What better way to celebrate fall than with delicious hard apple cider. Hard cider is fermented and contains up to 8% alcohol more or less depending on the sugar content of the apples. The making of cider in America dates all the way back to colonial times. In those days people didn’t trust most water supplies and hard cider was a staple. Our founding fathers enjoyed drinking hard cider. John Adams for instance was known to start each day with a generous ration of the amber beverage. Imagine for a moment; George Washington along with Benjamin Franklin and other revolutionaries meeting secretly on a chilly autumn night. Inside a tavern warming themselves by a brownstone fireplace, they discuss the birth of a new nation in hushed voices. The great patriot brewer Samuel Adams himself could have supplied the libations from his father’s brewery. After tilting back a tankard or two of hard cider someone slams his fist down on the table and boldly demands; “Give me liberty or give me death”. And Sammy give us all another round of that delicious hard cider. It’s possible.
I was lucky enough to grow up in an area where one or two apple orchards still had road side cider mills operating. Some of my best fall memories are of taking an afternoon drive in the country to get cider and other late harvest produce.
Ancient trees lined the old orchard road.
They were crowned with leaves of red and gold.
The autumn air was so cool and crisp
With the smell of distant smoke adrift.
A stately buck lost his velvet soft.
The red tail fox sends a pheasant aloft.
Into the bluest sky that I’d ever seen.
Those days of old, are a vivid dream.
The cider mills were not elaborate at all, that’s what made them so charming. An old weathered barn alongside a country road with an apple press inside is really all there was to it. The farmer would come rambling up to the barn driving an old fashioned looking tractor. It carried a huge wooden crate full of apples ready for the next batch of cider. Gallon jugs of fresh cider had been neatly lined up on homemade tables. Fresh apples were available for sale as well. They were in different sized wood baskets, all the way up to the big bushel ones. Brightly colored mums and pumpkins underneath an old oak tree added to the magic. Honey bees harmlessly bussed back and forth sipping up left over cider dripping from the press. The time spent in the autumn air and going out to get the cider was a joy in itself. But more fall fun was yet to come.
Making and drinking hard cider. What a perfect way to celebrate fall. If making hard cider isn’t really your thing there are quite a few commercially made ones available now. So get outside this fall with the people you love. Take a walk in the woods or just rake up a big pile of leaves in your yard. While you’re at it toss a football or Frisbee around. Watch the sunset then build a Halloween bonfire. It’s really fun to cook hotdogs and toast marsh mallows on the end of a pointy stick. Howl at the moon for a while if you like. Maybe there is a haunted hay ride close by to go on. Whatever you do make it a real outdoor fall celebration with plenty of hard cider.
I have been home brewing beer since the early 1990s. One day it dawned on me that hard cider would be easier and cheaper to brew than beer. I came up with this recipe using a hydrometer to measure the beginning specific gravity and finished alcohol content. The original recipe had 2 more pounds of sugar and over 8% alcohol. It also had quite a kick to it. This version is tamed down to 5% or 6% alcohol and goes down a lot smoother. This recipe is super easy and could be cut it in half if so desired.
Easy Hard Cider Recipe
Ingredients: for 5 gallons
- · 10 frozen apple juice concentrate
- · 2 lb. dark brown sugar
- · 10 cinnamon sticks (optional)
- · 1 package Ale yeast aprox. 11g
- · 4 gallons of good tasting water with no chlorine
- · Large stock pot
- · Primary fermenter- 5 gal bucket with lid or 5 gal water bottle(carboy) with bung
- · Secondary fermenter- 5 gal bucket with lid or 5 gal water bottle(carboy) with bung
- · Airlock for fermenter
- · Large funnel
- · ¼” clear plastic tube 36″ long for siphoning
- · Bottles- 2 liter soda bottle work but I like empty glass wine jugs 1.5 liter and 3 Liter size (note: reusable airtight caps for wine jugs can be purchased at a local brew shop or online as well as ale yeast and airlocks)
- 1. In stock pot combine apple concentrate, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks and water to pots capacity. The remaining water can be added to the sterilized fermenter later.
- 2. Bring mixture up to 160˚F for 5 minutes making sure that sugar is dissolved.
- 3. Place about 2 cups of the hot liquid in a bowl and cool to around 78˚F then add the yeast. This is referred to as “blooming” the yeast.
- 4. Meanwhile sterilize your primary fermenter with a mixture of bleach and water 2 tablespoons of bleach per I gallon of water.
- 5. Transfer the contents of the stock pot into the fermenter and remaining water to make 5 gallons and let cool to 78˚F or below.
- 6. Add the yeast mixture to the cider in the fermenter. This is referred to as pitching the yeast.
- 7. Put the fermenter out of the way for 7 days to ferment, a dark, cool place is best. After fermentation starts the airlock should actively bubble for about a week.
- 8. After 7 days the fermentation will dramatically slow down. Siphon off the cider into your sterilized secondary fermenter. Be careful not to put the hose into the layer of sediment at the bottom of the fermenter. Leave as much of the sediment behind as possible. This will make a better tasting, and clearer finished product.
- 9. Technically the hard cider could be consumed at this point. I always sample a glass but the longer you wait the smoother the flavor will be. It will also clarify more the longer it sits, although it will never be clear like the commercial stuff.
- 10. Put the lid and airlock on the secondary fermenter and let it sit for another week or two.
- 11. Now it’s time to bottle and carbonate your hard cider. Put a teaspoon of sugar per liter in each sterilized bottle along with a cinnamon stick (optional). Then fill each bottle to the shoulders with the siphon hose leaving a little room for the gasses to expand. Cap each bottle with a sterilized cap. If you don’t want “sparkling” hard cider and prefer still cider don’t add the sugar to each bottle in this step.
- 12. If you’re making sparkling hard cider let the bottles carbonate for a week before refrigerating them. At this point some people let the cider age for several months this will improve the taste and clarity. I personally have never had the patience to go that long. You can drink your’ hard cider whenever you feel like it.