Vegan Friday: Hard cider

Yes, I drink my cider out of a Champagne flute. The shape of the glass helps preserve the carbonation.
Yes, I drink my cider out of a Champagne flute. It’s that good. Plus the shape of the glass helps preserve the carbonation.

That’s right, kids: This week’s Vegan Friday project is booze.

This is not a quick recipe. It’s not terribly labor-intensive (you’re looking at maybe 30 minutes of actual work), but it’s done in three steps, and you have to wait two weeks between each step, so if you’re looking for instant gratification, this isn’t the project for you. Details below the fold.

If you have the patience for it, making hard cider is relatively easy, and the finished product is well worth the wait.

You will need:
2 1/2 gallons of apple cider (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
1 packet wine yeast
Brown sugar, plain sugar or carbonation tablets
Two 3-gallon jugs and an airlock that fits them OR two Mr. Beer kegs
Sanitizer (I use Star-San)
1-gallon plastic jug
Plastic bottles with lids
Xylitol (optional)

I used an empty Mr. Beer keg for this project. If you’re interested in learning about fermentation, I highly recommend buying a Mr. Beer kit, because it’s a virtually idiot-proof way to learn the process, and the equipment that comes with it is easy to clean and easy to use. We have two — one for making predictable beer from the kit and one for experimenting. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to do a bit more research into jugs, airlocks and siphoning techniques. This site is a good starting point.

The hardest thing about making your own beer, wine or hard cider is making sure your equipment is sanitized properly, because if it isn’t, you can introduce wild micro-organisms that will compromise the flavor of the end product.

Start by diluting your sanitizer according to the package instructions and sanitizing your equipment.

Pour the cider into the sanitized keg. Sprinkle a packet of wine yeast over the top, close the lid and let it sit for two weeks. It will foam up and make all manner of scum and froth as it ferments. Don’t worry; it’s supposed to do that.

Racking from one keg into another is easy; just sanitize the new keg, set it on a stool, and position it so you can drain the top keg directly into it.
Racking from one keg into another is easy; just sanitize the new keg, set it on a stool, and position it so you can drain the top keg directly into it. The foam you see on the mouth of the bottom keg is just sanitizer residue. It won’t affect anything.

In two weeks, you’ll need to rack your cider. This just means you’re going to pour it into a different container and throw out the dead yeast and gunk that’s settled at the bottom of the keg so it doesn’t make the cider taste weird. If you only have one keg or jug, you’ll have to pour the cider into another sanitized container, clean and sanitize your keg or jug, and then pour the cider back into it. If you have two identical containers, you can just sanitize the empty one and rack the cider into it.

Stop when you reach this level. All that lighter-colored stuff in the bottom of the keg is nasty and needs to be thrown out so it doesn't screw up the flavor of the finished product.
Stop when you reach this level. All that lighter-colored stuff in the bottom of the keg is nasty and needs to be thrown out so it doesn’t screw up the flavor of the finished product.

Let the cider sit in the new container for another two weeks.

Sanitize your bottles. (DO NOT use glass bottles designed to take screw-on tops, and DO NOT use canning jars. They’re not built for this, and they’re liable to blow up or break under the pressure as the cider carbonates. I use plastic bottles with screw-on lids, but glass bottles with crimp-on caps are fine, too, as long as they were designed for that type of cap. You’ll need a capping device and some caps if you take this approach, obviously, but it’s a good way to recycle old bottles, and you can use the dishwasher to sanitize them, which is a nice timesaver.)

Add either two carbonation tablets (hard, clear tablets made of sugar that you buy at brewing supply stores) or a couple of teaspoons of sugar or brown sugar to each bottle. The sugar will not sweeten the cider. Instead, the yeast will eat it and turn it into alcohol and carbon dioxide, making your cider bubbly.

If you want your finished cider to taste sweet, you’ll need to add a little xylitol — a sugar alcohol available in powdered form from most health-food stores — to each bottle. I like my cider very dry, so I don’t bother adding xylitol.

Pour cider into each bottle, leaving about an inch and a half of headspace at the top, and seal the lids tightly. Be careful not to get any of the dregs into the bottles.

Leave the cider alone for two more weeks, checking it daily to make sure it doesn’t ferment so fast that it blows the lids off or something.

After two weeks, sample a sip or two from one bottle. If it’s fizzy, it’s ready; if it’s not, it needs more time. Cider tends to improve with age, but make sure you check it regularly, and put it in the refrigerator to chill the yeast and stop the fermentation process if necessary.

My finished product is glorious. It tastes sort of like Prosecco, except it’s made with apples instead of grapes. Delicious. Don’t drink too much of it; the alcohol content is similar to that of beer, but it tastes so good that it would be all too easy to drink way more than you should, so pace yourself. I just have a bottle every now and then for a special treat.

Emily

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