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The Cider Press: Quick Homemade Hard Cider

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[Photographs: Christopher Lehault]

Last week we talked about how hard cider gets from the branches of a tree to a bottle. But what if you don't have a few extra acres to plant an orchard? Here's a guide to the simplest and cheapest way to make cider at home.

Before all the hardcore cider-makers, amateur vintners, and homebrewers get their hydrometers in a fuss over cider-making technique, keep in mind that this is merely an introduction to home fermentation, a way to dip your toe into home cider-making without spending a lot of time and money.

About the Ingredients

Hard cider starts with fresh non-alcoholic cider or juice. A local orchard or farmers market is the best source for fresh cider, but any health food store should carry a quality cider that is perfectly acceptable.

Cider can even be made from Mott's apple juice, although the resulting flavor may be less than desirable. Be sure to avoid juice that has been chemically treated with potassium sorbate or a similar preservative. These chemicals inhibit yeast growth, which will impede the conversion of sugars into alcohol. Though you don't want preservatives in your cider, you do want it to be pasteurized in order to knock out any wild yeast without inhibiting the growth of your new cider yeast.

Cider-making does require a few items that are not commonly found around the house: an airlock, a stopper, and some yeast. For ease of use, I recommend the Wyeast cider yeast. It comes complete with the nutrients it needs and doesn't require any additional culturing. All of these items can be picked up at your local homebrew store or online at any reputable homebrew website.

Finally, you'll need a container for fermentation. Any one gallon jug will work, including the one holding your cider or an empty water container. Fermenting in plastic bottles is not really ideal because of chemicals that may leach from the bottles into your brew, but it's sufficient for this experiment. If you decide to make more cider down the road, invest in glass jugs or a BPA-free bottle.

What You Need

If you want to carbonate your cider, you'll also need:

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Step 1: Sanitize

Delivery trucks can be dirty, and that grime can destroy even the best cider. The first step, then, is to wash everything—stoppers, the exterior of the cider bottles, your fermentation bottle, the outside of the yeast package, even a pair of scissors—in hot water and a mild detergent. After rinsing, you should sanitize everything with a food-grade sanitizer. In a pinch, you can use a very mild solution of water and bleach, but be sure to rinse everything really well afterward. There is nothing worse than a cold glass of bleached cider.

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Step 2: Get your Yeast On

Once sanitizing is done, slowly and carefully pour your cider into the one gallon container for fermentation—we'll call this the fermenter. Remove about one cup of liquid from the fermenter and discard or save for another purpose. Open the yeast packet with sanitized scissors and pour the entire contents into the juice.

Step 3: Seal the Deal

The final step is to seal everything up; keeping household bacteria out while the yeast goes to work. Place the airlock in the stopper and then press the stopper into the fermenter until tight.

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The fermenter should be stored at about 70º to 75º for two weeks. Within a few days, the airlock will begin to bubble as a result of the yeast happily converting the juice to alcohol. If no bubbling occurs, either the stopper is loose or the cider contained preservatives and is unfermentable. First, check that the stopper is tight. If that's not the problem, then you may need to start over using a different cider.

After two weeks, the liquid can be carefully transferred to another sanitized bottle for aging, leaving the dead yeast behind in the bottom of your fermenter. This prevents the dead yeast from affecting the cider's flavor. Keeping everything in the original fermenter will still result in a drinkable cider, but it may take on a more murky flavor due to continued contact with dead yeast. Either way, at this point you should move the cider to a cooler spot, about 65º, for eight more weeks to get a more rounded flavor from the final product.

Step 4: Finishing

Your homebrewed cider is ready to drink immediately after the aging period is over. For still cider, simply chill the entire container and pour a glass. Keep in mind that once open, the cider will begin to oxidize and start tasting off in less than 24 hours. You may want to invite some friends over to share!

To carbonate your cider, start by sanitizing four one-liter bottles. Add 1/4 ounce of dextrose (corn sugar) to each bottle and then carefully fill each bottle with about 1/4 of your cider, leaving the dead least in the bottom of your fermenter. Try to not splash too much as your pour. Screw the plastic caps back on tightly and wrap electrical tape around the base of each cap to reduce air leaks. After ten days, these bottles will be carbonated—enjoy!

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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