I've seen a lot of interest lately in (legally) making your own alcohol at home (it's cheaper, for one thing!), so I'm going to be publishing a series of articles on equipment you'd need for making your own wine or hard cider at home. We'll start with very basic, and work up to to "fancy."
This article is on starting with the minimum equipment needed. If you've wanted to try making wine or hard cider at home and haven't started yet, this post is for you! At the most basic level, you need a 1-gallon jug, a fermentation lock, sugar, yeast, and whatever you're going to turn into a delicious beverage. Well, that and the patience to wait a month or so for it to ferment and finish. That's it. If you want to get more precise about ABV (the percentage of alcohol by volume) you can get a hydrometer (and test jar) . This is definitely optional, don't feel as though you really have to buy the unless you want them!
In this post, I'm going to start with a basic kit for making 1 gallon of your own wine or hard cider. Here we go!
To Start: A 1-Gallon Kit
If you want to try making wine or cider at home but you aren't sure if you want to turn it into a full-time hobby, this is a great way to experiment without having to sink a lot of money into it.
It can be helpful to have two jugs because it will make your life much easier -- a second jug is handy to rack (siphon) the cider or wine away from the lees (sediment) on the bottom of the jug at the end of fermentation.
It is possible to go cheap and simply use the bottle the juice came in, but I advise going with a glass jug specifically made for the purpose of holding and fermenting liquid.
There are two reasons: first, when you start the fermentation, there will be a little pressure created, and glass holds pressure better than the thin plastic most juice comes in these days. Second, the top opening is the specific size needed for the fermentation lock's bung (that's the rubber cork) to form a seal against outside yeasts and bacteria that could spoil the taste of your wine or cider.
I've specified two jugs because it can be handy to have a second jug to rack (transfer) the cider or wine away from the must (sediment) after the primary fermentation is done. It's not required, but does make things a lot more convenient.
I recommend food-grade plastic tubing for transferring the liquid from container to container if only for "mess control." Pouring into a funnel can be sloppy, and it also stirs up the must, which means you'll have to go to extra effort to clear the cider (or wine). An auto-siphon or "racking cane" can be very handy, too, as it will speed up the process and keep things cleaner if used properly.
Finally, fermentation locks are essential. They provide a barrier to keep foreign yeasts and bacteria out of the jug, and keep the good stuff inside. Some fill them with water (I do), but there are some folks who use cheap vodka, as it will be toxic for bacteria that could spoil your batch. And, if any vodka leaks into the cider, it will raise the ABV! :D.
That's all there is to this basic kit. If you'd like to grab any or all of the items I've mentioned, there are links to Amazon.com just below this article you can use. Once your order arrives, try my recipe for basic hard apple cider and see what you think!