How to Make Hard Apple Cider

Brewing hard cider from nonalcoholic, or “sweet” cider, is a simple process, and the inebriating end product is as delicious as it is intoxicating. Here are the steps you’ll follow to make hard cider of your own.

| Fall 2017

Brewing hard cider from nonalcoholic, or “sweet” cider, is a simple process, and the inebriating end product is as delicious as it is intoxicating. Here are the steps you’ll follow to make hard cider of your own.

Hard Cider Ingredients

  • 5 gallons of preservative-free sweet apple cider, preferably unpasteurized
  • Two packets of wine yeast (Lalvin 71B or Red Star Côte des Blancs are good choices)
  • Optional for higher alcohol content: 2 pounds of brown sugar or honey
  • Optional for creating a starter: One 16-ounce bottle of preservative-free, pasteurized apple juice
  • Optional for sparkling cider: 3/4 cup honey or brown sugar

Choose Your Juice. The best hard cider is made from fresh-pressed sweet apple cider, whether your own or a local cider mill’s. If you’re buying sweet cider, start by checking the label to be sure the cider doesn’t contain chemical preservatives because they’ll kill your yeast, and your cider won’t ferment. (The cider is chemically preserved if sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate are listed on the label.) Your best bet for preservative-free cider is either to buy it in season from a local orchard or to make it using fruit from your own trees. For best results, look for the cultivars described in the photo slideshow. In a pinch, you can also make hard cider with apple juice from the grocery store, as long as it doesn’t have preservatives.

Also, be aware that most commercial cider makers are required to pasteurize their cider. The usual method of pasteurization kills microorganisms with heat, which affects the flavor of the juice. Preferably, your sweet cider should be “cold pasteurized,” which kills microorganisms with ultraviolet light. If you’re not sure which method a local cider mill uses, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Choose Your Yeast. A variety of dry and liquid brewing yeasts will do the trick — you can find them online or from homebrew stores. Although you can buy specialized liquid yeast packs for fermenting cider, dry wine yeasts do an excellent job and are much cheaper. (You can buy a pack for less than a dollar.)

Make a Starter. The day before you brew your cider, make a starter. This step is optional, but it ensures that your yeast is proofed (i.e., alive) and that it will start fermenting your cider right away. To make a starter, open a 16-ounce bottle of preservative-free apple juice, pour out a few ounces to set aside or to drink, and add the contents of one yeast packet to the bottle of apple juice. Then, reseal the bottle and shake it for a few seconds. Within five or six hours, you should see a bit of bubbling inside the bottle. After you see bubbling, release the pressure within the bottle, reseal it, and put it in the refrigerator. Take it out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before you brew.

Brewing Equipment

  • One 5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket with spigot, lid, and airlock
  • 3 to 6 feet of 5/16 -inch food-grade plastic tubing
  • Stainless steel or plastic spoon
  • Enough half-gallon glass “growler” jugs or other bottles (including caps or corks) to store the finished cider
  • Optional: Stainless steel or enameled pot
  • Optional: A second 5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket with spigot, or a glass carboy

Simmer Your Cider. On brewing day, pour your cider into the brewpot and simmer it over medium heat for about 45 minutes. This will kill most of the wild yeasts and bacteria in the cider. More adventurous cider makers will forgo this step by pouring the sweet cider directly into a plastic bucket and then pitching in the yeast. If you follow this strategy, wild strains of yeast will still be in the sweet cider when it begins fermenting. This will alter the flavor of the cider. (It may or may not improve it.) If you do heat the cider, don’t let it boil! Boiling causes pectins to set, which creates a permanently hazy beverage. While simmering the cider, you can add the optional 2 pounds of brown sugar or honey. This will boost the fermentable sugar content in your cider and increase the alcohol content.

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