Hard (Alcoholic) Cider – Homebrew Recipe & Steps
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.
Time: 3-4 weeks minimum | 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 let your cider ferment for a full 4-6 months. This means 1-2 months in your primary fermentation, another 1-2 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)
- 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.
Primary Cider Fermentation
Pitch the yeast and starting fermentation. If you’re starting out, you may want to just use a primary fermenter for the entire period; however, if you’re opting for a dryer fully-finished ferment over 2-4 months rather than 4 weeks, you may get a better final product if you split the ferment into a primary and secondary ferment (where you remove some of the yeast and deposits that happen in the first half of the process).
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 days
a. Place the airlock on the vessel to stop oxygen from entering the brew while ensuring CO2 escapes.
b. Leave for 7 days / 1 week
Secondary Cider Fermentation – (optional)
The secondary fermenting process is often called “racking”; this helps remove dead yeast which can add an off-flavour to the cider. As mentioned above, racking and continuing in a second fermentation vessel is optional.
a. Transfer in-progress fermenting cider to new vessel (Carboy)
Place the primary fermenter on a table above the secondary fermenter. Use a *disinfected/washed* hose to transfer the cider from fermenter #1 to the fermenter #2. Avoid disturbing or sucking up the yeast from the bottom of the primary fermenter while transferring (this is kind of the whole point of the secondary ferment).
This video shows how racking can be done:
b. Put the airlock on secondary fermenter
c. Leave for an additional 2 weeks to complete the fermentation and 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. Add sugar for carbonation and/or additional sweetness
½ tsp per 1L
3. Top up all bottles with Cider and leave 1.5” gap at the top to allow for pressurization
4. Let ferment in bottles for another 5-10 days longer in bottle checking frequently for pressure in the plastic bottle
5. Halt fermentation once the pressure in plastic bottles is enough to not give way to light pressure. To do this, pasteurize bottles at the lower range but 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].
6. Let cool and either put into storage or refrigerate before consuming.
Clean-Up & After Care of Cider Yeast
Yeast Washing & Reuse: 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 (if you go this route), but just know you can keep and save the old microbes. If a batch goes bad though (if there’s too much bacteria or the wrong type of fungus), you may have to start over with new yeast.
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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