Author Topic: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years  (Read 7963 times)

bo_knows

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My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« on: October 03, 2014, 10:42:46 AM »
I've been meaning to make a detailed post about this every since MMM posted about "30 seconds of work to homemade homebrew" in April: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2014/04/22/brew-your-own-cider/

I was finally pushed to write this because of another thread, and I hope that people find this helpful. Warning: This may be a long post.

Intro:
I wholeheartedly agree with MMM's premise that making Hard Cider is infinitely less time consuming than making Beer. That said, I think that spending ~1-2 hours on brew day, and perhaps 1 hour when it's done fermenting, can yield significantly better results and can teach you a lot about the process of brewing.  I've been homebrewing in one form or another for about 10 years, and specifically have been brewing cider/applewine for the last 5. I'm going to give a basic overview of the brew process, the bottling process, what equipment you might want, and how to go about trying new recipes.

Before I go into my write-up, I'd be putting the homebrewing community to shame if I didn't give a shout-out to www.homebrewtalk.com and www.reddit.com/r/homebrewing which are excellent resources for recipes and general knowledge. http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f81/edworts-apfelwein-33986/ is a great thread on Apfelwein (stronger stuff).  Homebrewing has a huge online presence. Seek out help when needed.

Equipment:
Being kind to the mustachian ways, I am a minimalist homebrewer. I'm going to give a list of the equipment that I consider completely necessary for a quality product. Be aware, though, that homebrewing is like many other hobbies: you can spend anywhere from the bare minimum all the way up to thousands of dollars for roughly the same end result.

- Brew pot - I make recipes from 1-5 gallons. With cider, you do not need to boil the juice (in fact, it is highly discouraged, as it makes for a cloudy final product)... however, if you want to add flavoring to your cider it is often suggested you dissolve it into the juice or water. You just need a pot big enough to heat ~1 gallon of liquid. Most of you will have some sort of pot like this for cooking. Cost: $0
- Fermentation Bucket (w/drilled lid) - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/6-5-gallon-fermenting-bucket.html - If you're making standard 5 gallon recipes, this is the bucket you need. It should have a "drilled lid" to fit an airlock onto. Cost: $16
- Airlock - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/three-piece-airlock.html - This piece of equipment goes on the lid of the fermentation bucket. It allows for C02 to escape the bucket (yeast + sugars = CO2 and Alcohol) but doesn't allow bad things to get in. Cost: $1.30 (Recommend you get a couple of these in case of failure)
- Hydrometer (optional) - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/beer-and-wine-triple-scale-hydrometer.html - This device, along with a test jar http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/fermenters-favorites-economy-test-jar.html will allow you to measure the sugar level in the liquid at the beginning of the process and at the end. This lets you calculate the ABV of your beverage (and can let you know more accurately that the fermentation is done). You can totally go without this and just drink your product and get drunk, but I like to know how boozy my stuff is. If you go this route, it's worth getting a Wine Thief to extract the cider from the bucket easily: http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/fermtech-wine-thief.html  Cost: $19
- Bottling Bucket (w/spigot) - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/6-5-gallon-bottling-bucket.html - This bucket allows you to transfer your cider (without the yeast byproduct) into a place where you can easily fill up bottles. It has a spigot for that purpose. You don't need a lid. Cost: $18
- Siphon (with tubing) - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/auto-siphon-1-2.html - This allows you to transfer your cider from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket without disturbing the yeast byproduct that is sitting at the bottom of the bucket (yuck). Cost: $15
- Starsan no-rinse sanitizer - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/star-san.html - One of the keys to homebrewing is keeping your equipment sanitized.  One dirty piece of equipment can mean the difference between 5 gallons of delicious vanilla molasses cider and 5 gallons of vanilla molasses cider vinegar. Cost: $10
- Bottle Capper - http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/fermenters-favorite-royal-crown-bottle-capper.html - Ever wonder how caps are sealed onto bottles? Here's the man-powered version. Cost: $17

Total: $77.30 for the absolute essentials. $96.30 for the optional fancypants luxuries that I suggested. This doesn't include whatever swag you deem necessary for cleaning/obtaining bottles.

General Brew-day Process: (1-1.5hrs)
- Wash and sanitize (StarSan) your brew pot, fermentation bucket, airlock, and wine thief (if you have it).
- Put brew pot on the stove, and set it at medium heat. Add in 1/2 gallon of apple juice. DO NOT BOIL. Boiling juice messes with the pectin and causes cloudy cider and off flavors. When the juice is warm, dump in whatever whole spices or sugar you were going to use. I let this mixture steep for 30 minutes. (If you are not adding any spices/flavors/sugar to the recipe, skip this entire step)
- Pour the contents of the brew pot into the fermentation bucket. Pour in the remaining room-temperature juice into the fermentation bucket.
- Give it a big stir with a properly sanitized stirring tool (Spoon!).
- Take a sample of it with your wine thief and put it in your sample jar for measuring. (Skip this step if you didn't get the optional equipment)
- Toss your yeast into the fermentation bucket. You may want to read up on making a "yeast starter" before actually doing this. Yeast comes in many different applications.
- Stir again.
- Secure the lid to the fermentation bucket.
- Fill the airlock with cheap vodka or a water/sanitizer solution. Put airlock snugly onto lid.
- Put fermentation bucket in your basement, and wait the requisite amount of weeks according to the recipe you are going off of.

Bottling Day: (1hr)
- Wash and sanitize bottles, caps, bottling bucket, siphon and tubing.
- Put the fermentation bucket on a higher surface (kitchen counter) and the bottling bucket on a slighly lower surface (next to it on a chair).
- Pop the lid off the fermentation bucket.
- Use siphon to slowly move all the cider to the bottling bucket without disturbing the thin layer of gross yeast byproduct (commonly referred to as "Trub") that lays on the bottom of the bucket.
- Use bottling bucket spigot to fill bottles one at a time.
- Cap bottles.
- Spend time cleaning up your filthy mess (Just with soap. No need to sanitize until the next batch.)

General Tips:
- Juice: Find the cheapest Apple Juice you can find. Your juice CANNOT contain any perservatives (like Potassium Sorbate) or it will not ferment.  It's OK if it has "Absorbic Acid" which is just vitamin C.
- Yeast: I commonly use Nottingham Ale yeast or Champagne Yeast (like MMM). Some recipes call for other yeasts, feel free to experiment, that's what homebrewing is all about.
- Flavor additions: If you want to add spices, use WHOLE spices. Whole cinnamon, whole cloves, whole nutmeg. Remove them from the pot before adding to the fermentation bucket. Ground spices are generally considered way too strong.
- Examples of things I've added to ciders or applewine: Cinnamom, Nutmeg, Cloves, Vanilla, Ginger, Molasses, Brown Sugar, Orange Peel, Cherry Juice, Lime Juice.
- If you really get into experimenting, I highly suggest getting 1 gallon glass fermentation carboys from your local homebrew store. They're great for experimenting small batches.
- Bottling is a major pain in the ass. MMM's article uses a decent workaround (drinking it right out of the fermentation vessel) however that yeast byproduct might effect the flavor. As with many people who've had a hobby for a long time, I've moved on with slightly more expensive, but way more efficient, ways: a kegerator.





senecando

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2014, 11:02:19 AM »
Great post! A few comments from someone who only does gallon batches:

- Yeast: I commonly use Nottingham Ale yeast or Champagne Yeast (like MMM). Some recipes call for other yeasts, feel free to experiment, that's what homebrewing is all about.
They might tell you that the yeast cannot be put in a ziplock and put in the fridge, but they would be wrong! Wrap up tightly and tape, put in ziplock, store in fridge. (Yeast packages are meant to be used for 5 gallons batches.)

Quote
- If you really get into experimenting, I highly suggest getting 1 gallon glass fermentation carboys from your local homebrew store. They're great for experimenting small batches.
I find that it's cheaper to just buy AJ in a glass jug from the grocery store. My brewshop has gallon jugs for 5 or 6 bucks. A gallon of good cider with a glass jug costs about 8 or 9 at WF. Only possible problem is that the winethief might not fit in, but I don't think I've had trouble with the ones from whole foods. I think they are actually the same jugs.
« Last Edit: October 03, 2014, 11:05:14 AM by senecando »

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2014, 11:07:06 AM »

Quote
- If you really get into experimenting, I highly suggest getting 1 gallon glass fermentation carboys from your local homebrew store. They're great for experimenting small batches.
I find that it's cheaper to just buy AJ in a glass jug from the grocery store. My brewshop has gallon jugs for 5 or 6 bucks. A gallon of good cider with a glass jug costs about 8 or 9 at WF. Only possible problem is that the winethief might not fit in, but I don't think I've had trouble with the ones from whole foods. I think they are actually the same jugs.

Absolutely right here. I typically forget about this because I hardly ever see the glass bottles at the grocery store I shop at. Good point!

merula

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2014, 12:50:39 PM »
bo_knows: Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!

I've been trying to convince my husband to make me cider forever. (He prefers to make mead and beer.) I think the links you shared about it being easier than beer will do the trick. I also prefer Apfelwein to English-style cider, so that's even better.

And to top it off, you're recommending my neighborhood brewing shop. Northern Brewer is amazing. :)

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2014, 02:13:24 PM »
bo_knows: Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!

I've been trying to convince my husband to make me cider forever. (He prefers to make mead and beer.) I think the links you shared about it being easier than beer will do the trick. I also prefer Apfelwein to English-style cider, so that's even better.

And to top it off, you're recommending my neighborhood brewing shop. Northern Brewer is amazing. :)

My pleasure.  I make beer too, but it's much more involved. Cider is stupid easy.  More sanitizing:brewing ratio, though.

Ha!  They're the best online distributor, in my opinion, though I always check my local place first.

Dan_at_Home

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2014, 09:45:55 PM »
It is nice to see a fresh post about this.  Craigtube (on youtube) would be proud; that is where I learned about this long before MMM put up his post.


dsteele713

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2014, 02:50:47 PM »
For a decent recipe that you would make if you wanted something simple, how much does it usually come out to per bottle?

Little Nell

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2014, 04:54:39 PM »
We usually rack ours a couple of times to reduce sediment, then add a little sugar right before bottling for fizz.

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2014, 08:09:42 PM »
For a decent recipe that you would make if you wanted something simple, how much does it usually come out to per bottle?

This widely varies, but here's a rough estimate:

- 5 gallons of Apple Juice - $3.79 * 5 = $18.95
- 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks - Half of a $6.99 bottle = $3.98
- 1-2 cups of brown sugar - $1
- Nottingham Ale Yeast - $4

Total: $27.93 for 5 gallons. 128oz per gallon, or 640oz (lets say we lose 24oz to the process). 616oz / 12oz bottles = 51 bottles or $0.54 per bottle of cider. This is just ingredients and doesn't count bottle caps, bottles, cleaning supplies, etc. Though, you can also get way better deals on juice and spices if you hunt for them.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2014, 06:49:20 PM by bo_knows »

dsteele713

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2014, 01:33:42 PM »
For a decent recipe that you would make if you wanted something simple, how much does it usually come out to per bottle?

This widely varies, but here's a rough estimate:

- 5 gallons of Apple Juice - $4.49 * 5 = $22.45
- 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks - Half of a $6.99 bottle = $3.98
- 1-2 cups of brown sugar - $1
- Nottingham Ale Yeast - $4

Total: $31.43 for 5 gallons. 128oz per gallon, or 640oz (lets say we lose 24oz to the process). 616oz / 12oz bottles = 51 bottles or $0.61 per bottle of cider. This is just ingredients and doesn't count bottle caps, bottles, cleaning supplies, etc. Though, you can also get way better deals on juice and spices if you hunt for them.

Yeah, I can get spices super cheap at my local commissary. I think your standard bottle of McCormicks cinnamon sticks is around $2.80. Looking on amazon, 2 1-pound bags of cinnamon sticks comes out to ~$18 shipped. Each bag is 40-50 sticks, so that's ~$0.40 per batch of cinnamon needed, which brings down the cost by a few bucks. I'll have to see how much apple juice runs at the commissary. Are there any big-name brands that work OK for cider?

MicroRN

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2014, 02:04:31 PM »
Thanks for the notes!  We have some champagne yeast that we need to use and just picked up some phenomenal apple cider from a local mill.  Fortunately we have pretty much all the gear you mentioned from our homebrewing stash.     

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2014, 06:56:26 PM »
I'll have to see how much apple juice runs at the commissary. Are there any big-name brands that work OK for cider?

From my experience, the brand doesn't matter a whole lot.  The only thing you need to look out for is to not buy a juice with preservatives in it, namely Potassium Sorbate. If the juice has that in it, it will not ferment.  Some people go as far as to use frozen cans of apple juice concentrate (again, as long as it doesn't have preservatives), but I draw the line there.  It might be even cheaper though.

expatartist

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2014, 09:05:47 PM »
Thanks for posting this! Especially the equipment info.

Blany

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2014, 09:53:16 PM »
Thanks for the post its great... that link you posted for Ed Worts has excellent info.
Whats your handle on HBT?

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2014, 05:49:15 AM »

Dan_at_Home

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2014, 01:02:50 PM »
bo knows football, bo knows baseball, I suppose we should also add bo knows home brewing

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2014, 06:51:14 PM »
Updated my price post above.  Made a batch tonight and found gallon jugs of juice at Shoppers for $3.79/each.  That's ~$0.54/bottle for a simple cider.

FWIW, my current cider is going to be a plain cider fermented with Kolsch yeast, then backsweetened after fermentation with Tart Cherry Juice and honey. It's from this thread on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/Homebrewing/comments/2hnu2d/my_cherry_cider_just_won_best_of_show/

gimp

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2014, 07:11:14 PM »
Nice, man. I've got the equipment to make this and beer, so I've got beer, mead (huge experiment), apple cider, and cranberry wine on my list.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2014, 10:55:46 AM »
Updated my price post above.  Made a batch tonight and found gallon jugs of juice at Shoppers for $3.79/each.  That's ~$0.54/bottle for a simple cider.

FWIW, my current cider is going to be a plain cider fermented with Kolsch yeast, then backsweetened after fermentation with Tart Cherry Juice and honey. It's from this thread on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/Homebrewing/comments/2hnu2d/my_cherry_cider_just_won_best_of_show/

I love tart cherry juice, so that sounds awesome.

Hmmm. Hmmmm. Dammit, gardening stuff was suppose to be my main hobby spending for the next year!

senecando

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2014, 10:57:44 AM »
Just started my first 5 gallon batch yesterday with cider from a local farm. Nottingham Ale Yeast.

Is 7.50 a gallon a good or bad price for that sort of cider? I've seen fresh pressed at 10/gallon at the local brewshop.

bo_knows

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Re: My experience making homebrew cider for 5 years
« Reply #20 on: October 07, 2014, 12:09:57 PM »
Just started my first 5 gallon batch yesterday with cider from a local farm. Nottingham Ale Yeast.

Is 7.50 a gallon a good or bad price for that sort of cider? I've seen fresh pressed at 10/gallon at the local brewshop.

Oddly enough, I've never made hard cider from "cider". Only juice. That price sounds alright from my limited knowledge of grocery store prices for that sort of cider.

Quote from: Thegoblinchief
I love tart cherry juice, so that sounds awesome.

Hmmm. Hmmmm. Dammit, gardening stuff was suppose to be my main hobby spending for the next year!

Haha.  Convince a friend to go in with you on the equipment cost and start a homebrew "co-op" :)
« Last Edit: October 07, 2014, 12:12:49 PM by bo_knows »