Make Your Own Booze: 40 Proof - 100% Legal

Anyone can make your own booze with this great-tasting, easy and simply hard cider recipe. And unlike brewing beer, there’s no expensive equipment to buy. Watch out, it's got a kick!

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - Step by Step Home Brew Instruction

Why Hard Cider?

I used to enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer at the end of the day, but it was getting too expensive to justify the luxury. Even if I cheaped out and bought box wine for $15 or a 30-pack case of Miller Highlife for $18, it still cost too much. 

I considered traditional home-brewing, but the start up costs were usually prohibitive. That is, until I came across ciderup.com’s ad in The Backwoodsman Magazine. They offer a hard cider brewing kit for $8, which includes a plastic airlock with cap, rubber stopper, 1 pack of champagne yeast and a printed copy of their hard cider recipe (their recipe is also available free from their website). 

Cider Up is an extremely low-overhead operation. Their kit came in a brown paper lunch sack with “ciderup.com” handwritten on it in Sharpie. It was wrapped in old newsprint and shipped in a used cardboard box.

Please don’t think I’m judging. I love that ciderup.com is creative and frugal, as any small business must be, and I was happy to help support them. I’ve ordered their products multiple times; shipping was fast and they answer emails within hours. But those expecting a polished, professional-looking brew kit should look elsewhere.

You still need a glass jug, 100% juice, and sugar. Instead of buying an empty glass jug from a brewing supply, I bought a 3 liter glass jug, conveniently filled with wine, for $9.99 from Walmart.

I buy 100% apple juice and sugar from Aldi’s (the cheapest I’ve found in my area). You can use juices other than apple, like cranberry, prune, grape or other blends for variety. However, apple juice is one of the cheapest.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - 100% Juice

Important - Three rules apply when selecting juice for your hard cider recipe:

  1. The juice must be 100% juice. Juice blends, like a cranberry cocktail, are fine, so long as they’re 100% juice.

  2. DO NOT use juice with high levels of citric acid. Orange, grapefruit, lemon or lime juice should never be used. High doses of citric acid can kill champagne yeast.

  3. Do NOT use juice containing sulfites. Many fruit juices, grape juice in particular, will naturally ferment over time, so bottlers add a sulfite preservative to prevent fermentation. These same sulfites will also prevent your home brew from working. If you wish to use grape juice, use frozen concentrates, which typically contain few, if any, preservatives. But always check the labels to make sure.
  • Update: Since buying the Cider Up kit, I’ve found that buying the pieces separately in bulk on Amazon is far cheaper. (Shocking, right?) At the time of this writing, I was able to buy 10 packs of Red Star champagne yeast for $5.50, shipping included. However, prices typically average $6.00 per 10 pack.
Red star champagne yeast for homebrew hard cider
  • NOTE: You can preserve yeast for years by storing it unopened in the freezer. I keep open packages of yeast, sealed with a chip bag clip, in the refrigerator until needed. My yeast has kept well for 8 weeks (the length of two hard cider brewing cycles), but can last for up to 6 months in the fridge.

And now for some math...

The Cider Up recipe calls for a teaspoon of yeast, but I’ve found you only need to use a 1/2 teaspoon per batch, allowing you to get 3 batches per packet of yeast. And, Cider Up even admits on their website that they probably use too much yeast in their hard cider recipe.

That means that the yeast I bought from Amazon cost $0.55 per pack ($5.50 / 10 packs) or about $0.18 cents per batch ($0.55 / 3 half teaspoons per pack).

Also, at the time of this writing, you can also buy a two pack of air locks with stoppers for $5.74, shipping included, on Amazon. These, along with the glass jugs, are one-time expenses. To get set up with two fermenters would cost $25.72 (two $9.99 glass jugs + $5.74 for two air locks & stoppers).

After the initial investment, the cost per batch of hard cider is quite cheap. The cheapest cider I make is from 100% apple juice. I pay $1.39 for two quarts. I use about 3 quarts per batch, so that’s roughly $2.09 in juice ($0.69 per quart x 3 quarts).

I also buy basic white sugar, in 4 pound bags, from Aldi’s for $1.68. One cup of sugar weighs about 6.5 ounces. There are 64 ounces (16 ounces per pound), or 9.8 cups of sugar (64 / 6.5), per 4 pound bag.

The sugar costs a little less than $0.03 per ounce ($1.68 / 64 ounces), or about $0.17 per cup ($0.03 per ounce x 6.5 ounces per cup). I use 4 cups of sugar per batch, which costs about $0.68 ($0.17 x 4 cups) per batch.

NOTE: The Cider Up recipe calls for a frustratingly vague "0-5 cups sugar". Quite a variation. After some trial and error, I've found that the 4 cups sugar used here is just about perfect.

Ingredient Cost per batch:

$0.18 for yeast
$0.68 for sugar
$2.09 for juice   
= $2.93 per batch

Obviously, the most expensive ingredient is the juice, so if you can harvest your own from your orchard or from the wild, the costs drop dramatically.

It takes approximately 1 month to make your own booze. With three fermenters in near constant production, I brew roughly 36 three-liter jugs of hard cider per year at a cost of $105.48 ($2.93 per batch x 36 batches). If I were to buy the equivalent amount of jugged wine, I’d spend $359.64 ($9.99 x 36).

That's a savings of $254.16 per year!

Home Brewing - Is It Legal?

As of this writing, it is 100% legal in the U.S. for an adult of legal drinking age to brew up to 100 gallons per year of beer, wine or cider for personal consumption. (Up to 200 gallons per household of 2 or more adults.) It becomes very illegal when you brew more than this, or try to distill it or sell it.

More on the law here.

Make Your Own Booze - Hard Apple Cider Recipe

My recipe, adapted from the Cider Up recipe, yields 3 liters:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. champagne yeast
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 liters 100% juice (about 3 quarts)

I also tested this recipe with a hydrometer and it yields a surprising 20% ABV (alcohol by volume) or 40 Proof. It is deceptively strong - with absolutely no distillation required to make your own booze. Drink responsibly!

Materials:

  • 3 liter glass jug
  • plastic air lock with stopper
  • 3 quart pot
  • wooden spoon
  • funnel
  • twist ties
  • juice containers (for the finished product)

Ready to make your own booze? Let's do it!

Directions:

1. Thoroughly clean all materials with warm soapy water.

hard apple cider recipe
hard apple cider recipe

2. Completely dissolve sugar in 1 quart of juice over low heat. This will take 5-10 minutes. Stir constantly to avoid caramelizing the sugar. When ready, the juice/sugar mixture will be clear.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - Redneck Thermometer

3. Check the temperature of the juice/sugar mixture every few minutes. (Over heating can kill the yeast!) It should be warm, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Do NOT heat above 120 Fahrenheit.

If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, periodically dip your finger in the liquid as it warms up. If you cannot keep your finger in for more than 3 seconds, it is too hot. If so, remove from heat and let cool.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - adding champagne yeast

4. Pour yeast into the glass jug.

hard apple cider recipe
hard apple cider recipe

5. Once at the proper temperature, pour juice/sugar mixture through the funnel into the glass jug. It’s easier to first pour the mixture into another pitcher, then into the jug. But if you have a steady hand, it's not necessary.

NOTE: At this point, the Cider Up recipe tells you to cap and shake the mixture. I’ve found that this is not necessary, though doing so will not hurt anything. The yeast will work either way.

hard apple cider recipe
hard apple cider recipe

6. Finish pouring the rest of the juice into the jug. Make sure the remaining juice isn’t too hot, nor too cold. Room temperature is fine.

Stop pouring 3 inches from the top. The mixture will froth when the yeast starts working and you don’t want it getting into the air lock.

hard apple cider recipe
hard apple cider recipe

7. Insert the plastic air lock into the rubber stopper. Remove the air lock cap and fill with water to the “Max Fill” line. Place the cap on the air lock.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - secure the stopper

8. Insert the air lock and stopper into the jug. You’ll probably need to secure it by winding a twist tie around the rim of the jug and over the stopper. The stopper has a tendency to work its way back out, especially if the stopper is wet or is a little too big for the bottle.

Warning: The air lock allows pressure to escape while keeping the mixture free from contaminates. Do NOT attempt to cap the jug without a pressure release during the brew cycle. The jug may explode!

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - make a fancy label

9. Make a label with the date and type of mixture (“apple cider”, “grape cider”, etc.) and stick it on the jug. This will help you track when your brew is ready.

hard apple cider recipe
hard apple cider recipe

Within a few hours, the yeast will evenly disperse throughout the mixture on their own and will begin to produce a frothy head.

Within 12-24 hours, the yeast should be in full production converting the sugar into alcohol. The byproduct is carbon dioxide and should be seen streaming up the sides of the jug, pushing bubbles through the airlock.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - store brew in warm place

10. Place the jug in a warm spot for the most effective fermentation. I keep my jugs on top of my fridge. Keeping them near the ceiling ensures they’re in the warmest part of the room, plus the residual heat rising from the refrigerator condenser helps keep them warm on cold nights.

You should continue seeing bubbles consistently going through the air lock (about 1 per second) for the first couple of weeks. After that, the rate will slow.

At the end of week four, there should be about one bubble going through the air lock every 60 seconds.

Do NOT rush the fermentation process. If the yeast is still working, wait until the bubbles reduce in frequency.

How to Tell Your Homemade Hard Cider Recipe is Working:

Once the brew is ready, remove the air lock and stopper and pour the hard cider into different containers. The containers your juice came in work well for this. This frees up your glass jug to begin another brewing cycle.

Homemade Hard Cider Recipe - leftover yeast

If you’re careful, the yeast will remain caked to the bottom of the glass jug during the pour.

With the yeast removed from the mixture, it is safe to cap the plastic containers, as the residual CO2 produced is minimal.

How to clean glass jug after brewing homemade hard apple cider

NOTE: The easiest way to clean old yeast from the bottom of your glass jug is to rinse with hot, soapy water from your kitchen faucet sprayer immediately after you pour the finished hard cider into different containers. This will make it so much easier when you are ready to make your own booze in the future.

homemade hard apple cider - finished product

Store your hard cider in the refrigerator. Serve chilled. Enjoy!

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