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homemade hard apple cider ingredients Making Hard Apple Cider
staff writer

Making hard apple cider at home is a fun and easy way to tap into a lost piece of Americana. Before wine and beer became the drinks of choice, most Americans drank hard apple cider due to its ease of production and the ready availability of apples. Hard apple cider could be stored for long periods in wooden kegs or glass bottles and the modest alcohol content meant it would be safe to drink when clean water was not available. With a minimum of equipment and ingredients, you too can make tasty hard apple cider at home!


If you happen to be a homebrewer -- or know someone who is -- you probably already have all of the equipment you'll need to make hard apple cider. If not, don’t worry; you won’t need too many things to get your first batch going.  For convenience sake, I recommend starting with a one-gallon batch your first time out. This will save money on equipment and will allow you to perfect your recipe before you make larger batches. Assuming that you will be making a one-gallon batch, here is what you'll need to get started:

    One-gallon glass jug (You can buy a new one or re-use an old one-gallon wine jug.)
    #6 drilled rubber stopper
    Fermentation airlock
    Short length (three to four feet) of food-grade plastic tubing
    Non-twist-off type glass bottles
    Bottle caps
    Bottle capper

    Packet of dry yeast (either ale yeast or wine/champagne yeast)
    1 gallon of preservative-free apple cider or apple juice

BBefore you begin, it is very important to make sure all of your equipment is clean and sanitary. If you ignore this step, you'll run a high risk of the final product having off flavors and aromas due to bacterial infection. Wash all of your equipment with unscented dish soap and then sanitize everything by soaking it in a bleach solution. One tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of clean water makes an effective sanitizing solution. Let everything soak for 20 minutes and then rinse with clean water.

There are several different ways you can go about making hard apple cider. If the cider or juice you bought is unpasteurized, you may want to gently heat it on the stovetop to around 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and hold that temperature for around 45 minutes. Doing this will kill any wild yeast or bacteria in the juice that could -- positively or negatively -- affect the taste of the cider. If your juice is already pasteurized, it is not necessary to heat it on the stovetop, but as long as the juice is not boiled (boiling can cause the cider to be hazy), it won’t hurt it either. Whether the juice you buy is pasteurized or not, it is very important that it be preservative-free. The preservatives used in the juice could kill the yeast you add later and thereby stop the fermentation. Once the juice -- which is now called must -- is ready, you can proceed to the next step.

If you pasteurized your juice, put a lid on the pot and place it in a sink filled with cold water. The cold water bath will help bring down the must's temperature to a level safe enough to add the yeast. If you decided not to pasteurize the must, make sure it is set out ahead of time to come to room temperature. Once the must is between 65 and 75 degrees it is ready to be added to the glass jug.

If you have a steady hand, you can pour directly into the glass jug; if not, it is best to use a clean, sanitized funnel. Make the pour aggressive so that the must sloshes around and foams up somewhat. This will aerate the must and will help the yeast reproduce prior to fermentation. Once the must is in the glass jug, you are ready to pitch in the yeast.

Since the packet of yeast you have was designed to ferment a much larger quantity, you will only want to use about a quarter of it. You can either add the yeast directly to the must in the jug, or you can proof it first. To proof the yeast, add the packet to about a cup of boiled water that has cooled to around 85 degrees and cover with plastic wrap. After about 20 minutes you should see some foaming or bubbling indicating that the yeast is active. Swirl the yeast slurry around and add about a quarter of its total volume to the must.

bottled hard apple cider Once the yeast is pitched, seal the glass jug with the clean, sanitized rubber stopper and the airlock. In a couple of days you should see some bubbling in the airlock indicating that fermentation has started. Depending on the amount of fermentable sugar in the must, fermentation can last from several days to a few weeks. When all activity in the airlock has ceased you can be reasonably sure that fermentation has ended.

At this point you can either bottle or move the cider to a secondary fermentation vessel. Secondary fermentation allows the flavors to mellow and age and helps in the clarity of the final product. If you decide to do a secondary fermentation, siphon the cider from the glass jug to another cleaned and sanitized glass jug leaving as much of the sediment behind as possible. Seal this second glass jug with a stopper and airlock and let the cider age for another two to three weeks.

Once fermentation and aging is complete, you are ready to bottle. You can either bottle in re-used beer bottles (you must use the pry-off types, not twist-off) or in wine bottles designed to be capped. Siphon off the cider into a clean, sanitized bucket or pail and then siphon off into the bottles. Bottling buckets sold at beer or wine homebrew shops make this job easier by including a handy spigot at the bottom of the bucket. Cap the bottles with boiled bottle caps and you cider is ready to drink or to age! To a certain extent, hard apple cider will improve with age, and it is fun to set a few bottles aside to see how well it ages.

Making hard apple cider at home is an enjoyable pastime with tangible rewards for your efforts. Once you get the hang of the process you can start refining your recipe by doing things like adding dark brown cane sugar, raisins, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and oak chips. As long as you make sure to keep things clean and sanitary along the way, the end result should turn out great.