12/18/2012

Making Hard Apple Cider

I was dating this girl with a gluten allergy (ie: she can't drink beer), so I decided to that I was going to make her hard, sparkling apple cider for her birthday (it's gluten free). 
Seeing as I live in a tipi and it was getting close to Winter, I needed some place better than my glorified tent to store my brew, a cellar. I literary had no idea how exactly one should go about building a cellar though, so I just started digging a hole. And, this may sound silly, but I didn't really know how to go about doing that either. I might sound like an idiot here, but literally all I had to go off of was the book/movie 'Holes'. I'd never dug a hole deeper than a couple of feet before that was also this big around.
Eventually, I got my own  technique down. I had a stick that was a bit shorter than 4 feet , and I used it like Stanley Yelnats: the hole that I dug had to be as deep as the stick was tall, and the hole had to be as wide as the stick, at all points.

After an afternoon of digging, I had the hole finished. I just kind of picked a nice looking spot on the property to dig, but it turns out that I picked an ideal spot: the bottom, north side of a hill. According to the interwebs (that I consulted only after my initial digging), this is the best spot for a cellar.

Now came the more interesting part, covering the darn thing.

I ran through several different ideas. Some very simple, others quite intricate, but eventually I settled on a nice, cost effective design: three 2"x4" 's laid across the back 2/3rds of the hole, a 3'x5' piece of steel laid over the top of those, two 4"x4" 's post-holed in front of these pieces, and finally, three 2"x12" 's stacked vertically against the 4"x4" 's and held in place by the dirt (from the digging of the hole) laid on top of the steel plate. In order to keep rain out/create a door, I also added a piece of plastic tarping that was laid on top of the steel plate (before covering it with dirt) and in between the first and second 2"x12". 

With the cellar finally built, I could now start on the actual impetus for the project, the cider.

I found a wonderfully simple recipe on an MIT professor's web page (credit to Dr. Daniel F. Morgan):
  • 5 gallons of filtered, pasteurized apple juice (I used White House's 100% Not From Concentrate)
  • a spoonful of tannin (optional)
  • a package of freeze-dried Pasteur champagne yeast
  • about another ½ gallon of juice (less, if you want the cider less carbonated)
  • an air-tight brewing bucket with an air lock
  • rubber tubing to siphon the cider when bottling
  • used non-twist-off beer bottles, cleaned carefully
  • new bottle caps and a bottle capper
Use regular supermarket juice, not unfiltered, unpasteurized juice from a roadside stand. Fresh juice sounds like a good idea, but trust me, it's not. All sorts of unexpected microorganisms live in fresh apple juice. You want a nice controlled fermentation by a known variety of yeast. You don't want a smelly liquid that explodes from the bottles and sprays all over your kitchen ceiling.
The tannin isn't really necessary, but the apple varieties that are traditional for cider-making contain more tannin than most other varieties, so I usually add a bit, without really bothering to measure.
Get the tannin and the yeast and the hardware from a brewing supply store. (I you don't have one near you, there are several on the internet.) If you've never tried anything like this before, you may also want to get a beginner's book on making beer. (Make sure to ignore all the hard parts, since they aren't needed for making cider.) You can buy bottles at the brewing store, too, or you can just save old beer bottles. If you do the latter, remember not to use the twist-off kind, as the pressure of fermentation tends to blow the caps off them.
Put 5 gallons of juice into your fermenting bucket, add the tannin and the yeast, stir, and seal. Let it ferment at room temperature for a week or so until it stops bubbling. Add the rest of the juice to supply carbonation. Bottle. It'll be ready to drink in a week or two. Serve cold. 
All of the supplies, other than the apple juice, were purchased at Thomas Creek Brewery's homebrew supply store (for those not in the Upstate, SC area just look online for your local homebrew supply store).

I followed the steps given by Dr. Morgan to the T. One of the biggest things to remember though is to sterilize everything! I can't stress enough how important it is: buckets, bottles, caps, everything! You can either use a pot of boiling water or (as I did) get some sterilizer concentrate from the homebrew supply store, but either way, you must sterilize. Fermentation (the process that turns plain ole apple juice into yummy, alcoholic goodness) is actually a controlled growth of bacteria (that's what yeast is), but if you introduce any foreign bacteria (by not sterilizing), they can hijack the whole process and ruin your brew.

This past Friday, my first batch was finally finished. In the time that this whole process took place, my girlfriend and I had broken up, but I still let her do the honors. It was a bit bitter-sweet, but the cider was absolutely delicious.

A special thanks to: 
Dad for all your help on this project
Virginia for without you, there would be no project

If you're looking to learn how to hitchhike, check out my book- The Hitchhiker's Guide to: Earth.



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