The missus wants me to brew cider for her. Can I do that?
Sure you can. Cider is easy. It's even easier than beer.
Cool! She wants something like Rekorderlig. Can I do that?
That's a bit harder. Those ciders need a bunch of extra processing to make them come out so sweet. Its really hard to make something like Rekorderlig but you can make a really nice cider.
Humm... Ok... will it still get me laid?
Sweet! Ok so how do I start?
Easy. All you need is apple juice and yeast. Any apple juice will do as long as its preservative free.
Juice and yeast. Is that all?
What juice? Do I need to pick apples?
Get the best, most flavourful juice you can. Because juice is the main ingredient in a cider, it contributes more than anythign else to the flavour. Get the best you can. Picking apples allows you to blend the juice from different types to tweak the flavour but you can make a fine cider from regular apple juice.
So supermarket juice is OK?
Yep. Bear in mind though that really good ciders are made from special cider apples, not regular apple juice so while it will make a good cider, it won't make a great cider. Cider apples are hard to find here unless you live in apple country or grow them yourself. You can approximate cider apples by blending several types of eating and cooking apples together. If you want really great cider, you will need to go pick apples. But supermarket juice is a great place to start.
What yeast would you recommend?
Beer gets a lot of its flavour from the yeast. Cider though is more like wine. Most of the flavour comes from the fruit and minimal from the yeast. It does make some difference but not much. There are some special cider yeasts on the market. Wyeast 4766 is a good one. Any good white wine yeast will do nicely though. One thing to note here is that regardless of the yeast selection, your cider will most likely ferment out dry. Apple juice is all simple sugars so even if a yeast says 70% attenuation on the data sheet, that will be calibrated on a beer wort which contains complex sugars. in a cider, assume that all yeasts have 100% attenuation. They will eat all the sugar and leave you with a dry cider.
How strong will my cider be?
Depends on the juice. Normally in the 5-8% range.
Can I make it stronger?
Yes. If you want it stronger, just add sugar. You can add different sugars to get extra flavour. Honey is nice. Brown sugar is good too. Maple is lovely but expensive.
Really strong? I mean.. like REALLY strong?
*sigh* yes. If you want rocket fuel just pick a yeast with a high alcohol tolerance and keep adding sugar. Just don't invite me over to drink it with you.
What temperature do you ferment cider at?
Depends on the yeast. Most wine yeasts have a range of 14-25ish. Cider will benefit from a longer, slower fermentation so whatever yeast you use, try to go with something at the low end of its range.
How long will it take?
Fermentation will usually take between 1 and 4 weeks depending on yeast and temperature. Cider will benefit from some aging so leave it alone for 4-6 weeks and it will improve no end. Cider was traditionally brewed in autumn, aged over the winter and drunk in spring.
My cider tastes too dry.
Ciders will usually end up dry because the juice is all simple sugars. The yeast will chew through it all and leave it dry. If you want something sweeter, you need to add some extra, unfermentable sweetness. You can;'t just add sugar because the yeast will eat that as well. You need something that won't ferment. Lactose is traditional. Your other alternative is to sweeten when you serve. Add a shot of something sweet to the glass as you pour. Apple juice works. So does sugar syrup, honey, or if you want something really like Rekorderlig, some cordial. If you keg, you can sweeten the keg and keep it cold to prevent re-fermentation. You can also try artificial sweeteners. I think they taste foul but some people don't mind them.
My cider tastes a bit ... you know... meh.
Great cider is made from cider apples that contain sugar, acid and tannin. Most eating apples contain just sugar. Most shop bought juices are made from eating apples so they lack acid and tannin. You can add some grape tannin and some malic acid to compensate. You can get both from the brewshop. You can also add acid by juicing up some cooking apples and adding around 5-10% of your volume as cooking apple juice. Tannin is hard without cider apples.
There is no foam on the fermenter. What have I done wrong?
Nothing. Most of the time, ciders are low in protein which means they won't hold a stable foam. That means much less foam on the fermenter. This is also why cider's won't hold a head like beer.
How do I carbonate it?
Same as a beer.
What are OzTops? I keep hearing about them.
They are a plastic gizmo that lets you brew small batches of cider in a 3l juice bottle.
Do I need them?
Nope. They can be handy and are a good way to do small batch ciders but an airlock and a bung will let you do the same.
Can I really brew in a 3l apple juice bottle?
Yep. Just tip out (or drink) some of the juice and add yeast. Put the cap on loosely and away you go. Be careful though. You can't carbonate in those bottles. They aren't designed to take pressure so they will go foom and you will end up with cider everywhere.
Where do I go from here?
You have a few batches under your belt. The world is your oyster. Your regular cidermaking has translated into regular sex with your significant other. Other men regard you with a mixture of awe and terror. You are king of all you survey. But you want more.
You can take your cidermaking to the next level by looking into making seasonal ciders from freshly picked and juiced apples. I do warn you though that madness lies down that road. Soon you will have a cider press. Then you will have an orchard. Cider will consume your life and you will die a broken man from sheer sexual exhaustion.