Rough cider, or scrumpy, is trivial to make at home, and delicious. All you need is apples, a means of juicing them, and a source of yeast. For that matter, it’s trivial to make anything beer-like in strength. I’ve never understood jurisdictions that prohibit or limit home brewing – as is pointed out in the rather excellent Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, if you want 5% alcohol, you can get it by combining four litres of water, half a kilo of sugar and some yeast.
The absolute simplest way to make rough cider is to grab a couple of kilos of apples fresh from a tree if you have one, or from an orchard if not. You want apples off the tree – overripe, bruised or slightly squishy are fine, but not those dreadful shiny waxed things you get in the supermarket, because they’re not going to have any wild yeast on them anymore. Juice the apples, put the juice in a 1.5 litre plastic bottle and leave it sitting around at room temperature for a week or two. Open the lid to let the pressure off occasionally. The wild yeast that was on the apples will ferment the juice into a pulpy, cloudy cider. Or, you can put a pinch of brewers yeast (from a homebrew store, not the stuff you can buy as a nutritional supplement, which is likely dead and thus useless for our purposes here).
For larger batches you’ll need a 20-30 litre fermenter, and a couple of crates of apples:
Chop the apples up if necessary to run them through a juicer, or, better yet, use an apple press, then fill up the fermenter with the juice. If you’re using a juicer, this will take a couple of hours…
…I tend to discard the apples that are totally brown throughout, but actually they’re probably OK to use too (we have a friend whose benchmark is “if it’s so squishy that your fingers slide into it, ditch it, otherwise it’s good”)…
…but eventually you will have a full fermenter with a layer of froth on top. The froth can be discarded to make way for more juice if necessary.
If you’ve already made this cider before, and kept the yeasty sediment from the bottom of the previous batch in the fridge, toss that in as well. The fermentation will start much quicker than if you wait for the wild yeast on the apples to wake up. Here’s some sediment I prepared earlier:
Once the fermenter is full, make a note of the specific gravity of the liquid using a hydrometer. This is necessary to calculate the approximate percentage of alcohol later. Here, we’re starting with a reading of 1050:
I’ve also tapped off a litre or so into a plastic bottle in order to see what happens during fermentation (this is optional, but fun):
Finally, put the lid on and fit the airlock. This allows carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation:
Now, wait a week or two. The airlock will start bubbling while fermentation occurs, and will eventually stop once fermentation is complete. It’s possible the bubbling might stop before it’s fully fermented out if any of the seals are dodgy, so the best thing to do is use the hydrometer again to check for a stable specific gravity over a couple of days.
Here’s the bubbling airlock (complete with those weird little insects that desperately follow deteriorating fruit):
And here’s what the liquid in the plastic bottle looks like while fermenting:
Finally, I’ve got a specific gravity of about 1002:
To calculate the alcohol percentage, according to the formula included with Coopers homebrew beer kits, you subtract the final specific gravity from the original specific gravity, then divide by 7.46 and add 0.5 to account for priming sugar added when bottling. In this case, that’s 1050 – 1002 = 48 / 7.46 = 6.43% + 0.5 = 6.93%. If you search around on the internet you’ll find different formulas for calculating ABV, but I’ve never managed to find the One True Formula, which suggests to me that brewing, like breadmaking, pickling, meat curing and most other forms of interesting food and beverage production is largely the result of art and magic, delicately seasoned with science and sometimes including a pinch of religion.
At this point, I’ve taken to racking the liquid off into another fermenter for a couple of days prior to bottling in order to remove most of the sediment, which provides a clearer end product:
Here’s the yeasty goo at the bottom, which goes into the fridge to be used later to kickstart the next batch:
Finally, the cider is bottled in pints saved from a case of Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen. I use 0.5 tsp of white sugar for priming. After a couple of weeks in the bottle at room temperature, this results in a barely carbonated but quite lovely rough cider.