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How to make apple cider: a guide for novice brewers

TO AN AVID HOME-BREWERED like me, cooler temps mean stouts, porter and, the real star of the season, hard apple cider. I salivate over each part of the pastoral process: picking apples with friends, pressing them into “soft” cider, summoning the will not to swallow it all at once. Fortunately, it takes little effort to turn that juice into something as refined as anything you can buy at your local liquor store.

Start with the apple. For anyone lucky enough to have an apple tree in their yard or neighborhood, this is the easy part. (I trust the trees in my church.) Failing that, go to an orchard. Kevin Stahr, owner of Mainbrew, a home brewing supply store in Hillsboro, Oregon, says he’ll need about 20 pounds of apples for every gallon of cider he hopes to make.

The cider-making process has changed little since the 1920s.


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To get the best hard cider, you shouldn’t pick any old apples you can get your hands on. Ask about “cider apples,” which aren’t as sugary and tart as what Mr. Stahr calls “eating apples.” Apple varieties like Kingston Black and Medaille d’Or are bred to be much less acidic.

Next, you’ll need a way to pulverize those fruits. That means some kind of apple masher, which grinds the apples into pulp, and a press, which squeezes the juice out of that pulp. Specific equipment for these purposes can be expensive, but effective. While the nice handmade Correll cider presses, for example, start at $1,300, they are much more efficient than the oft-suggested trick of pouring apples into a food processor and then straining the messy puree through a plastic bag. mesh.

Stahr says an expensive gadget is worth investing in if you have your own apple trees and make cider every year. Otherwise, you can usually rent one. Some orchards allow you to use your own on-site for a fee. And homebrew stores often have a set on hand. (Mainbrew rents a grinder and press for $40 a day.)

But you don’t need to press your own apples. Emmet Leahy is COO of Clawhammer Supply in Asheville, NC, which sells homebrewing equipment. He usually buys soft cider from the orchards and then makes it into hard cider at home. What you lose (an Instagrammable moment) matters little to him. Either way, the end result is a great cider. Many homebrewers even buy their light cider at (gasp) the grocery store, still insisting their end products are delicious. The only drawback: Check the label to see if it contains preservatives like potassium sulfate or sodium benzoate, both of which can kill the yeast needed for fermentation. Regardless of how you get your juice, making it alcoholic is easy. “The great thing about cider is that all you do is yeast it,” Mr. Leahy said.

What kind of yeast? Opinions abound, but Stahr and Leahy say that yeasts made specifically for cider, rather than champagne, wine, beer or bread, generally preserve apple flavors better. White Labs, a San Diego-based company, offers a package of liquid cider yeast ideal for five-gallon batches; Mangrove Jack, a company based in New Zealand, sells a dry yeast that is easier to divide into smaller batches. Your local brewing store might sell these or similar yeasts; if not, check online.

Whatever yeast you use, it’s time to add it to your mild cider. The yeasts will consume the sugar in your soft cider and turn it into alcohol and gas. This step can be intimidating, but the right tools leave little room for error. You can buy such tools a la carte, but it’s much easier to get a prep kit that has everything. The Northern Brewer Hard Cider Kit ($66) includes a large food-grade pail with lid that can hold up to 6.5 gallons of fermenting cider. The bucket also has a spigot for an airlock (also included) that allows gas to escape without letting anything in. Mainbrew also sells a cider making starter kit ($126) that comes with a larger bucket, a few extra measuring tools, and Annie Proulx’s 1983 classic “How to Make the Best Apple Cider.”

It takes little effort to turn that juice into something as refined as anything you can buy at your local liquor store.

You’ll want to leave your cider in the bucket (henceforth known to you and anyone who wonders why there’s a bucket in the corner of your bathroom, like your “fermenter”) for at least a couple of weeks at any temperature. controlled room. The longer it ferments, the drier the cider will be. After that, you will need to separate the liquid from the yeast layer that fell to the bottom of your fermenter. Your kit should contain a siphon that allows you to direct your fermented cider into bottles or barrels.

Since kegs are expensive, most brewers choose to store their cider in bottles. You’ll need to provide your own (start saving your empty ones now), but most kits come with some kind of solution that you need to use to clean them. Once your cider is in the bottles add some corn sugar ($4, NorthernBrewer.com) to make sure the end result has the proper carbonation. Then use a bottle capper (included in the Northern Brewer and Mainbrew kit) to seal your bottles. After a few weeks in the fridge, crack one open and savor the fruits of your labor.

There are many ways to tailor the process to your preferences. You can try using different types of apples, different strains of yeasts, and longer fermentation times. And don’t be afraid to play with other ingredients. Last year, Leahy added hops, usually reserved for beer, to a cider. “It tasted amazing,” he said.

Or, if you want the most autumnal experience imaginable, you can try flavoring your cider with pumpkin spice. I certainly wouldn’t try to stop you. That’s the best part of homebrewing: you can make whatever you want.

beyond the bushel

All the equipment you’ll need to buy (or borrow) to make strong cider at home.


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1. Correll Cider Presses

These artisan presses have been handcrafted by the same family for three generations and are known to last for decades. Okay, you probably don’t need to buy one. But if you’re spending some money, you should buy something that will last you more than a season or two. (from $1,300, CorrellCiderPresses.com)

2. Essential Great Northern Hard Cider Equipment

Everything you need to start fermenting cider, including a fermenting bucket, airlock, hydrometer to measure alcohol content, and bottle caps for your finished beer. ($66, NorthernBrewer.com)

3. White Labs WLP775 English Cider Yeast

A wet yeast bred to preserve apple flavor while producing hard cider, it is ideal for five-gallon batches. It’s available on sites like Amazon, but because it needs to be kept cold, you should probably try to get it at your local homebrew store or brewer-focused market. ($11, MásCerveza.com)


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F. Martin Ramin/ The Wall Street Journal

4. Mangrove Jack Cider Yeast

This dry yeast is also great for preserving apple flavor, but it’s a little easier to store and ship. This means you can split up the pack and use it in a couple of smaller batches. ($8, Walmart.com)

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