Tor's Hard Cider

I've had enough people ask about a simple cider recipe that I'm just going to post it here. This recipe originates from my friend Tor, and is definitely not the finest of brews, but it's one heck of a strong cider. So-called "real" brewers may scoff at the idea of using bread yeast, but keep in mind that things (most importantly flavor) work differently with cider than beer or wine, and don't knock it until you taste it.

You will need:

  • 1 gallon unfiltered apple juice (in a glass bottle)
  • 1 packet bread yeast (eg. Fleishman's or Red Star) 1
  • 4-6 cups brown and/or white sugar
  • 1 party balloon (buy a pack -- sometimes they break) 2
  1. Pour off a glass or so worth of apple juice and set it aside (you'll need some of it in a bit).
  2. Put the sugar into a saucepan. More sugar means a sweeter cider, and more alcohol, darker sugar means a darker cider with a stronger flavor. I like about 4.5 cups, half dark-brown and half white sugar.
  3. Add enough apple juice to the saucepan to dissolve the sugar over low heat. You shouldn't need more than half of the remaining cider.
  4. Once the sugar is dissolved, let the mixture cool slightly, and pour it back into the bottle (use a funnel if you need to). The bottle should now be full of warm extra-sweet juice.
  5. Toss in about 1/2 tsp of yeast (a yeast packet usually holds a little over 2 tsp, so don't throw the whole thing in), and top off the bottle with the juice you set aside in step 1. Leave a few inches at the top of the bottle -- don't let it get too full.
  6. Wash the powdered anti-stick stuff out of the balloon, and prick it with a pin. Then place the balloon on top of the bottle. The pinprick will be enough to let air escape from the bottle, but not big enough to let any nasty bacteria back in.
  7. That's it! Let this sit for 2-3 weeks.

After 2-3 weeks, you will need to "rack" the cider. Racking is the process of siphoning the cider off the top of the lees (dead yeast). You can use a siphon if you want, but if you're careful, the 1-gallon bottle is small enough that you can usually just pour the good stuff off the top. Don't worry if you get a little lees along with the cider, since you have to rack it again, anyway. Replace the balloon (using a new one if necessary) and let the cider continue to ferment.

Rack the cider again every 2-3 weeks until there is no more lees at the bottom of the bottle. The cider is drinkable at any stage, but it starts to get good at about 2-3 months, and excellent around 9 months (and so far, I've only seen it get better with age).

Important: Please make sure that you do not reseal the juice bottle with its original lid until you are completely sure that there is no live yeast left. This kind of bottle was not made to handle pressure, and if you have any live yeast left over, you risk building up more pressure than the bottle can handle. Since the cap screws on stronger than the glass can hold, if it blows, you'll end up with sticky broken glass all over your kitchen (or wherever you chose to set your brew). Trust me, you don't want that.

P.S. If you would like to read a more detailed story and recipe about apples and cider, check out this blog post about my first apple pressing party.

1 You're more than welcome to substitute a beer, cider or ale yeast for the bread yeast. It will change the flavor of the end result, so you might want to try several different yeasts to see which you prefer.

2 Of course, you can also use a standard brewing airlock. They only cost about $2 and can be picked up at any brew store. Just make sure that you get a rubber stopper big enough not to fall through the opening on the juice bottle (7½ or 8 will probably do the trick, but I recommend that you measure).

Posted on October 8th 2008