Home Brew: Hard Cider
In an incredibly strange turn of events, my parents became farmers this year. The decision to purchase a 4-acre homestead about 15 minutes away from their primary residence came as a huge, yet welcomed surprise. With little time, but lots of chutzpah they were able to produce an astounding amount of food for first year farmers.
They planted a garden full of kale, peppers, cabbage, collards, swiss chard, brussels sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, watermelon, and more. They got 18 layer hens who produce about a dozen eggs a day. And established three bee colonies from which we were able to harvest 50 lbs of honey this fall.
The big, unexpected coup? The farm’s already established orchard which had a particularly prolific year. Each day, as they went to feed the chicks and water the garden, they would gather the “drops” from the organic apple trees and once they were at critical mass, they would make cider by using the neighbor’s antique hand press.
There is something truly divine about eating the food that you thoughtfully grew and cared for yourself. The spectrum of flavor is broader and the nourishment feels deeper.
Since my parent’s farm was so productive this year it allowed us to get really creative about how to best preserve the bounty. We experimented with kale chips, apple chips, hot sauce, and more but our favorite by far was the hard cider.
My dad’s friend fermented a few gallons for him, while I had my own batch bubbling back home in North Carolina. I loved letting my creative juices flow and experimenting with the distinct flavor profiles that came out of the different cider pressings. I had 2 gallons of unpasteurized cider that yielded a very complex flavor, and 7 gallons of pasteurized cider that was a little more bland so I ended up infusing those batches with flavors like: vanilla, cinnamon, cranberry, ginger, and rosemary.
While there was a time when I would have gladly accepted to the challenge to drink my body weight in booze, at this stage in life I thought it best to call on my community. I invited a bunch of friends over to mix and match the flavors and come up with their own cider concoctions. It was one of my favorite nights in a long time.
Here is how you can make hard cider at home:
- 1 gallon Apple Cider, preferably unpasteurized
- 1 teaspoon Champagne yeast
- Optional infusions: fresh grated ginger, vanilla bean powder, ground cinnamon, fresh rosemary leaves, cranberry juice
Materials that I use
- 1-gallon glass carboy
- 1 airlock
- Small sieve
- Cheese cloth
- Thermometer (optional)
Sterilize your glass carboy and airlock with soap and hot water.
Put the cider into your carboy stopping about 1-2″ from the base of it’s neck.
Add in your yeast. The package directions will tell you to dilute it in a warm liquid then add to the cider. I have added it directly to cold cider and had perfectly good results. So don’t worry if you miss that step.
Mix well, making sure the yeast isn’t sticking to the sides of the bottle.
Put on the airlock, making sure there is some water in the top.
Put it in a room where the temperature will remain consistent, anywhere from 65-75 degrees F. This is where the thermometer comes into play.
Check on your cider regularly. If the yeast is attaching to the side of the glass, give it a whirl. Otherwise, just let it be.
You will see a lot of bubbling in the first few days. Around day five the bubbling will slow down, it make even look like it’s stopped, but the flavors want to keep developing so let it ferment for a full 3 weeks. You can ferment it up for up to 6 weeks if you like it very dry. Once it’s done, taste the cider, and then either:
- Put it in the fridge
- Invite over a thirsty group of friends
- Bottle it. I love grolsch top bottles.
Note about bottling: There will be a lot of sediment at the bottom of your bottle so you’ll want to have a filter system in place when transfering the liquid. I recommend using a small sieve lined with 2 layers of cheese cloth. Nestle that sieve inside a funnel and pouring will be easy. Some people use siphons, but for me they always make a big mess.
If you want to enhance the flavor you can do an infusion. You can do single infusions (one ingredient) or combine a few ingredients for a more complex profile. I recommend using one tablespoon total of any of the following, per 1 gallon on cider. Wrap the ingredients in a small squre of cheese cloth like a dumpling. Tie it up with bakers string and dangle it down into the bottle. Use the airlock to wedge the top of the string so you can fish out your bundle once you the cider has reached the desired flavor. I recommend infusing for at least 24 hours.
- Vanilla bean powder
- Ground cinnamon
- Freshly grated ginger
- Fresh Rosemary leaves
Another flavoring option is fresh juice. Add 2-3 tablespoons of any of the following:
- Cranberry juice
- Unfermented apple cider
- Cherry juice
- Grape juice
If you’re interested in learning more about fermentation, I’m producing a program at Ashevillage this summer called the Wild Food & Fermentation Workshop with Sandor Katz. Registration is now open!