it takes you to drink it all).
  10. Enjoy!

You can make cider a lot more complicated and worry about alcohol content, sweetness, etc. and maybe at some point I will (I’ll have to read the entire book first to know what I’m supposed to worry about).

For now, I’m simply enjoying fermenting tasty things in my kitchen (I’ve also got a kefir habit going that I’ll post about sometime).

Making hard cider is surprisingly easy, fairly quick and delicious.