The idea of making hard cider at home sounds intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy and rewarding. Though the process takes a little over a month, you’re really only involved for a couple hours. Mostly the yeast and apples do all the work for you. If you’ve never brewed beer (or produced cider), there are a few items you will need to purchase. We normally head to Arbor Wine and Beer Making Supplies in Islip—they’ll likely have everything you need and the owners are happy to answer any questions you may have. So, first things first, here is everything you will need throughout the process:
- 2 5-gallon fermentation buckets
- 1 racking cane
- 1 bottle filler
- 1 bottling bucket
- 1 airlock
- Star San Sanitizer
- 14 oz. table sugar
- 8 oz. lactose sugar
- 1 packet Lallemand (Danstar) Belle Saison
- Yeast nutrient
- 3 pink grapefruits
- 5 gallons apple cider
The most important part of brewing beer or producing cider is not carefully crafting a recipe, working on your technique or even using the best ingredients—it’s sanitation. Don’t get us wrong, all those aspects are crucial, but if your equipment is not property cleaned your beer or cider will get infected and render your hard work undrinkable.
So, now that we’ve scared you a little, it’s time to sanitize your fermenter and airlock. We use Star San which is a no rinse sanitizer, but there are a few similar products you can go with. Just make sure you use something that is specifically made for cleaning brewing equipment—household cleaners just won’t cut it.
Next, we load our squeaky-clean fermenter and airlock into the car and head over to Richter’s Orchard in Northport. They will actually fill your fermenting bucket with 5 gallons of unpasteurized cider for you, provided you call ahead. We put the airlock in the lid for the ride home.
This step is where the magic happens—or at least begins. Once your cider has safely arrived home, it’s time to add the yeast. For this recipe, and for most of our ciders, we use Lallemand (Danstar) Belle Saison yeast. The yeast is what will eat the sugars in the apple cider and turn it into CO2 and alcohol. At this point we also add a yeast nutrient, which ensures the yeast has a healthy environment and can multiply. Lastly, we added 8 oz. of table sugar that we heated up with a little water to dissolve it. This just ups the ABV a little bit and produce a slightly drier cider. Once again, seal up your vessel and pop in the airlock.
Now, it’s time to let your cider ferment. We put our bucket in a 65-degree room and let the yeast do its job. You will know your cider has begun to ferment when you see bubbles appear in the airlock. Once the bubbles stop, the fermentation has as well. For us, this process took a little over a week but fermentation time will vary.
After fermentation has ended, you’ll need to get yourself ready with a sanitized second bucket and racking cane. This is where the cider will be transferred to secondary fermentation, but also where the grapefruit comes into play. We cut three medium sized grapefruits into wedges, leaving the skin on, and put them into a saucepan along with a little water. Heat (but don’t boil) the fruit and add 8 ounces lactose sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Let cool and add to the empty fermentation bucket.
Then, you use your racking cane to transfer the cider into the grapefruit bucket. We also let gravity do some of the work by placing the full bucket on the counter and the empty one below it. The point of this step is to take the cider off of the yeast, so you want to be a little careful not to disturb the yeast that has settled to the bottom of your bucket. When the cider level is getting low, be mindful to stop transferring once you hit the yeast. You don’t have to go crazy as you want a small amount of yeast to transfer over, but not the whole thing. If you’ve never seen yeast before, it basically just forms a cloudy muck on the bottom of your cider. You’ll definitely know it when you see it.
Again, seal everything up and add an airlock to the lid. You’ll want to let the cider ferment again until the bubbles in the airlock stop. It should take about a week.
After fermentation has ended, you’re one step closer to enjoying your homebrewed cider. On the stove, heat 6 ounces sugar with a little bit of water until it dissolves. While your priming sugar it cooling, sanitize your bottling bucket, racking cane and 32-ounce swing top growlers. Using the racking cane, transfer your cider into the bottling bucket, add your sugar and stir. Using a bottle filler, fill each bottle almost to the top (leave a little under an inch of head space) and seal.
Once all your bottles are filled, store them in a 75-degree room for about two weeks. This will carbonate the cider. Though we have never had an issue, we do put the bottles in a large plastic storage container in case of an over-carbonation issue (aka a “bottle bomb”). As long as you don’t overdo it with the priming sugar though you should be fine.
You can condition your bottles for longer if desired, but after two weeks they should be ready to drink. So pop one open and enjoy the (grape)fruits of your labor.