Apple cider vinegar is one of the most useful and flavorful of all the vinegar varieties. While it is readily available at the grocery store, you can make much better apple cider vinegar right there at home, adjusting the flavor to your personal likes and needs. If you have apple trees on your homestead, making your own vinegar is a great way of using them and makes for one less thing you’ve got to put on the grocery list.
The type of apples used in apple cider vinegar will affect the flavor a lot. Typically, you’ll want to use more than one type of apple, combining sweet and sour apples. Since I like a sour vinegar, I use 1/3 Golden Delicious apples with 2/3 Granny Smith.
The apple mix that I use for apple cider vinegar will probably be much different than one I would settle on for hard cider that I am going to drink. A little bit of experimentation will be required to find the mix of apples which gives you the flavor that you prefer.
I’m going to explain how to make apple cider vinegar, starting from apples and making hard cider out of them. However, there are other ways of making it as well. You can make apple cider vinegar directly from apples, without making the cider or fermenting it. You can also make it directly from peels and cores cut from apples used for canning, applesauce, apple butter or apple pies. I like to do that, in order to get the most out of my apples.
Making the Hard Cider
Start by juicing the apples. One bushel of apples will provide about three gallons of juice. I don’t have an apple press, so I juice them in a standard juicer. I always make sure to squeeze out the pulp from the juicer, straining it through a piece of cheesecloth, as about 10 percent of the cider will always still be in the pulp.
The squeezed out pulp is still useful, although not for apple cider vinegar. It can be used for making apple sauce, apple butter, or just for baking in cakes and breads. Whatever you do, don’t throw it away, as it is still useful. At times I feed it to the chickens, when I don’t have any other need for it. By the way, it will freeze fine, so you can use it at a later date.
Chief Instructor here: I take the pulp from fruit ciders and wines, as well as the spent grains from beer, and give them to a friend who has a couple of hogs. At slaughter time, I always seem to end up with a couple of nice chops. Last time, I got 20 pounds or so of pure, white fat that I use in my sausage recipes. Just sayin’…
Once the cider is squeezed out of the apples, it’s a good idea to pasteurize it. Not everyone does this, but there are a couple of advantages to it. First of all, it will kill any bacteria in the apple cider which might affect the taste. At the same time, it will kill any naturally occurring wild yeast. Although it is possible to make the hard cider from this naturally occurring yeast, it is slow and unpredictable, as the amount of yeast is inconsistent.
To pasteurize the apple cider, put it in a large stock pot and heat it on the stove or over a fire. Bring it to 145F. Don’t allow it to come to a boil, as that will cause it to become cloudy and the pulp will never settle. Stir in one cup of sugar and one cup of brown sugar per gallon of apple cider at this point. The sugar acts as food for the yeast, allowing it to ferment the cider. Hold it at 145F for about 45 minutes, and then cool it to around 95F. If you pour it between two sanitized buckets, this will help it cool more quickly, as well as aerating (adding oxygen to) the cider, which the yeast also needs to grow.
Fill a sterilized gallon glass jug (or several gallon jugs), leaving a couple of inches of air space at the top for the yeast. There are a number of types of yeast on the market, some of which are specifically made for making cider. One excellent and inexpensive yeast that I like is Red Star Champagne Yeast. It takes about 2/3 packet of yeast for one gallon of cider. I also need to add one tablespoon of Yeast Nutrient to the mix. Always agitate the container, so that the yeast and nutrients mix in well.
The jug needs to be capped with a rubber stopper and vapor lock. The vapor lock allows vapors out, but not back in. If you don’t have a vapor lock (they’re inexpensive and available from anyplace that sells wine making supplies) you can accomplish the same thing by running a rubber or plastic hose from the rubber stopper to a bowl of water, ensuring that the end is submerged in the water. In a pinch, I’ve just wrapped the top of the jug with a square of aluminum foil that I punch a very small hole in. It works in a pinch.
The cider needs to ferment for about two weeks at a normal indoor temperature (about 70 degrees F). It will start bubbling almost immediately. Once the bubbling has slowed to about one bubble per minute, stage one of the fermentation is complete.
By this time, the apple pulp will have settled to the bottom of the glass jug. It’s time to siphon off the clear part, being sure to leave the pulp in the original jug. Then I clean out the glass jug and put the apple cider back in it.
After capping it as before, I allow it to age about another week. This second stage of fermentation helps improve the flavor, and allows the really fine particles to settle down to the bottom of the jug..
Turning the Hard Cider into Vinegar
Like wine, hard cider naturally turns to vinegar if left out in the open air. The trick is keeping anything else from happening to it, while allowing it to transform. Microbes in the air do all the work for you, if you give them the chance.
Decant your hard cider into a wide mouth crock or wide mouth jars and cover them with cheesecloth. I like to hold the cheesecloth in place with a rubber band, just to keep insects out of my cider. The containers need to be put in a warm, dark place and allowed them to sit. Every few days I slosh the cider around, hopefully without spilling it.
It takes a couple of weeks before there is a grey mass that forms on the surface of the apple cider. This is the vinegar “mother.” Eventually this will fall to the bottom and another one will form. Whatever you do, don’t strain it out, although you won’t want to use when you use the vinegar.
The easiest way for me to tell when the vinegar is done by smelling it. The sweet, alcoholic smell of the hard cider is replaced by the harsher, sour, acidic smell of the vinegar. When it reaches that point, I siphon out the vinegar, leaving the mother and a small amount of the apple cider vinegar in place. By adding more apple cider, I can continue making apple cider vinegar. With the mother in place, the hard cider converts to apple cider vinegar faster.
Give it a try. It really is amazing to see mother nature at work.