I was first introduced to hard cider by a college friend. She had just come back from studying abroad in Wales, and there she discovered this awesome drink called Strongbow. I was just 21 and still naïve to the broad, glorious range of intoxicating beverages available – my repertoire at the time consisted of amaretto sour, capt’n-coke and Bud Light.
But I bravely ventured forth and tried this “Strongbow” stuff. And it was love. And then I graduated and moved to Cleveland and dated a guy named Paul. He found a bar close to my apartment that served Strongbow, and so we went there every Sunday to drink cider and play Scrabble. It didn’t last, but my devotion to hard cider grew ever stronger.
Fast forward: Rob, the Husband of Awesome, MADE me a batch of apfelwein, and then TAUGHT me how to make it myself. You can see where he gets the nickname. Anyway, apfelwein is German for apple-wine, but can be also translated as “hard cider.” And now that the first batch is done, it’s time for a good challenge.
Challenge: Apfelwein (Hard Cider)
Strongbow contains fermented apple juice (perhaps from concentrate, perhaps not), sugars, water, citric acid, ascorbic acid and sulfur dioxide.
EdWort’s Apfelwein recipe is as follows:
5 gallons of preservative-free apple juice (ascorbic acid the only allowed preservative for this recipe)
2 lbs. corn sugar (dextrose, not high fructose corn syrup)*
1 package Red Star Montrachet (A wine yeast)*
You will also need: One carboy or plastic bucket, one airlock, one stopper or carboy cap, one funnel, food-safe sanitizer.*
* You can find these products at your local brewing store. Or, Rob the HoA tells me they’re all widely available through the wonders of the Internet.
To make your apfelwein, start by sanitizing everything. The carboy, the stopper, the airlock, the funnel, your hands. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. This prevents any bacteria from getting into your drink and screwing with the final product.
Repeat the pouring and shaking with the other open juice bottle. Then add both sugared juice halves to the carboy, and top off with two-and-a-half more gallons o’ juice. This leaves you with one half-full bottle of juice.
Yay! Now, re-hydrate your yeast in a cup of warm water for 5-ish minutes. Add your yeast to the carboy. There will be a bit of yeast-gunk on the neck of the carboy/funnel – use most of the remaining apple juice to rinse it down into your apple juice-sugar-yeast mixture. You don’t need a huge amount of space left at the top of the carboy, but you still probably won’t be able to make all 5 gallons of the juice fit. That’s okay.
Now, close off the carboy with the cap, and add your airlock. Transport to a dark, dry place and celebrate your successful start to apfelwein.
In about 6 weeks (or up to 8, if you have that kind of patience), or once the mixture has gone from cloudy to clear, you’re ready to do one of three things:
1) Drink! It won’t be carbonated, but it will be delicious.
2) Add it to sanitized bottles (2-liter soda bottles are ideal) with a few tablespoons of corn sugar in the bottom. This will give you carbonated apfelwein after 3 to 4 weeks of hanging out at room temperature.
3) Keg it and, with the help of a kegerator and a CO2 tank, carbonate and cool it for about a week.
Time and Cost Comparison
The store-bought version cost us $1.69 per 12 ounce bottle, or $0.13 per ounce. And it was, of course, very quick and easy to buy.
The homemade version comes out to $20.10 and produces 5 gallons, give or take an ounce or two. That comes to $0.03 per oz. It takes about 45 minutes to get fermenting in the carboy, 6 to 8 weeks to fully ferment, and up to 4 more weeks to carbonate (if you opt for a carbonated version). So, it’s not fast. At all.
The only main difference between the two apfelweins is sulfur dioxide, which is a preservative, and also a very common component in wines and winemaking.
Alcohol Content Comparison
The store-bought version has 5% alcohol by volume.
The homemade version has about 9% alcohol by volume.
Sooooo good. Both of them. Strongbow is a bit sweeter, a bit thicker, a bit heavier. EdWort’s Apfelwein is drier, lighter, and brighter. Bright isn’t technically a flavor, but I don’t know how else to describe it – it’s a clear, pure flavor that makes me think of sunshine, the same way fresh oranges in February do.
2, and only because you have to sanitize stuff. Other than that, it’s really really easy. The hardest part is waiting 6 weeks (or longer) to try your beverage.
DIY or BUY?
DIY. The main deciding factor here is the cost – you can make a heckuva lot of apfelwein for very little money, and as long as you sanitize and store properly, it will stay good for more than a year. Now, if you’re impatient, and want to drink a commercial apfelwein while you wait for your homebrew to get finished, I won’t blame you a bit. But once you get going, take the advice of EdWort: Start a second batch a few weeks after your first has settled into its carboy. You won’t regret it.
Rob the HoA also recommends that I emphasize the dryness of this particular recipe. It’s not a sweet drink – it has the bite of a dry white wine. It is very, very dry. If you like sweet ciders, try a different recipe, or buy a sweet hard cider.