Want to know how to make delicious hard apple cider? Why wouldn’t you? Hard cider is a great drink for so many situations, from barbecues and backyard parties to nights alone at home. If you’re looking for something more fruity than your regular bottle of beer or glass of wine, you should really get into hard ciders.
Hard cider is just fermented fruit juice. Making them from scratch is easier than you might think. Before you start, you will need some supplies that you probably don’t have lying around your house.
Gathering Your Materials
First up, when fermenting anything, you’re going to need to use yeast. Yeast, when added to a sugary liquid, will eat up sugars that are in the form of glucose. This creates alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.
The alcohol will, obviously, turn normal cider into hard cider. The CO2 gas will create pressure that carbonates the drink, making it bubbly. You will have to do an extra step at the end if you want especially fizzy cider. (We’ll get to that later).
Another important item you’ll need is a rubber stopper and an airlock. These look confusing and might sound confusing, too, but all they do is assist with the fermentation process. The stopper and airlock keep new air from entering the bottle, while also letting out the carbonation created by the yeast.
If you don’t use a stopper and airlock, your bottle will crack and your cider will spill everywhere. You can ferment your cider in a plastic bottle and twist the bottle cap just a bit to let out excess carbonation every few hours, but after doing that for a few weeks, you may start going a little crazy. So, I recommend sticking with glass jugs and just getting the necessary supplies.
Since you need jars, lids, and airlocks, it’s best to buy them all as a set. Otherwise, you’ll have to scour the internet or cooking supplies stores for the right sized jar lids or for an airlock that’ll fit, and doing that is very, very tedious. I recommend calling your local home goods or hardware stores and asking for fermentation kits. If you can’t find any that way, check out a few on amazon.
This is a great beginner’s fermentation kit. It’s simple and straightforward, and everything you need for making hard cider from home. The jars each have a lid with a hole in them for the airlock.
These jars are not great for storage however, since there’s a hole in the lids. Lids without holes can be purchased, but those may be hard to find. So, after using this kit, just pour your cider into bottles or pitchers for serving.
Now that you have your fermentation containers and airlocks, all that’s left is some juice, and yeast. Don’t let these ingredients be afterthoughts though. The kind of juice you use and the kind of yeast you use will affect the cider in many ways.
What Juice/Cider Should You Use?
When making cider at home, you want to use all-natural ingredients. The most popular flavor of hard cider is apple, and the second most popular is pear. Go to the supermarket and look for labels that say ‘organic’ on them. You can use either store-bought cider or juice, as they are practically the same. There is not much difference between what makes one thing a cider and the other a juice.
The main difference between a cider and a juice is that ciders are usually thicker, meaning they have more left-over particles and sediments from the fruit that made it. Juices, on the other hand, are usually filtered and are basically less-natural than ciders.
For hard-cider making, using non-alcoholic ciders is better than using juice, but really, either one will work fine. You can also choose to go the ultra-all-natural way and pick, then juice the apples or pears that you want to use. The best time to pick apples is in the fall, and for pears, you’ll want to harvest them closer to August.
What Yeast Should You Use?
There are so many different kinds of yeasts. They all do the same thing, just with ever-so-slight differences that can make you go ‘does picking the right yeast really matter?’ If you’re not going for a store-quality hard cider, then the answer is no, any fermenting yeast will work fine. If you’re trying to make something a little more finished and impressive, then picking the right yeast could be a make or break decision.
Champagne yeast is a pretty common yeast for hard cider making. It creates smaller, champagne-like bubbles (hence the name) and it creates a dryer tasting cider. I like to call cider made with champagne yeast ‘sophisticated’ since you have to have a taste for bitter, dry ciders if you want to use it.
There are ways around the dry taste, but for simplicity, champagne yeast is better for making ‘sophisticated’ ciders.
Just like the name suggests, this yeast will actually give your hard cider a hint of a beer flavor, making it popular among beer drinkers who want to give hard ciders a try. Compared to champagne yeast, beer yeast leaves more of the fruit flavor from the cider or juice, and creates a sweeter cider.
Wine yeast will add a beautiful, fruity aroma to your cider. It’ll also keep in most of the apple flavor. Wine yeast is also tolerable to alcohol, meaning that it’ll leave your cider with a high alcohol content, or ABV. This can be worked around though. If you want your cider to have a low ABV, let it ferment for a shorter amount of time. Likewise, if you want a higher ABV, ferment for longer.
How To Make Homemade Hard Cider
Now that we have all that out of the way, we can start talking about how to actually make hard cider. Making hard cider is no more complicated than putting a few ingredients into a jar and setting the jar aside for a few weeks. The hardest part about making it, though, is the waiting.
You Will Need…
- A fermenting kit that includes 2 jars, a stopper, and an airlock.
- A packet of yeast (bread yeast won’t work)
- Enough juice or cider to fit into your jars
- A funnel
- A stove-safe pot
- Flavor ingredients of your choice (such as cinnamon, ginger, raisins, nutmeg, currants, or any other spices that you think would add a nice kick to your cider) This is optional!
- A baster, siphon, or auto-siphon
Step 1 – Sanitize! When fermenting anything, keeping everything clean should be a big priority. Not only should you wash your tools before using, but you should soak them in boiling water for a good 15 minutes. Make sure that your funnel, spoons, and jars are fully covered in the boiling water the entire time they are being sanitized.
Don’t try sanitizing anything made of plastic though, otherwise they’re just going to melt and be unusable. If you’re using plastic spoons or a plastic funnel, you can sterilize them with bleach instead. Make a water and bleach mixture by using 1 tsp of bleach for every gallon of water, and carefully wash all your plastic tools until the bleach smell is gone.
This step may seem like a hassle, and that’s because it is. But, if you don’t sanitize everything properly, when your cider is fermenting, any unwanted bacteria or germs that were left in the jars, or that were transferred to the cider from the unsanitized funnel or spoon can turn into mold. Seeing a big blob of off-colored mold growing in your cider jar is definitely not appetizing.
Step 2 – Put your extra fruits or spices into your empty jars. Don’t put too much in. You should still be able to see the bottom of the jar after all the ingredients are poured in.
Step 3 – Boil half of your juice or cider in a pot on the stove. Let it boil for just a few seconds, then, using the funnel, fill your bottles evenly. Give it a stir with a spoon, then let this sit until the juice or cider is just a bit warmer than room temperature.
Step 4 – Add in the rest of the juice or cider. This step is pretty straightforward. Using the funnel, pour in the rest of your juice or cider so that both jars are equally filled.
Step 5 – Add in the yeast. Pour in about ¾ tsp of yeast into each jar, and give the juice in each jar a good stir. This will wake the yeast particles up and get them ready for glucose eating (or something like that).
Step 6 – Let it ferment. Your jars should be closed and the stoppers and airlocks should be put into place. Follow your kit’s instructions on how to use the airlock, because different types of airlocks will work differently (obviously). Put your jars in a dark but warm place, and let them sit for a few days (could be a little over a week) until the yeast and other solids from the cider or juice have fallen to the bottom.
Step 7 – Get rid of the solids! Using a baster, siphon, or auto-siphon, you have to carefully suck up the liquid and put it into a large bowl or pot. Once the liquid is completely separated from the solids at the bottom of the jars, clean those jars out and sterilize them again until they are as good as new.
Step 8 – Refill the jars and let it ferment… again. This fermentation will take longer than the first. Put your jars back in the same warm, dark place they were in before and let them ferment for about 5 weeks. The longer you ferment, the drier your cider will be, so if you want a sweeter flavor, you should only ferment it for around 2 weeks. If you are looking for that dry flavor, then 4-6 weeks would be good.
Step 9 – Final add-ins if necessary. After fermentation, you can taste your cider to see if it is to your liking. You can decide if you want to ferment it for longer, or if you fermented for long enough. If you think you let it sit too long, and you wish it were sweeter, you can add in non-glucose sweeteners. If you add in any normal sugar sweeteners, the remaining yeast will simply eat it and create even more alcohol, which will do the opposite of sweetening the cider.
Taste as you go. At this point, you can also add in more carbonation if you think your cider is not bubbly enough. You can do this in a number of ways. The most common way is by adding in brown sugar.
Let the sugar dissolve in a bit of water first before adding it into your cider. The remaining yeast will eat the sugar and will create carbonation. This will take another 2 weeks though.
If you want to carbonate your cider fast, then using dry ice or a seltzer maker, such as a soda stream, will be your best bet. For more options, check out our article on the best soda makers. Dry ice is a bit dangerous since it can actually burn your skin if you touch it, but if you wear gloves and/or use tongs, you can drop a few chunks into your bottles and let them dissolve, carbonating your cider.
Besides dry ice, again, using a seltzer maker is extremely simple.
So, that’s how you make a simple hard cider. Overall, it’ll take anywhere from 4 weeks to 8 weeks in total. Hard cider making is very much a wait-and-see game. You have to wait for weeks to find out if the cider turned out alright, and if it didn’t, it can really feel like all that time was wasted.
But, practice makes perfect. Keep trying! Keep failing until you succeed. Maybe the cider or juice you used wasn’t good enough. Maybe the spices you added in don’t work well. Maybe you fermented for too long, or added in too much sweetener.
Whatever it is, don’t give up, because when you finally create the perfect cider and get to share it with your loved ones, it’ll all be worth it.