Monday, October 24, 2011

Making hard cider: part 1

The result of last year's hard cider-making adventure
One of the things I really wanted to try my hand at as soon as I returned to New England last year was hard cider.

I love cider: the drier, the better (if you ever see a bottle of Farnham Hill Extra Dry, buy it immediately!). If it's on the menu in a pub or restaurant, it's my drink of choice.

I've been happy to observe that I'm not alone. Artisanal cider-making is growing in popularity, at least as evidenced by the number of articles about it that keeping popping up in the foodie publications.

So, armed with a love of cider but almost no knowledge, Mr. Ninj and I made cider last year.

And you know what? It was awesome. Wicked awesome, in fact.

I relied almost exclusively on a how-to article from the Mother Earth News and the advice of Vermont Homebrew Supply, the owners of which very patiently answered all my newbie questions as I took copious notes.

Given how successful and delicious our experiment was last year with five gallons of cider, we decided to double it this year, and I'm going to chronicle our efforts here so you might try to make some, too.

Welcome to Ninja Cider-Making, part 1.

We took our sanitized buckets to Chapin Orchard in Essex, Vermont, to procure some freshly pressed cider. We are fortunate in that Chapin does a special cider crush every year especially for those who like to make their own hard cider over the winter.

Apples are fed into the hopper from outside and then make their way to the press

Mr. Ninj fills our buckets with cider just pressed in the press directly underneath

Each year, the blend of apples used is a bit different. Here's the breakdown of what we got in our juice this year:
The apples used in this year's crush

Once we got home, we let the icy-cold juice come to room temperature by leaving the sealed buckets in the kitchen overnight. In the morning, I removed about a gallon of juice from each bucket, warmed it in two pots (one for each bucket) on the stove and dissolved a two-pound box of turbinado sugar in each pot. You can use a variety of kinds of sugar, or even honey, but whatever you choose will make the cider a bit sweeter while simultaneously helping the fermentation process along and increasing the alcohol content.

Adding the sugar to the cider

After returning the sugar-cider mixture to the buckets, I then added the yeast. This is the key ingredient, as it causes the fermentation process which turns sweet cider into hard cider. I added a champagne yeast normally used in wine making (this came recommended). I dissolved one 5-gram packet in about 2 ounces of cold water and added it to the first bucket, then repeated the process for the second bucket.

Yeast, dissolved in water (left) and yeast, undissolved (right)

After a quick stir, I re-sealed the buckets and added the airlocks. Airlocks are a gadget that allows the gas from fermentation to escape while also keeping out things like fruit flies (the enemy) and airborne debris, which could spoil the sweet cider. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to end up with 10 gallons of cider vinegar instead of hooch!

Buckets with airlocks installed (supervised by the Ninjette)

The buckets must be kept at a temperature of about 70 degrees F to ensure proper fermentation. The kitchen is an ideal place to keep them. Now we wait for fermentation to start ... and then finish.

Last year, fermentation took about three weeks, so be patient in looking for Part 2!

Read the whole series:


  1. Oh, that's lovely...I've done mead, and just started my first beer, but cider was my first love and I can't wait to brew my own one day!

  2. Maybe I'll try mead next year, Amber!

  3. we did our first batch of cider a few weeks ago, those 1 gallon jugs of un-filtered cider from the health food store are AWESOME! You can brew right in the glass jug (with an airlock, of course). You're right, the sugar is key, sugar and honey. MMM, now I want to drive out to a farm stand and get some raw cider. NOM!

  4. Mead is super easy...and malleable once you get the formula down. Congrats on the Punk Domestics spot.

  5. Ducksandbooks: nice -- mini containers of cider! Amber: Thanks -- I'm thrilled to have a few things featured on PD now. It's such a great resource.

  6. Love it! We're following the Mother Earth News instructions too.

  7. We found Mother's instructions to be reliable. Siphoning is a big old pain in the butt, but the end product is worth it!