Cool nights, football games, and browning leaves. Ahhhh! It's cider season!
Hard cider is literally one of the easiest beverages to make at home. You could simply leave a gallon jug of cider sit out for a week or so, and natural yeast from the apples will ferment the sugar leaving you with something drinkable. While I've tasted some really good naturally fermented cider, a small amount of control over the process will yield something really special!
What you need:
If you already make beer or wine, you have everything you'll need to make hard cider. If you're brand new to home fermentation, approximately $50 will get you the basic supplies needed to make 5 gallons of cider. Some of the basics you'll need are a food grade plastic bucket to ferment in, a siphon and bottle filler, and bottles.
The cider you select is probably the most important thing to consider. In most cases, the fresher the better. Fresh pressed, unpasteurized, unpreserved cider is what you're looking for. You can generally find good cider at a local apple orchard. Surprisingly, Costco's Kirkland brand apple juice is also a good base for making hard cider, especially outside of the fall season. Avoid picking a cider that contains sulfites or sorbate. UV "filtered" cider is OK.
What to do:
Once you've selected your cider, you'll need to make a few decisions.
- Will you be adding sugar to increase the alcohol content?
- What yeast should you use?
- Do you want to flavor your cider with honey, fruit, spices or oak?
- Would you like the cider to finish sweet or dry?
Here are the general steps:
- Add your cider to the fermenter. If you'd like to increase the alcohol content, now is the time to add in some sugar. A pound of table sugar will increase the ABV of 5 gallons by approximately 1%.
- If you will be fermenting with the natural yeast on the apples, go ahead and close up the fermenter and seal it with an airlock. Fermentation will probably begin within 24 hours. If you'll be using a specific yeast, consider adding a small dose of potassium metabisulfite to the cider. This will neutralize any wild yeast and allow your yeast to do it's job. Wait 24 hours after adding sulfite to pitch your yeast. This is also the time to add any honey or fruit to your cider. Seal your fermenter and wait for it to start fermenting!
- Pro Tip! Apples contain pectin which can make your cider a bit hazy. If clarity is a priority, consider adding a dose of pectic enzyme when you add your yeast.
- Let it ferment! Fermentation will take approximately 2 weeks to complete. Once you're confident that it has finished fermenting, allow the cider to clear for another 2 weeks. Placing your fermenter in a refridgerator at this point can speed up the clearing process. Now would also be the time to add any spices or oak to your cider.
- Bottle your cider! If you would like your cider to be still (uncarbonated), simply siphon your cider into your bottles, cap/cork and give it a couple weeks to condition before drinking. To carbonate your cider, you'll need to add a small amount of sugar to start a second fermentation in the bottle. Because the bottles will be capped, the carbon dioxide created through fermentation will make the cider fizzy!
- Option 1: Siphon the entire batch of cider to another bucket, leaving any sediment behind. Add 1 oz of table sugar or corn sugar per gallon of finished cider. Stir gently, then siphon into the bottles leaving about an inch of headspace. Cap your bottles and allow approximately 2 weeks to carbonate at room temperature.
- Option 2: Place a carbonation drop (similar to a sugar cube) into each bottle. Siphon the cider into the bottles leaving about an inch of headspace. Cap your bottles and allow approximately 2 weeks to carbonate at room temperature.
- Pro Tip! Adding a small amount of citric acid can brighten up the apple flavor and really make your cider shine! Add in small amounts until the desired flavor is achieved.
- Drink! Whether your cider is still or carbonated, it will benefit from a couple weeks conditioning time once bottled. At that point, chill your cider and enjoy!
- Sweetening your still cider is very simple. Before bottling your cider, siphon the entire batch into another bucket. Add a dose of potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate to prevent renewed fermentation. Add sweetener in the form of honey, corn sugar, table sugar, etc. until the desired sweetness is achieved. Bottle and allow a couple weeks conditioning time before drinking.
- Sweet and carbonated is a little trickier. In order to create the carbonation, we need to rely on yeast to produce carbon dioxide. However, the yeast will also consume all the sugar added for sweetness, usually creating overcarbonated bottle bombs! If you have a kegging system, you can force carbonate your sweetened cider without relying on yeast. If you will be bottling your sweetened cider, you'll need to add a fermentable sugar (corn sugar, table sugar, honey) for carbonation, and an unfermentable sugar (maltodextrine, stevia) for sweetness. Do not add sulfite or sorbate with this process as it will prevent the yeast from creating the necessary carbonation.