Cider gets its start in America
The apple was one of the earliest crops imported by English and Western European colonists. The first documented colonial cultivated apple trees were planted in Boston as early as 1623 by William Blackstone; a minster to the settlers of Plymouth. 1
Apples made the perfect colonial homestead fruit. Each tree would produce bushels of fruit that could be used immediately for eating, cooking, dried or preserved as cider or sold as a cash crop.
Apple cider rapidly grows in popularity throughout the colonies
The American folk hero Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman of Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774, became the symbol of the apple’s spread in the years after the Revolutionary War. Chapman operated a successful nursery in the Susquehanna Valley of Pennsylvania and traveled as far as Ohio and Indiana planting apple seeds and selling seedling trees to settlers.
By 1775 one out of every ten farms in New England owned and operated a cider mill.
It didn’t take long for the colonists to take up cider brewing in earnest. One village near Boston put up nearly 10,000 barrels of barrels of cider during one year.1 Cider quickly became the national drink. President John Adams reportedly drank a large tankard of cider every morning until the end of his life believing it promoted good health.
Cider making 101, buying the right equipment to start home brewing
Brewing at home requires minimal equipment: a five or six gallon carboy, airlock, funnel, siphon hose, hydrometer and bottle brush. When I started brewing, nearly six years ago, it was necessary to search each piece of equipment on the Internet, or go to a local brew store. But all of these items are now available in a simple home brew starter kit, which makes this now so much more convenient.
I like the brew kit offered by Amazon and Home Brew Ohio, its convenient and inexpensive, about $100.
For supplies you’ll need a sanitizer for sterilizing, I use Star San, or Idophor. You’ll need wine yeast such as Lavin K1-V1116 or Wyeast 4766 Cider yeast, yeast nutrient and a clarifier like Pectix enzyme before bottling.
A very simple brewing process
1. Use only the best apples
• Use the best quality apples
• Shop farmers markets or orchards
• Avoid packaged juices with preservatives
If you’re fortunate to have an apple tree in the yard, begin with that variety of apple. Choose the healthiest ripe apples. Discard any apples that are battered, bruised or have fallen on the ground. Fallen or bruised apples can contaminate the cider and quickly turn it to vinegar.
Before extracting the juice form the apples, make certain the apples are at their peak of ripeness. To obtain the best cider quality, the apples should be left in a cool and dry area for anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a month, until they begin to soften.2
If purchasing apples, visit a local farmer’s market. Red Delicious and Fuji make a sweeter cider. Granny Smith and Macintosh apples will yield a tart cider.
If purchasing apple juice, select a high quality organic juice not the cheap ones. Avoid any juices that are saturated with sweeteners, preservatives, or un-pronounceable chemicals.
2. Press or juice the apples
• Wash to remove dirt and pesticides
• Press or juice apples
Wash all apples thoroughly to remove any dirt, insect, pesticides or sprays. Sterilize the carboy, air locks, funnel and anything that will come into contact with the cider.
Use an apple crusher and press, or use a heavy-duty kitchen blender. My favorite is a high-powered juicer like the Breville Ikon, a 900-watt countertop juicer. It will juice anything leaving only a dry apple pulp as waste, which makes great compost for the garden.
3. Fill the carboy
• Sterilize carboy and funnels
• Strain cider through cheesecloth
• Use Camden tablets to kill off wild yeast
• Use only wine or cider yeast
• Keep cider in a cool, dark place
Fill the 5-gallon carboy with 4.75-gallons of cider. If pressing cider: spread several layers of cheesecloth over a large funnel and a gallon jug. Pour the cider into the cheesecloth to strain out any leftover pulp. The cheesecloth acts as a strainer. Cider filters through the cloth and any pulp remains in the cheesecloth.
To kill off the natural yeast in the cider; add 5-crushed Camden tablets to the raw cider. Wait 24 hours before proceeding.
Add the yeast, two packets or 10 grams. Re-hydrate the dry yeast in warm water (95-105°F) and then proof the yeast by adding 1-Tablespoon of sugar or honey to confirm it is alive. The yeast should start bubbling after 20-minutes. If alive, add it to the cider. The brew period will last about 6-8 weeks. Add 5-tsp. yeast nutrient to the cider. Add 48-ounces of honey and mix well.
Fermentation will take 4 to 6 weeks. After two days, there should be bubbles actively forming on the surface of the cider.
Keep the cider in a dark place to prevent it from darkening during the brewing process. Or, bag the carboy with a simple paper grocery bag.
When the yeast activity (bubbles) slows down or stops after about 3-4 weeks, siphon or rack off the cider into a sterilized 5-gallon fermenter bucket leaving as much yeast must as possible in the carboy. Give the cider a day to settle in the fermenter bucket and siphon back into the carboy. Top off the cider to the neck with some extra cider.
When all yeast activity has stopped, add Camden tablets to kill off the yeast and bottle.
If the cider remains cloudy after racking, add 1 tsp. Pectic enzyme clarifier.
• Sterilize bottles and siphon hose
• Bottle and store 2-6 months before consuming
I use 750 ml wine bottles and corks, which are sold in cases of 12. It should take about 18 bottles for 5-gallons of cider. Remember to sterilize the bottles and siphon hose before bottling.
Store the cider for 2-6 months then enjoy. Cider will easily cellar for 2-3 years and continue to mellow in flavor. Store in a cool, dark place such as a basement or kitchen cabinet.
A bottle of hard cider is a great gift idea. Name your cider and design a label or tag for a memorable holiday gift.
5-gallons unfiltered apple cider
10 grams (0.176 oz.) Lavin K1-V1116 or Wyeast 4766 Cider yeast
Camden tablets (25 tablet pack)
Pectic enzyme (clarifier)
Brew kit or:
5-gallon glass carboy
5-gallon food safe fermenting bucket with lid and spigot
Bottle brush (for cleaning)
3 to 6-feet of 5/16 food-safe tubing
24 750 ml glass wine bottles or 22 oz. beer bottles
Rubber Carboy stopper with air lock
Star San, or Idophor sanitizer (for sterilizing)
Corking machine (rent or buy)
Corks (2-dozen)or Bottle capper and bottle caps
Carboys with 5-gallons of cider are heavy. I use an accessory handle on mine to move them or reposition when full.
A bottle drying rack will speed up the bottling process. I use the 45 Bottle Drying Tree- Econo by Ohio Brewing.
5. Books in my library
There are many great books available on cider making, featuring the lore and history of apple cider and ideas for brewing different ciders. Three of my favorites are:
Cider Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson; features a historical description of cider making, an extensive list of American apples recommended for cider as well as the types of apples to blend for flavor. Watson lists clear instructions on the fermentation process for cider including a complete equipment list. There is an interesting section of cooking with cider and cider tasting.
The Everything Hard Cider Book by Drew Beechum; a down to earth description of making your first batch of cider and what to expect in easy to understand language. An interesting “small batch” recipe for four 1-liter bottles of cider is included as a low cost way to get started and see if cider brewing is for you. Beechum includes an interesting technical section of how to read a hydrometer, temperature correction and formulas for predicting alcohol levels. You’ll love the 80 different recipes from cocktails to irresistible apple bacon onion jam and more.
The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur; this is the most beautiful and informative book in my library. A mechanical engineer by profession, Jolicoeur is an award-winning cider maker with an inquiring, scientific mind. The best traditional knowledge and techniques are described with up-to-date, scientifically based practices for high-quality ciders. The book includes plans for building a grater mill and apple press. Claude’s ciders have earned many awards and medals at competitions, including a Best of Show at the prestigious Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.
For instructions on brewing carbonated cider read the article on this site featured under brewing.
- Cider, Hard & Sweet by Ben Watson, The Countryman Press 3rd edition 2013, ISBN 978-1-58157-207-0
- The New Cider Maker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicouer, Chelsea Green Publishing ISBN 978-1-60358-473-9