A Lazy Brewer's Easy Day's Work for Hard Apple Cider
Hard cider is so easy to make, I almost feel guilty. Okay, that's bollocks — I don't feel guilty at all.
The joy of cider is that you can make it as easy or involved as you want. Want to personally taste and select apple varieties for the just-right blend? You can do that, right down to renting crush and press equipment from area brew shops.
For a lazy brewer such as myself though, that's far too much work.
Making cider has become like the warmup before exercise. We take a summer break from brewing, putting up the brewpot and carboys from about June till September or October. Come fall, making cider is like stretching. It warms up my brewing skills, refreshes me on brewing fundamentals: sanitation, yeast selection (and keeping yeast happy), brewing and racking, and the sheer joy of the simple miracle of sunlight, transformed into plants, transformed into liquid, transformed into boozy fermented goodness.
Third Time the Charm?
Our 2010 Crisp Apple Cider is our third batch. We've been tweaking our process each year, and I'm especially excited to taste how this year's batch comes out.
- 2008 (inaugural batch): straight-up, nothing but cider. Mead yeast. Not bad, but needed some additional sugar and a different yeast. Though bottled for carbonation, we didn't use oxy-caps, and some bottles went flat.
- 2009: added 3 cups honey and used champagne yeast instead of mead yeast. Flavor profile was much more what we wanted. Three cups of honey was too much though — we found ourselves with a cider whose alcohol was 10%!
- 2010: Same as 2009 batch, except we're using only 1 cup of honey. The cider is now fermenting away, in a warm comfy spot next to our pellet stove. Obviously time and tasting will tell, but I have a feeling that this year's batch is going to have the flavor and body we've been after.
2010 Crisp Apple Cider
An easy cider for the lazy brewer: cider, honey, yeast and (optional) Campden tablets.
- 5 gallons UV-pasteurized apple cider. We sourced ours from Lone Pine Farm, just north of Eugene; their cider uses apples from Salem. This year's batch was pleasantly on the tart side.
- 5 Campden tablets. These are optional, but I like them. With one tablet dropped in each gallon jug, you let the cider sit for about 24 hours. The tablets help neutralize any lingering yeasts or molds in the cider. You don't have to do this step, but I see it as setting the batch up for success by giving the intended yeast a strong start.
- 1 cup of honey. We used raw honey from a beekeeper friend's urban home hive. Her honey comes through with rich notes of citrus and eucalyptus. We mix the honey with 1/3 gallon of cider and heat it to 180ºF for 10 minutes.
- 1 packet of Lalvin EC-118 dry yeast. Proof for 15 minutes in 2 oz. of warm water (90-100ºF)
Add all cider and honey/cider mix to a 5-gallon carboy. When emptying gallon jugs, stop pouring early so sediment stays in jug.
Pitch yeast. We're liking the flavors and attenuation of Lalvin EC-118 — crisp flavor, mellow profile, balanced dryness, and a thorough fermentation.
Cover and wait. Crisp will sit in primary fermenter for 4-6 weeks, for bottling in December. Once bottled, we'll age it 6 months, then check to see how the flavors are maturing. Cider can take a year to be drinkable, and overall improves with aging. However, our 2009 batch was delicious within 6 months. I'm expecting similar maturation from our 2010 batch.
We'll see how it goes.
Viva cider, viva fall!