Homebrew 002 – Hard Cider

For our second brew we decided on hard cider. The wife loves a good hard cider and since she can’t really handle any other type of alcohol since the pregnancy, this will make sure we have something on hand that she will enjoy.

all the supplies to brew hard cider
This is everything we need to brew hard cider (plus 20 lbs of ice and 3 hours).

For the first hard cider we decided to go the easy route and just use Ryan’s fresh cider. This stuff is really good cider and has the added benefit of coming from just over the hill in Hood River (we didn’t set out looking for it, but we were happy to find it at Safeway).

The important thing to consider when buying cider is that you must get it without any preservatives. The stuff we got was pasteurized so that saved us about 45 minutes of boiling. Basically, you want pure apple cider (no preservatives).

At $6 for each gallon of cider this 5-gallon batch will run $30 plus $4 for a 20lb bag of ice and $5 for yeast and nutrients. It’s about the same cost as a batch of beer (the Summit Pale Ale, anyway).

The cider will ferment in the carboy for about two weeks. The instructions we followed recommended fermenting 4 gallons of cider and using the 5th as a back sweetener.

Let me explain, the fermentation process is what happens when the yeast eat sugar and convert it into alcohol. Cider is naturally rich in sugars so we don’t have to do a lot to make the yeast happy (we will add a little yeast nutrients, though). However, at the end of 2 weeks most sugars will have been converted. That’s great for the alcohol but the cider won’t taste sweet (it would be considered dry). In order to make the cider sweet we will back sweeten the cider right before we bottle. On bottling day we will mix the fermented cider with the last gallon of cider and then bottle it up.  The yeast will continue to ferment the cider in the bottles which will create carbonation.

If left to themselves, the yeast would continue to carbonate the bottles until they literally explode from pressure. It is necessary to kill the yeast when the bottles have sufficient carbonation. Fortunately, yeast can be killed with heat so we will CAREFULLY boil the bottles. That’s for another day.

Picture of our kitchen counter ready for brewing
Make sure you have plenty of room to work.

For tonight, we started with cleaning all of our supplies with a strong commercial cleaner that left no residue and cleaned the soil off our equipment. The cleaner wasn’t intended for brew equipment so I rinsed thoroughly. For my next batch I’ll probably buy a cleaner designed for brewing. This process took 30 minutes.

Picture of all my brew supplies now clean
We’ve cleaned, now we’ll sanitize.

After cleaning the equipment it is necessary to sanitize everything that will come in contact with the cider. This step is very important. There are lots of bacteria and wild yeast strains in the air and in your house that will change the flavor of your brew for the worse. After all this hard work we don’t want to ruin our batch of hard cider. Star San is food grade so dip or otherwise apply it to the equipment and then let it air dry. Do not towel-dry. Once the solution has been in contact with the equipment for at least a minute, just let it air dry or use it right away. Your carboy will probably not have enough time to fully dry after sanitizing, don’t worry about it. Just pour the cider right in. No harm will come to your brew.

picture of star san sanitizer
Star San. Add 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons of tap water. Regardless of the label, this is safe to get on your skin. I used it all night, often up to my elbows, with no issues. Just don’t drink it or get it in your eyes (be especially careful with the full-strength stuff).

Because our cider was already pasteurized we only needed to boil it for 15 minutes (as a last step to kill any remaining bacteria, etc). It took 40 minutes to bring 4 gallons of cider to boiling so make sure you start this process before 8pm (we finished up at 11:30pm).

picture of the wife and I pouring cider into a brew kettle
Our 5 gallon brew kettle was barely big enough for 4 gallons of boiling cider.

picture of 4 gallons of cider boiling.
I’m seriously considering a propane boiler.

It took way too long to boil the cider. But we’re not done yet. Now we have to bring the cider down to below 80 degrees as quickly as possible. There are two reasons to do this. First, you’ll kill the yeast if you don’t. Second, the quicker you cool it down the clearer your hard cider will be. This is why we need the 20lb bag of ice. We’re going to put the pot into an ice-bath. After stirring and checking the temp we’re down to 75.

picture of cider with a thermometer showing 75 degrees
This is a hydrometer/thermometer. You’ll need one.

I highly recommend having an extra pair of hands to help with the next step. We’re going to pour the cooled cider into our 5 gallon carboy using a funnel. My funnel doesn’t fit into the carboy as well as I’d like so it’s wobbly.

picture of Ryan and I pouring the cider into the carboy

It’s smooth sailing from here. We just have to add the yeast, 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient, stir, add the airlock and put it in the pantry.

picture of yeast and yeast nutrients
The instructions we followed recommended different yeast. I had already purchased this type so we’re going to run with it.

picture of Keith stiring the yeast and yeast nutrients with the cider in the carboy

two 5-gallon carboys. beer and cider
Beer on the left and cider on the right. Cider likes to ferment between 65 and 75 degrees. I’ve heard it prefers 65. Notice the airlocks on top. Those are used to prevent outside air from getting to the brew. Remember: bacteria and wild yeast. The beer will be ready to bottle on Friday and the cider in two weeks.