Making Hard Cider: All You Need to Know

by Karl | Last Updated: August 14, 2019

We are sure you have heard about it before, but do you know what hard cider is? Hard cider comes from fermented apple juice, together with a nice buzz.

Hard cider is also a trendy drink in the United States. It is called ‘hard cider’ to distinguish alcoholic from non-alcoholic cider, known as sweet cider. Hard cider is also closer to wine than beer. When we learned how to make hard cider at home, we just had to share it so you can too. 

Making Hard Cider All You Need to Know Homebrew Academy

How to make hard cider

It is not complicated to make one. The process for elaborating this popular alcoholic drink is straightforward, but it could take some time. While apple cider is the main ingredient, you can follow these steps for any other fruit. You can make it from pineapple, pears, and many others.

As you may know, the best cider comes from fresh apples. That is because fresh juice has the brightest flavor for it. The aromas would not change from time or heat; this is what we call pasteurization. We will cover the basics of the whole process first.

An essential step in cider elaboration is to include some sulphur dioxide to prevent a plethora of dangerous bacteria or yeasts in the apple juice. It helps the fresh yeast to thrive in the juice environment; you need this for turning sugars into alcohol.

Once sulfur dioxide finally mixes in the apple juice, it turns itself into a mixture of bisulfite, sulfite ions, and some molecular sulfur dioxide. The rest of sulfur dioxide gives an antimicrobial element; the bisulfite and sulfite ions help to flavor it. The number of sulfur dioxide needed to clean all microbial activity depends on the juice’s pH: lower pH means less sulfur required, and higher pH needs more sulfur.

A lot of producers put some sulfur dioxide in their mixes immediately after the pressing and juicing process; most beginner producers do so after fermenting. The reason behind it is to let it act as an antioxidant chemical or stabilizer for the hard cider production itself. It keeps the finished cider free from releasing hydrogen peroxide or other aldehydes; they produce bad aromas or flavors to the final beverage.

Nitrogen is also a vital element to help all yeast growth and fermentation. Yeast needs different types of nitrogen for it to function properly, so you should add nitrogenous compounds to your apple juice. The whole mixture of nitrogen-containing elements that yeast can use is referred to as ‘Yeast Assimilable Nitrogen’, or just YAN.

YAN can mix with your juice before fermentation. However, there are other ways to change nitrogen levels before the pressing stage; the maturity of the fruit or the type of fertilizer also play a role. To use a fertilizer tool with the right amount of nitrogen will help the roots of apple trees to stay safe; nitrogen cleans all bacteria from the tree’s roots. The extra nitrogen then makes its way to the fruit of the tree; it is a good addition if you grow your ingredients.

On the other hand, a low crop load could also provide juices with more YAN than a typical high crop load.

YAN is great for the yeast and helps ferment sugars in the juice, yet some hard cider producers may choose to limit their nitrogen use. If the yeast needs nitrogen, it would stop fermenting and finally die. That would be fine if makers want their cider to have more sugar than alcohol in their products. In any case, limiting YAN needs care; too little nitrogen can result in increased H2S levels; H2S causes a rotten-egg-like smell.

The fermentation process starts by eliminating the cider must with selected yeast strains. “Must” is the name that unfermented juice receives in hard cider making. It is also the name to any general mixture that will ferment later. One can also use indigenous yeast strains. These are on the fruit itself and allow to pass through fermentation without inoculation easily.

The inoculation stage requires different strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and other yeast strains with strong fermentative traits; these include Saccharomyces bayanus and Torulaspora delbrueckii strains.

Spontaneous fermentation started with indigenous types of yeasts and finished by Saccharomyces cerevisiae can result in ciders with similar concentrations of valuable acids; these include lactic acid and succinic acid. Extending the time in which the cider remains in contact with the yeast results in increased levels for most of the minor volatile elements. These elements include fatty acids and other types of alcohol.

You could also use some tools to crush fruit and presses from your home as well. Another option is to get some freshly-pressed sweet cider from a store near home. If you buy an already-prepared juice, make sure it does not contain too many preservatives. High amounts of these chemicals can kill essential properties. If you can be confident about its contents, there is no reason not to use store-bought juice for your recipe.

However, it is evident that most of the good homemade hard cider we have tasted comes from customers who prefer to choose fresh apples; doing so balances all the flavor from the mix. On the other hand, tannins help to give the best taste to apples. If you are looking to use only bland fruit, you surely will obtain a flat cider instead of a hard cider. These fruits include pears and green apples.

What do you need to make hard cider at home?

If you are looking to crush your apples by yourself, then you should use a fruit crusher and a pressing tool. The crusher will help you to cut and smash the entire apples, and with the press, you will be able to extract the juice from them. Once you have obtained your apple juice, you are going to need the following items:

  • Some people use a 7-gallon bucket with a lid, but you could use a 6-gallon carboy as well. What you need is a fermenter with an airlock.
  • A straining bag would be necessary if you wish to use a pressing tool for extracting the juice.
  • Some tablets or potassium metabisulfite will be helpful.
  • A sanitizer is always necessary if you are preparing something for consumption.
  • Yeast is a vital element.
  • Yeast nutrient is suitable for quick fermentation. If the yeast is healthy, the cider will taste better.
  • You could also use Pectic enzyme (which helps to clear blurry looks). It would depend on the method you are planning to follow, of course.
  • Finally, you will need a bottling bucket, bottles, and caps. 

You can purchase all of these items with relative ease. 

Making hard cider process:

Before anything happens, you always need to sanitize your utensils. Make sure you remove all bacteria before adding the ingredients and yeast. As you may know, germs can do all kind of nasty things. They can cause a disgusting medicinal flavor; even worse, they can turn your hard cider into vinegar!

If you are planning to use pasteurized juice from any sanitary bottles (such as juice from a store that does not need any refrigeration), you can merely clean your fermenter thoroughly. You will not need to use heat and sulfites for it.

However, using fruit makes the process a little more complex. There are several methods you can use to kill any bacteria from your mix.

Option A: To use heat

Heat is, in fact, the safest method, especially if you are working with dirty fruit. The only setback is that the temperature will eliminate some of the aromas.

Heat your juice slowly up to at least 165°F. Cover it with a lid and keep the temperature for at least 10 minutes. You should leave the top on unless you are planning to use something to reduce the heat; otherwise, you can cool it in your sink with ice-cold water. When the juice finally cools down to 70°F, then you can start with the fermentation process.

Option B: To use Sulfites

Heating fruit can degrade the aroma and flavor of your apples. That is why hard cider makers almost exclusively use Campden tablets directly from a store. Other different types of sulfites can also be used for cleaning the must before adding the yeast. You must crush one Campden tablet per each gallon of your juice; this measure is mandatory. Let it sit for two days in a clean and covered fermenter.

That is the best-known method, and it is because sulfites are notably mild. They do not affect the flavor in any way, and they already dissolved by the time you drink. They are just strong enough to keep your mix clean from wild yeast and germs; this allows your yeast to thrive. This way, you can ensure that the taste of your drink will be closer to what you expect.

Option C: To use Wild Yeast

The third option is simple; there is no need to use any heat nor sulfites to clean your must before fermenting the fruit. The issue is that this method has the highest risk of ending up with something not desired (such as vinegar).

Therefore, It is imperative to use the cleanest fruit; you must also clean your tools and crusher well for this method to work correctly.

In this method, you do not use produced yeast. You rely on yeast that you can find naturally in the environment, specifically in fruits. You see, fruit already has yeast; that’s why it’s able to ferment at all.

However, since you need yeast to come from the outside, you may expose your mixture to bacteria. While it saves money, that is why it is a risky method.

Another interesting choice is to use this method with pasteurized apple juice. It’s is naturally sweet and it is also free from bacteria thanks to the manufacturing process. It is sweet as well, so the yeast can feed on it without you needing to add sugars.

It is better to use canned juice to make sure it is as close to sterile as possible. Bottled juice is also the right choice as long as it does not need refrigeration.

How to Make Hard Cider Video Walkthrough:

What’s the best yeast to make hard cider?

Your taste makes your choice. However, these are the most commonly-preferred types of yeast for making cider:

  • Lalvin 1116: it is delicious but not as dry as full-on champagne cider; it has a sophisticated flavor.
  • Lalvin 1122: it is a good option for cider lovers who like it a little off-dry.
  • Lalvin D47: This is another excellent choice; this type of yeast will deliver a flavorful hard cider.
  • Red Star Champagne: This could also be the only yeast that looks like “champagne” on the bottle, resulting in a bone dry look.
  • Lalvin 1118: This is a different type of yeast with similar treats to Red Star’s.
  • Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead: This could also be another good option for people looking for a dry drink.
  • Ale yeast: Maybe the most popular option for making a cider results it in being a little less dry.

Homemade Hard Cider Fermentation Directions

Before fermenting, you must adequately sanitize your fermenter and anything that touches your must. A simple and easy way to do this is to have a proper recipient; it could be a bucket filled with your best sanitizer. Just apply a bit of the product into your fermenting container. Swish it all around where your mix will be, and coat all its surfaces a few times as well.

The goal here is to coat all surfaces of your fermenter with the sanitizer for at least five minutes. After this step, you should empty the fermenter into your previous bucket; use the same sanitizer to wash all other tools and utensils you will use during the process.

Specifically, Star San’s product is perfect. It kills bacteria efficiently, but it does not hurt the yeast nor alter the taste of your product.

Now, you need to gather the yeast for the mix. The next step is to heat one cup of water. Add the yeast and its nutrient, if you have; note that this may cause a bad smell.

After that, you should cool to around 80-100°F and finally add some pectic enzyme to the entire mix (this is optional). Place your mixture into your sanitized fermenter. Move your apple juice into it, and then, use the rest of your yeast as well. Use at least one yeast pack per 5 gallons of apple juice. Do not forget that too much yeast is better than not using enough. Homemade hard apple cider brewing is usually done in 1 gallon batches, so this helps. 

Make sure you follow your package instructions. For example, Wyeast says 1/2 tsp per 5 gallons; others brands may tell you that you should use at least 1/2 tsp per gallon. Put about 1 tsp pectic enzyme per 5 gallons of must (this step is optional).

After this step, you should cover your fermenting tool and attach a sanitized airlock to it. Let the mix ferment at 65-75F for at least a couple of weeks. Once this step has concluded, give it 3-5 extra days. Finally, bottle it or rack it into a carboy so it could turn clear for another week first.

To bottle, please make sure your fermentation process is finished. You should consider that the hard apple cider is supposed to have a very dry flavor. A hydrometer tool is the best way to determine if it is over. It’s also used for determing the alcohol content in your homebrewed cider, here is how to read one.

This tool is the only way to know for sure what is going on in your fermented mix. If your bottle it too early, you could see some exploding bottles because of the fermentation in the bottle.

You need a clean bucket. Heat at least two cups of water up to its boiling point. Then, turn off the heat and proceed to dissolve all sugar. You probably need about 1 oz per gallon (or at least 3/4 cup for a 5-gallon batch).

Then put this hot sugar solution into the clean bottling bucket. You should put your cider into the bottling bucket very carefully. Fill your previously sanitized bottles; leave at least 1-1.5″ headspace. Finally, cap and leave the whole mix in a warm room for two weeks for the carbonation process.

When done, you can refrigerate the bottles for at least 3-12 months. Homemade hard cider ages well so this is going to give you the best results. We hope that you have had as much fun learning how to make hard cider at home as we do making and drinking it. 

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.