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Make Hard Cider – Step 4 – Bottle It Baby!

Cleaning bottles againSo after roughly a month, I am back to the cider.

After having sat there in the chill of the garage, it looks to have cleared up really well.  All the particles from the pressed apple juice have fallen to the bottom, and I’m left with a clear amber liquid – yum!

From the tasting before I left it alone, I found it was a little dry, and more like wine than fermented apple juice.  To make it bubbly when you open the bottle, you’re supposed to add some sugar back in.

I figured, why not kick the flavor back in, which giving me the bubbles I’m looking for anyway?  So I went out to the store and got a can of apple juice concentrate (all natural).  The sugar content was near even with a measured cup, so for the 5.5 gallons I have, I added in just over a cup of concentrate.  Since you’re supposed to add about 1/4 cup of sugar per gallon to make it bubbly, I had the numbers just about right.

Cleaning the bottles twice!So I blended it all back into the 5 gallon carboy, which barely fit, but just enough.  Next step was to prep the bottles.

You have two options here.  Buy them new, or wash out ones you have.  I opted for the second, not just to save a few bucks, but I also figured it was a home brewing right of passage.

I started picking out bottles that looked in decent shape, and soaked them in a bathtub for 30 minutes or so.  After that I set to scraping off the labels, and quickly found some brewers use more glue than others.  If I had to recommend, I’d say to stick to Sam Adams or Dogfish brewery.  Both labels came off easy enough after a soaking.  Magic Hat however was a bear, and while I made do, I used different ones for the next batch.  After that I put them into the dishwasher, without soap, to rinse out any bacteria and reduce any odd flavors it would lend.

Then I used my siphoning wand once more to rack it out of the carboy and into the clean bottles.

Suck it Laverne & Shirley!A few spills here and there, and the thoughtful use of a catch basin helped a lot.  There was a little loss, but not too bad and nothing I couldn’t live with.  The floor might be a little sticky until I can bust out a mop though ;)

I put the last few overflow ounces into a bottle for tasting later on.

The day before I lucked out, as the brewing store was only open for a few hours on their holiday schedule.  Thankfully they had more than enough cappers and caps for me to pick up.  After getting the bottles ready, I learned on the fly and capped them off one by one.  I filled the bottles up 1-3 inches below the cap depending on the bottle, so we’ll see if the air, and how filled they are, makes any sort of difference.  My fear was that the carbonation would build too much and make the tops pop off well before I’d get a change to drink any of them.  So I thought to vary how filled they were in turn.

Bottles bottles everywhere!As with the labels I found some brands better than others.  Thankfully the Sam Adams held up well.  The Wychwood bottles that I was really keen on using (with the embossed witches on them), turned out to have bulby tops rather than the bulgy standard, and I nearly broke the capper trying to fit a cap on.  While moping about them I couraged up considering I hadn’t spilled a drop, and picked out another bottle instead.  I might need another capper, but it lasted through the rest regardless.

As for the taste test?  So far so good.  Definately a stronger brew, and still not quote as “apple-y” as I’d like (but closer), but that should  change once the bubbles kick in.  If you’ve ever tried a flat soda or beer, you know what I mean.

Overall I’m really enjoying the process.  Its nice to have a start and finish, and so long as I don’t take it too seriously I’m having fun learning it all too.  It seemed to make for a nice Christmas present for friends and family, so I have about 30 bottles now when all is said and done.  Perhaps this will help me get into brewing my own beers later on ;)

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Make Hard Cider – Step 3 – Secondary Fermentation

So the primary fermentation has stopped.  How do I know?

Simple.  No bubbles!  When I began it naturally foamed up like a bubble bath as the yeast chewed through the sugar, and shed gas and alcohol.  Now it looks flat with no bubbles on top.

Cleaning the equipmentAs with the other steps I began with a cleaning cycle.  I had picked up a long plastic wand, that I can use to siphon it out of the bottle (called racking).  You do this to filter out the drink from the yeast and whatever else has settled to the bottom of the bottle over time.

The gallon bottle I was going to use to set some aside.

Once that was done I headed down to the basement to begin racking it.

Racking from primary fermentationThe wand is nothing more than a tube and a plunger type thingy.  You move the plunger up and down a few times and it creates suction that pulls it out of the upper bottle and into wherever the hose is directed.

I managed to get the 1st bottle drained down ok.  I had to leave about 3/4 of an inch on the bottom, otherwise I would end up suctioning the yuck off the bottom that the racking was all about.

On the 2nd bottle, I tried to be trickier about it, moving the full bottle to a higher point first.  But all I did was end up pulling the hose out accidentally, and spilling some all over.  Not a huge loss, but enough that I spent some time on cleanup afterwards.  In the end I sloshed it around more than I wanted to also, so if I kept racking I would have brought over more of the yeast than I wanted to.  So I chalked up the remaining 2 inches (maybe a quart) to experience and pitched it.

I also siphoned some off into the gallon bottle for tasting, to see how it was coming along.

Once this was done, I refilled the airlocks and moved the bottles over into the garage where it is cooler and less apt to get bumped.

Primary CiderSo how has it turned out so far?

Well, lets just say I was hoping for a cider similar to what you’d buy in a store, like Woodchucks.  What I have so far though is more like a dry white wine.  Definately high in alcohol content, and drinkable, but no real apple taste to speak of.

I asked around as to what other people had done, and between this and online research it looks like my best bet is to mix in some concentrate and sugars just before bottling.  This will kick in the carbonation as well as bring back more flavor.  Supposedly, allowing it to sit a few weeks and months also brings out a stronger flavor.

So while it’s not exactly what I expected right now,  I’m pretty sure it will get there eventually.  Maybe I can make a Christmas gift out of it?

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Make Hard Cider – Step 2 – Primary Fermentation

So after some back & forth, I’ve finally gotten the call from the orchard that the cider is pressed and ready for pickup.

Apples everywhereAs requested, I’ve got about 3 gallons in each of the 5 gallon carboys.  Now its time to mix it all together.

Now if any of you have done a search on how cider is made, you’re going to come across a whole lot of recipies.  I had pretty much decided which one seemed the most in the middle, and ran it past the guys over at Maltose Express.

They’re the closest “do it yourself” store for brewing guys.  I picked up some new bottle corks, tubing, a racking system (big plastic wand to suck out the cider), some yeast for the mix, a bit of malic acid, and a copy of their own recipie.

Here’s what I did.  For each 3 gallons I poured out some of the cider, heated it, and mixed in 2 pounds of brown sugar.  I did the same with another 1lb of local honey, and another 1/3 lb of sugar in the raw, mixing it all back in.

Sugar mixThe yeast I used works in a packet, filled with the yeast and some nutrients.  You mix it together, open the packet and pour it in.  Because I had a split batch though I poured it into a measuring cup first and doled out half to each bottle.

A swirl later, and away we go!  With this first step some people say you only need to cover it with a loose lid (if you’re using a bucket).  I’m probably stepping it too far, but since I had gotten some airlocks, I decided to give them a try.  You wash the heck out of them, stick them into special corks, put them in place atop the bottle, and then fill it up with some vodka in the lock.  The vodka evaporates a lot slower than water so you don’t need to fill it as often.  The vapor lock keeps the outside air from getting in, while letting the air escape as the yeast does its thing so the pressure doesn’t build up.

Primary FermentationSo now I’ve got the two bottles sitting in the basement, gently warming.  They tell me it takes about a week and a half for this initial stage, then I’m to siphon it off and let it mellow and clarify for another month.  It is really murky and the sugar made it a lot darker than I expected.  Right now it looks like there’s a 1/2 inch of bubbly cheesecake on the top.  I’m excited about the whole process and it has been a bit of a learning curve.  I figure worst case scenario I’ve made a big batch of yuck, but hopefully it’ll turn out good in the end.

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Make Hard Cider – Step 1 – Clean The Bottles!

Ugggh - Dirty Bottles!Being interested in beer as I am, I’ve found myself tinkering with the process of making my own.  It seems a good way to begin learning the process is going about a simple batch of Hard Cider.

I began with looking up the information online.  Seems like everyone and their mother has a version of a cider recipe.

I pieced together one, along with advice from others, and began gathering my components.

Other than the obvious of needing some pressed cider, I also needed something to make it in – the bottles.

I consider my self very fortunate in this area.  You see my father took it upon himself to make some very awful batches of wine back in the day.  Occasionally he would step it up with exploding beer, and overly carbonated soda that would make you throw up.  Thankfully however, all of his bottles were saved.

As with many hand me downs from them, it needed some work.  They had collected their fair share of dust  and yuck over the years of unuse.  One had nearly an inch of dark foul smelling things collected at the bottom.

Once I knew I would do this, I had stopped by a “brew-your-own” store ahead of time.  Picked up a bottle brush, and a jar of food grade cleanser.

I began with scouring the entire outside of the bottles.  Moving onto a basic fill and rinse.  Then I dumped 3 cups of bleach into each, and topped it off with water, leaving it to sit overnight.NicoCole 2009 EndOctober 137 (Small)

The next day, I continued.  First with using the brush anywhere and everywhere it could reach.  Flushed it out with water, and then brushed again.  I next put a quarter cup of the bottle cleanser into some water, diluted it, and filled it up halfway.  Another brushing all over, and I even got Nico involved with scrubbing the outside this time.

A half hour later, with multiple rinses, and voila!  I turned them all upside down, let them drip dry, and followed up with a towel down.

I decided to make 6 gallons, but I’m not positive if the tall skinny ones are 3 gallons or 2 1/2.  To be on the safe side I decided to use the (2) 5 gallon carboys and fill them up 3 gallons each.  A call and a stop over at March Farms (the local orchard), and after I receive a fill up call later this week we’ll be on our way :)

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