How to Make Cider from Apple Juice
How to make Cider from Supermarket Ingredients
Cider is easier to make at home than either wine or beer and makes a very pleasant alternative, especially on a warm summer evening. To make cider traditionally, you need fresh cider apples and a heavy-duty screw press. To make it even more traditionally, you need a barn, a large oak cask that you can call a hogshead if you must, sackfuls of cider apples, a huge granite mill wheel and channel, and a horse that doesn't mind walking in circles for a few hours.
Alternatively, you can use supermarket apple juice and dried baker's yeast.
What You'll Need
Pop down to the supermarket and get a large plastic flagon (about 64 oz or 2 liters) of pure apple juice (not a cardboard carton) and a packet of dried baker's yeast. The brand of apple juice doesn't matter, but make sure there are no added preservatives, as these could prevent it from fermenting. (Some additional vitamin C is no problem.) If there are no preservatives, the juice will usually have been pasteurised to stabilise it. This gives it a darker colour than fresh juice, but we can live with that.
You will also need a teaspoon and a drinking straw, but you probably have these already! If you like, you can arrange everything neatly on the table and take a photograph like mine, but this step is entirely optional!
How to Do It
- Open the flagon and completely remove the inner foil seal (if any).
- With the drinking straw, enjoy the top two inches (5 cm) of apple juice. Waste not, want not! (The reason for this is to make a little room in the container.)
- Carefully tip half a level teaspoon of dried yeast onto the surface of the juice, but do not shake or stir.
- Replace the cap. Tighten it, then back it off a quarter turn to allow gas to escape.
And that is it! There is nothing more to do but wait (the entire process takes about five days), watch, and read my deathless prose....
Watch as the yeast quickly re-hydrates and expands across the surface, forming a slurry. The dormant yeast cells waken in a yeast heaven and soon start gorging on the sugar and nutrients in the juice and replicating like crazy. This is a yeast orgy. Clumps of cells start to break off and fall slowly to the bottom, where they carry on working on the fruit sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.
What Will Happen
After a few hours, the juice should be bubbling merrily, with a good head of froth on top. Baker's yeast tends to be a much faster starter than wine yeast and doesn't take long to get going. You'll notice that the juice has gone cloudy. This is normal. The yeast population is now far larger than the original teaspoonful and the rising carbon dioxide bubbles keep everything in motion.
The fermentation doesn't go on forever. After a few days, the available sugar is all used up, the bubbling stops, and the yeast cells start to drop to the bottom. It's impossible to say when this will happen as it depends on the sweetness of the original juice, the strain of yeast, the ambient temperature, and several other factors.
- When the fermentation has slowed to one or two bubbles per second, typically after five days, taste it using a drinking straw. It should be fairly dry. If it is still sweet, try again in 24 hours.
- When you're happy with the dryness, tighten the cap and put the flagon in the refrigerator (not the freezer!) This will help it to fall clear.
The cider is already ready for drinking, but will look and taste better after a couple of days in the fridge. It doesn't matter if it is not completely clear. There is nothing unwholesome about a little yeast. After all, you eat it every day in bread. Some commercial ciders of the scrumpy style are traditionally served cloudy. Always keep the flagon in the fridge until serving. This prevents any risk of exploding flagons if you've been in too much of a hurry. When serving, pour carefully to avoid disturbing the sediment.
If you have judged your end point well, it will have a slight sparkle when poured, giving a freshness to the taste. If you left it a little too late, it will be still and dry, but perfectly drinkable. On the other hand, if you refrigerated it too soon, it will be sweeter and a little frothy.
Paraglider suggests: A proper wine yeast will improve the quality of your cider. This one is a quick starter and a good fermenter with a wide temperature tolerance. Originally a Champagne yeast, it clears and settles well. Best of all - it's very cheap!
Cider apples are different from both dessert and cooking apples. True cider apples are extremely hard, even when ripe. When crushed in a mill, the juice runs clear. The softer dessert and cooking varieties tend to crush to a sloppy pulp with cloudy juice which is no good for cider.
Supermarket apple juices are not made from cider apples, but they are extracted and cleared using hi-tech centrifuge and filtering techniques that are not available to the amateur. Be grateful they have done the hard work for you!
Explanations, Hints, and Tips
This method was designed to work with no special equipment and with baker's yeast. In some parts of the world, such as the Middle East, wine yeast is not available. But if you do have access to wine yeast it will give a higher quality cider.
Sterilisation is vital if you are making cider by traditional methods. However in my method you start with a sealed, sterile juice flagon and ferment in situ opening the top only for the minute it takes to remove some juice and add the yeast. Spoilage is highly unlikely.
Why not stir the yeast in? By floating the yeast on the surface, the growth process starts locally in the concentrated slurry that forms when the yeast absorbs the liquid and re-hydrates. A blanket of carbon dioxide soon forms which forces the air out of the flagon and protects the juice from oxidation. If you stir the yeast in, the start will be slower and the protection less.
Temperature: Warm room temperature is best. Shirt sleeves temperature, if you like. If the juice has been in a fridge, don't start and don't open it until it has warmed up to room temperature.
Sunlight: Yeast doesn't like sunlight. It's best not to place the flagon on the windowsill. Having said that, it doesn't need to be kept in the dark either.
Quantity: One flagon (64 oz or 2 liters) of cider is not very much. If you want to make a larger amount in a single batch, start by kicking off one flagon exactly as described above. When it is going well, say after 48 hours, transfer it to a larger vessel and pour in more juice, remembering to leave a couple of inches air space at the top. Cap it and back off the cap as before, to let gas escape. After that, proceed exactly as with the single flagon. But if you are going to do this, you should sterilise the large vessel before use.
Alternatively, if one flagon isn't enough, start two, three, five, or ten! The great advantage of fermenting in the original container is that there are no sterilisation worries.
Alcoholic Content: The alcoholic strength of this cider depends on the sweetness of the original juice. Typically it will lie in the range 4 to 6% ABV (alcohol by volume), or about the same as a medium-strong beer. You can increase the alcohol by adding sugar at the start, but this increases the chances of stopping the fermentation early, leaving an oversweet drink, because of the relatively low alcohol tolerance of baker's yeast. I prefer to accept the natural strength as it comes.
Still, Flat, or Sparkling: No one talks about still beer. If beer has no bubbles, it is called flat, not still, and flat beer is to nobody's liking. That is because beer is made from grain and contains little or no acid. It needs the carbon dioxide gas to give it sharpness or life. Cider, made from apple juice, contains malic acid. This lends a freshness to the taste, even in the absence of gas. So still cider is an accepted style, while flat beer is always a failure.
Quality: This cider is not meant to win any prizes. Better results can be obtained with fresh apples, wine yeast, and a great deal more work and knowledge. But you can be assured that it is perfectly wholesome, because you know exactly what went into it. No preservatives, no chemicals, just juice and yeast.
Cheers! And thanks for reading!