Should You Pasteurize Hard Cider?

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In my previous post on How To Make Hard Cider, I bottled my cider in swing-top bottles and put them in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process. For the small batch I was making, that works great, but what if you’re making a batch so large that you just don’t have room in the fridge?

If you have a still cider, this isn’t a problem. A still cider (as opposed to sparkling) means that the fermentation process has stopped; no more CO2 is being produced, so the pressure won’t build up inside the bottle after it is capped. These bottles can be stored at room temperature without worrying about a “bottle bomb”.

If you’re not totally sure that the fermentation process has completely stopped, you can always add part of a Camden tablet to each bottle. Camden tablets are a sulfur-based product that will kill the yeast without affecting the flavor of your cider. You typically add one tablet per gallon of cider, so you would either add an entire tablet (or more…) before bottling, or add a portion of a tablet to each individual bottle.

You could also add more sugar than the yeast can use. The alcohol content will eventually get so high that it will kill off the yeast. You’ll end up with a very strong, very sweet, still (flat) hard cider.

None of these methods will work, however, if you want a sparkling cider. To get your cider to “sparkle” (be fizzy) you have to let the fermentation process continue for a while in a sealed bottle, then stop the process completely. This is a bit tricky, for two reasons:

  1. You have to figure out exactly the right time to stop fermentation. Too soon and your cider is still (or flat), too late and you run the risk of your bottle exploding.
  2. You have to figure out how to completely stop the fermentation. Throwing the bottles in the fridge is probably safe, but not completely foolproof, and like I said before, what if you just don’t have the space?

So your best bet for sparkling cider is to pasteurize the bottles.

What Is Pasteurization?

Pasteurization is a process invented by the French scientist Louis Pasteur (the same guy who created the rabies vaccine!) in 1864. It’s a technique for treating milk, wine, beer, cider, and other liquids with heat, in order to kill the bacteria that causes spoilage. In our case we’re using it to kill the yeast–they’ve done their job, and now it’s time to send them to yeast heaven!

The time and temperature needed to pasteurize liquid varies depending on what it is; in our case we need to hold the bottles of cider at 160°F (or slightly higher) for 10 minutes.

How To Make A Sparkling Hard Cider

Once your fermentation is complete you’ll bottle your cider. You’ll add more sugar at this point–some to sweeten it, and some for carbonation. How much sugar depends on how sweet you like your cider; a good starting point is 4 to 6 tablespoons per gallon.

When the sugar is completely dissolved, bottle and cap your cider as normal. Let it sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a few days, then begin testing the carbonation level. On day 4 or so, open up a bottle. If it’s got the right amount of fizz, you’re ready to pasteurize, and if not, cap it and open a different bottle the next day (and so on).

If your carbonation is too high (for example, it gushes when you open a test bottle), then don’t attempt to pasteurize the bottles–the heat and pressure will be too much and you could wind up with exploding bottles.

How To Pasteurize Hard Cider

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You’ll need a pot deep enough that you can fully submerge your bottles under water. My pot in this picture would be fine for the shorter bottles, but those taller ones could be difficult–the water would be close to overflowing by the time they were fully submerged.

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Heat your water to about 180°F – 185°F.

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Turn the heat off, and carefully lower your bottles into the hot water. Be sure your bottles are at room temperature and haven’t been refrigerated–you don’t want to drop cold glass into hot water!

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Don’t load too many bottles into the water bath–I usually only do 6 or 8 at one time. Once they are all in, put the lid on the pot and let the cider sit for 10 minutes.

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After 10 minutes, carefully remove the bottles and let them cool down to room temperature. Heat your water back up to 180°F and repeat the process until all your cider has been pasteurized.

Your water needs to stay at 160°F or above for the entire process. Mine was about 165°F when I took the lid off and removed the bottles, but if yours drops lower than this during the 10 minutes that the bottles are sitting then you may need to keep a low flame going.

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It’s fine to use a pressure canner like this All American if you have long neck bottles that won’t fit into another pot, as long as you don’t seal it up, and you leave the pressure regulator off. You don’t want to actually build up pressure, you just want to retain the heat.

This process is only for bottles that have actually been capped with a bottle capper; you can’t use it with swing-top bottles (or something you’ve corked), as the heat could deteriorate the seal.

You could also try using a hard-side cooler instead–the type you’d take on a picnic. You’ll have to test it to see if yours will keep the water warm enough for the full 10 minutes, and obviously it’s not as easy to re-heat the water each time, but it’s a good option if you don’t have a pot large enough to hold your bottles.

With the cider I have pasteurized at home, I haven’t encountered a noticeable change in the flavor of my cider, and I’ve never had a single bottle explode when stored at room temperature. If you’re starting with store-bought apple juice, then it has probably already been pasteurized anyway, and it still tastes fine!

 

  • Renee says:

    Thank you for this article. My husband makes hard cider, and I’ve been noticing over the last few years that more than one glass more than one day in a row gives me horrible IBS symptoms for days. Same with his beer. I was thinking perhaps if we tried pasteurizing it, I might be able to drink it. Unless it just turns out that I just can’t have alcohol at all.

    • Renee says:

      Oh, but I don’ seem to have the same issue with scotch. So it’s got to be a nasty bug of some sort. Doesn’t seem to bother my husband’s digestive system any, however.

      • Mike says:

        You’re on to something Renee. I believe it’s the yeast that is messing with you, kill them with high temp and i’ll bet you’ll be fine.

  • Justin says:

    I love the article! How long would you say your ciders last on the shelves after pasteurizing? I have several apple trees, and want to use some of the juice for this in the fall and store it in the pantry.

    • Bill Osuch says:

      It depends on the recipe, but most homemade cider will start to turn to vinegar after 2 years or so on the shelf. If you’re making a sweet cider, you’ll probably want to drink it way before that, since it becomes drier over time.

  • Victoria says:

    Great article. I’ve done it as individual bottles before, but was just wondering…is there a reason one wouldn’t want to pasteurize in a 1 gallon carboy and then bottle? If it’s just a matter of maintaining the heat, let it stay on a very low flame for twice as long? Again, just wondering. Thanks!

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Due to the size of a 1 gallon jug, I’d be worried about uneven heat distribution – the outer ares are going to be exposed to the heat for a lot longer before the inside is heated, I don’t know what that would do to the flavors…

  • Jack Jeffrey says:

    Great article on the process of pasteurization. I have just done my first brew of hard apple cider and was checking the flavor throughout the process. I noticed the yeasty flavor had gone by the time i bottled it and back sweetened. Now i am several days post bottling and my carbonation is nearly at the right point. I tasted the bubbly brew and the yeast flavor is rather strong again. My question is will the pasteurization process eliminate the yeast flavors aswell or will they remain?

    • Bill Osuch says:

      Pasteurization simply kills the yeast, they will still be in the mix. After pasteurization, it should hopefully settle to the bottom, and if you’re careful pouring you won’t get it back out…

  • Big T-Roy says:

    Love the article. But, if I may add a suggestion; Instead of opening your capped bottles each day to check the carbonation, why not put some of your cider into a plastic soda bottle? That way all you have to do is give the soda bottle a squeeze every day or so. When it feels nice and firm, pasteurize your glass, capped bottles. Don’t try to pasteurize the soda bottle cider. It will melt and deform. A lesson I learned the hard way.

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