STEP ONE: GATHER YOUR MATERIALS & INGREDIENTS
Unlike beer brewing, which can be complicated and requires a plethora of specific ingredients, creating hard apple cider is relatively straight forward – and depending on how fancy you want to get, very affordable. You’ll need to make a quick stop to a local brewer’s supply store and the market for:
+ 1 package of wine yeast (Montrechet is common and highly recommended, but we also experimented with MA33 Vintner’s Harvest) + Five plastic airlocks + Five #6 rubber stoppers with a hole for the airlock + Five gallons of fresh pressed apple cider, in one gallon glass jugs (Whole Foods 365 brand or Cadia Organic Apple Juice works best) + Brown sugar, assorted spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ground ginger + Measuring utensils and a clean funnel + Permanent marker
Note: most yeast is packaged for 5 gallon batches, so that’s the yield for this recipe. You can make more or less, but you’ll have to adjust the yeast accordingly.
STEP TWO: PREPARE YOUR WORK SPACE
Once it comes time to combine the ingredients, things will move kind of quickly, so it’s best to get everything laid out and ready before you start. You’ll want a 1/4 cup measuring cup for the sugar, and teaspoons for the spices if you choose to use them. You’ll also need a small dish for mixing up the yeast and small funnel for getting everything down in the bottles.
Oh YES! The bottles. The bottles are the reason this recipe is so easy and perfect for beginners. In most beer or wine making recipes, lots of time and attention is required to sterilize the containers that will hold the alcohol. But this recipe uses apple juice that’s already living in perfectly sterile glass bottles! Be sure that the bottled juice is at room temperature when you start (too hot or cold and it could be bad for the yeast) and try not to touch the rim or inside of the bottle.
STEP THREE: PREP YEAST AND CHOOSE SPICES
Now that you’ve got all your ingredients and equipment within arms reach, it’s time to start mixing things up. Open all the bottles so they’re ready (but save the caps!). If you’re going to experiment with different combinations of sugar, yeast, and spice, be sure to write it on the bottle’s label with a marker. It will all look the same once you’re done, so it could be hard to keep track. We used the following combinations:
Montrechet yeast, no sugar and ground ginger
MA33 yeast, brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon
Montrechet yeast and brown sugar
Follow directions on the package for preparing the yeast. Most will recommend that you dissolve it in a small amount of warm water to activate the bacteria.
STEP FOUR: ADD YEAST, SUGAR, AND SPICES
Use a tablespoon and your funnel to add 1/5 of the yeast to each bottle. Don’t worry if your measurements aren’t exact! It’s the sugar, not the amount of yeast, that determines how alcoholic your cider will be. Next, add the sugar (we used 1/4 cup in each) and your selected spices (we used about a teaspoon of each).
STEP FIVE: SHAKE YOUR BOOTY
Remember those caps you set aside? Time to restore them to their rightful place on top of the glass jugs. Take each jug, which now contains juice, yeast, sugar, and spices, turn it upside down and give it a good shake for about 30 seconds to a minute. You want to make sure all of the sugar and yeast is dissolved and the spices well incorporated throughout. Do your happy dance.
STEP SIX: SEAL AND STORE
Once everything is sufficiently shaken up, remove the caps once again. Now it’s time to assemble the airlocks that will allow the yeast to breath while it’s busy turning all that sugar in to delicious alcohol. Each of your rubber stoppers should have a hole in the center. Press the stem of each airlock down into this hole until there’s a strong seal.
Remove the perforated plastic lid that sits on the top of each air lock. Use a liquid measuring cup or pitcher to pour a small amount of water down into the airlock. There should be “max” lines on the two larger chambers of the airlock. Try to fill it up to those lines, but not over. You want there to be enough water so that bugs and bad bacteria can’t get down into the jug, but not so much that it overflows once the yeast starts bubbling. Press each stopper/airlock combo down into the neck of one of your glass jugs. Replace the perforated plastic lid on top of the airlock. Voila! The easy bit is done. Now comes the hard part: waiting.
Find a cool, dry, and preferably dark spot in your house to store the jugs while they ferment. Ideally, they should be kept between 50 and 65 degrees, but a few degrees in either direction shouldn’t matter too much. We stored ours in a linen closet. If you’re worried about the cider getting too warm, wrap them up in some damp bath towels and aim a floor fan directly at them. Re-dampen the towels as needed.
For delicious apfelwein, wait at least a full week before taking a taste. Remove the airlock and stopper, and use a turkey baster to extract some of the brew. If it tastes too dry or yeasty for your liking, replace the stopper and let it age another week. Once you’ve arrived at the taste you like, put the jugs in the fridge for 2-3 days to “crash” the yeast. Transfer the liquid carefully to another container, being carefully not to disturb the sediment that will have gathered on the bottom of the jug. Rinse out the yeast, and transfer the cider back to the original container. Now the cider can safely hang out for awhile: it can be bottled if you want to buy the appropriate equipment, or aged for months in the glass jugs.
Lead image via /Flickr