Homebrew Cider Recipe: Fermenting Hard Alcoholic Cider
If you’re ready to take the plunge into homebrew hard cider, you’ll find everything you need to get started with this cider recipe and ‘how-to’. We’ve included a list of tools you need to buy and instructions on how to make your first batch…
By Dustin Miller on Jul. 02, 2020
Making alcoholic cider is mostly easy, but it does require a bit of patience, the right materials (apple juice and a bucket, haha!) and the ability to follow and adhere to a process. In this post, we’ll cover the steps you need to follow to make alcoholic hard cider—at home!
If you’re new to homebrewing and want to understand the process a little bit more before jumping in, we recommend you check out this introduction to homebrewing and this article which covers preceding details about making hard cider in your home. These articles will prepare you for the brewing process and help answer any questions you might have, like “Is methanol something you should worry about when homebrewing cider?”
Looking for video instructions? We’ve compiled a video playlist of our favourite YouTuber’s homebrew cider tutorials. Click here to jump to the playlist or continue scrolling for the cider recipe and instructions.
Looking for a good homebrew cider book? We love The Big Book of Cidermaking: Expert Techniques for Fermenting and Flavoring Your Favorite Hard Cider (released Sept 1, 2020).
Time: 3-4 weeks minimum up to 9 months or more
Cost: $20–$500+ | Serving Size: 1-4 gal (or 4-16L)
Prefer a Dry Cider? If your goal is to make a very dry fully-fermented cider, you’ll want to use a high-alcohol yeast (like Lalvin EC-1118 champagne yeast), add extra sugar, and then let your cider ferment for a full 4-6 months. This means 1-2 months in your primary fermentation and another 2-3 months in the secondary fermentation with a final month (or more) conditioning after being bottled.
—As noted in Wild Ferment by Sandor Katz under the advice of Ben Watson, Author of Cider, Hard and Sweet.
Tools & Ingredients:
What You Need to Make Alcoholic Apple Cider
Hard Cider Homebrew
GETTING APPLE JUICE
- Apple juice
- Store-bought organic apple juice (without preservatives); or
- Hand crushed juice from apples, in which case you’ll need a bushel of apples (~47lbs or about 125 medium apples) to make ~3 gallons of cider.
- Hand apple crusher/pulper/grinder [Buy Online]
- Fruit press & muslin cloth or mesh filter
- Water (Distilled/Bottled or Tap)
Tap Water Warning: minerals in your tap water may alter the flavour. The tap water pH may affect the fermentation process, and chlorine/chloramines may kill your starter yeast.
- Sanitizer – Dish Soap or Star San (acid-based no-rinse sanitizer)
- Primary Fermenting Vessel (Plastic bucket 6-gallon or 2-gallon, or stainless steel 4-gallon)
Wondering what’s the difference between vessel options?
- Secondary Fermenting Vessel (optional)
- Siphon Tube – to transfer liquid from the primary vessel to secondary
(With a hand pump or an auto-siphon)
- Airlock (air cup or bubble type)
- Hydrometer (for testing specific gravity) [Buy Online]
- Champagne yeast (others for beer/brewing can be used too)
- Campden Tablets (to disinfect the apple juice)
- Pectic enzyme (optional) – for better cider clarity
- Yeast nutrient (optional) – diammonium phosphate and food-grade urea that nourishes yeast
- Sugar (white, brown, and/or agave)
Target 1-2 cups / gallon (4L) of juice
- Flavour adjuncts (optional – fruits, spices, herbs, flowers, etc)
- Adjust or blend different apple cultivars (types) **Advanced**
If hand-crushing, you can alter the ratio of apple types to change the flavour, sweetness, bitterness, or astringency of your final cider.
- Alternate yeast types can also be used for different flavours.
- Homebrewing glass bottles
- Siphon Tube – to transfer liquid from fermenter to bottles
(hand pump or an auto-siphon)
A note about cleanliness & sterility
Always clean and disinfect your tools (spoons, buckets, measuring cups, jugs, etc), work area, fermenting vessels and apples thoroughly. Anything going into this process is a potential point for infection and because you’re working with long-term fermentation, cleanliness is your best guard against a bad batch of cider.
Steps to Make Hard Cider
Prep Apple Juice for Fermentation
1. Get your apple juice
Either buy premade apple juice or manually crush and squeeze fresh apples.
Here are four optional methods for juicing apples: blend apples and squeeze pulp by hand, smash apples in a bucket & using a press, crushing with a fruit pulper and pressing, and finally using a juicer).
You’ll need at least 1.5-2 gallons of juice to make a batch. You may want to test your first batch using pre-bought juice so you’re not losing an entire season of apples during your trial run.
2. Kill any existing microbes in the apple juice
Things like E. coli, Salmonella, and other potentially harmful (or just less ideal) bacteria or fungus can spoil your cider. You can kill those microbes via one of these two options:
a) Pasteurize it – Heat the apple juice to at least 160•F (71•C), but below 185•F (85•C) for 10 minutes. When you heat the cider you kill microbes and reduce the chance of methanol
Why you might not want to pasteurize your cider…
Heating the apple juice can change the composition of some of the nutrients or denature proteins and possibly remove beneficial nutrients and/or flavours. Keeping the temp below boiling, in the range of 160•F–185•F (or 71•C–85•C) should help prevent this. However, if you don’t want to alter the flavour of your cider as a result of heat, try option b;
b) Add Campden tablets (potassium or sodium metabisulfite) to your brew 24-36h before adding yeast. When dissolved in water, potassium metabisulfite creates sulphur dioxide and sulphites. This is commonly used in the food and beverage industry to inhibit microbe growth.
Why you might not want to use Campden tablets? If you’re part of the 1% of the population who is sensitive to sulfites, this may not be an option for you. If drinking wine often gives you headaches (not one caused by excessive drinking), hives, stomach pain, or even respiratory irritation, you may want to opt for pasteurization instead. More about side-effects of sulfites.
Whatever you decide, kill the microbes and continue on to fermenting your cider. Alternatively, you could go wild with a wild ferment, but for this article we’re going to stick to domesticated yeast and the process that follows for a standard home brew cider.
***From this point forward, all tools going into the juice must be thoroughly sterilized/washed with soap and water beforehand. When using soap, be sure to rinse tools off so no soap residue remains. Your goal is to kill any pathogens/bacteria but also not introduce any soap into your now sterilized brew***
3. For Cider Clarity – Add pectic enzyme / pectinase (optional)
Pectic enzyme can be added to reduce haze and improve the clarity of the final cider; however, it’s also been shown that adding pectic enzyme can increase the methanol level in the final brew (though it’s generally thought that the amount of methanol released from apples during fermentation is too small to matter).
Add enzyme at least 12h after Campden tablets, but 12h before adding yeast. If pasteurizing your juice, add pectin enzyme after pasteurizing once the juice is cooled. Can be added at time of yeast introduction.
4. Start your yeast
Making a yeast starter: Boil a 1/8th to 1/4 gallon of your cider and add 1/8-1/4 cup of sugar to it. Let the starter cool in a mason jar (or other smaller vessel) and add your yeast (target about 1/2tbsp per gallon of cider), stir, seal the container and let sit for 12-24h. Pre-starting the yeast like this helps activate a dried yeast colony and will give the fermentation a boost at the start. This step isn’t required; however, is generally recommended and can help you avoid stressing the yeast later in fermentation. You can read more about yeast starters here.
If you’re using a wild ferment, you can still create a yeast starter by using a small container of (unpasturized) apple juice from apples picked off a tree. Follow the same steps as a standard yeast starter, but give the starter a bit more time to get started—about 2-5 days. Check often and if you notice any off smells, toss the starter.
Love a good book to guide your process? Us too!
The Big Book of Cidermaking: Expert Techniques for Fermenting and Flavoring Your Favorite Hard Cider (released Sept 1, 2020).
Primary Cider Fermentation
Primary fermentation is when you add the yeast to your juice in a first vessel for fermentation and give the yeast time to convert all the sugar it can to alcohol. This is when the most activity happens and as the yeast consume the sugar, you see active bubbling.
If you’re new to homebrewing and making your own cider, you may want to just use primary fermentation for the entire process, but if you do this, just make sure you wait long enough (4-6 weeks) to ensure that all of the sugar is fully fermented; however, if you’re opting for a clearer, dryer, fully-finished and more flavor-precise product, then you’ll want to age your cider in a secondary vessel (but we’ll cover that down below).
5. Add ingredients to the primary fermenter
Note: As you add each of the following ingredients, stir them into the apple juice.
a. Pitch the yeast starter into the apple juice – “pitching” is just a fancy way of saying “add the yeast.”
Targeting about 1/2 tbsp of yeast/gallon (4L) of cider or all of your starter yeast.
b. Add sugar (to increase the alcohol in the final cider)
1-2 cups of sugar/gallon (4L) of cider
c. Add yeast nutrient (optional)
1/2 tbsp/gallon (4L) of cider
d. If you didn’t use a yeast starter, you may want to leave the yeast in the primary fermenter with oxygen for 12-24h to help jump-start their production.
6. Convert to Anaerobic Conditions & Ferment for 7-21 days
a. Place the airlock on the vessel to stop oxygen from entering the brew while ensuring CO2 escapes.
b. Leave the juice to ferment until you no longer see activity. This primary fermentation period may range from 3 days up to 3 weeks (or longer depending on select conditions in your home such as temperature, yeast type, and amount of yeast originally pitched). Once the bubbling has stopped, wait another week before secondary ferment.
A more precise way to know when fermentation is complete is to check the final gravity of the cider a week between readings. If the gravity reading is stable, the sugars have been converted as much as the yeast can. If the gravity reading changes, the yeast is still converting sugars and the cider is not ready for the secondary fermentation phase.
Secondary Cider Fermentation – (optional)
The secondary fermentation process is generally more, “aging, conditioning and clarifying” rather than “fermentation”; the intent in this second phase is typically not to continue fermenting your cider (this should be done now), but rather to remove old/dead yeast and allow flavours in the cider to blend or mellow.
Aside – Secondary Ferment Continues with Wild Microbes: The concept of ‘secondary fermentation’ likely comes from classic fermentation methods where wild microbes are used rather than more modern methods which uses a single yeast strain. Wild fermentation is a longer, multi-phase process (taking 6 months to many years), where different microbes become dominant at different phases and contribute to flavours in different ways throughout that process. In the first phase (the primary ferment), the yeast Sacchromyces is dominant and does the majority of the heavy lifting converting sugars to alcohol (within roughly 3 days to 3 weeks)—and if you’re not fermenting wild and only using Sacchromyces, you can see how primary fermentation would be the only fermentation. After most of the sugar is consumed, Sacchromyces numbers reduce and the colonies settle out of the solution to the floor making a cake (called ‘Lees’ – which is dead and dormant yeast cells, and other particulates from the juice), at which point other yeasts and bacteria bloom, such as Pediococcus yeast, acetic acid bacteria, lactobacillus (lactic acid bacteria), and at the end Brettanomyces yeast. If the brew is left on the Sacchromyces yeast sediment for an extended period of time, a process called ‘autolysis‘ happens and the yeast cells begin to break down releasing mannoproteins and polysaccharides into the brew. This can result in off flavours called ‘yeast bite’—which, when undesirable may taste/smell like meat or sulfur—and this is why racking to secondary ferment (and leaving behind the yeast lees) is considered an important process. In some methods of fermentation though, the practice of leaving a cider or wine to age on its yeast lees (or sur lie aging) is intentional and it can impart desirable floral aromas, a fuller-body mouthfeel, and flavours like nuttiness and breadiness. Premium-quality champagnes and ciders from Spain and France for example, rely on autolysis and long-term aging to attain that prototype flavour of a high-quality full-bodied and dynamic beverage. All of that said, most homebrew ciders rely exclusively on sacchromyces yeast, which complete the main conversion of sugar to alcohol quickly, and hence the secondary fermentation (with this method) is considered more “aging and conditioning” rather than “secondary fermentation.”
Secondary fermentation is started by “racking” (transferring) the cider from your primary vessel to the second vessel, leaving behind the lees on the bottom. During this transfer, you’ll also want to avoid adding oxygen as much as possible (because it oxidizes the alcohol and converts it to acetic acid – AKA vinegar), which is why you shouldn’t “just dump it” into the second vessel. Instead, use a syphon to transfer the cider with as minimal exposure to air as possible. As mentioned above, yeast lees can result in off-flavour cider but if you’re going for easy, simple and basic, racking and continuing in a second fermentation vessel is optional and it is safe/acceptable to just finish fermentation in the single original vessel and jump to bottling once done—just make sure you give the yeast extra time to consume all the sugar (you don’t want fermentation continuing once bottled or you’ll risk bottles exploding).
a. How to Rack to Secondary Ferment
Elevate the primary fermenter (onto a table, inverted bucket, or something stable) above the secondary fermenter. Use a *disinfected/washed* hose to siphon the cider from fermenter vessel #1 to conditioning vessel #2. Avoid disturbing or sucking up the yeast lees from the bottom of the primary fermenter while transferring—you can expect to lose about 5-15% of your brew during this process, as it’s left behind with the lees.
This video shows how racking can be done:
b. Put the airlock on secondary fermenter
c. Leave for at least 2 weeks to condition/age; longer time is acceptable too ranging from general brackets of: 3, 6, 9 or 12 months. Then proceed with bottling.
Steps to Bottling Apple Cider
Once your fermentation is complete, proceed with bottling your cider.
1. Add any adjunct spice flavourings to the bottles (optional). This could include things like cinnamon sticks, clove, etc
2. Top up all bottles with Cider and leave 1.5” gap at the top to allow for pressurization.
3. – a) Flat Cider: If you’ve let the cider condition & age in secondary fermentation for many weeks and all the sugar is consumed, then you’re done and can bottle your cider and you won’t need to worry about pasteurizing the bottles to kill residual yeast.
3. – b) Carbonated Cider (optional): Add a small amount of sugar prior to bottling for in-bottle induced carbonation. Roughly, ½ tsp sugar per 1L should work—let the cider ferment in bottles for another 3-10 days longer, bottle one in plastic and check it frequently for pressure by squeezing the bottle. Beware: bottle explosion is real (and dangerous) and you should exercise caution if going this route.
- Halt fermentation: Once the pressure in plastic bottles is enough to not give-way to a light squeeze, you want to stop fermentation by pasteurizing the bottles to kill off the remaining yeast. To do this, heat the bottled cider at the lower temperature range (be sure to cover the pot in case any of the bottles break – explode!). Bring temperature to at least 140F (60C) but below 65F (149F) for 13-15 minutes [source]. Let cool before storing.
6. Store in a dark, cool room. Refrigerate before consuming.
Clean-Up & After Care of Cider Yeast
Reuse Yeast – Washing & Store: If you’re planning to continue making cider in the future, you can wash and save yeast from previous batches for future brews. Yeast washing and storage can be a cost-saving, but it’s also a way to keep and reuse cultures of fermenting microbes that are unique. This justification is probably more relevant to wild fermentation and saving the yeasts and bacteria which have spontaneously formed in your batch—but you should save the microbes at the end of first fermentation, rather than later stages because some colonies may die off.
You can store yeast lees for at least a couple months in the fridge, but be sure to occasionally give them a pinch of sugar and burp the container weekly.
Video: How to Wash Yeast for Future Use
Post-Fermentation Sanitation: Cleanliness at the end of your fermentation is extremely important. You’ll need to wash and clean all of your fermenting tools thoroughly to remove any residual sugars which will give mold and bacteria a chance to breed and produce spores before your next batch. Wash with warm soapy water, use a brush to get inside hoses, buckets, and the carboys, and thoroughly rinse all tools. Using Star San is also advantageous at this point if your last batch was spoiled—and will be vital for stopping cross-contamination from previous batches to new batches.
Homebrewing Cider Video Playlist
If you made this brew or you homebrew cider – tell us about it! Post your photos on Instagram and tag @justbeerapp. We’d love to hear how your cider turned out!
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