Apfelwein (Hard Cider)

21 Dec
comparing Strongbow and homemade apfelweins

Strongbow vs. homemade

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.

True story.

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.

sanitizing equipment

Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize

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.

pouring apple juice into the carboy

The juice is loose!

Now, you most likely have five single-gallon bottles of juice. Open two of them, and pour half of the first open bottle into the carboy. Add one pound of dextrose to the last half of juice in the bottle, recap and shake.
shaking the sugar and juice

Shake it, shake it

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.

pouring yeast into the carboy

Just add yeast

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.

Filled carboy, ready to go to storage

Now, store it for 6 weeks.

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.

Ingredient Comparison

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.

Taste Comparison

Taste-testing the homemade apfelwein

Taste-testing the homemade batch

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.

PITA Factor

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. 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.


13 Responses to “Apfelwein (Hard Cider)”

  1. Dani Ausen 12/27/2010 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi Amanda! I went ahead and read your ENTIRE BLOG (yes, each and every posting) while I was supposed to be designing your website. I love it. Keep up the good work.

    Now, Back to work. 😉


    • Junie 09/13/2011 at 9:43 pm #

      I just tried this homemade apfelwein for the first time tonight and WOW. It is SOOO delicious! I can’t believe how easy and cheap it is. Thank you so much! 🙂

      • Amanda 09/14/2011 at 4:40 pm #

        Yay! So glad to hear it worked out for you – this is by far one of my favorite beverages.

  2. Billy Irish 12/13/2011 at 12:14 am #

    Cool post. As soon as I get my hands on a carboy I’m definitely gonna try this. It seems absurdly easy.

    • Amanda 12/13/2011 at 8:24 am #

      It IS absurdly easy – and its a great way to get into brewing, if that’s where you’re heading. Have fun!

  3. Tebbs 01/01/2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Like everything else, always great to see homebrewing, but Strongow does not count as cider. Proper cider is found in the West Country or Herefordshire. http://www.westons-cider.co.uk/. Order some stuff from here if you want to try real cider.

  4. Johny 03/22/2012 at 11:37 pm #

    I brewed two batches some time ago, 5 gallon and a gallon jug. Me and my brother drank the one gallon and quarter of the five gallon. Long story short we had to much. I forgot the days after, that I had stored it out in the cold of winter inside a scrap van parked in the yard (tinted windows). Not being able to recall where I stored it, I thought my brother took it and possibly lived on it for an entire weekend. A year later when I finally decided to work on the van I found it stashed and setbelted to one of the seats in the back. It even had the airlock on!

    I tried it and it was even better than when we first tried it straight from the carboy. It was a year to the day. I and brother killed it that day, and it damn well near killed us. Very high alcohol. Very bad overhang the next day.

  5. christopher shuck 08/22/2012 at 4:12 pm #

    I first Made Apfelwein When I was 15, after coming back from a family trip to Germany. This is the BOMB. As a side note (perhaps a different version) you can also wait until ferment is complete and then add some priming sugar and bottle in champagne bottles. You will get a very dry sparkling apple wine.

    Another method Ive used is to Brew a batch of mead at the same time and serve the two mixed. Yes apples and honey DO go together.

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