We are super excited to have the amazing Rachel Jacobs writing for us this month! She is the co-producer of the radio show Fuhmentaboudit! on the Heritage Radio Network, an avid beer and cider brewer, fermenter, and all around awesome lady! Check out her post on Cider Making and Bringing People together -- one of the best things that fermentation does!
Simple Cider from Scratch, Bringing People Togetherby Rachel Jacobs
When your roommates don’t drink beer and you want to start home brewing, you can do one of two things: either drink all the home-made beer yourself while sticking your tongue out at your friends – or you can brew something that everyone will enjoy. A homebrew is a thing meant to be shared, and a lot of my friends and family members have one stomach problem or another – gluten intolerance, dairy allergies, strawberry sensitivity – so something with a large amount of ingredients and high in allergens meant that someone won't be able to have it.
My first hesitation with cider was that there seemed to be less room for creativity– there are less ingredients, there’s less types of yeast to inoculate the juice, and the whole science of making cider is much less complicated. After all, I thought, if you buy a jug of Red Jacket’s cold pressed cider and you use champagne yeast, doesn't it turn out to be exactly the same thing?
This is not strictly speaking true. Yeast, as I’ve come to learn, are finicky, and the slightest variation of temperature, pH, or pressure can cause it to act slightly differently. Each batch of something home-made, unless in an ultra-controlled environment, will turn out differently.
But I didn’t know this when I first started. And that’s how I got to pressing my own juice to make hard cider. And you can, too!
If you’re patient and not averse to pruney hands, you don’t actually need all that much in the way of materials. In addition to a carboy, airlock, and yeast, you’ll need:
-Apples, whatever varieties you like. I prefer to get about 10 pounds of nice apples and the rest of cheap filler – Macintosh, Cortland.
-Food processor/ blender
It takes about 15 pounds of apples to make a gallon of juice, which is about 35 apples of sufficient size. Very often, you can get 5-lb bags at the grocery store for cheap, or get the bags of ugly apples at the famer’s market for less than the more marketable, pretty apples.
1. Cut the apples into manageable pieces and toss them in the blender until they’re more or less applesauce consistency.
2. Next, spoon the pulp into a cheesecloth, twist, and squeeze, collecting the juice in a bowl.
3. Once the bowl is full, strain it through the cheesecloth once more before putting it in the carboy.
4. Add the yeast – I’m a fan of 71B when using fresh fruit because that sucker will eat through everything, but Champagne Yeast will do it faster and give you the satisfaction of watching a bubbly airlock.
5. Add the airlock and let it sit somewhere temperate for 2-4 weeks. Sediment will collect at the bottom, just like store-bought cider, and you can choose to siphon the cider to another carboy and rack it for another 2-4 weeks; or if you don’t care, you can bottle it as-is.
The first time I did this, I spent the entire day crushing and squeezing apples with a tiny Cuisinart food processor and cheese cloth. (I bought 30 pounds of apples but lost my patience at a gallon and a half, and 5 pounds were actually no good because they were – and I’m not kidding – full of spiders. Very farm fresh).
Yes, the process is fatiguing and sometimes tries my patience, but with a Netflix account and good pair of headphones, it’s all good. Or you could do it in batches. When I don’t have a full day to spare, I press some of the apples and freeze the juice; when I’ve collected a few gallons, I defrost, put in the carboy, and add the yeast.
Cider is a good compromising homebrew if you want to share with a lot of people and not worry about their various dietary restrictions, because there is only one ingredient: apples. You can still make it your own, though, if you want to get fancy, you can add different fruit juices or flavoring agents. The last batch I bottled was made with Skittles and tastes vaguely like a bootleg Smirnoff Ice, and one that’s sitting under my sink is mixed with tart cherry juice. The roommates love it and I’ve been giving it out to friends for weddings and birthdays, too. People can be picky with beer, but everyone drinks cider. Everyone. Even George Washington.
Conclusion: drinks are more fun when shared with friends, and it doesn’t have to make your brews boring.