Welcome to my cidermaking tutorial! In it, I step you through the process of making hard cider– from apple to glass–in these stages:
If you’re starting from juice rather than apples, see sections 2-3 for your steps…though I recommend reading the first section as well, because once you get started, you’ll want to know more and more about the topic. I sure did. Enough rambling–on to the cidermaking!
My first ciders were made from the unpasteurized, sweet, non-alcoholic cider available in the fall. In 2013, I began trying to source cider apples locally for my batches of hard cider–this tutorial chronicles that process.
Quite frankly, apple sourcing can be a frustrating process here in Colorado, where a few factors conspired to keep me from obtaining the varieties I wanted:
Nonetheless, I did manage to find some Winesap and Rome varieties, both of which are listed in Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider, which was my cider-making bible and a great source of information to date.
As the Boulder market is busy, I had to park a few blocks away–something I never noticed as a problem until I had to lug 80-ish pounds of apples to my car. My thanks go out to Jared, who helped me carry them, and Katie, who immediately knew who I was when I showed up…they were extremely helpful.
At this point, we assembled, washed, and sanitized (using a Star San solution) the grinder/press and glass fermenters that the pressed cider would be going into, and set up our washing line. The latter consisted of two plastic tubs, one with Star San solution and another with plain water for rinsing, which we used to sanitize the skins of the apples to prevent wild yeast and bacteria–which occur naturally in the skins of apples–from infecting the fermentation:
Note: Using a sanitizer wash isn’t really necessary for washing the apples-in fact, some cider makers will go as far as to allow the wild yeast to ferment the cider without adding commercial yeast at all; however, I wanted to control the yeast character as much as possible, so we used this approach. Since then, I’ve typically only rinsed the apples and cut out any rotten portions. Sanitizing your fermentation equipment, however, is essential.
Once we had the apple washing station going, we started grinding the apples with the help of a friend of mine, Chris. This was a good time, if a bit of work–the grinder made mincemeat of the apples, even though they were firm and fresh off the tree. The process is quite simple–one person keeps the crank turning, and another feeds apples a few at a time into the hopper. The apples are shredded into pomace, which falls into the mesh bag-lined bucket below.
Note: Make sure to place a bucket under the collection plate at this point–you’ll get some juice seeping out of the bucket as you grind, even before you start pressing.
I’ve heard it’s a good idea to ‘sweat’ the apples, leaving them out on a tarp for several days to soften and allow the sugars to concentrate. I can definitely see the advantage of this, as the juice yield is likely to be higher at pressing and the apples will be easier to grind. Apparently, you could also freeze the apples and thaw them prior to grinding to achieve the same effect–more on that here.
Each time the collection bucket got reasonably full, we switched to pressing. With the collection bucket already in place, you then place a wooden plug (one that spans the diameter of the bucket) on top of the pomace, line it up with the screw above, and bring the screw head down onto the plug to exert pressure. At this point, the juice begins to run, and it’s a matter of waiting for it to subside a bit before incrementally applying a bit more pressure via the screw.
This is the slowest part of the overall process; the important part here is to have everything lined up appropriately and not to exert too much force at once, as you could damage the press. Tighten, wait, transfer juice to the fermenter as the collecting bucket fills, tighten, wait, and when more tightening yields little juice, discard the pomace (which can be mixed into a compost heap but which is too acidic to apply directly as compost) and return to grinding.
Most estimates I’ve seen are that a bushel of apples yields 2-3 gallons of juice; we ended up right around 2, filling one fermenter with 5 gallons of juice and with about 1/4 of a bushel of Romes left over. I attribute the low yield mostly to the facts that:
Choice of apple variety could have been a factor as well, since the variation in physical and chemical characteristics among the many varieties is large.
The next section–Fermenting and Aging Your Hard Cider–will start with the gravity, acid, and yeast discussion, but for reasons I’ll explain in that section, it’s important to have your equipment lined up beforehand…otherwise, you may end up like me in a mad, last-minute dash to the nearest homebrew store to obtain ingredients or equipment you suddenly realize you need.
My thanks go out to my parents, Bob and Kay, for their assistance in the grinding/pressing process (and for my dad’s photography) and to Chris, who supplied some muscle, curiosity, and humor.
To review, in this section we covered sourcing apples, washing them, grinding them, pressing them, transferring the juice to a carboy, and various tangential steps.
Below is a list of equipment and ingredients you’ll need in place before you start your pressing. Most of the fermentation prep equipment and ingredients are available at More Beer or at your local home brewing store. If you’re thinking of purchasing these online, please go through my links below or through the resources page as I will get a small cut of what you spend at no cost to you and will use it to keep the site going.
Fermentation Prep Equipment:
In this section, I talk about fermentation prep, fermentation, and aging, using the Winesap cider from the grinding/pressing tutorial as an example, as well as two other ciders I made in 2013…each of which brought its own challenges.
Once you’ve pressed your cider and the juice is in the sanitized fermenter(s), it’s time to establish the right conditions for fermentation. These ‘Fermentation Prep’ steps break down roughly along these lines:
Adding Sulfite (or not):
Adding sulfite (SO2), usually in the form of crushed Campden Tablets, is commonly used to impede the growth of bacteria and wild yeasts while allowing your desired yeast to predominate the fermentation.
Sulfiting may not be necessary should you start with great overall sanitation and immediately pitch a large volume of yeast, but as cider fermentations are often much slower than beer fermentations–and should be, for optimal results–it will take longer to produce enough alcohol to suppress those organisms than you may be used to.
Here are some guidelines should you choose to sulfite:
Sulfurous Lessons Learned:
I used Red Star Montrachet yeast, purchased from my local home brew store, on both my Winesap and Arkansas Black ciders–the latter from another grind/press operation a few weeks after the Winesap operation above. Both were sulfited with Campden tablets. I later discovered that this particular yeast produces hydrogen sulfide (H2S, which smells like rotten eggs) in the presence of ‘excess sulfur compounds’. And indeed I could detect–very faintly, in the Winesap, and strongly, in the Arkansas Black, a rotten egg smell in the finished cider. One lesson here is to consider sulfite use beforehand when choosing the yeast you’re going to use. Another is, cider fermentation is really in the world of wine fermentation…time to read up on wine-making. I think I’ll start here.
Adjusting the Gravity(or not):
Take a gravity reading using your hydrometer and test jar. You can use an ABV calculator to determine what the final alcohol content will be from your original gravity. Assume 1.000 as the final gravity for now, as cider contains mostly simple sugars and should ferment out completely to 1.000 unless you’ve added unfermentable sugars (e.g., lactose) to the mix.
For instance, my Winesap cider started at 1.052 right out of the press, yielding a potential of 6.83% alcohol. As there’s a general rule of thumb that cider at 7% or higher is better for aging since it keeps longer, I decided to bump the gravity to 1.060 (7.88% potential alcohol).
Using this chart, I determined I needed to add 13oz of table sugar per gallon to the juice, did so (I dissolved it in a small volume of boiled water first), then re-checked the gravity.
Note on sweeteners:
The above assumes the weight is of standard, granular table sugar. The actual sugar content results by weight will vary a bit if you’re using different sugars, such as brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc. For a more precise handling of these differences, see the priming and bottling chapter in John Palmer’s How to Brew.
Of course, different sweeteners will also add differing flavor, color, and ‘fermentability’ aspects as well…for instance, molasses will add unfermentable sugars, a dark color, and strong, sulfury notes, while table sugar will add very little flavor or color at all–it will just be converted straight into alcohol.
Since cider often ferments very slowly–my Winesap cider took a month to ferment to 1.000 with no added yeast nutrient–it’s important for protection against undesirable microbes that the cider be sufficiently acidic. Moreover, acidity is a key component of cider’s flavor profile, and low-acid cider will be missing the tartness you expect. If there’s little body to the cider in the first place, and little acid, you’re left with little but alcoholic water.
Acidity can be measured with pH strips, but this is only a very rough measure of actual acid content–most commercial cider makers will use a more advanced version of an acid testing kit to determine acid content. If acidity is too low, it can be adjusted by adding more acidic juice (from ‘sharp’ or ‘bittersharp’ apples) or an acid powder (such as malic acid, the main acid naturally occurring in apples) to the mix.
Acidity Lesson Learned:
As Proulx and Nichols describe the ‘best’ pH range for cider being between 3.0 and 3.8, I found myself very worried when I came up with between 4 and 5 using some wide-spectrum pH strips. I then jumped in the car and headed to the closest open homebrew store, returning with more precise, wine-spectrum pH strips and Malic acid powder (for increasing the cider’s acidity) in hand, only to determine with the new strips that the cider was actually around 3.2 (quite acidic compared to typical store-bought juice).
If Sulfiting, wait 24 hours:
While sulfite generally doesn’t kill desirable yeasts outright, it will slow them down significantly. If you sulfite the juice, wait 24 hours for the sulfite to begin to break down before adding your yeast.
Cider can be fermented with a number of different yeasts, but those that emphasize the natural character of the apples without adding a lot of competing flavors are generally either white wine yeasts or English cider yeasts.
Common examples of these include:
As mentioned above, be careful when using sulfite that you’ve selected a yeast that can handle sulfite well without producing undesirable compounds.
If you’re using a liquid yeast, It’s probably useful to use a yeast starter–a mini-fermentation started in a small volume of apple juice a day or two before you add it to your larger fermenter–rather than just adding a liquid vial of yeast directly. The latter certainly works, however. The idea with a starter is that you get the yeast reproducing and active in a small vessel so that you initially introduce more and more active yeast cells to your juice/must, helping to ensure a complete fermentation and reducing the lag time before visible fermentation appears in your fermenter.
The caveat here though is that if you use a dehydrated wine yeast, you’ll want to use GoFerm instead of just adding it to juice, as dehydrated yeast need a particular mix of nutrients to activate properly (vs. liquid yeast, which is ready to go right out of the vial).
Once you’ve added your yeast to the fermenter and replaced the airlock, place it in a dark, cool location according to the temperature guidelines of the specific yeasts…then the waiting and monitoring begin.
Cider-making books–particularly Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea and The New Cidermaker’s Handbook by Claude Jolicoeur–go into the fermentation topic in considerable depth. Here, though, I focus on the basics of temperature control, nutrients, and what to do when your fermentation stops (gets ‘stuck’) while residual sugar remains in the must.
The yeast you’re using should have an ideal temperature range for fermentation printed on the packaging. I recommend trying to ferment at the lower end of the range if possible, as doing so will generally result in fewer off flavors being produced by the yeasts. It does mean a slower start to fermentation and a slower fermentation overall (the risk of which is offset by acid and, potentially, sulfite), but with cider, that can be well worth it in that off flavors or imperfections are apparent in finished ciders that might go unnoticed in, say, a bold, dark, hoppy imperial stout.
Also, add pectic enzyme along with the yeast–it will help to break down the pectin in the juice and remove the haze over time.
Unlike beer wort, which contains a multitude of nutrients, apple juice has relatively fewer nutrients. That said, it generally has enough to not require any yeast nutrient or yeast energizer additions, which will cause the juice to ferment more quickly than desired.
My Arkansas Black cider, for instance, fermented at the same temperature as the Winesap cider (around 65 F), but unlike the Winesap, I added nutrient to the Arkansas Black juice before fermentation. This was a mistake–while the Arkansas Black fermented to dryness within a week (vs. over a month for the Winesap), it had significantly more off aromas (particularly H2S/rotten egg) and less apple character than the Winesap did. Some of this is no doubt due to the differing characteristics of the apple varieties, but given the same yeast and temperature, the sulfur effect in particular seemed to be amplified by the fast fermentation.
One risk with low-nutrient juice is that the fermentation will halt altogether, with no bubbling in the airlock and with a gravity measurement showing significant remaining sugar. When this happens, don’t despair, as there are a number of options available.
You can generally restart a stuck fermentation with a combination of:
I ended up using all four of these in restarting a New England-style cider that I made from local, unpasteurized sweet cider with additions of brown sugar, honey, and raisins. I’m not sure why the fermentation got stuck, but most likely I had insufficient nutrient for the large amount of sugar (apple juice plus 4 lb of dark brown sugar, 1 pound of honey, and 2 pounds of raisins). It started out ok, at 1.070 original gravity, but got stuck at 1.050.
At first, I added nutrient, then when that didn’t work I brought it upstairs (70 degree F) for a couple days. This didn’t work. I added a packet of rehydrated Montrachet yeast. That didn’t work.
Ultimately, I degassed it a couple times over the next few days and added nutrient in staggered additions according to the mead-making method detailed in Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker. This worked–the fermentation picked back up and completed all the way to 1.000 and about 9% alcohol. Thanks, Ken–your mead-making techniques saved my cider.
Once fermentation is done (as measured by lack of bubbling activity in the airlock, then by a gravity reading), siphon the cider to another, sanitized fermenter with an auto-siphon, taking care not to transfer the sediment (‘lees’) on the bottom of the first fermenter into the second one.
Replace the airlock, and you’re ready to age the cider. This could be done for as little as a month or two or for many months. This depends on preferences and whether you’re aging the cider with something (e.g., oak chips or other fruit), or aging in an oak barrel.
A few months in, malo-lactic fermentation can also occur in which lactic acid bacteria ferment the sharp malic acid in the cider, leaving behind softer, less tart lactic acid and a smoother cider. If you did something impulsive and, say, sanitized the apples before grinding and pressing (as I did above), this step is unlikely to occur spontaneously. If this step is desired, malolactic bacteria are available for inoculating the must.
Aging in oak barrels is a bit outside the scope of this basic tutorial, but it’s certainly being done in the brewing community, with a healthy resale market existing for used Chardonnay, Brandy, and Whiskey barrels. One vendor in my area is Rocky Mountain Barrel Company.
Keep in mind that if you go down this route, you’re making a pretty big investment and will need to learn how to properly clean and maintain your barrel…the process for this is quite different than maintaining standard plastic, glass, or steel fermenters. It’s discussed a bit in the Proulx and Nichols book, but I’d suggest doing more research on sourcing and maintaining barrels if you pursue this.
That said, I’ve had some outstanding oaked ciders–the oak tannins can add a lot of character to cider–and I know some small commercial cider makers who are using barrels, so if can definitely be done. I just don’t have much to contribute to that discussion…yet.
You can also add oak chips, or various incarnations of oak staves from other barrels, directly to an aging vessel, without having a barrel of your own.
Once your cider has aged to your taste–take some samples with the wine thief periodically to see how it’s evolving, and record your observations–you’ll need to keg or bottle it. See the tutorials below for more on this topic.
Should you choose to keg your cider, see the kegging tutorial.
If you want to bottle your cider directly from a keg, see the Beer Gun Tutorial.
If you want to bottle your cider using the traditional, home brew method (gravity filler + priming sugar), I don’t have a tutorial for that yet, but there should be a number of them available online and I recommend the Priming and Bottling section of How to Brew.
For more information on cidermaking equipment–including commercial and larger-scale hobbyist options–see the Equipment pages on Ciderschool:
See also the Small Cidery Gear Roundup.
Apples aren’t your thing but honey is? No problem–here is the equivalent of this tutorial but for mead/honey wine.
Please contact me via the Contact Us page with any suggestions or questions, and thank you for taking the time to review this cider-making tutorial–I hope you find it to be useful!
Like what you see here? I plan to create a lot more meadmaking, cidermaking, and even orchard management content soon on my new site, ciderschool. There’s not much content there yet, but check it out, get on the mailing list, and stay tuned if you are interested in how-to content, equipment reviews, and resources for making cider and mead.
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