When starting out on a homebrew adventure for the first time, many people struggle with what they should make. Ideally, a first brew is easy to put together, somewhat fast to mature, and be low on equipment costs. Hard apple cider makes a great first choice for any home brewer, and tastes absolutely fantastic if a proper recipe is followed. Continual adjustments can then be made to make the cider truly your own. Many home brewers never stop producing cider because it is a great seasonal drink that is not widely available in grocery or liquor stores.
If you’ve decided to make hard apple cider for the first time, you have probably already thought about the dilemma of using apples versus apple juice or cider already bottled and ready to go. Both of these are valid options, and which route you go will depend on three main questions that you will have to ask yourself: How much time and money do I want to invest? Am I fine with a potential failed batch? And do I want the results to be consistent over time? Let’s take a look at how each of these questions is relevant to cider production.
To tackle the first question right away, making cider using fresh apples is going to take a lot more time, and probably cost a fair amount more cash. It is necessary to find not only a farm where you will be able to get a massive amount of great-tasting apples, but also to rent and operate an apple juicer. This type of commercial juicer can cost over a hundred dollars to use for just one day, but is truly crucial to getting a good cider from the apples harvested.
On top of the cost of rental, adding all the apples and collecting the juice will take a lot of time and energy, plus a lot of empty containers. On the plus side, your end product will likely taste a decent margin better than using apple juice alone because of the freshness of the apples used.
The second question of failed batches is a very real issue when using fresh apples. Commercial apple juice or even cider is very streamlined, and you are likely to get the same exact results every time you brew. With actual apples, however, there are a large number of things that could go wrong. The sugar and acidity levels could be imbalanced, there could be natural fungus and bacteria growing on the apples which could cause a disturbance, and the apples just might have a taste which is non-conducive to hard cider. Using commercially available juice guarantees a good batch of hard cider every time.
Consistency is a third issue which is slightly less important than the first two. While a huge time investment and potential for failure can be big deal breakers for a majority of new home brewers, consistency is something more about individual taste than anything. While a beginner may want to achieve results exactly like those found in online forums for his or her own pride of completion, the reality is that a cider which follows a generally good recipe will turn out good in the majority of cases, even if the taste is slightly different.
So whether you’re looking to make your first brew of hard cider, or you’re a cider veteran, the choice to use fresh apples or pre-packaged commercial apple juice to brew is your decision. Look at the factors, compare the benefits, brew, and be merry. Just remember, home brewing is a hobby which is meant to be fun! Even if a couple of brews don’t turn out perfectly, the hobby is a great way to learn a few things, make a few friends, and even have a few drinks.