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Brew your own cider for $50 or less

Ever find yourself in a package store or a bar, wishing you knew how to make your own brew? Well, it’s not as difficult as you think.

Brewing homemade hard cider from apple cider is fun, legal and surprisingly easy. It’s also steeped in American tradition; historically, hard cider was the drink of choice in America before beer became popular. Even George Washington himself got in on the hobby, brewing his own brand of hard cider.

To take on this time-honored seasonal tradition for yourself, you won’t need much, just the right amount of patience, along with the following instruments and ingredients:

-A five-gallon plastic container ($20, Target) or plastic gasoline container ($10-$20, Wal-Mart). Although I used a gas can the first time I tried this, it’s probably safer to use the five-gallon container to better keep an eye on your alcohol.

– Two to three feet of rubber tubing (Under $10, Aubuchon Hardware or Home Depot,). It doesn’t hurt to bring in your container to find the right-sized tubing that will best fit your container’s hole;  just make sure it’s not too big.

– Preservative-free apple cider. You will need as many gallons as you wish to make. Be sure to check the ingredients before purchasing your cider, since it must be preservative-free. Avoid ciders with sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate in the ingredients, otherwise it will not ferment. The cheapest preservative-free cider is available at Wal-Mart seasonally under the brand name Musselman’s, but quality brewing cider can be obtained at Atkins Farms.

– Duct tape. If you don’t have duct tape, then you need to restock.

– Yeast. You can buy packets of yeast at a relatively inexpensive price at Stop & Shop under the brand name Fleischmann’s.

– Bleach.

The first step in brewing begins with the sterilization process. Be sure to sterilize the equipment with a bleach solution to prevent potentially harmful bacteria from growing in your booze. Sterilize anything that will touch your cider including the inside of the brewing container and the rubber tubing. It is also extremely important to thoroughly wash out any remaining bleach. Once everything is sterilized, you’re ready to get started.

An optional step would be to cook your store-bought cider over a stove top for sterilization purposes. If you choose to do this, heat the cider at a medium temperature for at least 30 minutes with frequent stirring. Do not allow the cider to boil, or the result will come out cloudy and not look right. Again, this step is optional. If you choose not to boil the cider, your final product may taste a bit off, but will still be edible and tasty.

Another optional step is pitching your yeast to get it ready for brewing. To do this, you need to add your packet of yeast to warm cider. The cider should be warm to the touch, but not hot. Wait until the yeast starts bubbling (should be 5-10 minutes) before it is ready to add. Your cider should brew just fine without this step, but will brew faster if included.

Now, add room-temperature cider to your sterilized brewing container. The cider cannot be cold, otherwise the yeast will not grow. Leave your cider out for 24 hours before adding the yeast. One packet should work just fine, as your yeast will be actively dividing as it converts the sugars to alcohol. If you took the time to prepare your yeast as previously described, that’s even better; throw it right in.

This next step may be the most important in the whole brewing procedure. Insert the rubber tubing inside the hole of your containe, and form an air-tight seal. The rubber tubing must be above the liquid level so that gas can escape. Creating an air-tight seal is important; if air is allowed into your container, it will not brew. Use the duct tape to wrap the tubing until no air is let in or out. Check by blowing into the other end of the tubing and see if air escapes. If no air comes out from anywhere, you’re doing well.

The last step in your brewing setup is to form a ‘U’ shape with the extra tubing sticking out of the container and fill it with water. Use duct tape once more to form the ‘U’ shape and secure it to the brewing container. By adding water and filling the bottom of the U, you effectively have made your own brewery. The water allows gas that is created by the yeast to escape, but keeps air from the environment out.

Your booze should begin brewing within hours. Wait two to six weeks before opening and then enjoy. I recommend siphoning the cider out and leaving the inch or so of yeast at the bottom. You can bottle the cider and let it age – the longer the better – or drink it right away.

Congratulations, you have just made hard cider!

Brendan Murphy can be reached at brendanm@student.umass.edu.

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