Recipe: Crisp Apple Cider

A great summer apple cider recipe that you can make at home. You can enjoy it sparkling or still.

Hi homebrewers,

This is the first recipe of my blog. I’ll try to keep it brief, and add handy bits of information where I can. With all of my recipes I’ll also try and give home-brewers without temperature-controlled fermentation some hints on how to get the best out of their equipment.

Today’s recipe is for a great apple cider. There’s nothing better on a hot day than kicking back and having a few ciders watching the cricket or after mowing the lawn. You can change the final gravity of the cider to your taste: sweet, medium-sweet or bone-dry cider.

Remember it’s all about personal preference, that’s the joy of homebrewing, you can tailor the final product to your tastes or the time of year, for summer a crisp, sweeter cider can really knock the edge off of a hard earned thirst, in winter a dry cider is perfectly suited for warming up on the stove with a few spices to make a mulled cider, most of all have fun with it.

Temperature

To make this recipe I’d advise that your fermentation is temperature controlled, although it is possible to make it without it. Without temperature controlled fermentation, you’ll need to be careful that the fermenter doesn’t get too warm, otherwise you’ll end up with some pretty interesting flavours and warm alcohol notes. If you can’t control the temperature place the fermenter in the coolest part of your house and check the gravity, and taste it regularly.

Juice

Whenever you use any juice or tinned fruit to make anything you’re brewing you have to ensure that it’s preservative free. The main preservative you’ll find in juice are sorbates (also known as food preservative E 202) and sometimes sulphur (Preservatives 220, 221 and 222). If you have these preservatives in the juice it will make it very difficult for the yeast to multiply and convert the sugars into alcohol.

You will also want to use a selection of juices. If you wish you can use straight preservative-free tetra juice. The master blenders of traditional apple cider press a variety of apples to get different aspects of flavour and mouth-feel: sweet, acidity, tartness, etc. While this is nearly impossible to replicate with store-bought apple juice, you can try using fresh, cloudy apple juice. The material that makes the juice cloudy will also give you some tannins and give your cider a bit better body.

Ingredients

  • 16 L Preservative-free tetra Apple Juice. (80% of juice volume)
  • 4 L Fresh preservative-free cloudy apple juice (20% of juice volume)
  • 11 g sachet of Nottingham, Safale S-04 or Safale US-05 yeast
  • 2.5 teaspoons of Pectinase (optional) (1/2 teaspoon per 4 L of juice)

Add at packaging:

  • Potassium sorbate (optional) (1/2 teaspoon per 4 L of juice)
  • Campden tablets (optional) (1 tablet per 4 L of juice)

Method

  1. Empty the bottles of juice into your sanitised fermenter. To ensure that your wort is properly aerated, empty half the bottle, put the cap back on and shake the remaining juice inside, aerating it.
  2. When you go to aerate the last bottle, add in the pectinase and shake thoroughly to mix it into the juice then add this to the fermenter.
  3. You should now have about 20 L of blended, aerated juice. Now is the perfect time to give it a taste. If you think it could use more body, you could add a strongly brewed cup of tea (5-10 teabags in 500 ml of boiling water left for 15 minutes).
  4. Re-hydrate the yeast (see here for instructions how to do this) and pitch into the juice. If you want to make a small batch you can adjust the recipe, although you’ll usually lose about 1 L to the bottom of the fermenter, known as the “lees”. You can also make as little as a few litres of cider, right in the bottle it came in. Just use less yeast and less pectinase.
  5. Ferment the cider at 14ºC – 16ºC for a few days or until the gravity drops to around 1.020. Alternatively, ferment the cider as close to this range as you can.
  6. Now its time to suit the cider to your tastes. If you like the cider sweet shoot for a gravity reading between 1.012 and 1.018. If you prefer a dry cider, let it ferment to between 1.002 and 1.006, or all the way. Or if you like something in between then shoot for between 1.006 and 1.012. I find that a gravity of around 1.012 works for me; not too sweet and not too dry.
  7. If you’re not going for dry cider, then you’ll want to rack (transfer) the cider into another fermenter or container. This will help remove excess yeast and make the next step easier and the cider clearer.
  8. Now comes time to figure out how you want to package it. This will largely depend on how sweet you want the final product.
    1. Keg – All cider styles. If you have a keg set up, the process is pretty straight forward. Dose your cider at a rate of 1 Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of potassium sulphate per 4 L. This will help to inhibit yeast growth and ensure your cider stays at the sweetness you want. Chill and force carbonate to 2.5 – 3 Vol. Obviously, if you have bone-dry cider this is unnecessary. Instead for dry cider, run off to the keg and prime with 80 g – 160 g of table sugar and leave in a warm spot for another two weeks to carbonate naturally.
    2. Bottling – dry cider. The method is pretty simple. Prime each bottle (330 ml) with 1.4 g – 2.8 g of table sugar or 1 carbonation drop. If you have the larger 740 ml bottles use 3.2 g – 6.2 g table sugar or 2 carbonation drops.
    3. Bottling – sweet still cider. To make sweet cider that you can store in the cupboard. Dose your cider at a rate of 1 Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp of potassium sulphate per 4 L. Wait between 4 – 7 days and bottle. No need to add priming sugar. Be aware that adding sulphites and sorbates does not actually kill the yeast, just makes it more difficult for them to reproduce.
    4. Bottling – sparkling sweet cider. First of all, I’d like to say that this method can be dangerous, and you’ll need to keep all of the bottled cider cold (3ºC – 4ºC). I strongly advise that you use plastic brewing bottles. This way, if they do explode then you’ll just be covered in cider, and not shards of razor-sharp glass. If you’re planning on going down this road, then only make as much cider as will fit in your fridge, or make half sparkling and the other half still. Basically, the method is to bottle the still fermenting cider a few gravity points above the sweetness you want (or if you’re going by taste, sweeter than you’d like it). Leave it in the bottle for a few days until it feels very firm to the touch and then refrigerate. Keep bottles very cold and the yeast should become dormant. I’d also like to add that I don’t use this method because it freaks me out.
    5. Kegging and bottling – all cider styles. If you’re fortunate enough to have a kegging system, then you can bottle your ciders using counter-pressure filling. this involves a special attachment that screws onto PET bottles and is used to fill them under pressure.

So, as you can see making sweet cider for bottling is very difficult at home. This is true for any style of sweet cider or mead. I find that this is where having a keg system is very useful, although there are always workarounds. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your delicious cider!

Happy brewing!

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