I haven’t entered as many homebrew competitions this year as I would have liked. Instead of laziness as it was in the past, it has been down to the fact that most of my brewing in 2016 has been dedicated to specific projects like the United States of IPA, and the two batches I brewed for Ales over ALS. I simply haven’t had a lot of extra bottles to ship out or drop off.
In my entire time as a brewer the only medal I have ever won in a competition was actually for a cider. In 2013 my New England Cider finished third out of ten entries at the Boston Homebrew Competition. Since then I have brewed beers that have received higher scores than the 30.5 that the cider earned, but to date that is the only award I’ve won.
Cider is fun and easy to make. After making several batches during our first couple years of brewing, I am making my first batch in several years.
For our purposes here all cider is hard cider. Unfermented ‘cider’ like you drink on Thanksgiving will be referred to as apple juice. Before Prohibition all cider was hard by definition.
- Start with your juice. The juice can’t have sulfates. Sulfates are sometimes added to juice as a preservative; they will kill your yeast. Fresh pressed cider from a local orchard works best, but I have also made cider with Target brand juice bought on clearance after Christmas.
- Treat your juice with a camden tablet to kill any wild yeast and let sit for 24 hours.
- Pitch the yeast of your choice. In the past I’ve used ale yeasts. Wine or champagne yeasts can also work and will make a drier cider. There are also cider yeasts available. When you pitch your yeast add yeast nutrient as apple juice is not as nutrient-rich as a barley wort.
- Keep your fermenting cider in the primary fermenter for 2-3 weeks.
- Rack to a secondary for up to 8 weeks for additional conditioning.
- Bottle or keg as you would a beer. Add priming sugar or force carbonate if you want to make a sparkling cider. Ciders can be sparkling, still, or pellitant which is very lightly carbonated.
- You can also add ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) at bottling to prevent the cider from becoming oxidized and darkening. Your cider can darken when exposed to oxygen just like the inside of an apple after you bite into it.
- Some cider-makers like to back-sweeten their cider at this point with sugar or apple juice concentrate. Most commercial cider makers back-sweeten and force carbonate their ciders. If you are brewer with kegging equipment this is certainly an option. If you are bottling your cider and want to back-sweeten you will need to add another camden tablet and make a still cider, or use an artificial sweetener that the yeast won’t ferment. Otherwise you will have gushers and bottle bombs as the yeast ferments the additional sugars in the bottle.
That is the easiest way to make cider at home. You can add different sugars before primary fermentation to increase the alcohol level. You can also add any other flavors you would like to add during secondary fermentation. My ‘award winning’ cider added local wildflower honey and was aged on oak chips.
Cidermaking is more similar to winemaking than it is brewing. More experienced cidermakers know how to manipulate the levels of tanin and acidity in the cider. Many also select the variety of apples they want to use and press the apples themselves. This is all outside of my area of expertise. After several years of not making a cider, and having a better idea of what I don’t know about cider, I wanted to keep it very simple this time.
At Homebrew Con I grabbed a packet of Mangrove Jack’s Cider Yeast. I have been told that this yeast will make a dry cider, but still preserve apple flavor and aroma more than a champagne yeast. I bought my apple juice from the Modern Homebrew Emporium. The shop sources its juice from Box Mill Farm in Stow, MA. The juice smelled and tasted outstanding and should make an excellent cider.
I will probably rack the cider to a secondary this weekend. I think I will take some of the oak cubes I bought for Pyrite Pistol, soak them in some rum, and add those to the carboy. While making this cider I cracked open one of my original ciders from 2012 and found it was still quite tasty. I may have to enter it into another competition to see if I can win another award.
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