*This article, Where to Start: Home Brewed Cider, first appeard on killingthyme.net
In my last post I wanted to inspire as many people to start home brewing as I possibly could. There’s several reasons for this. 1. It’s fun 2. It’s SATISFYING (nothing like drinking one of your own handcrafted drinks) and 3. You inevitably gain a new appreciation for beer, cider, and wine. Sure, it can be frustrating from time to time especially when a brew doesn’t turn out, but this hobby is as much about learning as it is about enjoying a beverage. I’m often asked by people who are looking to start, “What brew should I start with and what equipment do I need to brew it?”. Let’s jump in and I’ll attempt to answer without being long winded.
What Brew Should I start with?
Good question! I’m glad you asked. Honestly, this isn’t as easy to answer because it ultimately depends on your personal preferences. You should be asking yourself “What do I like to drink?” and allow that question to guide you. My brewing interests are broad so I knew that beer, hard ciders and mead (my first batch isn’t even done yet) were something I wanted try. However, in the beginning all I wanted to make was beer because that’s what I saw every other home brewer do. And, if I’m honest, my pretentious ways wanted to jump on the sophisticated craft beer band wagon as quickly as possible. I jumped in with both feet and failed miserably. The ratio of successful brews to unsuccessful ones was something like 3:1, pretty disheartening and expensive for a newbie. Which is why when I’m asked, “Where should I start?” I immediately answer; cider.
Right around the time I was miserably failing at home brewing i had some friends who began to make cider and informed me how easy it was. It sounded exactly what I needed to do in order to get some confidence back. I was right, it turned out great and after a few batches of cider I had the courage to try making beer again. Now, this may sound like some sort of male-ego-bravado-stroking kind of thing, but it isn’t. Gaining confidence as a brewer is essential. Trust me having some successful home-brews under your belt is good for your young home brewing soul. Apart from giving you confidence, brewing cider offers a lot of benefits to new brewers. First, it teaches you proper brewing techniques like cleaning and sanitizing. The majority of my early mistakes came down to me being lazy in this area. Of course you can learn proper cleaning and sanitization habits starting with beer but for whatever reason I found it easier to learn with ciders. Second, brewing cider is easy, cheap and tasty. The ingredient list can literally be 2 ingredients, apple juice and yeast. Oh and that can cost you as little as $25.00 for a 5 gallon batch. Worth it? Yeah I think so! Third, brewing cider allows you to collect all the essential equipment you need to move onto more difficult brews.
What Equipment Do I Need?
The nice thing about brewing cider is that you only need the essentials to do it. No giant brew pots, mash tuns, or wort chillers. Here’s a list of what I consider to be the crucial pieces. The nice thing about these is that they are all 100% transferable to other beverages you might be interested in brewing.
Carboys and Airlocks.
No matter what you are brewing you need a container to ferment your liquid in. Traditionally home brewers have used 5 gallon glass carboys, but many have begun switching to plastic carboys and pails. This is good news for those of you who are starting out. kijiji.ca and craigslist.com is full of people looking to sell off their old carboys for cheap. I personally use glass carboys and like them. Except for that one time that a full batch of 6 month oak aged apple wine slipped out of my hands and shattered all over my basement floor. Lesson learned, dry your damn hands before trying to transport heavy ass wine. Com’n Jared, sigh. I bought all of mine for $15.00 a piece.
Auto Siphon and Large Funnel.
These are worth their weight in gold. It’s a good thing too because they’re super light. Getting large amounts of liquid to and from vessels can be difficult but these make it so easy! They are the best. I use them and you'll be glad to have them. You can expect to spend $10.00-$20.00 each. Oh and don’t forget the tubing.
Bottles, Bottling Bucket, Bottling Wand.
Once your cider is finished fermenting, your going to need a way to store it. You’ll need 40-50 bottles for a 5 gallon batch. Again, look on kijiji or craigslist to see if anyone is selling flip top bottles. They’re reusable, cheap and can usually acquire them for a $1.00 a piece. If you are looking to buy new, you’ll be looking at $2.50-$3.50 a bottle. Bottling buckets and bottling wand are going to cost you about $30.00.
Last and most certainly not least you need to be able to clean all of your equipment. This is for sure the most important step in all of the brewing process. Without proper cleaning and sanitation you’ll end up with nasty tasting liquids. Do not cheap out in this area, buy the best of the best, You’ll be happy that you did. You’ll need high quality cleaner and no rinse sanitizer, bottle rinser, bottle brush and carboy brush. Put them to good use. You’ll spend about $60.00-$70.00 to get what you need.
So there you have it. If you want a basic yet simple recipe to try I recommend my Raspberry Cider I made last year. I loved it and I think you might as well! Have fun Brewing everyone!