Hard Cider and “Inmate Brew” are pretty straightforward homebrew projects for suburban homesteaders, and if you already homebrew beer this is pretty simple.
Organic homebrew drinks are reported to have certain health benefits that you can Google on your own, but basically the benefits of organic ingredients are self-explanatory. Freshly brewed products are supposed to contain various B vitamins like B6 and other nutrients, the byproduct of yeast culturing. There is debate on what has a lower footprint, homebrewing or store-bought organic, I’m going with homebrew but I’m open to entertain any discussions or debates that might convince me otherwise.
At the bottom is a great video from Craig on Youtube and I really recommend subscribing to Craig’s channel if you homebrew. I think he’s got the brew gene or something. Here’s another recipe from the Instructables site so you can see that there is a lot of variability in the recipes and you probably won’t ruin anything if you don’t get it perfect.
Disclaimer: Like cooking anything, cleanliness is pretty important. Most homebrew books STRESS sterilization of your equipment, airlock, bottle, etc. If you do not maintain proper hygiene you will get ‘off’ flavors in your brew. We do an occasional “hard sterilize” on everything with an organic product but on a regular basis clean just like any other dish. We use a white vinegar dilution in hot water for a final rinse, and Vodka in the airlock. I don’t want bleach or cleanser in my airlock, ever, because I don’t want to pollute my organic products if my airlock sucks some liquid into the brew.
Since you’re using organic apple juice it should be just juice with no preservatives. Preservatives like potassium sorbate kill yeast. Generally you’re safe with organic products and the types of alternative preservatives they may use.
Most of the equipment you probably already have. If you intend to brew you should buy a hydrometer. This simple tool helps you determine the starting and ending gravity and potential alcohol, which changes based on how much total sugar is in the recipe (including juice), and also importantly can help you determine when brewing has finished. This is important if you intend to bottle and carbonate. If you start bottling before you have finished your initial ferment you can create too much pressure in the bottle, causing it to burst. Generally speaking when your brew is done with the initial ferment it will stop bubbling the airlock. You can wait a couple of days after that to be sure, but in the unlikely event your yeast stopped early there could be a lot of residual sugar. Learning how to use a hydrometer makes it less of a guessing game. There are a ton of online (free) resources to learn how to use it, like this Youtube video from Brew Your Own Magazine or this article from Grapestompers.
My very basic recipe for 1 gallon of hard cider:
- 1 gallon of organic apple juice
- 1/2 packet of champagne yeast (about $1.50 at a homebrew store)
- 3 tablespoons of organic raisins (for a yeast nutrient – optional)
- 1 cup of white sugar (to increase alcohol level and add carbonation – optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon of pectic enzyme (a $2 bag lasts for 10-15 batches – optional but recommend)
- 1 gallon glass jug (you can use the jug from the juice, but a colored jug is preferred to keep light out)
- rubber plug and airlock combo (from homebrew store)
- saucepan (optional)
- measuring cup
- A funnel
- hydrometer (from homebrew shop – I would recommend buying if you are going to do this more than once)
- Bottles for bottling (you can buy from homebrew shop or use a resealable Grolsch type beer bottle – optional)
- Simple bottling equipment (length of tube and bottling wand are pretty cheap)
Basically the next part of this recipe involves mixing everything into the big jug and putting on the airlock, then you wait. There is not really a wrong order.
Here is a little more detail.
To make some room for the other ingredients, pour about four cups of the apple juice into a separate container.
Optionally add raisins: You do not really need the raisins if you’re using organic apple juice, but some people find that adding the extra nutrients helps the yeast. If you’d like to add the raisins do this optional step. Boil about a cup of water in the saucepan and add the raisins. Let boil until the raisins are soft, then smash them with a fork and take them off the heat to cool. When cool, strain out the mashed raisins and add the liquid to your jug. Hat tip to Craig.
Optionally add sugar: The apple juice by itself will produce a nice, mild hard cider. If you want to increase the alcohol of the final product then you need to add more sugar. I added one cup of white sugar and my hydrometer estimates a potential alcohol of about 8%. Depending on the sugar in your juice your results may vary, and your hydrometer will help get your desired result. Optionally add the sugar into the jug with the funnel.
Optionally add pectic enzyme: If you do not add it, your cider will be cloudy. If you do add it, your cider will be clear. Slight taste difference. I normally prefer to use it, unless I forget to add it.
Now add half of the yeast packet into the jug and pour back in some apple juice, leaving headroom in the neck for the bubbly goo that can arise during fermentation. I leave about 4″. After adding the apple juice, if needed, put the cap on your jug and shake it like crazy to mix the ingredients and aerate. With table sugar you may need to shake for a while to get it all mixed up.
If your are using a different jug to ferment you can now transfer it into that. Add the airlock, and Vodka up to the fill line. Some people recommend water, cleaning solution, or diluted bleach for the airlock. I use Vodka because it’s highly hostile to bad critters, yet safe and tasty if it falls in the drink.
Now put your jug in a dark corner at room temperature – I use room temp because I don’t have a great way to keep anything a specific temperature. Our house stays around 68 during the cool seasons which works just fine for our fermenting projects.
Now you wait.
It should take two or three weeks to ferment although it could take less, could take more. I’ve had beer that was supposed to take twelve days instead finish in two days after a fast and furious rush of bubbling and fermenting. The hydrometer can help with this too if you’re trying to figure out how far along you are in the process.
While it’s fermenting you’ll see the cloudiness of the juice change and bubbles rising to the surface. It may smell like a combination of apple sauce and fresh bread, which is from the yeast. Yeast and other byproducts will settle out and form a layer at the bottom of your jug. Totally normal. Do not shake it again or disturb it to much after you’ve started this process.
After it’s finished fermenting (when the bubbles have stopped for a couple of days) you may want to leave it alone for a full week to let if finish clearing up. I don’t. I’m not trying to get the world’s best, crispest, clearest award winning cider (or anything) so I’m fairly lax on some of these finer points. You can spend as much free time as you’d like perfecting your cider.
Now it’s Bottling time (also optional).
You don’t have to bottle or carbonate your cider. It’s up to you. If you don’t want to bottle and carbonate you should still transfer your cider out of your brewing jug, being careful to leave behind the sediment at the bottom of the jug. There is nothing wrong with the sediment, it just changes the taste. Too much sediment tastes chalky and bad.
If you want to bottle and carbonate you’ll need to make sure you have some kind of resealable bottle or bottle capping equipment. All of this is available at the homebrew store or online, or buy some beer in resealable bottles like Grolsch or the ceramic bottle types from Belgium. I’ve got a new set of blue bottles from my in-laws — in the picture above. Almost all of my other bottles are rescued from recycling, cleaned, and recapped with a simple capper. Wine bottles can’t be recapped, but champagne bottles can be capped with a beer bottle capper. Beer and cider do not create the kind of pressure that champagne bottling creates so a simple bottle cap seems to work on these larger bottles.
It’s best to use a natural carbonation method which is also the easiest method. The bottling equipment is optional, but you should transfer your cider to your bottles with as little commotion as possible, limiting the exposure to air. To much air won’t ruin it but it will impact the taste. The easiest way to do this is with simple bottling equipment like a bottling wand and a length of tubing.
Take 2 tablespoons of white sugar and dissolve it in about 1/2 cup of hot water. Let cool and pour into a clean jug. Siphon your cider from your fermenting jug into the clean jug with the sugar mixture, being careful to avoid getting a lot of air bubbles. Try not to disturb the sediment from your fermenting jug and leave as much of the sediment behind as possible. Use the bottling wand to stir the sugar water and the cider together in the new jug, again just gently stirring.
Now transfer the cider mix into your final bottling containers and seal them. The remaining yeast in the cider will eat the sugar you’ve just added and produce CO2. Since the container is sealed the gas cannot escape and carbonates the liquid. This process also produces some additional alcohol and makes a smoother taste.
You will want to leave your bottles for a week or two at room temperature to carbonate but you can probably start drinking them after a week. I’ve heard of people aging them for six months but I’ve never done that. When ready, I like to chill the bottle in the fridge for a couple of hours then pour into a glass. I leave about a 1/2″ in the bottle to capture the sediment, and then drink it for the B vitamins. Then I just drink the rest from the glass.
This is a great SustainHillbillity project to share the finished product with your neighbors. Be sure to use the words jug and cider a lot to really stress the down to earth, highly uncivilized aspects.
And here’s the video from CraigTube.