Type of girl I am: A lazy fermenter who likes a wild ferment with minimal equipment, planning and effort.
Homebrew can be quite complex, but what we’re talking about today corresponds more to the above and is a pretty simple version of an alcoholic beverage that tastes good. REALLY good. It’s not the absolute simplest it could be, but my fancy little twist at the end is my new favorite thing and it adds a ton of flavor. I skip the hard parts like measuring alcohol production precisely, bottling in glass bottles and pretty much anything else that needs equipment. This recipe requires very little special stuff. It doesn’t require sterilization (do keep your equipment, hands and kitchen clean, though). Results will definitely, for sure, 100% vary and that is a beautiful thing. This is wild cider and your home yeasts may not be the same as my home yeasts and your local orchards apples may have different yeasts and bacteria, so do expect beautiful flavor variation. Mine tastes like the best apples and pears.
I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for two years (really just two fall seasons, so it’s not like I’m still drunk on 53 gallons of cider) and I’m quite happy with the tricks I’ve learned to make it better.
Here are a few key elements that I’ve picked up in my trial and error:
Container – Get a 1 gallon jug or a carboy (if scaling up). Whole Foods has these gallon cider jugs that work perfectly. A carboy or a narrow-necked vessel of some kind does work better than a jar with an airlock, but in a pinch, you could use two half gallon airlock style jars.
DO NOT USE THE CIDER FROM AFOREMENTIONED WHOLE FOODS JUG TO MAKE HARD CIDER – I cannot overstate that using the cider from this jug will make a far from delicious final product. I dump the cider from Whole Foods and use it to make a decent apple cider vinegar. I have tried several times. It’s not good. Using a high-quality cider to start with is key for a quality end product. The best cider you can find is the best cider to use. If you can get unpasteurized, awesome! If you can’t, pasteurized works great.
Them Apples – If at all possible, use a combination of ciders made from different types of apples. I get 1/2 gallons of cider from different, local fruit farms. They use combinations of apples in their cider and they don’t use the same combination. This worked out much better for me than single-apple ciders. Keep this in mind if you’re pressing your own apples. Variety is nice. A cider that is sweet and acidic will kick the ass of an only-sweet cider any day.
Use Sugar – Unadulterated things are nice, I agree. Still, adding sugar makes better wild cider in my experience. I’ve made my peace with that.
Don’t use an S-bubble airlock – This goes for all types of alcohol fermentation. If any schmutz gets in that thing, getting it clean is a big ol’ pain. A 3-piece airlock costs about the same ($1) and is infinitely more clean-able.
Do secondary fermentation – Whether you use my syrup step for tastier cider or not, maturing the cider definitely improves the complexity of flavor.
WILD HARD APPLE CIDER RECIPE
Yield about 1 gallon hard cider. Recipe scales easily, but consider using a more traditional home-brew process if you do a large batch. This method needs fridge storage.
The end product of this process is infinitely pleasing. It is lightly effervescent. It has some distinct notes and layers and layers of subtle apple flavors. And one pro tip on the airlock that comes from my friend Jimmy at Philly Homebrew Outlet: put vodka in the airlock rather than water. That way, if any cidery bubbles make their way into the airlock, the alcohol will act as a disinfectant and keep any mold from growing in the airlock.
- A wide-mouthed gallon jar (pickle jars that don’t smell at all like pickles work great) or two half-gallon jars (four quarts would be okay, too, in a pinch)
- Long wooden spoon
- 1 gallon glass jug or carboy (see above)
- 3 piece airlock, available at any home-brew supply store or online
- Bung that fits your carboy or jug. Get it where you get your airlock.
- 2 plastic, two-liter soda bottles for bottling*
- Chopstick (for phase 2 only)
- Plastic Grocery Bags
For the Wild Cider
- 1 gallon local apple cider (see note above)
- 3/4 cup sugar
For Secondary Fermentation
- (Optional but recommended. For the second step following primary fermentation) 1 quart of fresh apple cider
Pour your cider into a wide-mouth gallon-sized jar or container. Add sugar. Make sure that there’s a bit of space at the top, you’ll be stirring hard and you don’t want it to overflow! Stir vigorously. You really want to create a cyclone in there. Cover the container with a kitchen cloth secured with a rubber band.
Stir vigorously twice a day. You really want to create a cyclone in there, drawing yeast from the air into the depths. Leave it cloth-covered at room temperature and repeat every day until you have a nice layer of foamy bubbles on top, generally 3 days. If you stir more frequently, this will happen more quickly.
Once you have a nice bubbly liquid, break out your narrow-mouthed jug or carboy. Pour the mixture in filling to the bottom of the bottle neck. Place the bung and airlock in the jug opening and place the whole shebang in a room temperature area away from direct sunlight. Let it ferment for about 10 days. Once the bubbling has pretty much stopped, you’re ready for the next step, whether it’s been ten days or two weeks. Sometimes fermentation has slowed and it’s hard to tell, but watch the airlock for a full minute. If you see a bubble bloop, it’s still going. Leave it until it’s no more active than that.
Rack the cider, by which I mean get it out of the container you fermented it in and into your growlers, bottles or soda bottles while leaving the sediment in the bottom of the container undisturbed. You’ll lose some cider, but that sediment contains excess and dead yeast that can result in unpleasant off flavors. Some people rack using a racking cane (again, get it from the home-brew shop). You can also pour very carefully and extremely slowly over a fine mesh strainer, keeping the yeasts from rising up into the liquid as much as possible. This is an imperfect methodology, but this is usually how I do it. Just remember the goal is to refrain from adding any sediment into your new container. You may need to repeated stop and let it sit for a several minutes until the sediment has settled again if you .
If you’re not going to take the next step (and I think you should) you’re pretty much done! Let your cider sit on the counter until the bottle sides are hard (aka it’s carbonated) and then store it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks before consuming. SEE END NOTE ON BOTTLING*
Pour the quart of fresh cider into a saucepan. Using this method, boil it down into syrup. Using a chopstick as a gauge is extremely helpful. You want to end up with 1/3 of the volume of cider that you started with, so place your chopstick upright in the pan with one end the bottom. Mark the chopstick at the top of the liquid level and then at what approximately 1/3 of that would be. Place it into the pan every so often to see how things are reducing.
Bring the cider to boil, then reduce heat until it’s at a low simmer and stir frequently. It will take 45 minutes to an hour to reduce to 1/3rd.
Once it hits the 1/3 mark on your chopstick, it’s sufficiently reduced. Let it come down to room temperature before adding it in to your bottles. Seal your bottles and shake to dissolve the syrup. Burp them and then reseal.
Let them carbonate at room temperature (12-24 hours) before putting them in the refrigerator. When the bottle sides are rigid, stick them in the fridge. Let them age in there for at least 10 days. SEE NOTE ON BOTTLING*
*When using this very informal “bottling” technique, I do no recommend bottling in anything other than plastic. I do recommend refrigerating as soon as the plastic becomes rigid and letting the aging happen there. Burp bottles at least once a week during aging in the fridge. There is always the risk of explosion when sealing fermented beverages, so be diligent about burping and keep your bottle inside a double plastic grocery bag to mitigate the risk of mess. For the record, I have never had anything explode in the refrigerator, even with long aging, but please be aware that this is a risk.