Few skills complement rural living better than that of making your own drink. This can include everything from an endless list of varieties of wines all the way to distilled spirits such as moonshine (be sure to check your local laws, though, as distilling is tightly controlled and still outright illegal in some areas). The process is also deceptively simple, especially when it comes to wines, beers and cider that produce alcohol through fermentation as opposed to distillation. This is a natural process that can happen all on its own and so it is legal mostly everywhere, but there are limits on how much you can make and keep for personal use (never for sale) per year. Inexpensive wine making and home brewing kits are for sale all over, including the internet, and it is a fun and interesting hobby in which I myself am just beginning to get my feet wet.
This particular article will concentrate on how to make the old country favorite, hard apple cider. You can do this one of two ways: the best is to find an organic food store or an old country store and buy a gallon of real cider; the cheaper, but less desired, method is just to use grocery store apple juice. Purists will tell you that you can’t, because the grocery store stuff has been pasteurized, but they’re full of crap. From what I understand, the fact that it’s been previously pasteurized just makes the process take longer. What you can’t use is juice that’s been preserved by adding funky chemicals, especially sodium benzoate, because it will kill the necessary yeast that you have to add. The cheap Wally World Great Value stuff works just fine. It only has three ingredients: juice concentrate, filtered water and ascorbic acid (Vitamin-C).
- Two (2) food-grade containers (one for fermentation/one for mixing duties). For the fermentation, I use a carboy like this one with a stopper and an airlock. There are clever tricks you could use to get around using an airlock, but it’s barely a dollar to buy one so just do it. For the second container, I use a 5 gallon food-grade bucket.
- A siphoning apparatus and a length of tubing. I use an Easy Siphonwith several feet of vinyl tubing.
- Bottles to hold your finished product. You can buy bottles or save your own and just buy new caps and a capper. Go crazy! I just use empty wine bottles.
- 4 gallons of apple juice.
- A half-pound of brown sugar (0.5 lbs.)
- Wine yeast. I know baker’s yeast is easier to get your hands on and I suppose it will work in a pinch, but using the right stuff will leave you with a much better tasting finished product. You can also use Champagne yeast to produce a very dry cider.
- Sanitize everything, and I mean thoroughly. You don’t want any foreign bacteria getting into the mix that could have an effect on the fermentation process. I would suggest you even wear rubber gloves, but a vigorous washing with soap will most likely suffice. Just don’t touch anything you don’t absolutely have to after washing, and you can probably ditch the gloves suggestion safely.
- The next step is to get the brown sugar thoroughly dissolved into your juice. You might be able to just add all the juice and the sugar to the carboy and stir it, but I doubt you’ll be able to stir vigorously enough to get it all mixed-in without completely wearing yourself out. I suggest pouring about half the juice from one of your bottles (I’m assuming you have four one-gallon bottles) into the mixing bucket, adding about 1/4th of the sugar to the half-empty bottle, putting the cap back on, and shaking it like a wild person on meth. Once you’re satisfied the brown sugar is adequately dissolved, empty the bottle into the mixing bucket and stir it together a bit with the juice already there. Then, transfer all the juice to the carboy where it will ferment.
- Repeat step #2 for the other 3 gallons of juice and the remaining 3/4ths of the brown sugar.
- Once everything is in the fermenter (the carboy), add about 4-5 grams of wine yeast.
- Fit the stopper and the airlock on the fermenter and place it somewhere that will be fairly temperature-stable between the high 60s and the low 70s.
- Leave it alone for about a month. You should see bubbles inside the carboyand in the airlock within a day or two.
- After about a month, the fermentation process should be complete with the yeast having settled to the bottom of the carboy.
- In order to get carbonated cider, you need to reintroduce some more sugar back into the mix to reactivate the yeast. Add about 5 ounces of regular granulated sugar to the fermenting carboy and stir vigorously to get it mixed-in properly.
- Bottle your cider however you see fit, using the Easy Siphon and the vinyl tubing.
And, that’s that! You can now enjoy your own homemade hard apple cider! You can also play around with the recipe a bit to suit your personal tastes, as some folks prefer more or less sugar. Some may also prefer to leave it up longer than a month, and using real cider in the beginning will produce a better final drink than the cheap grocery store juice with the trade-off being that it is also quite a bit more expensive to make.
As stated earlier, be sure to check your local laws with respect to annual limits, and never plan on selling what you make. Learning and perfecting these skills, however, could be considered training for a lucrative home-based business in a post-crash society where today’s laws are no longer applicable. And, in the meantime, you get to enjoy years of your own bounty and the pleasure of a new hobby.