How To Make Hard Cider: Six Easy Steps

hard cider
Credit – bkapps

Making hard cider is a logical step for homebrewers looking to stretch their creative muscle.

Step 1: Collect The Must

Must is the pressed apple that gets turned into alcohol. Getting it fresh off the farm is the best option, but store-bought must is fine, too. The must is essentially apple juice with all the crushed pieces of apple and its pieces still in it. Going to an apple farm or cidery and asking for unpasteurized must will save you the trouble of having to buy all the apples and crush them yourself. Unpasteurized must has some advantages that we’ll cover later.

If getting your hands on must isn’t an option, then you’ll want to start by picking up a pasteurized apple cider from the grocery store. Check the ingredient list to make sure it doesn’t have any preservatives in it. Since it’s pasteurized, you’ll need to add commercial yeast to it to make alcohol.

Step 2: Preparing the fermentation

Things needed for this step:

  • Yeast
  • Campden tablets

After the must is collected, it’s time to prep for fermentation. For unpasteurized must you can use the yeast that grows naturally on the apples and is thus already in the must, or you can use a controlled yeast. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages and will change how the final product tastes.

The yeast that naturally lives on the apple skins has spent millennia looking for a home and decided that apples are its best fit. This blend of yeasts and bacteria have become intertwined and will lend a very deep and unique taste to the cider. Apples from different regions of the world, and even within micro-regions, have developed different yeasts that will ultimately lend flavors unique to that area. Let the must sit at 60° F for a few days and airlock activity will start up. The disadvantage of this option is that a nasty strain of bacteria could be in the mix and ruin the batch.

Commercial yeast will give a consistent fermentation and help make the cider reproducible year after year. Lots of great yeast can be easily bought online (White Labs WLP775 is my favorite). Dry wine yeast is an option if that’s all that’s available.

Before adding the commercial yeast, you need to kill all the wild yeast in the must by adding 1.5 campden tablets (potassium metabisulfite) per gallon to the must and letting this sit loosely covered for 36 hours to let the sulfur offgas and prevent gross smells. The campden addition isn’t needed if you’re using anything that has been pasteurized.

Step 3: Primary fermentation

Things needed for this step:

  • Yeast nutrient
  • A spoon to stir the must
  • Pectic enzyme (optional)
  • Hydrometer
  • Racking Cane
  • Yeast
  • A sanitized fermenter

To make the best cider possible, you’ll need to feed the yeast what it needs to grow big and strong and lose any “off” flavors. Add the must, and commercial yeast if you’re using that, to the fermenter. Add one teaspoon per gallon of yeast nutrient and give the fermenter a shake to help oxygenate the wort.

At the start of fermentation, you can also add pectic enzyme to help make the final cider nice and clear. Place the airlock and stopper in the top of the fermenter and leave it all in a cool dark place.

The primary fermentation should be wrapped up in two weeks. It is important to ensure that the gravity, tested via hydrometer, is stable. This is how you make sure the product is actually done fermenting. After this is achieved, use a racking cane to move the cider into another carboy to begin clarification and aging.

Note: it is possible to skip the next step, but the cider will taste a bit harsh; by sitting on the yeast too long the cider can pick up a funky meaty taste.

Step 4: Aging

Things needed for this step of making hard cider:

  • A glass carboy with stopper and airlock

This is the step that polishes up the cider and makes it delicious. Secondary storage will give the yeast time to clean up any “off” flavors it produced while fermenting, round out any higher alcohol tastes, and slowly clarify. There is no hard rule for how long this step lasts, but I generally give mine three months to make it as clear as possible. Give it a taste and if you don’t like it then let it sit longer.

Step 5: Back Sweeting

Things needed for this step:

  • Potassium sorbate
  • Sugars, spice, any flavorings

This step is optional but takes a basic cider to the next level of flavor. Skip this step if you want to make a sparkling cider. To prevent the additives from starting up fermentation again, add ½ tsp of potassium sorbate per gallon of cider and let sit overnight. This will finish killing any active yeast in the cider and make sure the flavor additives don’t get consumed.

Take an 8 oz sample of the cider and add whatever you want to it. Wine conditioner or inverted sugar is a common choice as are fruits, spices, or a neutral spirit soaked in wood to give it a barrel-aged flavor. Once you’re happy with the taste, scale up the addition and move on to packaging.

Step 6. Packaging

Things needed for this step:

  • Sanitized bottles and caps
  • Bottling bucket
  • Racking cane
  • Priming sugar (if sparkling)

For a still, back-sweetened cider, put the desired additives in the bottling bucket and rack the cider over into the bucket, trying not to disturb the bottom of the carboy. You can bottle this up and drink it right away, but the flavors will evolve and change with age. It’s worth it to store a few and try them at different time intervals.

For a sparkling cider, add the appropriate amount of priming sugar to the bottom of the bottling bucket and add the cider on top, making sure everything is nicely mixed. Dispense the cider into the bottles, making sure to leave approximately an inch of headspace on top. Let the bottles sit at 70° F for a few weeks until the carbonation is where you want it, then put them in the fridge.

There you have it, six easy steps to make another delicious fermented beverage at home. Cheers!

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