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I have an apple tree full of fruit this year. Having brewed my own beer for years now I gather I have all the right gear to brew cider.

My question is, can I brew cider from my apples and how would I go about it?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Started doing hard ciders (apple and pear) last august and have learned a few key things. Using a juicer is just as good as using a traditional cider press. When you use the pressed stuff, you end up having the clarify the hard cider, while juiced apple cider is more clear. The taste between the two cider production methods is not significantly different. A good heavy duty juicer (mine is a Breville that takes whole apples at once) runs about $150, a press closer to $200.

I've done apples, pears, cactus pears, and peaches and all produced juice with SG's in the 1.050 range that you need for a good hard cider. Even the Mussleman's pasteurized cider (don't use juice, it's too dilute and usually has sorbate added that will inhibit your yeast) from Wally world made a good tasting hard cider and base for some of my freaky brews (made a 1,000,000 scoville unit hot pepper cider that is great with chili or hot wings). Much higher than that SG and the alcohol tends to override the fruit flavor (adjusted my first pear SG to 1.070 and it was almost straight alcohol with no fruit taste). I found that using honey or sorghum to raise the SG for low SG apple juices worked great and gave some good character to the apple cider.

Avoid any variety of apple that has the word delicious in it. They don't have much flavor by the time the alcohol is added during fermentation. If you aren't certain what species you have, toss in a few granny smiths in the mash to add some better residual apple flavor to the hard cider.

Yeast is important, but not as much with beer. The cheap cote des blancs or premier cuvee ($0.75 per package) turns out as decent a cider as the more expensive cider yeast from white labs ($5.00 per tube). The primary difference will be in the carbonation during bottling. The red star tends to be more flat than the white labs, but this can be compensated by a larger priming sugar add before bottling. Wyeast 3068 makes a really good apple and pear cider with a little better flavor than the red star varieties, but it is more expensive (less than west labs or saf-brew), about $3 per activator pack. But the advantage here is that with so many more yeast cells, the fermentation takes significantly less time and the fruit flavor comes out faster during aging than with the red star.

As for a recipe, The simplest is for every 5 gallon batch (about 55 pounds of fruit), add 6 crushed campden tabs to cider and let stand for at least 48 hours. Swirl the carboy hard to let the sulfur dioxide gas to escape, then add 2 Tbl of pectic enzyme, 3 Tbl of yeast nutrient (both have been dissolved into some of the cider) to the carboy and swirl to mix. Check the SG and if it isn't 1.050 add about 2 cups of sorghum or honey (that have been dissolved into some cider) to bring it up. Activate 1 package of cotes de blanc yeast in one cup of non-chlorinated water (Brita filtered or bottled distilled) that has 2 Tbl of sugar dissolved in it. Let the yeast/sugar water mixture stand for about 20 minutes until you see foam starting to form on top. Add the yeast to the carboy and swirl hard for about 5 minutes (a step that I didn't see in other online recipes) to introduce air into the cider. Airlock it and let stand out of the sun at 65-70 degrees F until the bubble rate in the airlock is less than one per 15 seconds, or until the FG is less than 1.005 (this will be about a 6% abv). Rack into your keg (force carbonating) or priming bucket (traditional bottling). Use the priming sugar calculator (tastybrew.com has a good one) to calculate the amount of sugar to add to the priming bucket then bottle. Should take about 10-14 days to have a nicely carbonated bottled hard cider. BTW - when using the priming calculator, I've found that shooting for 2.0 on the carbon dioxide volume turns out to be about what the carbonation is on commercial bottled hard cider. Greater than that and you end up with a VERY bubbly bottle that REALLY needs to be cold when opening.

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I wish I could upvote this answer twice. –  Brandon Mar 5 '11 at 23:41
    
Great answer, thanks for that. Glad you mentioned the juicer as I have one of those and my plan was to use it to extract the juice. –  Iain Carlin Mar 6 '11 at 8:16

Making cider from straight "dessert apple" juice can be very disappointing. I did it once. The juice was wonderfully tasty (a mix of Macs and some Cortland). But when the fermentation stripped out all of the sweetness, the result was unbalanced and unappealing - basically it was quite sour and pretty one-dimensional.

Cider apples have a lot of other flavour components in them (e.g. tannins) and while I have never tasted fresh pressed juice from cider apples I imagine that it would not be a particularly sweet (i.e. unfermented) apple juice. So if you can possibly find juice from "cider apples" it would certainly be worth the effort.

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I just attempted to make some apple cider. My first problem was I didn't use a variety of apples. I had 6 chopped up Fuji apples for a one gallon "test brew" and it came out more like apple water than hard apple cider. After I had pitched it I learned that you are supposed to use a variety of sweet and semi-sweet apples to make good cider. My second problem was I used cloves for flavor but I put in too much so the clove taste is really overpowering.

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can you quantify the amount of cloves you used? –  awithrow Sep 26 '11 at 13:42

I think the main thing that's different from beer is the sugar extraction. You'll need to acquire an apple press, and possibly a grinder, as well. The apples will already have wild yeast on them, so you can either add sulfites and inoculate the must with a wine yeast, or you can just let the wild yeast ferment it and see how things turn out. I'd be tempted to do multiple batches and try both. You'll also probably need to add pectic enzyme if you want it to be clear.

Making Cider

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Yup. Actually getting juice from the apples is the hard part; otherwise, making cider is quite easy. One other note: most yeasts will ferment cider very dry, and it can be hard to stop fermentation; let fermentation complete, remove cider from yeast, then backsweeten to desired level. –  jsled Mar 4 '11 at 23:00
    
One way to stop small batches at a specific dryness is to pasteurize it to kill the yeast (easy to do on the stove top, bring to 185 F for 5-10 minutes) at the abv you want, then force carbonating it to get the bubbles. There are several "carbonators" that use small CO2 cartridges and 2 L bottles for this process, if you aren't kegging. If you use backsweetening, splenda works well without the bitterness of other artificial sweeteners and yeast won't process it. –  drj Mar 15 '11 at 11:03

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