While Team Hungry Native has dabbled with brewing beer before, we’ve never attempted to make our own hard cider. After doing a bit of research, and finding out how simple the process was, we kept telling each other that we had to give it a shot one of these days. This idea sat on the back burner for a bit, until we took a harder look at a pickling kit that the good folks at Perfect Pickler had sent us. Essentially a screw-on cap fitted with an airlock, the pickling kit fits on standard wide mouth canning jars, enabling you to easily make pickled vegetables, sauerkraut and the like. After using it a handful of times to make kimchi, it dawned on us that we could use the kit to ferment small batches of other things as well, namely hard cider.
We bought some half-gallon jugs of organic apple cider, made from 100% apples. The cider doesn’t have to be organic, and it can be pasteurized, but it shouldn’t contain any preservatives, although ascorbic acid is okay. Hard cider is fairly quick and easy to make, all you need is some apple cider, yeast and vessel to ferment in. The whole process can be done in less than a week.
Although some people use yeast designed for wine making, we went with some ale yeast that we had left from beer making, specifically Safale US-05. This packet of yeast was designed for 5 gallon batches of beer, so we had do a bit of measuring to figure out exactly how much to use in each batch. Whatever yeast you use, read the instructions and go from there.
Since it was our first time, we decided to experiment a bit and make two different batches of cider. To the first batch, we added a quarter of a cup of regular sugar. For the second batch, we added a couple of tablespoons of honey. Since yeast feeds on sugars to produce alcohol, we surmised that the extras sugar might boost the alcohol levels a bit.
You don’t necessarily need a dedicated airlock or fermenter to make cider, you can fashion your own from a regular balloon. Make sure your balloon fits tightly around the neck of your bottle (we used a glass milk jug for this), and put a tiny pin prick in the balloon. This allows gasses to slowly escape, preventing the balloon from blowing off. The balloon will still inflate a bit, letting you know that the yeast is working. You could also use an unlubricated condom, but something about puncturing condoms with a needle makes us nervous.
After about five days of fermenting, the cider should be ready, depending on your taste. The longer it ferments, the more sugar the yeast will consume, resulting in a cider that becomes dryer the longer you let it sit. If you want, you can pour the cider right from the fermenting vessel. This will make a “still” cider with very little carbonation.
If you are looking for something a bit more bubbly, you can bottle your cider and let it sit for a few days. The yeast will continue working on the residual sugars, releasing Co2 gas that will carbonate the cider in the bottle. Let the bottle sit at room temp for a day or two, then put in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. While the still cider was drinkable, we definitely preferred the cider that was bottled and left to carbonate. The bottled cider was much clearer, as the yeast sediment tends to settle at the bottom of the bottle. The result was a very bubbly, straw colored drink that was less sweet than commercially available ciders. It retains a distinct apple flavor with a refreshing crispness. We didn’t notice much flavor variation between the batch with honey and the batch made with sugar. Fermentation time seemed to be the biggest factor when it came to flavor. If left for too long, the cider can become tart, and eventually sour. Since it takes very little time and effort to make, you can freely experiment with recipes and techniques, tailoring your cider to your personal tastes.
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