Making your own hard cider

Written by on August 22, 2011 in Homebrewing - 9 Comments

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As fall fast approaches, many homebrewers begin thinking about brewing up a batch of hard cider. In addition to being a crisp, refreshing beverage that brings forth images of fall and the changing of the seasons for many, hard cider can be enjoyed and made year round. It also has the benefit of being gluten free, for those that have difficulty processing gluten proteins. While hard cider made with real cider may be more authentic and have the potential for more flavor and complexity, it is easier and simpler to simply use commercially available apple juice. As an interesting side note, the cider/hard cider distinction seems to be mostly American, with other countries simply calling ‘hard cider’ just ‘cider’, and what we call ‘cider’ just apple juice.

If you’ve been following along with the any of the homebrewing ingredient posts, you will know that there is a fair amount of process and technique that can go into making beer. While cider can get more complex (balancing pH, etc), the basics of cider making are dead simple.

Ingredients:

  1. Juice
  2. Yeast

…Yes, that’s it. All you need is a source of fermentable sugars, in this case coming from apples, but really any fruit could be used, and yeast to consume those sugars (I recommend champagne yeast). In terms of the juice, I have often used commercially available juice from the grocery store. You just want to check the ingredients and stay clear of any apple juice that contains sorbitol or potassium sorbate, as these chemicals have been added to inhibit the growth of yeast to increase stability and shelf life. Ascorbic acid is completely fine and is often added to balance the acidity of the juice (see my comments on malic acid below).

There are a few things that you can add to your cider that will create a better finished product, but aren’t really ingredients.  They are all available from your local homebrew shop:

  • Yeast nutrient/energizer: These nutrients will provide a source of nitrogen and other chemical compounds the yeast need for healthy growth. There aren’t many proteins available in apple juice that the yeast are able to use.
  • Pectic enzyme: Pectins are a class of sugar molecules that tend to stick together and clump. If you have ever made jam or jelly, you will have used fruit pectin to help it to set. Apples have a decent amount of pectin, but we don’t really want pectins in our cider, as it will produce a clumpy haze at the bottom of the bottle. Pectic enzyme will go through and snip apart the pectins such that they will be available for the yeast to metabolize.
  • Malic acid: This can be used to brighten up the acidity of a cider that doesn’t have the the crisp level of acidity that you are looking for. Ciders with too high of a pH (remember, low pH is acidic, high pH is basic) can taste thin and unremarkable, but adding a bit of acid can bring that back down and improve the cider.

As far as the process of making cider, simply put your juice in whatever you are using as your fermentation vessel (could be anything from a 5 gallon glass carboy down to a 1/2 gallon growler, or even the jug the juice came in). If you are using yeast nutrients or pectic enzyme, add the recommended dose at this point. It is best to rehydrate your yeast before adding it to your juice. Once you pitch (add) your yeast, fit a stopper and airlock into your fermentation vessel and place it in a cool (65 F ish) place to merrily bubble away!

About the Author

Ryan has been homebrewing since 2006, and it was homebrewing that really got him into craft beer. He's a certified beer and food geek, and spends a good part of his daily allotment of daydreams on ideas for future batches of beer.

9 Comments on "Making your own hard cider"

  1. Debbie Bitzan August 22, 2011 at 11:28 AM · Reply

    Awesome post Ryan, I don’t think people realize how easy it is to make your own hard cider/apfelwein. Unfortunately it does take time…

    • Ryan Bell August 22, 2011 at 11:27 PM · Reply

      It doesn’t take that much time, not really much more time than making a batch of beer, couple weeks or so…

  2. Will Stubbs August 22, 2011 at 1:32 PM · Reply

    I made 5 gallons of cider last year, it was shockingly easy. I took it a step further and boiled one gallon of the cider with mulling spices. It left the whole batch not only crisp and bubbly, but also very herbal and warming. Highly recommend!

  3. Kristan August 22, 2011 at 2:18 PM · Reply

    How long would I let the juice sit?

    • Ryan Bell August 23, 2011 at 9:05 AM · Reply

      You’ll let it ferment until it stops bubbling, it’ll take a few weeks most likely, but the time depends on how much sugar there was, how much yeast, the health of the yeast, temperature, etc.

  4. Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) August 27, 2011 at 8:49 AM · Reply

    We made hard cider from raw home-pressed juice last year and it fermented forever, like 3 or more months! I actually think hard cider is more difficult to do well than other beers because juice is such a simple sugar that it’s easy to get a high alcohol product thin on flavor. Finding a tasty balance isn’t easy.

  5. Ryan Bell August 27, 2011 at 11:15 AM · Reply

    I typically add other fruits and juices to the end of fermentation to increase aroma and flavors. Balance is an important component, and varying the juices that go into it can add complexity, as well as using acid to keep it tart and tangy rather than thin and boozy. Ciders done with ‘rea’l’ cider rather than commercially prepared juices likely will take longer to ferment. Keep in mind that it is going to be a dry finished product (especially with the champagne yeast), and the flavor won’t taste like apples any more than wine tastes like grape juice.

    • Ryan August 29, 2011 at 10:31 PM · Reply

      Just started a batch the other day that is gonna finish out just under 8%, probably going to go with raspberries added towards the end of fermentation…

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