We will be starting our introduction to home brewing series here with instructions on how to make hard cider because we think it provides the perfect introduction to the craft. This series of posts will teach you how to exploit the basic properties of yeast, to brew up something so delicious, and yet simple, that your special occasions and holidays will never be the same. And it won’t take a large investment in time or money either!
Brewing hard cider is fun, and the joy of producing such a delicious alcoholic beverage yourself can easily become a serious hobby in itself!
You will need a few basic brewing tools to get started, they don’t cost much, and once they are purchased, you will be able to brew up an ocean of cider without further investment if you choose.
6 ½ gallon food grade fermentation bucket, and a lid with a grommet hole tapped into it.
6 ½ gallon, food grade, bottling bucket with a spigot tapped about an inch above the bottom of the bucket.
3 to 4 feet of clear, surgical grade, rubber tubing.
Racking cane (or auto siphon).
Bubble air trap.
Long handled stirring spoon.
Clean bottles and bottle caps. (can reuse most old beer bottles)
Brew shop recommended detergent and sanitizer.
Thermometer (one that is long and narrow)
Brew Bags (for holding spices)
Second fermentation bucket (makes secondary fermentation possible without hassle).
Easy or Swivel Cap bottles (eliminates the need for a bottle caper and caps).
Hydrometer and flask.
Large mesh brew sock or tea towels w/big elastic band(for covering during first 2 days)
This all in one brewing kit at Midwest Supplies would get you setup with everything but the brew bags and actual bottles. If you have one a local brew shop can also usually outfit you without too much trouble.
Now that you have your equipment, it’s time to start brewing!
Here is the ingredient list you’ll need:
Ingredients for Primary Fermentation of our 3 Kings Cider:
5 gallons of 100% apple juice or other fruit juice with no preservatives or added sugar.
3 lb brown sugar (brown sugar adds flavor and a light caramel color to your brew).
1 lb corn sugar
1 lb Pilsen Dry Malt Extract.
1 ½ tsp. Yeast Energizer (helps your yeast become established in their new sugary environment).
Wyeast “Cider” Yeast
Ingredients for Secondary Fermentation:
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
3 cinnamon sticks
Ingredients for Bottling:
6.5 fluid ounces of 100% real honey
Brewing alcohol was artfully practiced for thousands of years without a great understanding of the science behind it, so let’s not worry too much about the science in this first batch of cider except where it will increase the chances of your success.
1) The first order of business is to accurately read the instructions for the yeast and yeast energizer you are using. Various yeasts require different treatments in order to yield the desired end result. The recommended Wyeast needs to be activated by slapping a small pack of energizer that is inside the liquid yeast bag and then allowed to activate for up to a few hours before you add it to your fermentation bucket. Here’s a great little video showing more on this step:
If you are unable to locate this yeast and are using a dry yeast it will also require a little preparation. Normally about 15 minutes in a cup or two of 80 to 90 degree water will hydrate it to a point where it is ready to be added to your apple juice and other fermentable sugars. But be sure to ask your local homebrew shop staff or refer to the packet itself for the most accurate method for your particular strain.
You will also want to be sure to follow the instructions for your specific yeast energizer. Some types recommend adding it to a boil, in which case you should add it to the boiling sugar slurry in this recipe. Some varieties do not require this and can be added directly to the fermentation bucket itself.
2) Next and arguably most importantly, we need to clean and sanitize our fermentation bucket, lid, bubble air trap, and stirring spoon. The greatest risk to the cider isn’t that it won’t ferment; it is that it will be infected with bacteria that renders it undrinkable. Because of this, it’s important to take every precaution to avoid contamination. Our first round of defense is cleaning and sanitizing everything that comes in contact with the brew.
It is said that brewing is about 70% cleaning and sanitizing. When it comes to total hours of effort, I would say that is just about right. Most of home brewing is watching and waiting, but when there is work to be done, it almost always starts in the sink, or the bathtub with a brush and a bucket full of sanitizer.
Once everything is scrubbed, and laid out in your kitchen, ready for use, you are ready for the fun part. It’s time to start mixing the ingredients together. It’s really that simple!
If your yeast has been properly attended too you are ready to get mixing. Prepare all your ingredients ahead of time.
3) Take a quart of water, or alternatively, a quart of the apple juice you plan to ferment, and put it in a sauce pan on the stove top. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then turn off the burner.
4) While stirring, add the brown sugar and corn sugar to the hot liquid. Then slowly add the Pilsen Dry Malt Extract to the hot liquid until they are fully melted. You can turn the heat back on if needed. The Dry Malt Extract can get clumpy very fast when it hits steam or is poured all at once into a liquid. If this happens don’t worry, keep stirring until the clumps are mostly dissolved. Just don’t let the solution burn!
5) Once your sugars have melted into slurry, let it cool to about 78 to 80 degrees before pouring it into the bottom of your fermentation bucket. If your wort is too hot when you pitch your yeast, you can kill them, but more likely, you will end up with unwanted yeast activity before they are fully prepared for the job, resulting in bad flavors. Most ideal fermentations take place at temperatures below 80 degrees. Cool your slurry by tucking it into the fridge for a few minutes or using an ice bath to help cool it down.
The last time I brewed cider, I assumed that the 5 gallons of room temperature apple juice would bring the temperature of the sugar slurry down to a reasonable temperature. I was wrong, and I had to stick my bucket of wort in a cold bathtub for almost an hour to get to an ideal yeast environment. I could have cooled the sugar alone in the fridge in about 15 minutes… lesson learned!
7) Next, pour your 5 gallons of apple juice into the bucket. Don’t make a mess, but let it swirl and splash a bit. You need the sugar solution to be well diffused, and the resulting wort needs to be well oxygenated for the yeast to successfully become established in their new home.
This is the only time you will want your cider to be aerated with oxygen. Once the fermentation process begins, excessive oxygenation can lead to off flavors, which can be a real bummer after patiently waiting to be able to drink it for several weeks or even months.
For now though, to make sure your wort is a welcoming, well oxygenated environment for the yeast, take your stirring spoon and stir everything up really vigorously.
8) If you have decided to buy a hydrometer for this first foray into fermentation, click here to learn how to take your original gravity reading. The estimated alcohol by volume (ABV) of this batch of cider is 10-11%.
If you decided not to buy a hydrometer, don’t panic, you will be able to see your yeast at work very soon, which will tell you enough about what is going on in your fermentation bucket to know if it is safe to drink. And when it comes to bottling time, you will be able to smell the present alcohol too.
9) Take your yeast, and pitch it into the wort. If you are using the Wyeast, make sure you don’t pour the little, popped, plastic bag that held the energizer, in with the yeast. Give everything one more vigorous stir and you are ready to finish wrapping things up.
10) You have two options at this point: snap the lid down tight with an airlock or use a cheesecloth cover for a few days and then apply the lid. If you decide to cover it right away: snap on the lid tightly, take your bubble air lock and stick it into the grommet hole in the top of the bucket lid.
There is a little cap at the top of the lock that can be removed. Remove it and add some un-spoiled sanitizer or vodka to the max levels shown on the side and replace the cap.
The second option is to cover the top of the bucket with a clean cloth, secured so that it will not fall into the wort, and wait up to two days before adding the lid and airlock as described above. We followed this step for this recipe. The purpose is to help the yeast get a strong start in metabolizing the sugar. There are exposure risks if your cloth falls down into the bucket, or it is not covering the bucket enough to avoid fruit flies or other small pests though. If you decide to skip this step, you will not negatively affect your cider in my experience.
There is more fun, and exciting work to be done, but for the next 3 weeks, you are on easy street. Make sure to check in on your little brewery every once in a while. Somewhere between 12 hours and 48 hours the air lock will start to bubble. Remember that the byproducts of yeast eating sugar are alcohol and carbon dioxide? The bubbling you will see is caused by the escaping carbon dioxide. Don’t worry, your air trap only lets things out, nothing that can hurt your cider will get in unless you are taking the lid off a bunch (which we don’t recommend).
The primary fermentation and the resulting bubbles will last at the most 8 days or so. Even when the bubbling has completely stopped, everything is happening as it should. Over the 3 weeks your cider is sitting in the primary fermenter a layer of trub will form on the bottom of the fermenter. We do not want to reincorporate these layers once they have separated so be careful not to move or jostle the fermenter as much as possible.
In 3 weeks we will move the wort off of the trub bed and into the secondary fermenter where we will be adding the spices and raisins. For now though move your fermentation bucket into a cool dark closet (65-75 degrees ideally) out of the reach of children and pets, and relax. The yeast will take it from here!
- 5 gallons of 100% apple juice or other fruit juice with no preservatives or added sugar.
- 3 lb brown sugar (brown sugar gives a light caramel flavor to your brew).
- 1 lb corn sugar
- 1 lb Pilsen Dry Malt Extract.
- 1 ½ tsp. Yeast Energizer (helps your yeast become established in their new sugary environment).
- Wyeast “Cider” Yeast
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 cup raisins (we used white and regular)
- 2 cloves
- 6.5 fluid ounces of 100% real honey
- Boil a quart of the apple juice. While stirring quickly add the sugars. Remove from heat then slowly add the Pilsen Dry Malt Extract to the hot liquid until they are fully melted. If it clumps, return to heat and keep stirring vigorously until the clumps are mostly dissolved. Just don’t let the solution burn!
- Cool to 78-80 degrees in the fridge or via an ice bath. Pour into the fermenter allowing it to swirl and splash a bit.
- Take an original gravity reading.
- Pitch yeast and yeast energizer. Stir and cover fermenter with cheesecloth or lid and airlock.
- Move to dark cool location (65-75 degrees) where it will not be disturbed. If using cheesecloth cover with lid after 2 days.
- Rest for 3 weeks. Transfer to secondary fermenter.
- Add vanilla to fermenter directly and raisins, cloves and cinnamon sticks in mesh bag.
- Rest 1 week. Take final gravity reading. Add priming honey and bottle.