Home Brew Hard Cider From Scratch

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Introduction: Home Brew Hard Cider From Scratch

Note (8/30/2016): It's hard to believe it has been almost a decade since I first published this Instructable, and I am continually amazed by how active of a resource it remains for many first-time cider brewers. This is a great community of makers and I am happy to have made a useful and long-lasting contribution. If you have any questions, chances are they have been asked and answered in the comments.

Since publishing this Instructable all those years ago, I followed my passion for making things, became a professional blacksmith, went back to school and began a career as an Industrial Designer. If you are interested in my other work, please visit my website www.abandazian.com. Thank you!

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Now that it's fall and the apples are ripe in my neck of the woods (New Hampshire), I thought I'd share a recipe for home brew hard cider. It's a very simple first-time home brew and it's very rewarding. I've never liked the taste of beer or any other alcohol for that matter, but a good cider is hard not to like.

Firstly, this Instructable will explain the process for producing all natural, organic, 100% hand made hard cider, an alcoholic beverage made through fermentation of apple cider.

This is for instructional and educational purposes only and should not be attempted by anyone under the age of 21. State laws may prohibit home brewing in your are. Brewing cider involves the use of active yeast culture, which may cause some food allergies and, as always when home brewing, there is always the possibility of contamination. Sterilize all containers and tools and use only fresh ingredients. And always drink responsibly.

Now that that's out of the way, let me explain the basic process. First you get a lot of apples and juice them/press them, etc. or buy a lot of apple cider (this recipe is for 1 gallon of cider). There are two basic methods after you've procured fresh, unpasteurized apple cider:
1. Put the apple cider into a container with a vapor lock and let the wild yeast that occurs naturally in apples ferment the juice into booze. (This takes a very long time and yields unpredictable results, but if you want simplicity, it doesn't get much easier than this. My instructable will deal mostly with option 2)
2. Pasteurize the apple cider with heat or Campden Tablets and then add brewers yeast (champagne yeast works well) with yeast nutrient and put it in a container with a vapor lock (takes less time to ferment and will yield a more stable cider)

In addition, just to clarify, there are 3 primary apple beverages that will be discussed here (not including applejack or apple brandy)

Apple cider - Unfiltered apple juice that contains oxidized pulp, resulting in brown coloration. Comes in many pasteurized and unpasteurized varieties.
Hard Cider (Or just Cider) - Alcoholic beverage fermented with yeast from Apple Cider
Apple Juice - In this country, Apple juice refers to ultra-filtered apple-cider that has been watered down and supplemented with other sweeteners (Such as Motts, Juicy Juice, etc.)

Terminology varies from place to place, which is why it is important to specify.

Step 1: Ingredients and Materials

Ingredients:

Apples (about 20 lbs, preferably of several varieties)
Champagne yeast (from a homebrew market or online shop)
Yeast nutrient (homebrew shop)
Campden tablets (optional)
1 cup Brown sugar
1 cup White sugar

Tools:

-Juicer or apple press (if you don't have either, just buy fresh cider from a local orchard)
-Glass Carboy/fermentation tank (I used a 1 gallon jug of Chianti left over from a party)
-Vapor lock (You can use a length of tubing and a cup with water, but I recommend just picking up the real thing for 1.25)
-Rubber stopper to fit your jug
-Bleach
-Funnel
-A large stock pot
-rubber hose


Step 2: A Word About Apples

Making apples into delicious beverages is a very old practice and has a rich history and culture about it. Apples themselves are a very important fruit, especially in American culture. Before the sugar trade exploded, American pioneers and rural folk really didn't have a lot of sweet food in their diets and apples were very prized as a crop for this reason.
Johnny Appleseed was in fact an Applejacker, meaning that he made apples into the hard liquor Applejack. If you want to learn more about Johnny Appleseed or the remarkable history of apples, I recommend you pick up the book "The Botany of Desire."

Anyway, the point is, apples are awesome and to make apple cider you need a heck of a lot of them (1 bushel = 42 lbs of apples = 3 gallons of juice). It's good to have a mix of apples if possible in about a 1:2 ratio. For instance 10 lbs Red Delicious to 20 Lbs Granny Smith will yield a nice, dry cider, while 10 lbs Macintosh and 20 lbs Cortland will be a much sweeter mix.

Step 3: Juicin'

Once you've got your apples, you've got to juice them. You can either use an apple press to crush the apples and extract the juice, or you can use a juicer (my preference) to remove the juice from the pulp.

NOTE: When apple juice comes out of a juicer it looks clear and frothy at the top. This is normal. Apple cider turns brown when exposed to air (as do apples in whole form) so really fresh cider will be clear until it has a chance to darken up.

Once you have run your apples through your juicer, remove the pulp from the pulp collection tub and put it in a few sheets of cheesecloth or an old pillowcase (make sure it's clean and free of dyes or soap residue!!!!) then squeeze the ball of pulp over a basin to the get last bits of juice out. This is important. About 10% of your cider is still stuck in the pulp after juicing, so don't neglect this.

Feel free to save the pulp and make apple sauce or apple butter with it or bake it into a cake or make apple bread or whatever. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Step 4: Cook

Once you've got about a gallon of cider, you have to pasteurize it for two reasons:
-to kill any bacteria in your apple juice that might contaminate your brew
-to kill naturally occurring wild yeast

NOTE: If you want to do this old school, you can skip pasteurization and just put it in your carboy and let the wild yeast ferment it, but this will probably take a lot longer and might taste a bit off.

Put your cider in a big stock pot over medium heat and allow it to cook for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly with a metal or sanitary plastic spoon. DO NOT ALLOW IT TO BOIL!!! The temperature should be kept just below boiling at all times. If you allow it to boil your cider will become cloudy and never fully settle.

You can add the 2 cups of brown and white sugar here if you'd like. This will raise your alcohol content and make a slightly sweeter final product, but it is not absolutely necessary.

When the cider has cooked for 45 minutes, allow it to cook. Meanwhile, you should sanitize your carboy by adding half a cap-full of bleach to a gallon of water and allowing it to stand for half an hour. Then rinse thoroughly with cold water.

Once the cider has cooled to room temperature, poor it into your carboy leaving a few inches of room at the top for the yeast (if you have too much, just drink it! mmmm, warm cider!)


NOTE: I mentioned Campden Tablets earlier. If you chose to use this method you should not cook your cider. Basically what these tablets do is create a chemical gas in your cider that will naturally sanitize it and kill all the yeast. I have never used this method, though a lot of people prefer it because cooking does not always kill all of the yeast and you tend to lose some of the aromatics when you pasteurize with heat. If you want to use this method, I recommend you research it further, as I am not overly familiar with it.

Step 5: Brewing With Commercial Cider (Creating a Starter)

[EDIT]

This is an optional step but after reading some comments on the original instructable, I thought it would be a good idea to include a few options for advanced brewing techniques, especially because this step is essential for those of you who are not making cider from scratch.

Here's the deal: if you want to make hard cider from store bought cider (which is a good option if you don't own a juicer or want to make high volumes of cider without putting in a lot of time squeezing apples), you will inevitably run into issues involving Potasium Sorbate. Now, there are a lot of rumors out there about Potassium Sorbate and its effects on Homebrew. Let me clear some things up:

-- Potassium Sorbate is added to most commercial ciders to stop yeast from reproducing after pasteurization. Potassium Sorbate DOES NOT KILL YEAST. It prevents yeast colonies from reproducing, which technically causes the colony to die, but it doesn't have the same effect that say, introducing a pesticide to the colony would have. Most importantly, IT IS STILL POSSIBLE TO GET AROUND POTASSIUM SORBATE FOR THIS REASON.

-- You CAN brew with pasteurized, commercial cider. Pasturization kills yeast and since we are introducing new yeast anyway, it doesn't really make a difference. Just make sure your juice contains juice from apples and the unavoidable Potassium Sorbate. If it's got anything else in it, I'd steer clear.

Anyway, as I mentioned, PS inhibits yeast reproduction, but it won't kill yeast by itself. Therefore, to get around it all you have to do is get the yeast started reproducing (i.e. create a starter) before you pitch it in and you're all set.

To Create A Starter:

Basically you will be taking yeast and putting it into a nutrient bath that is free of Potassium Sorbate and allowing it to begin fermentation over night so that it has a running start and won't be inhibited by the PS in the rest of your juice. For this you will need:

3-4 apples
Brown sugar or Honey (optional)
A juicer or, failing that, a blender and a mesh colander.
A food-grade plastic or glass container (I use a sanitized 1/2 gallon milk jug)

Step 1: Juice your apples or chop them in your blender/food processor until they are the consistency of apple sauce then put the mush into a mesh colander and squeeze out the juice into a bowl. Now you have pure, untainted, unadulterated apple juice.
Step 2: Heat your apple juice to about 140 degrees F for 10 minutes or so. Stir in the sugar or honey. Heating the cider is optional, but it helps to get rid of any possible wild yeast (basically up until this point we've just followed the first few steps of the recipe)
Step 3: Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (a little on the warm side) and pour it into a clean, sterilized milk jug or similar food-safe container.
Step 4: Add your entire packet of yeast and agitate gently until the yeast is mixed in. Put the cap on and wait.

It should take a few hours to start bubbling, so rather than waiting around for the cap to pop off from the Co2, I usually just cap the bottle my starter is in with an airlock and leave it alone over night. By the morning it should be fermenting vigorously.

Now when you go to make your cider, all you have to do is pour the juice into your sterilized carboy and add the starter. It should begin to ferment within hours, but be patient if it takes a little while.

I have done this several times with commercial cider containing Potasium Sorbate and I have never had a problem getting it to ferment.

As I mentioned, this is an essential step to making cider from store-bought juice, but if you're making cider from scratch it's not a bad idea either. It will speed up your fermentation process if you make a starter and if you're worried about your yeast not working out, it will ensure that they are alive and kicking before you pitch it in to your hard-earned juice.

Step 6: Add Yeast

Yeast is the key ingredient in all home brews and its important to pick the right kind. I use Red Star Champagne Yeast, which works pretty well and costs about a dollar a packet. There are also much more expensive liquid cider yeasts but these will be much more expensive.

For only a gallon of cider you will only need about 2/3 of the packet, but you don't have to be too precise. Follow the instructions on the back and dissolve the yeast into a little bit of warm water. Add a tablespoon of Yeast Nutrient to your mix (apples have a lot of sugar but not much nutritional value so adding yeast nutrient will keep your yeast healthy and maximize their efficiency)

Pour the yeast solution into your carboy and agitate slightly to get a good mix. Now put your vapor lock on (fill it up to the appropriate line with water or vodka) and secure it in the top of the rubber stopper. This will allow carbon dioxide produced from the metabolize of sugar to escape without letting bacteria and other baddies into your brew. If you don't have a vapor lock, you can place one end of a length of tubing in the opening of your carboy and put the other end in a glass of water (below the surface). When the build up of gas coming from the tube into the water reaches the atmospheric pressure on the water it will bubble up (which is the same thing that happens in the vapor lock, but a store bought one is much more compact).

Step 7: Primary Fementation

Allow your brew to sit undisturbed in a dark area at about 70 degrees F. for about two weeks. You will notice it start to bubble in the first few hours. Check in periodically. Once bubbling has slowed to about 1 bubble per minute, your first fermentation cycle is complete.

Now you'll want to "rack" your cider, which basically means that you want to remove the fermented cider and dispose of the apple sediment and yeast that is still at the bottom of your tank. You can use a rubber hose to siphon liquid from the top (remember, you only want the cider, so don't siphon the silt on the bottom) into another sanitary container. Then after you've washed out the apple pulp from your carboy, siphon it back in

Cork it and affix the vapor lock and allot it to finish fermenting (about a week or two). This will improve the flavor and help make your cider less cloudy.

Step 8: Aging and Bottling

Your cider has finished fermenting at this point, and is ready to drink. You will get better results, however, if you age your cider for a few months in a sealed container (most people recommend wooden barrels, but you can just use your trusty glass jug). Remember to store it in a dark, relatively climate controlled place.o

Once it has aged as long as you'd like, it's ready to bottle and drink.


Keep in mind, it takes a few tries before you get the process and the recipe down. There are many tasty commercial ciders out there that you can use as controls to see how your own recipe came out.

Good luck and happy homebrewing!

-Acts of Subterfuge

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    362 Comments

    I tried my first attempt at hard cider and I am not sure how I did.

    It tastes good, and smells good and even has a bit of a light fizz. It's a dry cider and I have yet to add any flavours or sweetners. I am not sure if I made a hard cider or just fizzy non alcoholic cider lol. I checked my hygrometer and it comes up to 1000 that doesn't seem good. That's like zero percent alcohol isn't it?

    I drank some and feel a bit buzzy lol...maybe I am just manifesting it because I really wanted it to be boozy lol

    How do I know for sure it's true alcohol content? That hygrometer confuses me.

    It took 4 days for it to ferment completely...which seemed really quick to me.

    Then I racked it into a carboy, but there was a lot of space in it...it didn't get filled up to the neck like the directions said it should. I left it there for probably 3 weeks so all the sediment fell to the bottom and the liquid was nice and clear.

    I would smell it from time to time to make sure it didn't smell like vinegar.

    I hope I didn't ruin it :(

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    OMW, just got the container, a special plastic one with the vapour lock, 25L of volume and a tap at the bottom. Yeast and Campden tablets.

    Now I only need the apples, I would prefer Spanish cider appels, it's a special primitive variety with a very characteristic flavour, but these aren't sold anywhere, so that I am going to try with our common Dutch varieties and maybe Granny Smith for acidity.

    We will see in a month ;)

    P.S. How do I control the alcohol level, maintaining it at 8%?

    Thnks!

    This is, by miles, the easiest recipe to follow that I've come across (with pictures and all). Step 5, however, complicates it. Additionally, other versions make mention of a hydrometre and filtered/unfiltered cider. Therefore, kindly write a recipe for filtered non-sparkling (hard) cider that involves the use of a hydrometre.

    Can one save some starter out and somehow keep it alive to use it for future batches? If so, how?

    I have a question for anyone who has experience with this. What's the ending alcohol percentage if you do it from juiced apples, pasteurised? And if I want it stronger can you do another yeast treatment to it, if so how long should I let it sit?

    3 replies
    @keith.garner.77 --
    What's the ending alcohol percentage if you do it from juiced apples, pasteurized?

    I've found from my experience that ending result can be from 3%-8%. its not because the yeast is not doing its job, its because the yeast does not have enough sugar (its food) in the liquid to keep fermenting (or eating) -- so the colonies of yeast either go dormant or die. (from what I've read online.)
    So adding yeast shouldn't do much of anything except make more 'lees' (the sludge at the bottom of the bucket) when you siphon out, or 'rack' the juice into another bucket.

    And if I want it stronger can you do another yeast treatment to it, if so how long should I let it sit?

    So here is where a 'Hydrometer' Comes in handy. you should have one even if you're a hobbyist, or just want to start. I tried my first batch without it and i had so many questions about my result i was upset that i decided to skip the purchase. (they're cheap, and you'll use it all the time) -- also make sure you get a 'graduated cylinder' while im thinking of it, if you drop your hydrometer right into your bucket you could be asking for all kinds of off flavors, or could even turn that awesome cider into apple vinegar.. (i hear its good for you.. but not our main focus here)

    In order to find out what your end result will be, you honestly need to test the cider juice before you put in your yeast. that reading will give you a very close estimation on to how booze-ish your drink will be.

    for example: the hydrometer reads 1.050. drop the yeast in, etc etc.. then when you go to 'rack' it, take another reading. people say cider usually will finish around 1.010 - 1.000. I've let mine sit for a month and its hit 0.980 before.

    So to back up, if your original reading is 1.050, and you KNOW its going to hit 1.010 (or you will wait until it does) -- use a handy calculator online: http://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/ and check the result. if you want a higher ABV%, then you need to increase the sugar at the START of your cider, increasing the buoyancy of the hydrometer and giving you a higher starting number.. the higher the starting number, the higher the ALC% will get.

    I bet you can rack it, add more sugar, and some B-complex nutrients and more yeast and get it a much higher alc%. i just have not done it myself.

    The time that you wait after the fermentation is done is purely for taste.. the balance in the liquid is usually off after fermentation and it takes a while to equalize. I usually taste high acidity at the start, after a week or two it will go away and the sweetness will slowly return. (also google back-sweetening if you need it.)


    I'm still a novice at this, and all i have learned is through trial and error and the internets (and you all know how that can be.) -- so if I'm missing something please let me know too!

    You mentioned vitamin B. I'd that just any tablet form or do you somehow crush it first?

    user

    i'm just guessing on these numbers going off of my level of drunkeness and the guidelines i've found...3-5 days is about 5-7 percent. Once i forgot about some apple and left it for a week+....it was super dry, but that made me feel classy. I think it was about 10%...depends on how much sugar, yeast, and time...

    Was wondering can you bottle the cider with sugar as you would with beer to give it fizz

    can i do this without the yeast Nutrient
    it is realy7 expencive were i live

    3 replies
    user

    baker's yeast still works...

    Check Amazon - I got a 2oz bottle of Yeast Nutrient for $6.50 - http://amzn.to/21eo4Or

    Mine's going well without nutrient, though i did do a starter with some pulped apples and brown sugar

    So, without completely disregarding the preparation of the apple part, could bottled apple juice have a similar result? It would be thinner but easier and slightly artificial i expect.

    4 replies

    Yes, like Becvardan I too have used store bought apple juice with success. Like he said you want to make sure there are no preservatives in the juice, specifically "Sodium Benzoate" or "Potassium Sorbate" as these will hinder fermentation.

    user

    no preservatives allowed...

    user

    Regular apple juice works awesome! I think it's even better than natural, home squeezed juice. What's more, you have to get ALL the organic material out of the juice before you try and ferment it. That must be a pain in the butt...buy the cheapest apple juice you can get, add sugar and yeast and enjoy...hard to go wrong i've found

    I have had success using store bought apple juice, just need to be careful and read ingredients carefully. Make sure there are no preservatives

    What are some opinions on switching out the sugar with honey?