As fall quickly approaches in Southern Ontario and apples become ripe for harvest, I have had a few friends reach out and ask for a basic, yet tasty hard cider recipe. I thought about just posting a recipe, but then figured I could add some value to their adventure by walking through a step by step the process as well as offer an equipment list. Hopefully what follows is a comprehensive scale-able tutorial on crafting your first cider with minimal investment. To keep costs low I decided to focus on a 3.8 litre (1 gallon) batch, but will provide the necessary ratios for you to scale your creation to whatever size you want. So here it goes.
We are going to create a crisp, dry (non-sweet) cider between 6 to 8% alcohol by volume. The first step is to assemble all the equipment and ingredients we need prior to sourcing the juice. I suggest ordering all this at once either online or take a visit to your local brew store. The links below go to Short Finger Brewing in Kitchener-Waterloo who does an excellent job as a retailer here in Ontario. Amazon can be cheaper but I have a personal bias to supporting local small business even if I pay a dollar more an item because I feel that dollar is an investment in the resiliency of the community.
- Step 1. Source Equipment and Non-Juice Ingredients
- Equipment (~$76)
- 3.8L (1 Gallon) Carboy
- An Airlock with stopper (#6.5 bung)
- A funnel
- An autosiphon (3/8 inch)
- Bottling Wand (3/8 inch)
- 3/8 inch inner diameter tubing to connect to auto siphon and bottle wand (4 feet)
- 2 butter fly clamps
- Enough bottles (new or used) to hold 3.5 litres (120 fluid ounces)
- Bottle Caps that fit those bottles
- Bottle Capper
- Spray Bottle
- Pyrex or similar measuring glass (I’ll assume you have one around the house)
- A spoon
- Non-Juice Ingredients (~$18)
- 1 pkg of campden tablets (1 tablet per gallon of juice)
- 1 pkg of lalvin 71b yeast (1g will be used per gallon of juice)
- 1 pkg of pectic enzyme powder (1/2 tsp per gallon of juice)
- 1 pkg of yeast nutrient
- 1 pkg of bottling tablets if you want your cider carbonated
- Food Grade Sanitizer (4 oz Star San)
- 1 Bottle of Store Water
- Equipment (~$76)
Okay so now you have ordered up all the ingredients you will need to make a great first cider.
Now it is time to source the actual juice you will use. This can be anything from a local trip to the grocery store at a buck-a-litre juice to pressing your own apples. I’ll middle the road and assume you have been able to source some fresh pressed apple juice. What you are looking for is juice that has been minimally processed. It is ok if it has been heat pasteurized or citric acid added. They are all just degrees away from fresher. What you want to avoid is some local farms add potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets) and potassium sorbate because they do not have the facilities to heat pasteurize or are making unfiltered apple juice (cider) and want the natural fermentation to stop. For now just avoid any apple juice with potassium sorbate as this inhibits yeast growth. Juice or cider that is fresh is fine. But you do need to know if it has been pasteurized or not.
- Step Two. Source your Apple Juice
- 3.8 litres of a juice of your choosing (1 gallon)
You are ready to go. It’s brew day.
- Step Three. Create your sanitizing solution
- Star San is pretty powerful stuff. It is used in a ratio of 30 ml for 19L. So using that ratio fill your spray bottle with tap water and add the sanitizer. 3 ml per 1.9L of water. So you probably need about 1 to 1.5 ml of sanitizer in the bottle.
- Step 4. Clean and sanitize
- Give your carboy, pyrex, airlock, spoon and funnel a quick wash and rinse well under hot water. With that done spray generously the inside of the carboy, pyrex, airlock and funnel with sanitizer. There is no need to rinse and it won’t effect your brew. I would shake out the excess sanitizer that may have dripped into the carboy.
- Step 5. Add your juice
- Add exactly 3.8L of juice to the carboy. You can use your pyrex to measure out the final few ounces or milliliters. Rinse out the pyrex immediately after with clean water and hit it again with sanitizer.
- Step 6. Know your juice
- If your juice is pasteurized proceed to step 7
- If your juice is raw crush 1 campden tablet and drop it into the brew. Fill your airlock with enough sanitizer so it doesn’t flow over the middle and place it in the carboy. Let the juice sit for 24 hours.
- Step 7. Add Pectic Enzyme Powder (this helps clear the cider so it’s clear in the glass at the end)
- Measure out 1/2 tsp per 3.8L and add to the carboy
- Step 8. Rehydrate Yeast
- Normally we would pitch about 1 gram of yeast per gallon of juice. For this starter recipe we will not worry about being to exact (this can come later). For now we want to use about half of the package. So using the bottled water heat up about 25 mls of water in the pyrex to a temperature that is warm, but less than hot tap water. To be exact we want the water temp to be around 40 degrees Celsius (105F) if you are inclined to measure it.
- Open the yeast and sprinkle half the pack on top and let it sit for 15 min.
- After 15 min give the yeast a quick stir with your sanitized spoon and let sit 5 min.
- Slowly add in a little bit of the extra bottled water to bring down the temperature of the mixture to the same temperature as your juice in the carboy. You can add tablespoons of juice to do this as well.
- Step 9. Pitch the yeast
- Add the yeast directly the carboy by pouring.
- Step 10. Add yeast nutrient
- Add 1 tsp per 3.8L of juice
- Step 11. Insert Airlock
- Fill the airlock with sanitizer (or vodka) and attach to the carboy.
- Step 12. Let it sit
- Find a place with an ambient temperature between 18 and 22 degrees and let the carboy sit for approximately 7 to 10 days or until the airlock stops bubbling.
- Within 24 – 36 hrs (or sooner) you should notice CO2 escaping the airlock. This should be pretty constant until fermentation is completed.
- Step 13. Auto siphon and bottling wand and bottle capper.
- Take the time now to make up your bottling want and practice with your auto siphon. Using the 3/8 inch tubing and butterfly clamps connect the auto siphon to the bottling wand. Then practice with water on getting the auto siphon going and bottling. Trust me this takes a bit of practice and doing it with water now will save head aches later.
- I would also suggest capping 1 or 2 bottles so you get the idea of how it works. It’s pretty straight forward but no surprises on bottling day is better.
- Step 14. Bottling It.
- Once you have seen very little activity in the airlock (few stray bubbles are fine) you are ready to bottle.
- If you taste the cider now you will likely find that it is not sweet and pretty dry. As you become more advanced you can add acids and wine tannins to round out the flavour. But for the first batch let’s stick to basics.
- To sanitize your bottles make sure they are clean. You can run them in a dish washer without soap on a high heat setting to sanitize them or bake them in the oven for an hour at 350.
- Sanitize your auto siphon, bottling wand and bottle caps.
- Place 1, 2 or 3 of the conditioning tablets into each bottle depending on how carbonated you want the cider.
- With your auto siphon started and connected to the wand place the wand in the first bottle and fill it up!
- Complete until all bottles are filled and capped using the capper.
- Step 15. Drink it!
- Wait about 2 weeks for the cider to condition. Give it a chill and crack it open.
So that completes a very basic recipe to get you going. After the initial outlay of equipment – each batch basically costs around $20 – $40 to make depending on the quality or price of apple juice. Less of course if you are pressing your own apples in season. The learning is also endless and if you are not happy with your first product don’t give up!
Feel free to comment or make suggestions to the process I have outlined above. After all this is about exploring and iterations of improvement.