Hard cider is a great change from beer for your Fall or Spring kegerator selection. Made from apples or pears, hard cider is fun to make at home. If you are not a home brewer, great varieties are also available commercially from quality keg stores. Cider is a drink common to the northern hemisphere, especially in England. The U.S. and Canada have experienced a boom in cider production along with the micro-brew revolution of the last 20 years or so.
Cider is a drink that is traditionally associated with the fall and the apple harvest. Apples that were still good but unfit for market sale could be mashed into juice, apple sauce, apple pie and strudel, or made into cider and even applejack (apple brandy). Ciders have traditionally been made with apples, pears, peaches, and even mixed with honey. Admixtures of herbs like Ginger and mulling spices make a great addition to a cider's taste.
Cider can be made from scratch, with an apple press, or from apple juice. If you plan on making your own cider, we recommend the following recipe for the beginner:
The idea is to boil the apple juice with the ginger chunks, leaving the chunk in the cider the whole time, even throughout the fermentation process. Bring the apple juice to a boil, then add the sugar, but not the honey. Boil the cider for about 30 minutes, then allow it to cool down to about 68 degrees Celsius. Now, add the honey and mix it in well. Chill the wort completely now, add to primary fermenter, and pitch your yeast. It is important not to cook the honey at high temperatures, as this alters the chemical make-up of the honey.
After two weeks of fermentation, switch the cider to a secondary fermentation vessel. After two to four more weeks, the cider should be ready either for bottling or keg conditioning. One option for keg conditioning is to add a can of apple juice concentrate to the keg instead of ¾ cup priming sugar. This should give a nice bonus sweetness as well as provide carbonation for your cider.
In England, hard cider is the inexpensive drink found in all beer and liquor stores. Ubiquitous brands such as White Lightning, Diamond White, Frosty Jack, and White Strike replace the cheapest spectrum of the alcohol selection you usually find in the U.S.. Where, in the United States, you might find Old English, Schlitz, or Cammo, in England you will find a much tastier low cost beverage. Although these brands are probably made with much more white sugar than apple sugars. Cider is a considered a bit fancier (and more expensive) in the U.S.
Cider is getting more and more circulation in the U.S. Kegs of Babyscham Sparkling Pear Cider, Blackthorn Dry Cider, and Strongbow Cider, all from England, as well as Wyder's Apple, Pear, Peach, and Raspberry Ciders, from Canada, can be found at quality keg outlets for the price of import beers. Domestic ciders can also be found, usually at the same price of microbrews. Magner's Cider and Woodchuck's Amber and Pear Ciders can be found domestically, and occasionally ACE cider.
Considering the market potential, as realized in the U.K., for hard cider, it is surprising that inexpensive hard ciders have not attacked the U.S. markets. The U.K. consumes a lot of cider - in fact, the U.K.'s leading cider manufacturer, H.P. Bulmer, leads not only the U.K., but the world, producing 500 million liters of cider per year. Cider is already popular in France, Australia, Sweden, Argentina, and other countries. Cider is truly a drink loved around the world.
For an alcoholic version of this cider recipe please see our version of Mulled Spice Apple Beer.