“It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.” - Benjamin Franklin
Homebrewing is more popular than ever these days and the recipes for homebrewed beer are endless. If you are looking for a cucumber ale or a chocolate cranberry stout, odds are good that someone has a batch brewing away in their garage or corner of the rec room. While I like beer as much as the next guy, when brewing at home I don’t necessarily reach for the barley and hops. Some of my favorite home brews aren’t beer at all. While Benjamin Franklin may have been off base on the virtues of eating apples, I share his appreciation for hard apple cider.
In Colonial times, hard cider was the drink of choice. Thomas Jefferson brewed cider from apples grown at Monticello, George Washington offered cider as a reward for voting during his run for the Virginia legislature, and John Adams drank a tankard every morning, declaring it a tonic of health. By the mid-1700s, the per capita consumption of cider was over 30 gallons a year.
The popularity of hard cider dropped drastically in the years after the Civil War, as railroad distribution of easily stored grains made beer a more economical choice. Thankfully, in recent years, hard cider has slowly gained new popularity among craft brewers and wineries.
Hard apple cider is a great choice for homebrewing. It may be spiced or flavored in a variety of ways and natural additives can be used to tweak clarity, gravity and carbonation.
Pour two gallons of apple juice into a sanitized carboy or brewing bucket. If using store-bought apple juice, be sure to select one with no preservatives. Fresh-pressed apple juice should be pasteurized by heating to a temperature of 160-170 degrees (do not boil!) before use to kill the bacteria and wild yeast that may affect fermentation negatively.
This recipe is simple, but take care to make sure all equipment is thoroughly cleaned before using boiling water, alcohol or commercial sanitizers.
After 10-14 days, the bubbling will subside. You will also notice the solids have settled in the bottom of the vessel as a muddy mess known as trub. When bubbling has nearly stopped, it’s time to transfer cider into a secondary vessel, separating it from the trub (a process known as racking). This can be another carboy or brewing bucket or a sterilized bucket. This step is necessary to stabilize and clarify the cider.
Use plastic tubing to siphon cider from the primary to secondary vessel, taking care not to disturb the trub that has settled to the bottom (trub is to be discarded). The secondary vessel must be lower to the ground to allow gravity to push the flow of cider. Fill the tube with water before inserting it into the cider and the secondary vessel to “prime” the flow.
Use plastic tubing or a funnel to fill sterilized bottles, leaving one inch of headspace at the top. Swing caps are convenient for home brewing, but many brewers prefer to use conventional bottles and a bottlecapper. Using either type of bottle, make sure there are no gaps or leaks when you seal the bottles.
Gaze longingly at the bottles stored in a dark space. After three weeks, have a drink. If the carbonation has not reached satisfactory levels, wait a week or two and have another. Hard cider improves with age, although one may run the risk of a burst bottle if the sugar content is high and the shelf life long. The carbonation processed may be stopped by refrigerating the bottled cider. It’s time to start another batch!