Hard cider isn’t hard at all to make

Creating hard cider at home is probably the easiest — and cheapest — way to get into home brewing. And if you start small, you can decide whether or not you like it before you end up with tons of unused equipment.

What you’ll need:

Basically, everything is available either online or at a brewing supply store.

Primary fermenter — Start with a gallon jug. It’s big enough to make it worth the effort, but not so big that if you screw it up, you’ll be angry with yourself.

Air lock and stopper — This assembly fits in the top of the primary fermenter and allows gases to escape from the vessel but prevents bad bacteria, which will make your cider smell (and taste) awful, from entering.

Disinfectant — Sold specifically for brewing purposes, it’s used as a final rinse after a good scrubbing (no-rinse StarSan is popular) for every surface that might come in contact with your brew. It’s no good to prevent outside bacteria from ruining your ferment if you’re pouring into bottles that brought their own germs to the party.

Yeast — You’ll need specialty mixes made for just this purpose. There are a number to pick from, including ones formulated for cider. I have had good results with champagne yeast, as I like a dry cider.

Apple juice — Any kind, as long as it says clearly on the label “No Preservatives.” Those added chemicals will kill off your yeast before it can work its magic.

Sugar — While apple juice has its own sugars, you might want to add a cup of sugar to the primary fermenter to get the whole thing going.

Secondary bottles — Round up clean bottles that once held a carbonated beverage and can be resealed. If you keep at this, you can use old beer bottles and buy new caps and a sealer mechanism. But at this stage, you might want to start with plastic soda or sparkling water bottles.

What you’ll do:

Clean all equipment thoroughly.

Add contents of two half-gallon jugs of apple juice to the primary fermenter. Pour in one cup of sugar.

Sprinkle in yeast. Go ahead and use the entire packet. What else are you going to do with it? Shake well.

Push airlock into top of primary fermenter. Fill the airlock with distilled water, or if you really want to kill bacteria, a bit of vodka.

Store in a dark place for a while — anywhere from one to four weeks — while the yeast does its magic. Check every so often to make sure the air lock hasn’t dried out and is still producing carbon dioxide bubbles.

Once the yeast is done, as evidenced by a lack of burping in the air lock, carefully pour off the cider into secondary bottles. Try not to stir up the yeast at the bottom, as it’s very funky, and that’s exactly why you’re moving it to new bottles, to get away from that funkiness. You can get an inexpensive siphon pump if this part makes you nervous.

Add maybe a quarter teaspoon of additional sugar to each secondary bottle, and then seal.

Over the next day or so, the plastic bottles will harden up as the remaining yeast creates bubbles … you’re carbonating at this point. Store in a cool, dark place for some time — weeks even. The general rule is the longer you wait, the better your cider will taste.

Open a bottle. If it tastes like feet, wait a little longer. It will get better.

Once all bottles are empty, repeat from Step One.

Peter McKay is a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist. He can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.


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