The first time I made hard cider, I used this recipe that I found on the Homebrew Talk Forums: 5 Day Sweet Country Cider. I liked it so much that I ended up making a couple batches of it that year, which was 2011. I’ve made at least one batch a year since, though I’ve altered the recipe and have it down to an easy to remember formula at this point. Just count down from five.
FIVE days in fermentation.
FOUR gallons of all natural pasteurized apple cider.
THREE pounds of brown sugar.
TWO cinnamon sticks.
ONE packet of dry ale yeast.
Yes, this cider is ready to drink in under a week, the only homebrew I’ve ever made that can claim that. As a result, it does need the extra step of pasteurization, which I will cover in a future post. If you don’t want to wait, though there are tons of other instructions on the internet.
With that warning out of the way, I’ll jump into the specifics. I always start with Kauffman’s Bird In Hand Blend apple cider. This is the big local cider, which is widely available at independent grocery stores in my area. There are others, but this is my favorite. I’ve been told by local homebrewers that they prefer another cider, the one from Masonic Village, for fermenting because it is sweeter and doesn’t require adding as much sugar. For this recipe, though, the main goal is to maintain most of the cider’s original flavor and I prefer the taste of Kauffman’s by a wide margin.
If you don’t already have a favorite local cider, it’s time to do some delicious research. Just remember, you need cider that has been flash pasteurized without preservatives. If he cider doesn’t say that it contains no preservatives, it probably does and they will probably kill your yeast and prevent you from fermenting. The ingredients list should tell you for sure, if the other labeling is vague. Potassium Sorbate is the main offender, but there are variants with similar sounding names. Any of them will kill your yeast.
Flash pasteurization means that the cider as quickly heated to kill wild yeast without damaging the fresh flavor. This usually means that there are still some wild yeast left living, but their numbers have been greatly diminished. If you leave flash pasteurized cider at room temperature, it will likely begin fermenting on its own. This could turn into a refreshingly tart, lightly carbonated cider, or some rotten smelling stuff… or bursted bottles and a huge mess. So get fermenting as soon as you buy your cider. You can try experimenting with natural fermentation with a gallon (or half) of your cider, but I wouldn’t commit a large amount to it because it is likely not to turn out well.
Anyway, for this recipe: pick your cider and get four gallons of it. It wil be refrigerated when you buy it, so let it warm up, but again, not for too long. I like to stop after work to buy it, then let it sit out until close to time for bed, five or six hours, before starting the rest of the process. You can add all but about a gallon into you fermentor once it has reached about room temperature (it will warm quicker in its smaller packages). Most of the bit you’ve kept separate will be mixed with the brown sugar and cinnamon.
Before that, though, rehydrate your yeast quick. I just add the yeast to a two cup measuring cup and then add about twelve ounces of cider. Make sure that the cup is sanitized, of course. With the cider and yeast in, stir it a bit and then cover it in plastic wrap (all sanitized). Ideally, you could let this sit for an hour or so, but I honestly don’t wait nearly that long, normally. I finish the rest of the process which only gives it about ten or fifteen minutes. This has never been a problem, though. I normally use Nottingham Dry Ale Yeast, but any ale yeast should work. Nottingham works quickly and is very neutral. You can use a more characterful yeast, but again, I’m trying to maintain the flavor of the fresh cider in this recipe.
On the stove top, add three pounds of brown sugar to a large pot over low heat. Slowly add the rest of your cider and stir. Once all the cider is in, continue stirring until all of the brown sugar is mixed into the cider. Once you’re sure all of the sugar is suspended in the liquid, add two cinnamon sticks and stir a bit more. Be sure not to boil the cider, just heat it up enough to help the sugar dissolve. The smell of the cinnamon should start getting very strong very quickly. Once you are getting a good dose of cinnamon aroma, only a couple minutes, take the cider off the heat and add it to the carboy with the rest. Just dump the whole thing, cinnamon sticks and all into the carboy (or bucket or whatever). The slightly heated portion of the cider will bring the temperature up even more and ensure a quick start to fermentation. Add the yeast, top with an airlock and watch the yeast get to work.
You can take gravity readings before adding the yeast if you want, I normally do, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You are going to get a low alcohol cider with this recipe. Mine is usually around 3.5% ABV. The three pounds of brown sugar should add about 1.03 to your original gravity, if only that fermented, your ABV would be just under 3%. As the countdown suggests, I normally ferment for about five days, but I normally check the flavor once a day after the third or fourth until I’m happy with it. The finishing gravity should be only slightly lower than the original cider without the sugar added.
Here is the crazy part. When you like the way the cider tastes, bottle it. It should still be actively fermenting, so there is no need to add priming sugar and it is not going to be clear so there is no need to rack it. If you have an auto siphon, just bottle straight from the primary fermenter. This will carbonate very quickly and if you don’t do anything, it will over carbonate shatter your bottles. You NEED to pasteurize it. Usually the same day you bottle it. As you can tell above, the day you start the fermentation will be very quick. Most of the work comes on bottling day and pasteurization day.
When you are bottling, use one or two plastic soda or water bottles. Then, keep squeezing these bottles every half hour or so to check for carbonation. If they feel hard, open one and if you’re happy with the carbonation, you can start pasteurizing the rest. If it’s not quite there, you have the other bottle to check again a bit later. I find that it usually takes about eight hours, but it could be up to twelve or a full day. It could also be only a few hours, but you should be safe overnight. If you bottle before bed when you have nothing to do the following morning, you should be good. I usually just do it early on a day that I’m off work and pasteurize on the same day.
I use a stove top pasteurization method, but I’ve heard of people doing it in the oven and any number of other ways. The oven makes me nervous because it isn’t evenly heated. Hot pockets could mean shattered bottles (which will not be fun at all to clean out of an oven) and colder pockets could mean unpasteurized bottles. I plan to post about my method soon.
This post has ended up much longer than I thought. I didn’t intend to add a recipe at the end, but in case you don’t want to read all this, I guess I will.
Yellow Cat Sweet Cider
4 Gallons of fresh flash pasteurized Apple Cider
3 Pounds of brown sugar
2 Cinnamon sticks
1 Packet of ale yeast
Allow cider to reach room temperature, then add three gallons to a fermenter. Of the gallon left, use 12 oz to rehydrate your yeast. Add the sugar to a pot over low heat and then dissolve it with the rest of the cider. Add the cinnamon sticks and stir constantly for about two-three minutes before removing from heat. Add this mixture to the rest of the cider in the fermenter. Then add the rehydrated yeast and top with an airlock.
Check the flavor of the fermenting cider daily and bottle directly from the fermenter, while still actively fermenting, with no priming sugar when you are happy with it, about five days. Pasteurize once it has carbonated, between 8 and 24 hours after bottling.