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How to make homebrew hard cider

how to brew apple cider

When I was a lad, I lived in a place called 'the fruit bowl of New Zealand', that place being Hastings.

There were apples everywhere, in the orchards, on the farms, on every corner. Open the newspaper and four or five would fall out! 

And never once did I think about making them into cider.

And now that I live miles away from the orchards of home, a good cider reminds me of years apple picking and thinning and driving a hydra-ladder around an orchard to help pay for university fees.

But you came here to learn how to brew an alcoholic (hard) cider, so let's get on with it. 

If you've brewed beer before, it's the same concept of fermentation but with some slight variations to the preparation of the basic ingredients and the addition of a few handy remedies to augment the cider's flavour. 

As always when brewing, it's very important that all your equipment is exceptionally clean and properly sanitized.

So what do we need to begin making hard cider?


If you think the first thing on the list of things you need is apples or pears, well, you'd be right.

But it's not that simple.

When brewing cider, not all apples are created equal.

Ideally, you'll have been able to harvest some late-season apples, maybe even some which have naturally fallen from the tree. This is because these apples have high amounts of sugar in them, and as any brewer knows, sugar is great for fermenting!

Having a mix of different apples is very useful for taste preferences as well. Mixing Red Delicious with Granny Smith in a 1 to 2 ration will produce a dry cider whereas 1 to 2 ration of Macintosh to Cortland will produce a sweeter cider.

Another way to get the mix right is to use a mixture of 70% dessert apples and 30% cooking apples. This should give a good balance of sweetness and acidic taste.

Preparation of apples for brewing


First up, wash your fruit of dirt, bird shit, leaves and twigs and the like. Cut away any rotten fruit as well. If your apples are a bit bruised, this is not a concern. 

Your immediate goal is to turn your apples or pears into a pulp. Some players may use a scratter but chances are you're gonna have to do this the hard way by using a bit of elbow grease and pulp them into what's called a 'pomace'.

What you do is pulp the fruit in a large bucket by simply pounding it with a piece of clean wood in the form of a 4 x 4 post. Or the end of a baseball bat, or whatever's handy for pulping.  Things will work out best if you quarter your apples or pears before starting this process.

You can always use a blender to speed the process along, but you are not trying to puree the fruit so go easy with the blender. 

Bear in mind, you're not trying to go all Charles Bronson on your apples. Your mashed apples should have some substance to them, and the should certainly not be liquefied. If that's the case, you've over pulped. 

How much many apples do I need to make cider?


A very rough rule of thumb is that 2kg of apples or pears can be turned into 1 litre of juice. If you are thinking in gallons, you'll need 20 pounds or just under 10 kg per gallon. So, if you want to fill your traditional 23 beer fermenter, do the maths and you'll find you need 46 kgs of apples. Which is a lot of apples!

When crushing, be careful not to overdo it. The finished apples should have some substance to them, and liquid juice should not be present. If it is you have pulped them too much.

brewing cider tips


It's time to press your apples and extract the juice


Seasoned pros will venture that using an apple press will save a lot of time and efficiently produce a lot of juice. 

Make sure you apple press is nice and clean. Make sure you have a clean bucket properly positioned to collect the apple juice. 

Then load your quartered apples or pears into it. 

As you turn the press, you will start to feel some real tension. Don't be tempted to keep going, this is part is a part of slowness and patience. Leave the press in this position for a couple of minutes and the juice will actually begin to

Turn the press down onto the fruit until you feel some real tension. As soon as you do, don’t keep turning but leave this in position for a few minutes. You will see the juice will start to run. When the juice stops then tighten the press again and leave to repeat the process again until your apples are fully pressed. 

You should now have all the juice you need to make your cider with but first, it's time to add a campden tablet or two.

Adding sodium metabisulphite to kill off wild yeast


Producers of cider know full well that a batch of juiced apples can easily succumb to acetobacter bacteria contamination which causes the classic turn-to-vinegar spoilage of the apples.

Acetobacter is easily killed off, hence treatment with an agent like a Campden tablet (sodium metabisulphite) is important in cider production.

Using approx one tablet per gallon will also see off any 'wild yeast' that might have traveled with your apples. 

Experienced cider conjurers may also take the opportunity to add pectolase or peptic enzyme to the juice. Pectolase aids in the break down of pectin in the fruit giving you more juice and of great importance, this facilitates a better fermentation and a clearer cider as it helps reduce pectic haze. The amount of enzyme to add is approximately one teaspoon per gallon of juice. 

It's also used in winemaking for the same reasons.

It's recommended that you give this new solution 48 hours before you pitch your yeast to commence fermentation. Given this time, you should cover your apple juice will a towel or some such item to prevent foreign particles from getting in. You may wish to give it a stir once in a while as well. 

Adding yeast to the apple juice


Having let your juice rest with the Campden tablets for at least 24 hours, you are now at a fork in the road somewhat. You can take your chances with any benign yeast taking their opportunity to ferment the juice or you can pitch a yeast that is well suited for brewing with apples or pears.

If you didn't already transfer the juice into your fermenter, now is the time to do so. Make damn well sure it is properly sanitized.

You might want to take a reading with a hydrometer to get the gravity of your juice so you can work out the ABV. 

It's time to add the yeast but what kind should you add?

The classic, traditional yeasts to use are commonly referred to as Champagne yeast as they produce what is often described as neutral flavors but there are some great wine and beer yeasts out there to try as well. 

Here are a few selections:

Specific yeasts for cider

  • Mangrove Jack’s Cider Yeast M02
  • Safcider from Fermentis
  • WLP775 English Cider Yeast from White Lab

Champagne yeasts for cider

  • Prise de Mousse, EC1118 from Lallemand. A popular choice for those who wish to have a high alcohol content (and you can encourage this by adding extra sugar to your cider batch).
  • Pasteur Blanc from Red Star
  • VQ 10 yeast from Enartis
  • Enartis Ferm WS

    Beer yeasts for cider

    • Saflager S-23 from Fermentis
    • WLP565 Belgian Saison from White Labs
    • Wyeast 3711 French Saison
    Here's a demonstration video of how the professionals do it:

    How long to leave the cider to ferment?


    Fermentation should start within the week, or a few days if the temperature is ideal. You'll want to let your brew do its business for about two weeks AND then give it another to let the yeast begin to settle out of the solution to improve clarity.

    You can get away with quicker times for brewing beer but apples and pears need this time if you want to make a quality brew.

    What temperature do you ferment cider at?


    As with beer making, sound temperature control will improve the odds you will have a good tasting beer. The extremes apply here - too cold and the yeast will hibernate and not ferment. Too hot and the yeast will be overworked and will produce fusel alcohols which will impair the taste of your cider. 

    The ideal temperature is considered to be about 15 degrees Centigrade or 59 Fahrenheit. Nudging to 20 is acceptable but anything over will produce unwanted side effects. 

    A steady temperature is also ideal. Too much fluctuation can through the yeast off its game. If you have a brewing fridge / fermentation chamber with a thermostat, your cider is ideal for a run in it. 

    When to add malic acid to cider brew?


    Malic acid occurs naturally in apples and plays a part in the pH level of your cider and most crucially taste. If your pH level is too high, then adding extra malic acid will reduce the pH level (remember the lower the pH level, the more acidic a solution will be). 

    Conversely, if your pH level is too low, then you'll want to add a base such as precipitated chalk.

    So then, your next question surely then is what is an ideal pH reading for cider? Many brewers aim for a range of 3.2 - 3.8. If you're nudging over four, you'll want to add malic acid as given it is already present, it matches the profile of the cider. 

    If you're interested in using a digital pH meter for checking the level of your cider, check out our pH tester buying guide.

    Do I need to add tannins to my cider batch? 


    Tannin is a yellowish or brownish bitter-tasting organic substance that can be found in plant material such as tea, rhubarb, grapes and apples. Tannins are acids, a well known one being gallic acid. Tannins give an astringent, drying bitterness quality to cider. 

    Some kinds of apples have high tannin levels so the addition of them is not really necessary. Where brewers are using applies which naturally make a sweet cider, that brew may need some added tannins. 

    A ¼ teaspoon of tannin per gallon of cider is a commonly recommended amount to add. The exact amount can be a bit of a science, this dude has some great advice on how much to use.

    Tannins can be sourced online from Amazon or from your local brew shop.

    bottle conditioned apple cider


    How long do I bottle condition cider for if I'm carbonating?


    Cider takes a lot longer than beer to condition to an optimum drinkable state. It can take up to two months for carbonation to fully occur and even longer for the cider to reach peak performance. That said, some brews will be carbonated within 2 - 3 weeks. 

    It's very important to only bottle when you are sure fermentation is complete as if you cap those bottles before the yeast has done its job, you'll run the risk of bottles blowing up especially if you've added sugar to promote bottle carbonation. A bottle explosion can send a big foamy mess everywhere and littering the place with sharp glass. Trust me, I've made this mistake before and it's a massive pain to clean it all up and worse, it's a waste of time and energy and money!

    If you want flat cider, without carbonation, you'll need to add an additive such as more Campden solution to prevent any residual yeast from fermenting in the bottle. Like when you were preparing the apple juice, leave the Campden to sit for a whole day before bottling to help ensure any yeast present is accounted for.

    Remember to store your bottles in a cool spot, free of direct sunlight.

    I should mention that before bottling should taste your brew as this is the time to 'back sweeten' if wish. If you want to do this, you can add a non-fermentable sweetener such as stevia. This is in place of using extra sugar and it will mean you won't over carbonate.

    Making cider from store bought Apple Juice


    Making cider from store bought apple juice is a very simple process as the hard work has been all done for you. Try and use a juice that doesn't have preservatives as theoretically this can hamper fermentation from commencing but don't over think it.

    You might want to start with a gravity reading. If it is below 1050, then you may wish to consider adding a bit of sugar so the yeast has something to start working on.

    The process of fermentation is the same so fill your clean and sanitized fermenter with the desired juice. Give it a bit of a shake to aerate and then pitch your yeast - maybe Lalvin EC-1118. You could also add some yeast nutrient as well.

    Some brewers split the juice in half and once they are satisfied fermentation is occurring, they add the second half.

    Seal your fermenter with an airlock and leave it be for 2 to 3 weeks at a minimum. When you feel your cider is ready for bottle conditioning, you can batch prime with dextrose in the normal manner.

    You will want to condition your cider for a minimum of two months - cider brewers need to be more patient that beer brewers if they want a good tasting cider!


    What is a Demijohn?


    A demijohn (or jimmyjohn) is a particular kind of glass fermenter that is popular with cider and winemakers. They come in all kinds of sizes from 5 litres through to 23. The smaller sizes allow for experimentation. Their long necks can make them troublesome to clean.

    hard cider beer kit


    What about brewing with a cider kit?


    There are plenty of cider kits out there, just as there are for beer. We've taken a fancy to the Brooklyn BrewShop's Hard Cider Kit:

    A perfect kit for beginners, it makes fermenting hard cider at home simple and fun. The kit has enough ingredients to makes 3 batches of hard cider.

    It includes 1 gallon reusable glass fermenter, 3 packets yeast, vinyl tubing & clamp, racking cane & tip, chambered airlock, 3 packets cleanser, and screw-cap stopper. 

    You'll need to supply your own apples or juice.

    You'll be able to produce 3 batches of 7% ABV of hard cider (9-10 12-oz bottles). Brooklyn BrewShop describe that this kit will help you make a cider that is tart, bubbly and dry. Check out the price  and reviews on Amazon.

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