I started brewing cider about a year and a half ago after my brew-master friend convinced me how easy and cheap it was to do. He makes wonderfully tasty beers like lavender honey lager, coffee stout, and grapefruit ale. I am nowhere near his expertise and creativity in brewing, but I hope to be at some point. It’s a typical progression in learning to brew to first make cider and mead, and later moving on to beer. Cider and mead are easier technically and more forgiving than beer, and I’m just now at the stage where I feel I can take on beer. Needless to say, this cider recipe is probably your best bet for starting out and testing the waters.
Gathering Your Supplies
- 2 carboys or brewing buckets (one for primary fermentation, one for secondary)
- Air lock
- liquid funnel
- automatic siphon
Unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider
Fruit or spice additives (optional)
I use a 3 gallon carboy, but I’m going to list the ingredient ratios for one gallon for adaptability.
To make one gallon of regular apple cider, you will need:
- 1 lb sugar: regular white baking sugar is fine, but you can also use brown sugar. White sugar to start out with is a good idea- you can branch out later.
- 1 tsp champagne yeast: you can buy a cider yeast, but I like to use Champagne yeast for the more subtle flavor and stronger potential alcohol content. I would not recommend using an ale yeast for cider as it will retain a strong ‘yeasty’ flavor after brewing. Or, as one of my brew friends says, like “Rhinoceros farts.”
- 1 gallon unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider
Funnel your cider into the carboy a little at a time, periodically adding sugar and stirring to incorporate. Be sure to leave a few inches at the top of the carboy for air bubbles. See picture above, taken during fermentation. Once your sugar is totally incorporated, add your yeast after it has been activated in a bit of warm water. If you would like to add any fruit additives, now is the time. I have tried fresh orange juice/peel and raspberries and had nice results. Seal with your airlock.
You can put water in the airlock, or alternately use vodka as any leakage into the carboy will just be alcohol. An alcoholic ‘seal’ as opposed to water is also a great added bacteria blocker to keep your cider safe during fermentation.
Once all ingredients are combined and the airlock is in place, keep the carboy in a warm, dry place. If it is kept at room temperature or around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, fermentation should start in about 5-15 hours.
For about a week after fermentation has begun, your cider should be bubbling furiously, then it will slow by the second week. You can choose to bottle and drink after only two weeks if you like a sweet, fizzy cider. I have done this before and been perfectly satisfied with the results, but usually secondary fermentation is a good idea for a few reasons.
First, racking the cider to a second container will give you an opportunity to leave behind all the nasty, dead yeast that has settled to the bottom of the carboy. If you have added any fruit extras, you will also leave them behind at this point.
If you like a dry cider, secondary fermentation will let the yeast eat more sugar. Secondary fermentation will also let the flavors of the cider to mature. You will have a less ‘yeasty’ taste and more subtle notes of apple.
If you have your heart set on a clear cider, it is typical for cider to be cloudy at first and clear as yeast settles during primary fermentation, continuing to clear during secondary fermentation.
Place your second container below the carboy and use your auto-siphon to easily transfer your cider.
Be sure to taste a sample at this stage. If it is sweeter than you would like, you may choose to let secondary fermentation go for longer. If dry and flat, you can add a bit of sugar for carbonation and/or a little sweetness at this stage. You can also wait until bottling to add a tiny amount of sugar to the bottom of your bottles for the desired carbonation and sweetness.
You should not transfer all of the liquid to the second container as there will be a yeasty sludge at the bottom inch or so. Yes, you will have to sacrifice a bit of precious cider but it will be worth it, trust me.
Let secondary fermentation go for 1-2 weeks or longer based on sweetness and carbonation at the time of racking. It’s okay if the cider is totally flat at this point because you can add more sugar for carbonation at the bottling stage. If you added more sugar during racking, it might be a good idea to check the cider after a week or so to see if you have achieved the desired carbonation and sweetness. If you are happy with the cider now, you are ready to bottle and enjoy.
As previously mentioned, adding a small amount of sugar to your bottles is a good way to add carbonation and sweetness for drinking. However, be careful if you choose to do this as residual yeast will create CO2 and you do not want to make bottle bombs. To combat this, putting bottles in the fridge will render the yeast inactive.
Enjoy your bottled cider for months after bottling.