Cider Making, My way

Ok, so this is a long posting. I’m not an expert in WordPress, nor am I an expert in making hard cider. I’m still trying to figure all this stuff out –whilst trying to find my voice here. I figure  –might as well share how I make my hard cider. I’ll get pictures loaded. I’ll attempt to explain my process. I’m also putting links to the exact product I use into the post. I don’t think the gang at Great Fermentations will have any issue with any traffic _I_ end up sending their way. (They are also my local brew supply store…so fairly important to making various beverages)
In the end, I hope I’ve learned something and you’ve learned something. 
Please bear with me…this all will get better…<maybe>

For the last roughly 10 years, I’ve made my own hard cider. I think I was talked into trying it by the Anita, one of the people who taught me to brew beer. Maybe I’ll do a post on how I brew my wheat ale –but that’ll be a while out.

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I think I’m reasonably decent at making hard cider. Just about all my neighbors seem to ask when the next batch is / will be ready. They may also be looking to get a quick buzz too– as the cider I make usually ends up being fairly potent. With a ABV of between 15% & 28% –one could power a reasonably large vehicle with this stuff. It also means that when we drink, we’re not going ANYWHERE afterwords. The final hard cider is usually a “1 and done” drink. I’

I’m also frequently asked how difficult the process is.  It’s not overly complex,hard, or complicated…if you are reasonably patient. The biggest component to making hard cider is waiting. Anyone who knows me, knows that this isn’t one of my stronger suits when it comes to drinks..but I do and I’m often rewarded for that patience.

So, I’m going to show the process and rough recipe I follow in getting a batch of hard cider going. This post is the first part of the overall process.

There is a second part to the overall process, but it’ll have to wait until I get to the blending and bottling process. The kick off portion of this program is pretty much repeatable for everyone. That second part is TOTALLY artistic and changes from year to year. Depending on what I’m tasting -feeling -wanting in a batch is what determines how I end up creating the carbonation – resweetening -mouthfeel aspects of the cider. 

There isn’t much that is needed to do this,assuming you have access to a brew supply store and a decent orchard. If you already have the gear to brew, you’re 90% the way there…

First, the equipment needed (for those who don’t have it already)-

  • At least one 6.5 Gallon food grade fermenting bucket or glass carboy with air lock. You’ll need more buckets if you’re going to make multiple batches.
  • Sanitizing solution. I use an iodine based product. You can use bleach,  but there is a REALLY strong possibility that you’ll have a bleachy aftertaste in the final product.
  • Sulfide tablets – Sulfide tablets/Campden tablets will kill the natural yeasts and bacteria while you’re getting everything ready.This will allow you to control the yeasts for the flavors you’d like and not allow (hopefully) off flavors from developing from contaminants you’re not wanting.
  • A large, sanitized,metal spoon to mix things in the beginning. These are good to have when doing canning related projects as well (I think we have at least 3 different large metal spoons.)
  • triple scale hydrometer – This is to get the specific gravity of the raw cider. It will also give you a clue on final alcohol contents of the batch. The specific gravity will show the sugar content in the batch in comparison to what’s in regular water (a measurement of 1.000). 
  • If you count a storage area a s a tool — then about 2 square feet in a place where the temperature is relatively stable and not in the sun-light.

Second the raw materials — 

  • Raw cider. Not pasteurized, just filtered. This is the THE most important item to this whole adventure. If you skimp or try to go cheap here, you’ll find you’ve made a product that will not wow you. This is important!
    • I’ve learned where a number of the local orchards are and generally pick up a gallon for regular drinking before I even consider fermenting this stuff. I’ve also used the offerings of the local brew supply store as well. They work with few other orchards on blending a decent cider. It will all come down to the type of cider you’re wanting to end up with.  
  • Sweet Mead Yeast – This is your workhorse. The reason I use mead yeast is that it can handle the higher sugar that I start off with. It can also handle a higher alcohol content that will be generated. Beer,Champagne, and cider yeasts all have individual issues with either the sugar or the alcohol. You’ll get very different results — and I hope you go experiment and let me know what you’ve found.
    • A secondary component to the yeast is the addition of a yeast nutrient. This isn’t a mandatory item, but it does seem to help the yeast over the whole fermentation time. I’m not exactly certain what it’s doing, but for the batches where I’ve forgotten to add this there’s a something missing. (call it a nuanced taste difference)
  • A secondary sweetener – I use local wild flower honey. I’ve used maple syrup, hickory syrup, peach puree, and cherry puree. Each provides a different experience. I’ve found I get the most consistent results from the honey

Actual making process –

First step (not shown) is to sanitize your bucket/carboy and spoon. (I didn’t think about taking pictures until I was just about to pour everything. Like anyone really needs to see a picture of a bucket of water anyways).
 
I know that the bottle of iodophor sanitizer that I use says that 1 ounce per a 5 gallon bucket is fine, I tend to double down when the lid and whole bucket is filled. Reason being, if there’s a nasty in the bucket, I don’t want it anywhere near the cider. Nope, not gonna happen…don’t care…there’s plenty of time for any chemical residuals to fallout…PLENTY of time (and at least another bucket or carboy in the whole process). 

Let the bucket and spoon sanitize for at least an hour (just toss the spoon into the bucket to sanitize as well).

I know the label says 5 minutes, but I’m not one to take more chances than need be on this. Too much beverage is at stake and there’s still several months of waiting –so what’s an hour here?

Now you have to determine whether you’re doing just 1 batch or following me into the realm of multiple multiple batches. 

If your’re only going to make 1 batch of 5 gallons of honey — Great — life just got REALLY simple on you… Empty the whole gallon (approximately 12 pounds) of honey into your bucket. 

If you’re following me and making a boatload (I tend to do 3 batches of 5 gallons of cider at a time–a boatload)– grab your heavy duty kitchen scale. Weight your honey (mine came in a plastic container so wasn’t completely off) — if you’re at 12 pounds, pour 8 pounds into bucket one. This should leave you with about 4 pounds left over. Repeat for the second batch/bucket. Then in the third bucket, combine the 2 containers of roughly 4 pounds of honey (giving you roughly the same honey in this container too).

Depending on whether you’re using Campden tablets or straight potassium metabisulfite, put the appropriate amount into each bucket. That’d be 6 Campden pellets thoroughly crushed or a 1/4 teaspoon of the metabisulfite. Remember, this kills the natural yeasts in the cider and leaves everything ready for the mead yeasts you’re using. 

Now add 1 tablespoon per gallon of the yeast nutrient. This may be optional, but I’ve found that it makes FAR FAR happier yeast that make a much better product in the end. So in my version of doing things, I’m adding 5 HEAPING mounds of the nutrient.  

So now’s when we start with the real fun…as if this hasn’t been “fun” all along. Take one of your gallons of raw cider and pour it into the bucket. If you’re doing more than one batch –one gallon into each bucket. We’re going to loosen the honey at the bottom and get the nutrients and metabisulfite mixed. It’s going to take a few minutes of mixing to get all the honey incorporated into the cider. This is definitely worth the time to get this mixed in via a single gallon over trying to mix it with the whole 5 gallons in the bucket. (yes, I’ve done that in the past and have regretted it while I wiped down the kitchen)

After you’ve mixed that first gallon with the honey, go ahead and dump in the next 4 gallons of cider. You may want to do a quick mixing between gallons (I’m pouring 2 gallons at a time…but that’s just my method). At the end you’re going to want to make certain that the whole batch is totally integrated.

 

 

Now take your hygrometer and gently put the bucket. It’s way easier to measure the cider’s gravity than trying to get a sample into the little graduated cylinder that you’d use to measure beer. It may take a minute or two to get any bubbles to dissipate so you can get an accurate reading. Generally, I’m looking for a value over 1.1 on the hygrometer. (Like a 26 Brix if you’re using a spectrometer)

At this point you’re going to need to put the cover securely on the bucket(s) at this time and set them in a reasonable temperature place to sit for no less than 24 hours. I sometimes go as much as 60 hours…but that’s only if I don’t have yeast ready to go and forget to stop at the brew supply store.  You’ll need to make certain the airlock is filled (I use vodka because it’s not going to add any additional flavors and is hostile to bacteria). 

 

As I sit here writing this, I totally forgot to snap pictures of what I do for pitching the yeast. That is  — getting the mead yeast into the raw cider so we start moving towards the hard cider we want. 

The overall process for me isn’t difficult or really THAT time consuming. As I’m using a WYEAST Sweet Mead yeast in a “Smack pack,” I just follow the instructions to get the yeast started and healthy.  After a wait of about 4 hours, I take the lid off the bucket and dump in the contents of the yeast pack. 

Now we wait — and wait –and WAIT… 
You most likely won’t see signs of anything going on for at least two or three days. I took this picture early this morning -not that there’s a lot to see. The inner portion of the airlock is lifted. That’s a sign the yeast are doing their thing in the bucket. 

From here — we wait at least a month before transferring into a secondary fermentor. Then I leave that sit for at least 6 months…yep, 6 months….it lets a lot of apple fiber fall out. The time lets the yeast to its thing. You’ll be happy to have it sit for that duration. I’ve tapped into things early and not been as happy with the final product. I’ve waited longer (12+months) and been very happy too…so this is the patience part of the program. Wait until you want/need the cider…for me that’ll probably be somewhere near August.

I started writing this on a Wednesday, edited it on a Thursday, and am resetting formatting on Friday morning. (Something keeps interfering with me saving…which is a REAL pain.. so I’m doing what I can) 
What I wanted to say here – The kitchen where the cider currently is doing its thing, smells like cider. There’s a slightly sweet-sour apple like smell in the kitchen. Which, at 4:30 am, was a bit of a surprise and a nice reminder of what’s going on. I’m looking forward to seeing how this batch turns out.

I’m hoping that this weekend, I’ll make time to get last year’s batches documented and written up. That will be another post… Tasting notes on my efforts..a third. Like I said WAY up top, I’m not a professional blogger. I’m just trying to pass along what I do, and show you all that this isn’t that hard to do if you’ve not done it in the past. 

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