- Yield: 5 to 6 gallons
- 3–4 pounds wild and/or unsprayed apples or crabapples
- 5 gallons sweet cider (unpasteurized, if possible, and containing no preservatives)
How to Make It
Make the Starter Culture
- Press or use a juicer to make 1 quart of cider from the unsprayed apples or crabapples. Pour into a clean 1-quart jar and cap loosely. Let sit on your countertop at room temperature for a few days until the cider begins to ferment. You’ll know fermentation is underway when the cider gets fizzy and cloudy. Taste the cider to see if you detect a little sparkle on the tongue, and you’ll know that the yeasts have started. Inoculate the main Fermentation
- Pour the starter culture into a clean 5-gallon glass carboy and fill the carboy with sweet cider up to the neck. You might have a little sweet cider left over — drink it! Place the carboy in a cool location (less than 50°F/10°C is preferred; a basement would be perfect) and fit the carboy opening with an airlock half-filled with water. Monitor the Fermentation
- It may take a week or two for the fermentation to get well under way. You will be able to gauge the level of fermentation by watching bubbles come through the water in the airlock (more bubbles mean a stronger ferment). Determine when Fermentation Finished
- The bubbling will cease when the fermentation is complete. This may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on how cool your cider is kept. You may need to sit down and give the airlock your attention for 5 minutes to determine if the cider is still fermenting, as the bubbling can get very sporadic at the end. Stick a straw into the carboy and taste the cider. If there are no bubbles and there is some perceptible sweetness, you may have what some call a “stuck” fermentation, or what others call a delicious naturally sweet hard cider. Rack your Cider
- Use food-grade tubing from a winemaking supply company to carefully siphon the cider to a new, clean carboy by using an auto-siphon or simply sucking on one end of the tubing. Racking (transferring) the cider away from the lees (spent yeast sediment) will allow it to age and clarify further. Add water or other hard cider to fully top up the carboy to its neck to reduce the amount of surface area of cider that is in contact with air. If you don’t have an extra carboy, you can age the cider on the yeast lees. Sulfite
- You may choose to sulfite the cider at this time in order to preserve it and to slow oxidation. If you end up bulk-aging the cider for months on end, you may wish to sulfite just prior to bottling. Not being huge fans of chemicals, we advocate for minimum intervention, but sulfites do a marvelous job of preventing the cider from developing a sherry-like flavor and losing fruitiness, which indicates that oxidation has occurred. A low dose, such as between 20 and 40 ppm (1⁄8 to 1⁄4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite for 5 gallons of cider), will be sufficient if you plan to drink the cider within the year. If you have made your cider from tannic apples (such as traditional English or French cider apples, or loads of crabapples in the press blend), those tannins will serve as natural antioxidants to also help the cider keep well. Bulk Age
- If necessary, age the cider in the carboy for a month or two, until it becomes clearer and fully matures. It may clarify beautifully right after fermentation or remain hazy despite months of aging — such are the mysteries of natural fermentation! And both results can be delicious. Bottle
- If your cider is fully dry (no sugars are left) and has clarified to your satisfaction, now is a good time to bottle. Check the density of the cider with a hydrometer to make sure there is absolutely no residual sugar before bottling, or your bottles could potentially explode. Add a dose of sulfites if you are using them (see step 6) and mix well. Siphon into clean wine or beer bottles and cork or cap. If you have not added sulfites, the cider may start to oxidize after a few months (giving it a sherry-like character), which may or may not be to your taste.
- If you are bottling a naturally sweet hard cider (some residual sugars are left), don’t cap or cork the bottles unless you pasteurize the cider in the bottles; otherwise, your bottles could explode if fermentation restarts in the sealed bottles. You could seal the bottles with a little square of plastic wrap held in place with a rubber band, so that if fermentation recommences, the gas can escape. It’s not glamorous, but it’s cheap and safe! Alternatively, seal bottles with tasting corks (also called bartop closures or spirit corks). They are easy to push in and look smart, and if any pressure develops in the bottle, they will be pushed out.