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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Keeping it Simple: Let's Make Hard Cider!

Pure hard cider. Boom.
Former Siciliano's employee and longtime friend Sarah McGrath checks in with this great recipe for making hard cider. 

By Sarah McGrath

Hard cider is possibly the easiest fermented beverage to make. If you've never made cider, now is the time! It doesn't require pressing grapes, mashing grain or boiling wort. All you need is a couple of fermenters, some fresh cider, some siphon tubing and an airlock—most of which you'll find at Siciliano's (you'll have to look elsewhere for fresh/raw cider). Since fall and winter are the traditional times for pressing apples, now is the perfect season to start a batch.

There are a number of fancy things you can do to cider, which are a lot of fun, but I also like to keep it simple. This recipe makes a dry (not sweet), still (not carbonated) cider without added fermentables (like sugar or honey) or flavorings (like oak or bourbon barrel).

And it tastes great!

Equipment List

    • 2 fermenters (one 6.5-gallon ale pail plus lid and one 5-gallon carboy OR one 6.5-gallon carboy and one 5-gallon carboy)
    • 1 rubber stopper and airlock
    • Sanitizer (I like Iodophor)
    • Siphon hose (or even better, buy an autosiphon!)
    • Bottles/caps/capper OR wine bottles/corks/corked

Ingredient List

    • 5 gallons fresh cider without preservatives
    • Pectic enzyme (optional)
    • Wine yeast
    • Campden tablets

Basic Instructions

  1. Sanitize everything
  2. Combine cider, campden and pectic enzyme
  3. Wait 24 hours, then add yeast
  4. Transfer cider to secondary fermenter when fermentation slows (about 1 week)
  5. Bottle when fermentation stops and cider fully clears (about 2 weeks)
  6. Age 6 months or longer if you can wait that long.
  7. Enjoy!

Full Instructions

For starters, always make sure that any equipment that comes in contact with your cider is cleaned and sanitized. You can clean equipment with warm water and dish soap or buy a brewery grade cleanser like EZ Clean or One Step. For a sanitizer, I like Iodophor. Cleaning removes any surface dirt. Sanitizing eliminates bacteria that could spoil your cider. Remember: You can't sanitize dirt! Clean your equipment first!

You can use a 6.5-gallon ale pail (plastic) or a 6.5-gallon carboy (glass). Both work fine. Even though you're making 5 gallons of cider, you need that extra headspace for the foam that accumulates when the fermentation gets going.

Once your bucket or carboy is clean and sanitized, add your cider, pectic enzyme and crushed campden tablets (1/2 tablet per gallon). Then close up your fermenter with a lid and airlock if you're using an ale pail or with a stopper and airlock if you're using a carboy. The cider MUST not contain preservatives, like sorbates, or it will not ferment. That rules out most grocery store cider. Locally, you can get fresh cider from Hill Brothers, Klein or Engelsma orchards. If you're making a lot of cider, it is much cheaper to buy it in bulk. Many orchards are happy to fill your fermenters directly, saving them the trouble and expense of filling gallon jugs.

The pectic enzyme is optional. It ensures that the pectin from the apples won't make your cider hazy. If you don't care about hazy cider (the haze is aesthetic; it doesn't affect the taste), leave the enzyme out. If your cider is raw (not pasteurized), then haze shouldn't be a problem anyway. The campden tablets help ensure a clean fermentation by suppressing bacteria that could turn your hard cider into cider vinegar.

Now you must wait 24 hours for the campden tablets to work. Then add your yeast. Any wine yeast (and most beer yeasts) will work. There are also specialty cider yeasts available (White Labs makes a couple kinds). I like Lalvin's KIV-1116. It's fun to make several batches that are identical other than the yeast strain. That way, you can taste the effect of different yeasts and decide which you like best.

Keep the cider around room temperature, and in a day or two you will see it begin to ferment. You can see small bubbles rising and often, though not always, a foamy head will form. After about a week, depending on the temperature, the fermentation will start to slow and the yeast will begin to fall out of suspension and accumulate at the bottom of the fermenter. If you're doing your initial (primary) fermentation in a carboy you can see this accumulation. Now is the time to transfer (rack) your cider to your secondary fermenter, which has to be a carboy since it excludes oxygen better than an ale pail. You can't just pour the cider from one container to another, you have to siphon it off with a hose in order to leave those dead yeast cells on the bottom of the fermenter behind.

Siphoning is easiest with an auto siphon, which I highly recommend. You can also use a racking cane or plain hose, but, whatever you do, don't use your mouth, and keep everything sanitized! Keep your cider in the secondary fermenter at least until it clears. Then bottle it using your preferred setup. Again, everything must be sanitized first.

Alternatively, you can "bulk age" your cider in the secondary fermenter until you are ready to bottle. Although you can bottle straight from the secondary, bottling is easiest with a bottling bucket, which is just an ale pail with a spigot. Siphon the cider into the ale pail, add another crushed campden tablet, and fill bottles directly from the spigot. I use wine bottles and corks because I have a nice corker. If you don't, it is easiest to fill beer bottles and cap them with an inexpensive capper. The cider can be consumed at any time, but is generally best if you age it for at least 6 months. The more acidic the cider, the longer it takes to mellow. If you bulk age the cider in the secondary, allow at least two weeks in the bottle for the cider to settle. I'm not sure what chemical reactions are behind this process, but the flavor changes perceptibly.

The author with cider
And finally, enjoy!

Editor's Note: You'll find everything you need to make a batch of hard cider—except raw juice—at Siciliano's Market. Contact any one of the many cider houses around West Michigan for raw cider availability. Cheers!

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