I was recently drinking a cider at a bar and was made fun of for having it on the table. That is pretty lame. A Strongbow and a whiskey go pretty good together I think. I gave the fool the finger and went back to enjoying my drinks.
I love cider. Back in the day, I will admit, I was not a fan of beer. Shocking! That lasted about 6 months after my 21st but I like to thank hard ciders for acting as a gateway to both beer and whiskey. I was living in Minnesota at the time and went to a local pub every Tuesday. I had the same opinion as a lot of drinkers in that Guinness was a big heavy beer and I didn’t really like the bitterness (how cute, eh?) Anyway, long story short, they had Woodpecker cider on tap and that is what I drank. Tasty stuff and I could drink five pints without making faces. This is the critical factor. After five pints, I can drink anything without making faces. My friends found this to be the opportunity to introduce me to Guinness, Irish whiskey, and just about anything they could afford to pour down me. Thanks guys. So now 13 years later, I am a big drink snob but in my heart there is always room for a bottle of Woodpecker when I find one.
Homemade hard cider covers a spectrum of complexity. In the simplest sense, if you can make canned apple juice, you can make hard cider. The complexity comes from choosing your ingredients and watching your gravity. You can choose to halt fermentation when you reach a sweetness that you like or ferment to full dryness and back-sweeten from there or just drink it as-is. Pretty simple.
Let’s start with the basics. My standard recipe for a good drinking hard cider is pulled directly from the internet. I go to any grocery store and by cans of apple juice concentrate to make five gallons. I mix these in a sanitized bucket with 2ish pounds of dextrose and add water to 5gal. Add a packet of rehydrated champagne or white wine yeast. It does benefit from a bit of yeast nutrient, I have noticed. Toss this in a warm closet for a month and you are off. Potent and damned drinkable. This is best kegged and force carbonated but I have seen good results in bottles as well but I would advise a culture of fresh yeast be added with the priming sugar. (Side note: Some internetters call this apfelwine or applewine. I have been known to call it white-trash cider, eau de pruno, or other things along that vein. Regardless, I love the stuff)
Couldn’t really be much easier. There is a seriously critical point that must be made when buying commercial juice though. Make sure you get it without preservatives! That means no potassium sorbate or anything with sulf- in its name. There may be others too but if you don’t know what it is, it is probably a preservative. The one place that this doesn’t hold is with ascorbic acid. Vitamin C. It is fine. Cool. That is the big warning. We will come back to potassium sorbate in a bit. Buy some at the homebrew store when you are picking up the yeast.
Now what? You have a basic recipe, enjoy it. Then when you are a bit cider drunk you can think about what to do next. There are tons of options. Cider used to be stored in oak barrels, why not add a handful of oak cubes and age it for a while? You could drink it without bubbles, pretend to be George Washington and chop down a tree in your neighbor’s yard. “I cannot tell a lie! Bill, you are an insufferable asshole!” In my most recent iteration I used a more expensive local juice and used the excellent cider yeast from Wyeast I also left out the dextrose that I normally use to boost the gravity. In this case the juice on its own hit 1.054, leaving me with a fairly healthy ABV. The good yeast leaves a much fruitier aroma and flavor profile than a wine yeast. I did let it ferment to full dryness but in this case I prevented re-fermentation by adding some potassium sorbate per the manufacturer’s instructions and back-sweetened with two cans of apple juice concentrate and a syrup made from brown sugar, maple syrup, and a few hunks of a Mexican piloncillo. Do this to taste, the best recipe is one that you like.
Cider, it is a hell of a good thing. It is a really easy introduction to making things other than beer and a fun change of pace when it is on tap at the house. You should definitely throw one together and toast the you that used to make faces at beer.