Most of my batches won’t have a process page. For my first batch though, I’ve got a lot of thoughts that I want to put down.
I start my cider journey with 3 simple goals. First, I want to make some cider. Second, I want to make a baseline cider to know exactly what it tastes like. Third, I want to use the correct process that I can expand upon as I get more experience.
The first point is obvious and needs no explanation. The second point is pretty important. When looking at instructions and read accounts of people’s first brews, a lot of them get pretty advanced or tried to jump straight to their favorite style of cider (carbonization, adding flavors, backsweetening, etc). I want to make a cider that is going to be the BASE for my future ciders. I want to know what it tastes like. I imagine it won’t be very sweet, as I’m not stopping the fermentation process early, adding flavors, or backsweetening. There probably won’t be any carbonation. But once I know what it tastes like, I can know what direction I want to go to get to the cider that I want.
The third point is pretty similar to the second point. While I could go the hedge wizard route (and I’m sure I will for fun sometime in the future) and make a quick gallon of cider with no real airlock – I want to do the same process that I’ll be using later on. I want to figure out how an airlock works and how to use it. I want to make first time mistakes with sanitization so that everything is easier and cleaner next time. I want to “bottle” the cider (into growlers probably), so that I can turn that knowledge into racking and proper bottling in the future.
To accomplish my 3 goals, I’m going to make two batches of 1 gallon each. Both batches will use the same juice as a base, but will use different yeast to see how they affect the cider.
First we’ll start with our apple juice base. I have obtained 2 one-gallon glass jugs of no-preservative apple juice from Whole Foods. These will serve as my bases and the glass jugs will come in handy in future batches for racking into secondary.
In order to get alcohol from our juice, we need yeast. There are TONS of types of yeast out there. Bread yeast. Wine yeast. Champagne yeast. Mead yeast. Beer yeast. All of those types of yeast break down into several different types or species or brands as well. I’m going to be using two of the most commonly recommended types of yeast. Each gram of yeast makes a gallon of cider. First is Nottingham Ale Yeast. Nottingham ale yeast is a yeast that works well for cider and is very popular. From what I understand, it doesn’t overpower the natural flavors, which keeps your cider tasting like apples. They come in 11g packets, so I’ll be good for 11 gallons of cider there. The second type of yeast is the EC-1118 strand of yeast. EC-1118 is a champagne and wine yeast that is very easy to use. It isn’t too picky as far as temperature goes, and is pretty hearty. It was only a couple of dollars more to get a 10 pack of EC-1118, so I ended up with enough to make 50 gallons of cider. I’ve got some work to do…
We got juice and yeast – we should be done, right? Well…not really. Since we’re going to be doing this thing correctly, we’re going to need a few more things.
First is an airlock. The purpose of an airlock is to let carbon dioxide (a side product of fermentation) out without letting oxygen in (our cider would go bad). The basic idea is that a layer of water/vodka will allow carbon dioxide to bubble up and be released, while oxygen can’t get past the water. Its very similar to fermenting sauerkraut or pickles if you’ve ever done that. So what we’re going to need is an airlock for each jug we have. I picked up a set of 3 S-shaped airlocks. Note that these are just the airlocks. We also need a way to put them onto our glass containers. So we’ll need plugs/stoppers with a hole drilled into them. We need a size #6 to fit our one-gallon carboy, and since we have 3 airlocks, I also picked up a set of 3 stoppers.
With juice, yeast, and an airlock – we now have everything to start making hard cider. But theres going to be a lot of yeast sediment in our container that we don’t really want to drink. So how do we get it out? The answer is that we’re going to use a tube, gravity, and some suction to move our juice into another container. We want food-grade 5/16 tubing. I went with this 10 ft one.
The same process is used for both racking (into another jug of the same size to let it ferment more, absorb flavors, or settle for even more filtration) and bottling (into any container(s) that you have in preparation to drink or give to friends). We aren’t going to be racking this time – so we don’t need any more 1 gallon glass carboys (but the 2 glass carboys from this batch will serve as the racking containers for our 2nd batch). We’re going straight to bottling. Since we aren’t going for any carbonation, bottling is pretty easy. You can use basically any glass container that can be sealed. Some of the easiest are “pop-top” glasses that have an attached rubber stopper that allow for easy reseals. I got these ones for future batches, or just keep an eye out certain bottles of beer/cider/wine at wherever you get your alcohol. Its also very easy to use growlers from your local breweries. I’ll be using a few growlers from some of my favorite cider places to start. For most advanced brewers, you can purchase or reuse typical glass bottles, as well as a set of unused bottlecaps and a device to cap those bottles. Truly advanced brewers could look into a canning machine to put their cider into aluminum cans. Both those are a bit beyond what I’m looking to do for now – so growlers and pop-tops it is.
Now theres also some additional, optional things that are nice for the racking/bottling process. In order to start the suction on a tube, we can either suck on the tube and quickly move it over the container we want to fill (think siphoning gas or emptying a fish tank) or we can get an auto-siphon. I’ve had an aquatic turtle for two years, so I know how annoying it is to start the suction manually, so I’ve bought the auto-siphoning tool to make life easier – but it is optional. Another thing to make life easier is something to stop the suction. This is more important the more bottles you have. Stopping the suction is sometimes imprecise and messy, and then you have to start suction again. There another tool that stops and restarts suction to make it very easy to fill your containers without making a mess – a bottle filler. Another optional tool, but one that will make life easier, especially if you’re going to be doing this more than once.
Almost there. Theres one final thing that we NEED to do. And that is SANITIZE EVERYTHING. We don’t want any stray bacteria getting into our cider and doing weird things, so we’ll want to clean everything. We also don’t want to use soap – as it tends to affect flavor even after its been rinsed (if you did wash something with soap, rinse with hot water several times!). Boiling water is a very solid way to sanitize things, but using sanitizer is easier. I’ve gotten an 8oz container of Star San (which was the most commonly recommended brand). Basically follow the instructions on the ratio of sanitizer to water to use. Fill up a (clean) bucket with the mixture and let things sit in there for a few minutes. You can let it air dry or use it while wet (it won’t harm your cider). Alternatively, you can use a spray bottle to apply it. Don’t pat it dry though, and make sure to dunk your hands before touching things. Once everything is clean, we’re good to go.
So while cider is easy in concept, we’re doing some prep to make our first run smoother as well as preparing for our next run.