I love sparkling cider. Love it. It feels just as special now as it did when I was seven and sipping it (carefully...so carefully!) from one of my grandma's best champagne flutes. I always have a spare bottle stashed away this time of year, just in case the need should present itself. Although lately, those bottles have been plain brown swing-tops and they've filled with my homemade version of this bubbly treat.
I've been a brewing madwoman for the past year while working on the sodas, kombuchas, beers, and wines for my upcoming book True Brews. Even after all this brewing, I am still amazed by how truly easy it is to make things like sparkling cider at home. All you do is add a bit of yeast to some juice, bottle in recycled soda bottles, and wait for it to carbonate. Presto chango, fizzy soda!
You can make sparkling cider with anything from fresh-pressed cider from the farmers' market to Tree Top apple juice from the grocery store. But you can probably already guess that the cider from the farmers' market is going to be a whole heck of a lot tastier than the apple juice. Bottom line: pick an apple cider or apple juice that tastes good to you and that you would enjoy drinking on its own.
There is enough natural sugar in apple cider and apple juice to provide food for the yeast and carbonate the cider — no need to add any extra. But if you want to infuse the cider with cinnamon, vanilla, or any other spices before you add the yeast, by all means go for it! If you warm the cider to steep the spices, just make sure the cider has completely cooled before adding the yeast.
It's really hard to go wrong here. No matter what, you end up with one of the freshest, most effervescent, and tastiest sparkling ciders you've ever had.
1 gallon apple cider or apple juice
1/4 teaspoon dry champagne yeast or baker's yeast (see note)
Fork or whisk
2 two-liter soda bottles, 4 one-liter soda bottles, or 7 sixteen-ounce swing-top bottles with 1 sixteen-ounce soda bottle (see note)
• Clean Your Bottles and Equipment: Wash all your equipment and bottles with soap and water, and thoroughly rinse. It's not necessary to sanitize equipment for this mini-brewing project, but cleanliness is still important.
• Use Bottles Meant For Carbonation: Only make sparkling cider in bottles intended for carbonation. Soda bottles and glass swing-top bottles are specifically designed to withstand the pressure of carbonation. Other bottles, even the original container the cider came in, can break or shatter under the pressure.
• Refrigerate When Carbonated: Refrigerate the sparkling cider as soon as the plastic bottles feel rock-solid to the touch. Refrigeration puts the yeast on hold and prevents the cider from over-carbonating. There is some margin for error here, but left un-refrigerated, the pressure will continue to build and the bottles will eventually break.
1. Dissolve the Yeast: Pour a half cup or so of the cider into a small measuring cup. If the cider is cold, warm it in the microwave in 5 second bursts until it feels lukewarm to the touch. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve completely. (If you're not sure your yeast is still active, let this solution stand until you see small bubbles collecting on the surface of the cider.)
2. Pour the Yeast Back into the Cider: Pour the dissolved yeast back into the container of cider. Seal and shake to thoroughly distribute the yeast.
3. Divide the Cider Between Bottles: Insert the funnel into the mouth of one of your bottles. Fill with cider, cap, and label with the date. Repeat with your remaining bottles.
NOTE: If you are bottling in swing-top bottles, also fill one plastic 16-ounce (or smaller) soda bottle. Since it's hard to tell when cider in glass bottles are fully carbonated, this soda bottle will serve as your indicator.
4. Let the Cider Carbonate: Store the bottles of cider somewhere dark and at room temperature to carbonate. The cider is carbonated when the plastic bottles feel rock-solid to the touch. This will take about 24 hours at an average room temperature of 70°F-75°F; the cider will carbonate more quickly at warmer temperatures and more slowly at cooler temperatures.
5. Refrigerate the Cider: Refrigerate the cider as soon as it is fully carbonated. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving, or for up to two weeks. Open bottles very slowly over a sink in case the cider gushes. Refrigerate any cider that isn't consumed after opening.
• Champagne Yeast vs. Baker's Yeast: I recommend seeking out champagne yeast at your local brewing supply store or online (at a store like Northern Brewer). This yeast makes sparkling cider with a clean, bright flavor and small effervescent bubbles. Baker's yeast can be used if you're desperate for cider, but I think it tends to make the cider taste yeasty. (Store any un-used yeast in a sealed container in the freezer.)
• Alcohol In Sparkling Cider: Some alcohol is always made when yeast is used to ferment a beverage. However, the brief fermentation time for sparkling cider prevents it from becoming very alcoholic. Sparkling cider is typically less than 1% alcohol when brewed as directed.
• Making Hard Cider: Yes, you can make hard cider just by letting the cider continue to ferment! Instead of bottling it right away, you'll want to seal the bottle with a fermentation lock to allow carbon dioxide to escape. Also, use two teaspoons of yeast to really get fermentation going. Once fermentation has finished, you can then bottle the hard cider. A fermentation lock and other equipment for brewing hard cider can be purchased at your local brewing supply store or online (at a store like Northern Brewer).