How to Make Basic Hard Cider
If you're just starting with home brewing and want something easy and fairly uncomplicated, making a batch of hard cider is a great first project. You can do this with a minimal amount of equipment and the final cost per gallon is around $7.00, depending on your ingredient cost. Here's what goes into it: apple juice, yeast, and sugar. That's it! If you have all of your supplies and ingredients together, you can put this together in under an hour (even if you're a beginner and not too fast at it--yet).
Supplies and Equipment
- 1, one-gallon glass jug (sometimes called a demijohn) for each gallon of cider you're making, plus one for racking after primary fermentation This is what you'll need to make a two-gallon batch of basic hard cider.
- fermentation locks and drilled bungs (corks) for each bottle
- 1 packet of yeast (I'll cover what kind of yeast in a moment)
- 2 gallons of apple juice
- 4 pounds (about 1.8kg) granulated sugar
- 3' (or 1m) food-grade tubing.
For a Little Later
- 16oz (500 ml) bottles. I recommend the "growler" bottles like these, as they can be reused a long time and you don't have to mess with bottle caps.
Before you Start
- Clean and sanitize your jugs. This will take care of any wild yeasts or bacteria in your glassware that could affect the flavor of your cider. To wash, use clear water. Use a bottle brush if you need to, to get any matter out that won't just rinse out. Then, sanitize the jugs.
- My favored method is to wash them in a dishwasher without any detergent. Dishwashers have a sanitize cycle and then dry with very hot air. This is very effective. (In the picture above, you'll notice that the jugs are a little steamy - they were about 5 minutes out of the dishwasher when I took the picture.
- Use a commercial product such as Star San.
- Soak your glassware in a strong solution of OxiClean or similar cleaner for 30 minutes. Rinse very well with clear water, and you're good to go.
- Soak your glassware in water with a small amount of bleach added. As before, rinse very well with clear water after 30 minutes.
Here We Go!
- First, activate your yeast.
- If you're using a dry yeast, put about 1/2 cup of warm (not hot) water in a bowl and stir the yeast in . You can use a whole packet if you like, though for 2 gallons this can be overkill. But, dry yeast isn't terribly spendy...
- If you're using a "pitchable yeast" (such as this product from Wyeast), you'll want to "smack" the pack or take whatever action is needed to get the yeast activated.
- You'll know the yeast is activated when it's all bubbly (or with a pitchable yeast, the package has swelled up).
- Put 1/2 gallon (about 2 litres) apple juice in each jug.
- Add 1 pound sugar (or adjust to taste) per gallon. The amount of sugar determines not only sweetness but alcohol content, so take this into account.
- Aerate the mix: Close up the jug (put a cap or cork on, or just hold your hand over the opening) and shake it hard for 30 to 60 seconds.
- The reason why this is done is: Yeast need oxygen to metabolize sugar to alcohol. By first putting just 1/2 gallon in the 1-gallon jug, you're leaving airspace. When you shake the jug hard for a minute, it aerates the juice, which creates a more receptive environment for the yeast to do their stuff. It will also combine the sugar with the juice very nicely.
- Add the activated yeast to the aerated mix. If more than one jug, divide it equally amongst them.
- Add the remaining 1/2 gallon of juice into the jug(s) - or as much as you can fit and still leave about 2 inches (approx. 5 cm).
- Set (insert) the fermentation locks into the bungs (corks) and cork the jugs. Add water to the fermentation locks. Some use cheap vodka, as the alcohol will kill yeast and bacteria. This is ok, but not necessary. The important thing is, the water creates a barrier between the outside air and the fermentation. This keeps things that could influence the flavor of your cider adversely.
That's the end of the first phase. Now... you wait. Keep the jugs in a place where the temperature is fairly constant, generally between 60˚ and 80˚ Fahrenheit (16-27˚ Celsius). I use my kitchen counter, as the fermentation can be fun to watch (and a distraction for the kids). Unless something happens that creates a need to mess with the cider, ignore it for about two weeks. Depending on temperature, variety of yeast, and sugar added, this could be more or less time. When the bubbles in the fermentation lock are occurring less than 1 time per minute, you're ready for the next step: racking.
Phase Two: Racking
The term racking simply means you're transferring the fermented liquid from one container to another.
At this point, there are two options:
- Rack the cider to a secondary fermenter (another jug) and give it a couple weeks to fully clear. At this point, you'll have some yeasty sludge on the bottom of the jug (it's called lees, by the way). If you were to drink it, it wouldn't hurt a bit - it's yeast and it's good for you. But, if you're looking for a nice, clear cider, you need to do a little bit. Siphon the cider out of the jug down to about 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the bottom. If you do this you'll keep most of the sediment in the first jug. A couple weeks in the secondary, perhaps in the refrigerator, will settle the rest of it out, and then you can bottle.
- Bottle immediately. This is what I usually do - a little sediment doesn't bother me in the least.
If you want to naturally carbonate the cider before bottling, this is easy to do. First, rack the cider into a second container and then stir in one of the following:
- 1/2 cup sugar per gallon
- 1/2 cup apple juice concentrate per gallon (my favorite - it adds to the flavor nicely as the cider matures).
THEN, transfer the cider to their bottles, cap, and store for 2-3 weeks more. You'll have a nicely-carbonated cider that will tickle your tongue. While the extra sugar priming isn't mandatory, it does help the process along.
While the cider is very drinkable at the end of the first fermentation, if you let it mature for a month or so, the flavor definitely improves. If you can stand to wait for 3-4 months, it's even better as the apple flavor will really start coming out.
And there you have it: Basic Hard Apple Cider. Enjoy!
If you'd prefer not to carbonate the cider (keep it still), you can keep it in the fridge - which will slow the remaining fermentation. Another option is to stop the fermentation with a crushed Campden (sodium metabisulfate) tablet. This will kill any living yeast, thus stopping the fermentation. This will also mean you can store the cider at room temperate and not worry about pressure building in bottles. My personal choice is to go as natural as possible, so I do not usually use the Campden.
What About Yeast and Sugar?
Yeast is an important part of the fermentation process - as a matter of fact, without it, there wouldn't be alcohol. Yeast metabolize the sugars in the mix and excrete alcohol. I'll leave you to your own conclusions about parallels on this one ;).
I'll go more in-depth on yeasts in another post, so I'll stick to basics here. You can accomplish fermentation with any yeast. One of the things I've learned in my journey through the joys of medieval wine-making is that bread yeast works just fine if that's what you have to work with. So why worry about this? Simple: you have more control over your results (flavor). I like my cider "dry" (less sweet), so I usually use a yeast like Lalvin's EC-1118 yeast. EC-1118 is a champagne yeast, so you won't get an overly-sweet fermentation result. EC-1118 also lends itself to natural carbonation very nicely (because it's for champagne), so if you decide to prime, bottle, and carbonate, I think you'll be very pleased with the results.
If you'd prefer a "pitchable" yeast (you activate it in its container and then pour (pitch) it into your mix, there are some other good options. I've used Wyeast's Sweet Mead #ACT-4184 for cider, but it turned out a little sweet for my taste. It rocks with mead, on the other hand. The picture on the right is for Wyeast's Sweet Mead yeast variety.
Sugar - What Kind, How Much?
You have many, many options. As always, it depends on what flavors you're blending into your cider (or wine, or beer, or...) and the final result you're working towards (alcohol content by volume, carbonation, etc.). I have used: granulated white beet sugar, dark cane sugar, corn syrup, and honey. They all do the job just fine. Depending on the yeast you're using, you may also need a yeast nutrient - but that's beyond the scope of this article. If you're just getting started, go with the basic white sugar. As you get more experience and confidence, try some stuff. After a while you'll be writing your own recipes and putting them on the internet.
Do you have any favored recipes or advice for beginning cider- or wine-makers?