Let’s move onto something simple and seasonal. Cider. Cider is pretty easy to make, it requires cider (or fruit juice) and yeast. To make hard cider, find cider you like to drink (find ones without any preservatives other than ascorbic acid), and add yeast (this will happen naturally if you let it sit in an area that’s about 65 F but it’ll taste better if you select the yeast and pitch it). I’d recommend buying a batch of yeast from your local homebrew store (it’ll cost you about $8 assuming average prices). Put the yeast into your cider, slap on a sanitized airlock (you remember we talked about both of these things, right?), and let it sit for a couple of weeks. Keep in mind that everything that touches your cider needs to be sanitized, unless you want to make sours, which will be a much longer and involved series of articles.
How will you know when it’s done? Time for the next pieces of homebrewing equipment you’ll need. A hydrometer and a wine thief. The wine thief will be used to pull a sample of your fermented cider to test it with the hydrometer (remember to sanitize it). The hydrometer is a device that is used to measure the specific gravity of a liquid. Pure water has a specific gravity of 1.00. Alcohol has a lower gravity (about 0.78), and sugar adds to the specific gravity of a liquid. So those OG and FG written on brewery stats, and on the sides of some of your bottles, are just a measurement of the Original Gravity (measure of how much sugar was in to start) and the Final Gravity (measure of the specific gravity after fermentation). Keep in mind that hydrometers are calibrated to be used at a specific temperature, and if your liquid is a different temperature, you’ll have to adjust that. There’s lots of calculators online to do that math for you. With both the OG and FG of your beverage, you can figure out the percentage of alcohol. If (and only if) you sanitized your hydrometer and sample tube, you can pour the sample but it does increase the risk of infection. Most people just drink the sample (or pour it out).
But back to finding out when your cider is done fermenting, what you want are two readings, at least three days apart with the same gravity reading. Do not bottle without verifying that fermentation is done. Bottle bombs are a real thing, and can be very dangerous. Do not assume fermentation is done because you don’t see any airlock activity or bubbling in the cider.
If you want it to be carbonated, then you’ll need to add sugar at this point (here is a decent calculator, but assume just under an ounce a gallon). Take your sugar, and mix it with boiling water. Then add it to the cider (stirring with a sanitized spoon) and then bottle it. To bottle, you’ll need a siphon (points at the equipment article), and a bottling wand. Bottling wands are a tube with a spring loaded stopper at the bottom. Push it down, liquid flows out. Lift it off the bottom, the bottom locks up. If you’re using swing tops, mix your sugar into your fermented cider (with a sanitized spoon or your siphon), and then bottle. If you need to cap or cork your bottles, I’d recommend filling them all before doing that, or use an orphan assistant for the capping/corking. After that, let them sit for about 3-4 weeks in a room that’s close to 65 F so they condition up (fancy term for letting the yeast eat the extra sugar to make carbonation). Then put them in the fridge and enjoy.
Keep in mind, if you like your first batch, you can easily modify your second batch. Add simple things like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, or whatever. The longer you let the cider sit on the spices, the more flavor it’ll pick up. For your first attempt, I’d recommend no more than 1 tbsp. per gallon, it’s always easier to add more spice, or let it sit on the spices longer, but you can’t easily take the flavor out.