I listen to a podcast by a man named Jack Spirko called The Survival Podcast, he had an episode titled Making Dead Simple Ciders, Meads and “Fruit Wines”. This got me excited to start making my own brews. I have always been interested in the concept of brewing beer, a good friend of mine dabbles in home brewing and it always fascinated me. I figure I can start brewing ciders, using plain ol’ apple juice, then once I get the basic concepts down I can move on to meads then ultimately beer. I have been reading a ton on Homebrewtalk Forums and while making simple ciders requires some knowledge and understanding of what is happening, beer is far more complicated.
While beer may be complicated, I found to start brewing cider however, the process is a bit simpler. Some of the items I needed to get started were available from my local Wal Mart, however I found better luck finding some of the unique items on Amazon.com – I have a short list below of the items I bought to get started, you may not need everything I bought, these are simply the items I used to begin my first Cider. Many of the items listed are reusable and will aid me in the future as I continue to brew meads and ultimately beer.
- 3-Piece Airlock
- Drilled Rubber Stopper #2
- Yeast (I used champagne yeast for these batches, but you can experiment with many different types)
Extra Things (To make life easier and brewing process smoother):
- Star San Acid Sanitizer (For sanitizing all your equipment)
- Hydrometer and Test Jar Combo
- Mini Auto-Siphon
- Plastic Bottle Filler
- Potassium Sorbate
- Yeast Nutrient
- 1 Gallon Glass Jug (AKA Carboy)
Some people choose to go to an orchard, pick apples, press them and make true “homemade” cider, for my brews, and for the purposes of this post I choose to use store bought apple juice or cider since most of the hard work has been done by the manufacturer this makes life a ton easier. (Note: When selecting apple juice make sure to avoid any preservatives in the juice, especially “Sodium Benzoate” or “Potassium Sorbate”. This is a chemical that inhibits fermentation and will prevent the apple juice from becoming hard cider.) This chemical however, can be used after fermentation is complete to “stabilize” the beverage (basically stop fermentation) in order to bottle.
For the 1 gallon “experimental” batches I do the primary fermentation in the original juice bottles, because it’s easier and why not? To begin, drill a small hole in the top lid of the apple juice bottle, large enough to fit the #2 rubber stopper. Inside the center of the stopper fit the airlock. This will allow you to ferment in the original apple juice bottle. The airlock allows the fermentation process to “off gas” while protecting the liquid from bacteria that might fall in from the air.
After doing this, remove approximately 4 oz of liquid from each bottle, this is done to give the bottle some room at the top, during fermentation bubbles and foam can be produced and this “head space” prevents overflow incidences.
Up to now the juice has only been in contact with it’s original bottle, but here is where foreign object may start coming in contact with the juice and you want to be sure these items are clean and sanitized. This is where the Star San becomes invaluable, I take a small amount and pour it into an old water bottle, add tap water and shake. This becomes a sanitizing solution I pour onto, or into anything that may come in contact with my brew. Just make sure you rinse these items thoroughly with warm water after a quick once over with the Star San solution.
Depending on how specific you want to get with your brewing it is at this point you can take an Original Gravity (OG) reading using your hydrometer and test jar. After sanitizing both the jar and hydrometer fill the test jar approximately 2/3 full of juice and take a temperature reading. Once you have documented the temperature, lower the hydrometer into the liquid until it begins to float, spin the hydrometer to remove any bubbles and wait for it to stop moving before reading. Document the reading you take, remember most hydrometers are calibrated on a 60º/60ºF basis which means you need to adjust your reading to 60ºF. This can be done with a calibration chart, or an easier way is to use a website like the Hydrometer Temperature Adjustment Calculator. This adjusted OG reading will be needed once the brew is done to calculate the Alcohol by Volume (ABV).
There are differing theories on whether to rehydrate yeast before pitching or to pitch the yeast dry. I choose to rehydrate the yeast, this is where precision comes in. Each yeast is different, so refer to the yeast itself for specific rehydration instructions. For the Red Star yeast take approximately 2-4 oz of the juice and heat it up for 10 seconds in the microwave. The goal is to reach 100°F, too hot and you can kill the yeast. This is where a digital thermometer can be invaluable. Sprinkle in the yeast and let rehydrate for 15 minutes. After rehydration pitch the yeast into the juice and top with the airlock / cap you fabricated earlier, set aside to ferment. Within a couple of hours you should see small bubbles start to form in the juice and within 12 hours the bubbles should be raging inside your newly forming brew.