Last Updated 19/04/2020
Disclaimer: Brewing your own alcohol could produce a toxic beverage, infected with nasty bacteria and laced with methanol. You could die. Use this recipe at your own risk.
Crikey alcohol is expensive in Australia, which is particularly bad in these tough coronavirus times. Actually everything is expensive in Australia. Alcohol is worse because of the ridiculous levels of tax we pay. There’s an easy way to save some money and get some of that tax back: brew your own home made apple cider! The tax rate on alcohol in Australia is one of the highest in the world, and occasionally there’s activity for increasing the tax rates, from already world leading tax levels (recent alcopop tax hike for example). It’s time to take action. Even if you don’t like apple cider, it’s time to hit the government’s sleazy revenue raising tactics with some non-violent but possibly disorderly cider brewing protest.
Brewing cider at home is super easy and super cheap. No special equipment is required. No long waiting time. No meticulous cleaning of dozens of vessels. It’s so easy and cheap that you have to try it. It also avoids paying extravagant tax and produces a healthier drink due to lack of any additives or preservatives.
This recipe produces a dry cider about the strength of full strength beer. There is no sweetness in the finished drink. It’s a bit like beer. I’m pretty macho so I can handle it. The dry taste may be a bit harsh for some people. Follow the instructions at the end of the article if you want a sweet cider.
What is hard cider?
Hard cider is cider with alcohol. In Australia cider usually means hard cider. In other countries cider can just mean alcohol free juice so the alcoholic version is differentiated with the term hard cider.
Hard cider can be made with any juice. It doesn’t have to be apple juice, it just has to have lots of sugar and contain no preservatives. However from my experience hard cider made with other fruit just doesn’t taste as good as good old apple cider. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to anything that isn’t apple cider. Regardless, apple cider is the safest and most universally liked cider.
You’re probably not a vet or a scientist. If you’re not and you’re a single man or you’re married with kids then you probably don’t get much opportunity to inoculate. This is where making cider is truly rewarding. You get a chance to inoculate as much as you want. You need to deposit a load of yeast into the apple juice so that it may grow and prosper and become a strong, healthy, successful colony. It could be your proudest moment. The miracle of life. It’s amazing.
What You Need
This recipe is based on 2 or 3 liters of cider – your typical heat treated long life juice from the supermarket. You’ll find it stored on the shelves at room temperature. This juice is easiest as it’s cheap and the commercial processing renders it sterile which reduces the risk of infection when brewing. Just make sure it has no preservatives, because yeast doesn’t like preservatives.
To be specific during calculations and measurements, this article will refer to a 3 liter bottle of juice. However the same recipe can be followed for 2 liters.
I have difficulty with any recipe requiring more than three ingredients. This recipe requires exactly three. Actually the whole process adheres to the law of three – three ingredients, three pieces of equipment, three liters of cider.
The ingredients you’ll need are:
– 3L of preservative free long life apple juice (in its original 3L bottle).
– Yeast. Any yeast. You don’t need any special brewing yeast or champagne yeast. Don’t listen to those cider nazis who say you must use special yeast. Bakers yeast is fine. Your wife or mum probably has it in the cupboard. I’ve used fancy champagne yeast and did not notice any difference apart from the larger hole in my wallet.
– Sugar. Any sugar. Brown, white, raw, cooked. It doesn’t matter. Again if you’re too lazy to do a special shopping run just to make cider, you’ll probably find your cupboard already has sugar in it, if not then hopefully the cupboard of someone you know.
All equipment is optional. You can brew apple cider with exactly zero equipment using only the ingredients listed above. For a more refined and predictable product, the equipment you’ll need are:
– teaspoon (optional)
– funnel (optional)
– clean, empty 3L bottle (optional)
– Start off with an unopened, new, sterile 3L bottle of apple juice. The bottle is your fermentation vessel.
– Open the apple juice. Don’t touch the inside or lip of the lid. Place the lid upside down on a clean surface.
– Measure one heaped teaspoon of yeast. That’s about 3 grams.
– Inoculate the apple juice with one heaped teaspoon of yeast. If you’re a really hardcore tight ass bachelor and don’t have a teaspoon then you’re doing it pretty tough, but don’t worry. Just chuck in a small amount of yeast straight in.
– Put the cap on the bottle of inoculated juice and shake gently to mix the yeast.
– When yeast digests sugar it produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. You need a way to allow the carbon dioxide to vent whilst still keeping the fermentation vessel sealed against bacteria. Usually this means using a “fermentation lock” – a special fancy piece of equipment that can cost up to several tens of dollars. Screw that. For tight asses, you can put some glad wrap over the top of the fermentation vessel, seal it with an elastic band, and prick a tiny hole into the glad wrap with a needle. The tiny hole will allow carbon dioxide to escape whilst keeping the air space inside the fermentation vessel at positive pressure so that dirty outside air cannot enter. You can even use a balloon with a small hole in it – when there is no pressure the balloon contracts and the hole becomes very small but when under pressure the hole expands and allows the gas to vent. That’s too much hard work for me. If you’re a super lazy super tight ass, just put the lid back on, but make its loose. Screw it down until it starts binding, then back it off a little. Check that it is allowing air to escape by gently squeezing the bottle and observing the noise of air being squeezed through a small space.
– Double check that the lid is allowing gas to escape. Come back in a few hours to make sure the bottle isn’t getting hard. If the lid is tight you risk a catastrophic explosion. Pressure will build until the fermentation vessel ruptures, spraying shrapnel and apple cider everywhere. Apart from the mess, it could take out an eye. Actually bottles can take a fair bit of pressure and most of the time they wont explode. On Mythbusters they tested plastic bottles to rupture point up to 150psi, which is pretty high considering car tyres usually run around 30psi. Still it pays to be careful and minimize the risk.
– Wait. Watch the yeast grow strong. Take pride in the lifeform you’ve help reproduce. Marvel at the miracle of life. Be satisfied with the colony you’ve developed and managed. You will see bubbles appearing and moving to the surface. This is the yeast colony working hard to make you a tasty and refreshing cider. Thank the yeast for its efforts. Compliment it on its tax saving ability. Gently stroke the bottle and talk to the colony about its great future.
– Leave the bottle alone. Don’t open the lid. Don’t do anything that could risk infection.
– The brew should start smelling like yeasty, warm apple cider. If it starts smelling like poo then it’s probably infected and needs to be chucked out. It could also start smelling like poo if the yeast goes out of whack – for example if it’s too hot or starved of sugar. If you drink apple cider that’s been infected, expect stomach cramps, nausea, and a massive hangover. If you’re a huge tight ass these side effects may be acceptable.
– Yeast activity is proportional to temperature. The warmer it is, the faster it will work making you precious alcohol, up to about 30 degrees Celsius after which it get’s too hot and starts to slack off. You’ll need to wait anywhere between a couple of days to a few weeks depending on how active your yeast is. Make sure your fermentation vessel stays within the temperature range of 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. Thirty degrees is the maximum fermenting temperature but produces crap cider. As the temperature approaches 30 I find the brew has a more yeasty flavour and also increases the odds of some funny smells being produced. In fact every brew I’ve attempted at 30 deg C has smelt funky. Ideal temperature might be around 20 degrees Celcius. Lower temperatures generally produce a nicer cider, at the expense of longer fermentation time and increased opportunity for infection.
– Allow the yeast to completely exhaust the sugar reserves in the juice. This is signified by a dramatic reduction in bubble production. Once there’s only a couple of streams of bubbles running up through your brew then it’s time for the next step. Don’t wait too long. The longer you wait, the higher the chance of infection and spoilage. Also if you completely starve the yeast it can get angry and release unpleasant flavours. Don’t wait until there’s completely no bubbles.
– Congratulations. You have already made hard cider. It’s already laden with alcohol and ready to drink. You’ve got to this stage with nothing except a bottle of juice, yeast and maybe a teaspoon. If you’re desperate for cider then start drinking. The steps below are extra steps to help improve the quality of the apple cider.
– Thoroughly wash an empty 3 liter vessel. Wash it with detergent that kills 99.9% of germs as advertised. Shake vigorously.
– Rinse the empty 3 liter vessel. Rinse it extremely thoroughly because detergent ruins cider. Rinse it 20 times. Ensure all traces of detergent are completely removed.
– Decant the brewed cider into the empty 3L vessel. Do it slowly to ensure you don’t stir up the sediment. Stop decanting just before the sediment starts to pour. You want to avoid pouring the sediment. This will keep your finished cider as clear as possible and minimize yeasty flavours.
– Add 4 heaped teaspoons of sugar into the newly decanted brew. The sugar will carbonate the cider, making it bubbly like the finest champagne. The final portion of the fermentation process will be done with a sealed vessel so that the carbon dioxide produced will go into solution with the cider and form an effervescent drink. Add slightly more sugar if you want a more bubbly cider.
– Put the lid on, invert a few times and shake gently to dissolve the sugar.
– Loosen the lid to depressurize from the shaking you’ve just done then do up the lid again nice and tight.
– Now you’re in another dangerous phase of the process. There’s potential to explode the vessel and lose an eye.
– The bottle will become hard like a commercial bottle of fizzy drink. Allow it to brew in this way in the order of a day up to several days depending on temperature. Warmer temperatures will pressurize faster. If you’re worried about exploding bottles then only ferment up to point when the bottle becomes hard.
– Put your cider in the fridge. When yeast is cooled it becomes dormant so that it will no longer produce more carbon dioxide. If you find your cider is not fizzy enough you put it in the fridge too early or didn’t put in enough sugar.
– Wait for the cider to chill in the fridge.
– Congratulations. You now have a superior hard apple cider. Clarified. Carbonated. Effervescent. Delicious.
– If you wait at a week or few the cider will taste smoother and less yeasty.
Brewing in Hot Conditions
Depending on the climate where you live, it could be well above 30 degrees Celsius for long periods of time which is too hot for brewing cider. I’ve encountered this problem all the time being in Australia. I’ve made some pretty funky smelling brews in summer. Don’t let this weak excuse stop you from having a go at brewing delicious cider. You just need some water cooling.
Put your fermentation vessel into a tub of water as depicted in the photo above. You want the tub to be high enough to cover most of the fermentation vessel and wide enough so there’s sufficient surface area for evaporation to take place to keep the water cool. Let it brew in the coolest room in your house. Top it up with water as the level drops. Add some ice into the water during the hottest part of the day.
Another method is to put the brewing cider in the fridge for a couple of hours during the hottest part of the day. The yeast will suffer from high temperature variability, possibly leading to unpredictable results, but it’s better than having a brew that smells like ass!
How Much Can I Expect It To Cost?
Startup costs are zero provided you have a teaspoon, funnel and empty 3 liter bottle. Production costs are about a dollar a liter. That’s the price of cheap apple juice from a supermarket. Assuming you stole the yeast and sugar from your wife or mum then it’s a dollar a liter. If you needed to buy the sugar and yeast, then it’s still about a dollar a liter. The small doses of sugar and yeast are not significant costs. Let’s say $1.10 per liter to allow for a few teaspoons of yeast and sugar. To compare, a typical carton of beer worth $50 for 24 x 330ml bottles is 7.92 liters or $6.31 per liter. So brewing your own apple cider offers you around about an 82% saving over commercial beer. Most of that is tax.
How Much Alcohol
To measure alcohol content, you need some sort of instrument. A hydrometer is most common – it measures specific gravity to estimate alcohol content. Do I have a hydrometer? What do I look like, someone who isn’t a tight ass? No I have no way of measuring alcohol content, except for the feedback provided by my brain cells upon consumption. Based on the effects of drinking, I’m guessing hard cider brewed to this recipe is about as strong as full strength beer. Drinking is not a very accurate indicator, so I summoned my high school chemistry knowledge to help calculate the alcohol content.
******WARNING: Chemistry and maths below. Skip this section to avoid boredom.******
The most abundant sugar in fruit juice is sucrose. Lets assume it is all sucrose. The chemical equation for yeast digesting sucrose into alcohol is:
|C6H12O6 + Zymase → 2C2H5OH + 2CO2|
Zymase is an enzyme which we don’t have to worry about. What’s important is the stoichiometry – the ratio between reactants and products. One mole of sucrose produces two moles of alcohol. The alcohol produced is ethanol, chemical formula C2H5OH. Next calculate molecular mass of sucrose and ethanol.
|atomic mass||units in sucrose||units in ethanol|
So based on molecular mass and stoichiometry, 180 grams of sucrose produces 92 grams of ethanol.
According to the nutritional information on the back of the apple juice bottle, 100g of apple juice contains 10.2g of sugar. So in 3 liters there’s 306 grams of sugar. Using the ratio we calculated above, 306 grams of sugar will produce 156 grams of ethanol. The density of ethanol is 0.780 g / cubic cm. So the volume of ethanol produced is 156 / 0.780 = 0.198 liters. Total volume is 3 liters, so % alcohol is:
Calculated alcohol strength = 0.198 / 3 x 100 = 6.6% alcohol by volume
How accurate is this calculation? I really don’t know. According to information I’ve read about yeast, it will consume practically all sugar available. According to the perceived sweetness when drinking, there is no noticeable sugar remaining. So the majority of the sugar is consumed. There will be some left so the actual value will be less than 6.6%. But then we add a bit of sugar at the end for pressurisation which will top up the alcohol content by a small amount. Another unknown that could reduce accuracy is that the sugar in the juice may not be 100% sucrose. Also maybe some of the alcohol evaporates away. The actual alcohol content will probably be a bit less than 6.6%. So I’m sticking to my “about as strong as full strength beer” hypothesis. Maybe I’ll save up for a hydrometer one day so I can check.
Recipe Variation – Starter Juice
You can use any juice you want as long as there are no preservatives. Actually you can use anything sweet – home made fruit juice mixtures, sweetened tea, carrot juice. I’m not sure how good a flavour other juices or sweet drinks will produce. Also I’m not sure of their resistance to infection. In any case yeast will consume the sugar in any drink as long as it isn’t inhibited by preservatives.
Recipe Variation – Alcohol Content
You can reduce alcohol content by terminating the fermentation early. This is done by putting the cider in the fridge early. The problem with this method is that without a hydrometer, there is no reference point to know when it has reached your desired alcohol content. Yeast activity is highly variable. Through trial and error and experience you can gauge it, but it’s much easier to use the fixed reference of terminating the fermentation upon exhaustion of sugar.
You can add more sugar initially to make the cider stronger. There is a limit to the alcoholic strength of the cider, as yeast becomes inactive when alcohol content increases past a certain point. Most general purpose yeasts are ok for maybe around 10% alcohol content. Special breeds can tolerate around 18% or so. You can calculate how much extra sugar you need to achieve a desired alcohol strength. However I’m not going to do that here else I may pop a brain fuse or alienate readers with too much nerdy material.
Recipe Variation – Sweetness
Apart from reducing alcohol content, terminating the fermentation early will also produce a sweeter cider. Some of the sugar remains unfermented. If you would like a sweet full strength cider, just add more sugar after the pressurization phase just before chucking it in the fridge. Take care though, as more sugar at the end increases the risk of explosion.
The Finished Product