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How to Make Christmas Spiced Cider

A homebrewer living in Kuwait. I've brewed wine, mead, cider, and tepache.

Homebrewed Libations

During our first year living in a dry country, my wife and I went to a party at a colleague's house. They were serving something called 'date rum.' The drink was vile and gave us the worst hangover. We are fairly certain that if you drank that poison on a regular basis you might go blind—or perhaps inflict permanent paralysis on yourself.

I said to myself, I could brew something better than that. That was the apple seed in my mind's eye.

I first had to decide what to brew. We had tasted homemade wine at other people's houses, and some of them were not the best. Brewers were using grape juice cartons to make wine, and I knew enough about wine to know that table grape varieties were unsuitable for winemaking. On occasion, I would hear of people using baker's yeast.

We tasted homebrewed beer, which was quite good. However, the brewer had to buy malt extract in their home country then transport it back to our dry country. To me, this sounded like too much of a hassle.

The other detail that made me cringe a little was the fact that some brewers were using plastic water coolers that had no proper airlock and weren't using any sanitising agents. I chose to brew in glass containers at the trade-off of volume; however, glass allowed me to sanatise everything using Star San. Though desperate times call for desperate measures, and most homebrewers did the best they could with the resources they chose and had available.

I looked around at the available products and it dawned on me that apples are apples, whether you are eating them or crushing them to make apple cider. Unlike wine grapes, which are special strains, any apple could be turned into a cider.

The only supplies I needed to smuggle in were brewer's yeast and sanatiser. I did end up buying a hydrometer, siphon, and airlocks. Although the last three items weren't imperative, they did help make the brewing easier, and they provided a better quality drink.

Apples Everywhere!

I bought the apples, and I also bought a juicer (since I didn't have an apple press). The first time I attempted to brew, it took a long time because I hadn't brewed before. Also, it took a lot of time to get 10 liters of apple juice from the bushel of apples I bought.

Roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes, 30-40 apples juiced, and a very messy kitchen later, I had a cloudy container of fresh apple juice. I added the yeast and let the magic begin. However, I had filled the glass carboy container too much and hadn't left myself enough headroom. This wouldn't be the first time, nor the last that I would make that mistake. Juice had spewed up through the airlock and out onto the floor, such a sticky mess to clean up. More than that it felt frustrating that I lost so much juice that I had spent so long making in the first place.

Risks

I felt fairly confident bringing brewer's yeast into the country illegally. Customs wasn't looking for brewer's yeast or siphons. Security was looking for the finished product being smuggled in that they could confiscate, and probably consume for themselves later (just speculation and rumors). I've even known an acquaintance to have bought a wine box from South Africa and put it in their suitcase. They arrived in the said dry country and walked right in, no problems. Literally security is looking for glass bottles in the shape of vodka or wine.

I did know friends who got overly creative. By designing a label on PowerPoint or in Microsoft Word they were able to print sticky labels with fake products. One such innovation was to relabel, front and back, the dry yeast packets as taco seasoning.

About This Cider

This cider incorporates the warm spices associated with mulled wines during Christmas and applies them to apple cider.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 8-9%

Side Note: If you choose to pasteurise your juice via heating, it will cloud the juice and final product. I've not pasteurised the apple juice since my first brew. It was cumbersome and time-consuming. I've run the risk without any adverse effects.

Necessary Equipment

Make sure all equipment is sanitised with Star San before brewing.

  • Star San
  • 2 (20-liter or 5-gallon) carboys
  • Cheesecloth/fine metal sieve (to remove as much pulp as possible)
  • Homebrew spoon (long spoon able to combine your water and honey mixture)
  • Auto-siphon
  • Airlock and bung
  • Hydrometer

Ingredients

Initial fermentation:

  • 5 grams LalvinEC-1118
  • 2000 grams wild flower honey
  • 17 liters apple cider
  • 1 vanilla bean, sliced in half length wise

Secondary fermentation:

  • 6 sticks cinnamon
  • 12 cloves
  • 1 peel of orange

Bottling (optional):

  • 5ml sugar per bottle

Notes About Juice Sources

  • Grocery store: If you are buying apple juice from the grocery store, make sure to buy something that does not have preservatives. Preservatives inhibit the fermentation process.
  • Straight from the farm: If you are able to buy apple juice straight from a farm, that's the best-case scenario. Again make sure it is free of preservatives.
  • Juice your own: If you opt to juice your own apples, make sure that you wash the apples to avoid any wild bacteria. In addition, you can pasteurise the juice by heating it for 20 minutes in a large pot, but making sure it doesn't reach a boil (no hotter than 100 Celcius or 212 Fahrenheit). In addition, you must use the cheesecloth and sieve to remove as much of the apple solids. I don't particularly recommend pasteurising by heating because it will make your final product cloudy.

Instructions

  1. Sanatise all equipment.
  2. Pour juice into your carboy.
  3. Place the container of honey to a warm pot of water. By warming the honey, it makes it flow easier and faster. Once warmed, add to carboy. Use a homebrew spoon to combine fully.
  4. Follow the instructions on the yeast packet then add to the carboy. Use a homebrew spoon to combine fully.
  5. Place bung tightly on top of the carboy along with airlock.
  6. Let cider ferment for 2 weeks or until bubbling subsides.
  7. Rack: Use the auto-siphon to transfer the cider into a second carboy container. Add bung and airlock onto the carboy. Make sure to not stir or unsettle the carboy container. You do not want the sediment transferred into secondary fermentation.
  8. Add spices: cinnamon sticks, cloves, vanilla bean, and orange peel to the carboy. You should allow the cider to ferment in secondary for a minimum of 1 week and a maximum of 2 weeks.
  9. Bottling: Again use the auto-siphon to fill bottles.
Brewing 10 liters of apple cider

Brewing 10 liters of apple cider

Left to right: apple and cranberry cider, cherry mead, blueberry mead

Left to right: apple and cranberry cider, cherry mead, blueberry mead

© 2020 Andrew Witthoft