How To Make Hard Cider The Easy Way

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Recently we purchased a Victorio Steam Juicer, and after making some delicious apple juice, we decided we wanted to make hard cider ourselves at home. It’s very easy to make small batches of 1 to 5 gallons at a time, using ingredients and equipment that should cost under $20 for your first batch (and even less for future batches). Let’s get started.

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How To Make Hard Cider The Easy Way

You’ll need a few pieces of equipment to begin:

  • One or two one-gallon glass jugs. We found jugs that already contained apple juice – we were unable to use the juice (more on that in a bit) but the jugs were perfect. Do NOT try to ferment cider in plastic!
  • A fermentation lock and stopper— This is used to allow the gas to escape from the bottle as it ferments, without allowing air to get back in.
  • A brewing siphon (optional)– This allows you to siphon off the cider when the fermentation is complete, without getting the yeast that has settled to the bottom of the jug. You could also just use a piece of clear food-grade tubing, or even just try to pour carefully.
  • A hydrometer (optional)–This is used to determine the alcohol content of your cider. You really don’t need it for your first few batches.

You’ll also need some apple juice and yeast. You can either use fresh homemade juice as we did, or purchase it. You want to look for juice that has nothing added to it – if the ingredients have anything like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate added, you can’t make hard cider. These are chemical preservatives and will kill your yeast.

Speaking of yeast, you’ll want to use a brewer’s yeast rather than ordinary bread yeast. You could use bread yeast if there was absolutely nothing else available, but it’s not going to give you as clean a taste. Instead you should use a wine or champagne yeast designed for brewing.

Once you’ve obtained your equipment and ingredients, the first step will be to sanitize everything that the cider will touch. You want to kill off any natural yeast or bacteria that is already on your equipment. You can do this by soaking everything for a few minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water. After everything has soaked, rinse thoroughly and allow everything to air dry – you just killed off any germs, why risk putting them back with a slightly dirty towel?

Alternatively, you can use Starsan to sterilize – this is a no-rinse sanitizer, you use one ounce per five gallons of water. Again, make sure to air dry.

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The first step is to proof your yeast (just like we did when making homemade soda). Heat a cup of the apple juice to about 105 degrees, and add about 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. Stir it in and allow it to sit for about 10 minutes.

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We added about 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient to the mixture. This is optional, but it helps get your fermentation started sooner.

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Next we poured the yeast mixture into our glass jug, and filled it up with juice. Make sure to leave a couple inches of space at the top; you mixture should bubble and foam as it ferments.

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Once the jug is full of liquid, add the fermentation lock. Make sure the cork fits tightly.

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Your fermentation lock may not look exactly like ours, but they all work a similar way. You add water to the lock so that the escaping gasses bubble through it. The allows the gas to exit without any air (and new bacteria) getting in.

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Our completed fermentation assembly. Notice the white cap on top of the fermentation lock – in most cases you will want to have this snapped onto the lock, but make sure it comes with small holes drilled in the top – you need to let the gas escape. I once used a lid with no holes it (without realizing it…) and it wound up making a pretty big mess.

At this point move your jug to a cool dark place where it can sit undisturbed. After a few days you should see a steady stream of bubbles forming – this means the yeast is eating the sugar in the juice and turning it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bubbling process will slow down and almost stop after a while – this means the cider is ready to rack and bottle. This process could take anywhere from just a few days to a few weeks, you just have to watch your jug.

When the bubbling is almost completely gone, it’s time to “rack” your cider. This is the process of siphoning off the cider from the yeast “sludge” that has settled at the bottom of the jug. The easiest way is to use a siphon specifically designed for brewing, but we’ll talk about a couple other ways as well.

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You’ll insert the brewing siphon into the glass jug, with the outlet hose draining down into a glass container. You could either use another gallon jug like you used for brewing, or just use a mason jar. Either way, make sure you sterilize everything (including the siphon) before beginning.

The siphon will have a small “foot” on the bottom that will keep it out of the yeast. You just need to gently raise and lower the pump and the cider will start flowing.

If you don’t have a brewer’s siphon, then you can also use a piece of plastic tubing. After sterilizing and rinsing it, immerse it completely in water. Place a saucepan next to the glass jar that will catch the cider. Hold your thumbs over each end of the hose, and insert one end down into the jug containing the fermented cider. With your thumb still on the other end, place it over the saucepan, then remove your thumb. The water will flow out, followed by the cider. As soon as the cider starts to flow, place your thumb back over the end, move the hose to the other glass jug, and continue to let the cider pour into it.

Finally, if you don’t have a siphon or even a hose, you can carefully pour off the fermented cider into the new container, stopping when the yeast at the bottom begins to flow.

Now you’re ready to bottle the cider. We like to use these bottles with swing-top lids, but you can use anything from regular capped glass bottles to emptied 16 ounce water bottles. If you just bottle the cider as-is, you’ll probably have a “still” cider, or non-carbonated. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that, and it’s still very tasty!

However, if you’d like your cider to be a bit bubbly, you can add a little bit more sugar to it as you bottle it. Try 1-2 teaspoons per bottle, and seal them up. Pop one open in a week or so and see if it has the right amount of fizz to it. If so, go ahead and refrigerate your cider to stop the fermentation process. If not, you could try adding a little bit of yeast nutrient to try and wake the yeast back up, or just go ahead and drink it as a still cider.

Check out our post on pasteurizing hard cider to learn more about a process to be sure your fermentation has stopped.

One thing to be aware of is that adding more sugar when you bottle the cider will not make it sweeter, since the yeast is going to be consuming it again. If you’d like to make your cider sweeter, you’ll need to use a sugar alcohol like xylitol, or another natural sweetener like Stevia.

If you’d like to find out how much alcohol your cider has in it (or what “proof” it is), you’ll need to use a special tool called a hydrometer. The hydrometer measures specific gravity – the relative density of a liquid. Whatever hydrometer you purchase should come with instructions, but basically you take a reading before fermentation, another one after, do a little math, and you have your alcohol percentage.

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You’ll float the hydrometer in a beaker filled with a sample of your apple juice.

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Here our initial specific gravity reading is about 1.045.

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And our final reading is about 1.005. Notice how the hydrometer is floating lower after the fermentation is complete. With a tiny bit of math, this tells us our cider is about 5% alcohol by volume. We only let this batch ferment for about 5 days; we probably could have gotten a higher number if we’d let it go a little longer. You could also add a little more sugar (or even honey) at the start of the fermentation; it’s all personal preference.

Our cider turned out tasting almost identical to the store-bought variety, at a fraction of the cost. We added some mulling spices to one of the bottles to give it that fall flavor. You could also substitute another form of juice in the mixture to give it a fruity addition – try adding about 1-2 cups of pear, cranberry or raspberry juice before you start to ferment. Just be sure the juice doesn’t have any preservatives!

Now, making your own wine and cider at home is perfectly legal (as long as you don’t try to sell it), but distilling your cider at home is not. Distillation is the process of concentrating the alcohol by removing the water, either with heat or cold. Heat distillation will produce apple brandy, while freezing will produce applejack, a drink dating back all the way to colonial America.

Heat distillation is a dangerous process, and the fines for doing it at home are staggering. There is some debate as to whether the freezing process is legal or not in the US, so to be on the safe side, make sure you DON’T do any of the following:

  • Put your apple cider in a soft plastic food grade container (don’t use glass, it can crack when frozen), put it outside in freezing weather, or in the coldest part of your freezer with the thermostat turned down as far as it will go.
  • Each day you’ll scoop off the ice that has formed on the surface, leaving the alcohol and apple flavor more concentrated.
  • The more days that go by, the less ice will form on the top. Eventually no more ice will form, and the applejack is as concentrated as it is going to get at that temperature.

With temperatures of zero degrees, you’ll probably wind up with about 14% alcohol, and if you can take it all the way down to 20 below zero, you should be able to get it to around 25% alcohol.

Once you’ve sampled your first batch of homemade hard cider, you’ll probably be ready to start making even more! One of the fun things about making your own is that there’s no single perfect recipe for you to follow – you can experiment with different types of apples or juice, different amounts of sugar, added flavors, still or sparkling, etc. Be sure to keep a notebook so you can recall your favorite recipes, and if you make hard cider with an interesting new recipe, let us know in the comments!

Want To Learn More?

Check out the Homebrewing eCourse from Seed To Pantry School!

And now that you’ve made hard cider, how about making some Hard Ginger Beer? It’s just as easy, and just as good!

 

Step by step instructions on how to make hard apple cider at home with just a few simple ingredients and tools.
  • Todd Walker says:

    Great tutorial, Bill! Gotta try this with my beer brewing equipment. It’s apple season in GA!

  • TheSurvivalDad says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the white cap being on while fermenting. The CO2 will continue to build underneath the dome to the point it will push any gas or residual oxygen down through the water and bubble.

    Leaving the cap off and the dome able to rise can result in a situation where the dome rises and tilts to the point it’s not back down in the liquid anymore and oxygen will easily come right back into the fermentation vessel.

    Also a reminder to keep the air lock filled with liquid and check on it regularly. If you let it sit for a few weeks, it will evaporate and dry out to the point where the dome isn’t underwater and let air back in.

    I use Starsan or vodka in mine so that anything that might come in contact with it is at least sanitized. Water can get funky over time, and while it doesn’t directly touch your cider – I try to avoid any risk.

    Now, lets see an article on making mead..

    • I’ve been homebrewing for a few years now and I have several bottles of mead (+30 different flavors) aging in my wine rack. Currently I am making a German Honey Wheat beer. When that’s bottled my next project will be a prickly pear mead.
      I could write down my exploits and misadventures or I could recommend The complete joy of Home Brewing, by Charlie Papazian. It is considered the bible of home brewers.

      • Xandra says:

        Hi, we have a huge prickly pear in our yard, I might try with that, we are about to try our first ever batch of rose hip wine too…wish us luck!

        • Bill Osuch says:

          I’ve never tried prickly pear, but I’d imagine that once you got the spines and the seeds out you could make cider or wine out of it the exact same way.

  • Mike the Gardener says:

    Wow! That was a fantastic tutorial. How was the taste and flavor? Strong at all?

  • Bruce says:

    I am about to make a batch and already have a 5 gal glass water bottle that used to do service as a water cooler. I’ve ordered the siphon and the air locks, and some Champagne yeast. Now my question is if I bottle it in beer bottles and cap it, how long will it last? will it have to be refrigerated?
    Great article BTW I am stoked to give this a try.

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Bruce –

      Yes, you’ll need to refrigerate the bottles, otherwise the fermentation process could continue (even if by looking it appears to be done…) until the bottle explodes. If you can’t refrigerate, an option would be to pasteurize the cider – after the bottles are capped (with a real cap, not a swing-top), you fully submerge them in a pot of 160 degree water for 5-10 minutes. This will kill the yeast (but keep the carbonation), but the taste could be affected depending on the length of time, you’d just have to experiment.

      As for how long it will last, that depends on the alcohol content. If you get it up to around 10%, they’ll probably last for a couple years if stored properly. Less than that and you’ve probably got about 6 months to 1 year. But worst case, if it does go bad, it should turn into apple cider vinegar that you could still use!

  • Xandra says:

    Hi, also I just wanted to say, I love your site here. We too are living the self-reliant life and are about to build an Earthship…I’m super excited!

  • Christine says:

    I’ll be doing this with apples from our family trees and have a few questions. I’ll be hoping for a fizzy cider so after fermentation, should I drain off the cider into another container, add sugar, and seal until appropriately fizzy THEN add the campden tablets before bottling? I’m combining info from this post and your post about pasteurizing cider.

    I also am definitely not interested in making Applejack.

    • Bill Osuch says:

      That’s theoretically possible, but it’s going to be difficult to get it exactly right… You’ve got two problems – knowing exact how much to add to each bottle (since you wouldn’t need a whole tablet per bottle), and the fact that you’re going to lose some carbonation by opening it up, mixing the tablet in and re-capping.

      • Christine says:

        So after the initial fermentation, some other sites recommend adding about 4 oz sugar to the original 4 gallons of cider immediately before bottling. Does that sound about right?

        • Bill Osuch says:

          That’s probably about right – 2 teaspoons is half an ounce, so if you get 8 16-ounce bottles out of a gallon, and you would have added 2t per bottle, that’s 4 ounces total…

  • Kelsey says:

    I tried to make cider using juice from a local fruit stand, I asked if there was anything added to it and was assured that it was “just apples”. I added a liquid champagne yeast and brix level went down from 12 to 10.5, but it has been sitting dormant at 10.5 for a while now (we started over a week ago) and has not started to bubble. Temp remains at 22 degrees. I’m worried that there is potassium sorbate in the juice, and someone mentioned by siphoning it into another carboy this would help remove some of it. Could this help resolve? And what are some other possible issues?

    The issue has to be the juice, as we purchased grocery store juice and let it sit in a carboy for the same amount of time without any yeast and it has just started to ferment naturally.

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Potassium sorbate coats the yeast cell membranes, preventing them from reproducing. So it’s possible that if you’ve got some sediment (yeast) settled on the bottom, racking the cider will remove some of the potassium sorbate. Basically you need to get it to a point where the yeast overcomes the potassium sorbate.

      What I would do is this: Start a new fermentation with new juice. Once it’s going good (lots of bubbles), take about half of it and add half that much of the stuck fermentation to it. In other words, if you’re starting with 2 gallons of the new (actively fermenting) cider, take 1 gallon of it and add half of gallon of the stuck ferment to it. If the fermentation continues, add another half gallon in a day or two, and continue until both are fully mixed. If it stalls again, then try adding 1/4 of the amount to the other half of the good fermentation (the one you haven’t added anything to) and see what happens. You basically need to dilute the bad fermentation with a good fermentation…

  • A Wheeler says:

    Thanks so much for the recipe!

    Just finished my first batch and it tastes great! So excited to experiment with some other fruits added, and try carbonating and pasteurizing some batches!

    Awesome tutorial!

  • Paul says:

    I have heard a lot about apple jack. It would get rather thick I would assume.

  • Kenneth Thrash says:

    Good recipe except for one thing. I would recommend that you start your yeast off in some water to reduce sugar shock before pitching it into the cider. I make my stuff stronger, (usually around 15% abv) so maybe it doesn’t matter if you just want 5%. Also, my favourite yeast is Cote des Blanc. If you add honey to the mix you are making a cyser. My best recipe is a combination of apple juice, blackberry juice and honey for a great cyser/melomel combo.

    • Andrew G. says:

      Cote des Blanc seems to be a favorite when it comes to higher ABV… I did a lot of reading and research when determining the best yeasts to use in cider. Cote des Blanc didn’t make my recommendation for beginners, but I will add it as a top pick for advanced makers (seems like you need to stop it short of fermenting dry, which is a relatively advanced technique.

  • Misneac says:

    If you’ve got a clean, food grade 5 gallon bucket and a lid there’s no reason not bore a hole in the top and put your airlock in there. Brewing a gallon at a time is kinda like making 1 slice of pizza. It’s delicious, but before you know it you wish you’d made more. Also a Tbsp of bleach per gallon is a little high. If you do use bleach go with about 3 tbsp to 5 gallons and rinse a couple of times with good hot water. Otherwise you can end up with a compound called chlorophenol. Not terribly harmful, but tastes like a wet bandaid. One last thing; if you find gallon or larger glass pickle jars at the store definitely buy them. They’re handy for brewing whatever (cider, sun tea, hot sauce, etc) and if you compare the cost to gallon glass vessels online that aren’t filled with pickles it’s a pretty obvious win.

  • Frank says:

    My grandfather used to put raisians in the apple juice and let it brew. He always made me happy when I broke into the pump house.

  • Rich says:

    Once you rack it, if you aren’t carbonating, is that it? Any reason to let it sit longer before drinking at that point?

  • Petra says:

    This looks amazing! Thank you. I have a fear of exploding bottles… what is the one thing I need to remember NOT to do to avoid explosions?

  • Nancy says:

    What is the shelf life of fresh apple juice with no preservatives and how should it be stored?

  • Vicky Emert says:

    I have a BrewDemon conical fermenting system. The instructions said I could make cider in it, but everything else I am reading says no I need glass. Can I use my BrewDemon for fermentation?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      The problem with fermenting cider in plastic is that it’s very easy for flavors from any previous brews to leech into the cider. So if you’ve made beer in it before, you’re cider may come out tasting a little “beer-y”

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