How to Make Hard Cider: Step-by-Step Guide

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If you are interested in learning how to make hard cider, you have come to the right place. This straightforward, step-by-step guide will explain everything you need and the entire process you will follow.

If you are looking for an affordable and delicious alcoholic beverage that you can make yourself, look no further than hard cider. Not only can you make your own hard cider from the convenience of your own home, but there are also countless variations you can make that will alter the taste, color, and aroma, so it can be good fun to experiment.

So, let’s get started!

Ingredients and Equipment You Will Need 

Ingredients: 

      1 gallon of fresh apple cider

      Food-safe sanitizer

      ¼ pack of yeast

      *1 tsp. of yeast nutrient (optional)

      *1 Campden tablet (optional) 

Equipment:

      Fermenting vessel (carboy)

      Airlock

      A hydrometer 

      Siphon

      Bottling bucket

      Bottles that can be capped or otherwise sealed 

When we refer to apple juice, we are not talking about the filtered, watery stuff you find on grocery store shelves with added sugars and preservatives. For hard cider, you want unprocessed cider pressed from apples. 

Ideally, you’ve pressed your own apples from well maintained fruit trees but you can also use purchased fresh, orchard-pressed cider. You can use store-bought stuff, but only if it’s completely free from preservatives which will inhibit fermentation. Still, fresh juice is best so just taper your expectations accordingly if going that route.

*Note: Why the Campden and yeast nutrient? While it is possible to make hard cider relying purely on the natural yeast found in fresh cider, it is unreliable. It may work amazingly well but equally it may not, and even if it does work it may not taste very good! It’s a gamble, so if this is your first time, we recommend following the below recipe which stuns any wild yeast with Campden and adds cultured yeast nutrients to ensure the yeast has everything it needs to flourish. By all means, try the process without these ingredients on a separate occasion to experiment!

Making Hard Cider: Step-by-Step Process

Now that you know what you will need, we can explain how you can turn these raw ingredients into your own hard cider.

Step 1 – Clean and Sanitize All of Your Equipment

First, for the brewing process to go well, all of your equipment must be free from bacteria and mold which could compromise your batch. Start by washing your equipment using a suitable brewing cleaner, not dish soap which can leave behind a film from the oils.

You can then sanitize all of the equipment with your food-safe sanitizer product. The best products are no-rinse, so you can wait a few minutes for the sanitizer to evaporate. It is important to sanitize anything that will come in contact with your cider; everything from the carboy to any spoons and siphons.

(Optional) – Measure the Specific Gravity (Sugar Content) of the Cider

A hydrometer is a device that can provide a quick reading of the specific gravity, or sugar content, of a liquid. The reading will allow you to determine how alcoholic your end result can be.

The initial reading from your hydrometer is known as the original gravity (OG). You will also take a reading at the end of the fermentation process, which is known as the final gravity (FG). You can use the original gravity and the final gravity to calculate the final alcohol content of your finished hard cider, so it is worthwhile taking these readings. Use a small amount of the juice for the test then discard it.

Step 2 – Prepare the Juice with Campden and Yeast Nutrient

Freshly pressed apple cider will contain some volume of wild yeast. While this wild yeast is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just unpredictable and can change the taste profile of your finished cider, not always for the better. 

Similarly, your cider might be deficient in some of the nutrients that your yeast will need in order to cause fermentation. Pre-packaged yeast nutrient provides the yeast with everything it needs to flourish, which will help the fermentation process occur.

For these reasons, when you are first starting out, we recommend stunning any wild yeast through the use of a Campden tablet, and using a cultured yeast, as it will be more reliable for good fermentation. 

Add your cider to your carboy and first add one crushed Campden tablet per gallon. Cover with a cloth so that it can breathe but do not add the airlock yet. This is important as the gases need to be able to release. Allow the Campden to do its thing for at least 24 hours, mixing occasionally.

When the Campden process is complete, add the Yeast Nutrients to the cider in the amount per directions of your chosen product. This is typically around ½ teaspoon per gallon of cider.

Swish the juice around at this point as oxygen is very much needed for the yeast to thrive.

What About Pectic Enzyme?

If you would prefer your end product of hard cider to have a clearer visual appearance, consider adding a pectic enzyme at the same time that you add your yeast nutrient. This will not impact the flavor of the finished hard cider, but the enzyme can help to break down the natural pectins in the cider, which will remove some of the cloudiness.

Step 3 – Pitch the Yeast and Add Airlock

Now that the juice is suitably prepared, we can add the yeast. This is known as pitching.

Simply pour the yeast onto the juice, in the amount recommended by your chosen brand.

Next, make sure to sanitize the airlock and fill it with water up to its fill line, before attaching it to your carboy. You will need to keep an eye on the water level and keep it topped up during fermentation.

Step 4 – Set Aside to Ferment

While there are numerous variables that will determine the exact length of time it takes for the fermentation process to be completed, the following will help you determine when your batch has fully fermented.

Fermentation actually begins relatively quickly. For most batches, this process will begin within 24 hours and it will continue for about two weeks. The exact amount of time it takes will depend on the sugar content, as well as the temperature. For best results, you want the room the cider is brewing in to remain at a stable temperature somewhere between 60°F and 70°F. 

Once the airlock has stopped bubbling for roughly two days, you should take another Specific Gravity reading. Ideally, the gravity should be somewhere between 1.002 and 0.990. The variability will depend on the specific ingredients you have used in your recipe.

You should record this gravity reading, then test again after another two days. You will know that fermentation is complete if the reading is the same.

Step 5 – Separate Your Hard Cider from Sediment (Racking)

Once fermentation has occurred, all of the fermentable sugars and yeast nutrients will have been consumed by the yeast. At this point, you will need to “rack” your cider.

The term racking refers to the process of transferring your fermented cider from one vessel to another, prior to bottling. This is important as it separates the newly created hard cider from any sediments that have settled at the bottom of the vessel, known as “lees”; the leftover yeast, apple pulp, and any undissolved sugar that the yeast did not fully consume.

To perform this step, you will use a siphon to transfer the liquid into another container, without the lees. You can use a manual siphon whereby you suck on end of the tube to start the siphoning process, however, there are manual siphons designed specifically to avoid any risks of contaminating the liquid in this way.

By siphoning out your hard cider and removing the sediment, the liquid will be able to clear as it ages, making for a better-looking final product.

Step 6 – Bottle Your Freshly Brewed Hard Apple Cider

Once the fermentation process is complete and you have racked the cider, you can now bottle it. While you can technically drink it immediately, bottling or kegging the cider gives it time to age, allowing the flavors to develop and make for a more enjoyable final product. It also allows for the optional step of adding carbonation.

Carbonating the homemade cider involves adding priming sugar, typically 1 ounce per gallon, but you must calculate and measure it accurately, as too much carbonation will cause the glass bottles to explode!

After you have bottled and sealed your cider, you should store it in a cool location where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight. Some people find that home-brewed hard cider tastes better and much smoother if it is allowed to age for a few months before it is consumed, but the amount of time you let your cider age will be a question of personal preference.

You can test a bottle out every month until you are happy with the finished product!

Congratulations, You Have Hard Cider! 

Hopefully, by following this recipe, you will achieve a satisfactory result. If your first batch as a cider maker does not taste exactly how you would like though, don’t worry. Making your own hard cider involves plenty of trial and error. The more often you do it, the better you will become. You will also learn what you like and dislike, so you can alter and improve your recipe until you have a hard cider that you truly enjoy. 

As mentioned at the start, you can measure the final gravity (FG) of the hard cider and compare that to the original gravity (OG). There is a calculation using these two numbers that will let you know how strong the finished product is.

As we also mention, you'll get best results by using freshly pressed apple juice. If you're looking for a high quality cider press, look no further than our range here at Simply Cider Presses!