I Help My Neighbors Brew Their First Batch of Hard Cider

Last week, I helped my next-door neighbors whip up their first batch of homebrew. They started off with a very simple recipe: hard apple cider. It really is easy — the yeast does all the heavy lifting.

They borrowed one of my carboys and filled it with a blend of two varieties of store-bought apple juice (the kind that’s made with real juice, not apple-flavored corn syrup, and that’s pasteurized rather than having any yeast-murdering chemical preservatives). Then they dropped in a package of wine yeast that we picked up at the local brew supply store, and capped the carboy with an airlock.

That’s the extent of the recipe: apple juice and yeast. It really is that simple.

Then came a week of waiting as the carboy bubbled and the airlock released the sweet smell of cider in their kitchen. was bottling day. The carboy was still bubbling pretty strongly. If they’d waited longer to bottle they would have had a stronger, drier cider. But they were aiming for something more on the sweet side, so we bottled early.

They sterilized some bottles in their dishwasher, washing without soap and using the “heated dry” feature. And they sterilized some bottlecaps (also purchased at the brew supply store) by boiling them briefly.

They added a little more sugar to the mix by boiling a cup of powdered dextrose in a cup of water, cooling this, and then adding it to the carboy. This gives the yeast a little more to feed on while the cider is in the bottles, to make sure that the end product winds up well-carbonated (though given that it was still bubbling fiercely in the carboy, this may not have been necessary).

Then they used a tube with a racking cane and bottle filling attachment (sounds complicated, but it amounts to seven or eight dollars worth of plastic parts) to fill the bottles, and a hand-cranked capper to cap them. They left a few bottles uncapped and passed them around so we could all taste the cider as it is today. Unlike homebrewed beer, which really needs to sit in the bottle and ferment and become carbonated before it tastes right, this young hard cider was very drinkable.

They ended up with about 35 or so capped bottles worth of cider from their original five gallons of apple juice. Over the coming weeks, the cider will continue to ferment in the bottles, becoming stronger and drier and more carbonated until the yeast is overwhelmed by the alcohol or the pressure and gives up the ghost.

There’s a tax angle here, of course. Last I checked, the federal excise tax on hard cider was somewhere in the neighborhood of 25¢ per gallon, and in my state at least there’s a significant state excise tax too (and one the government is aiming to raise soon). When you brew your own, you don’t have to pay the government for the privilege of sipping a cold one.

But even without the tax angle, the frugality, self-sufficiency, and craft angles make homebrewing attractive.

My neighbors were so enthused by the project that they ran out to buy more apple juice to try again. And they’re eager to try a more complex recipe like beer.