In this article, we explain how to brew your own hard apple or pear cider (a.k.a. perry)
What to Expect
Naturally-made, or craft cider is quite dry. It is not sweet because the yeast, left to do its job, will consume most of the sugar in the juice. Many commercial ciders are "back sweetened". This consists of killing and stabilizing the yeast (using preservatives, heat, and/or filtering), and then adding sugar.
Choosing your Juice
We will consider using apples (cider) and pears (perry) in this article, but you can use the methods here with other fruit, for example plums.
The best cider is made from fresh-pressed fruit. Fresh juice has the brightest flavor. The aromas have not degraded from time or heat (pasteurization).
We rent fruit crushers and presses in our store. Another good option is to get freshly-pressed sweet cider from a local orchard. If you get prepared juice, make sure it does not contain preservatives (sorbates, etc.), as they can kill your yeast. Even using store-bought, no-preservative apple juice is a fun way to get introduced to making cider.
Some of the best cider we've had has come from customers who select a blend of apples which balance sweetness and tannin content. Tannins give the more tart or bitter fruit their bite. If you use only bland fruit (e.g. very ripe, non-tart apple varieties or bartlett pears), you will have a bland cider. Blend in some more tart fruit. For example, you can add other fruits like raspberries for tartness. Try different apple varieties. We also have some natural additives in our store that can help balance your tartness, bitterness, and sweetness. If you press your own fruit, make sure to use only clean fruit. Clean the outside, cutting away any brown spots. Do not use fruit from the ground. This is less important if you use the heat method below, as the heat will kill most wild yeast and bacteria on the fruit.
To crush your own fruit, we recommend renting a fruit crusher and a press. The crusher chops up and smashes the apples, and then the press extracts the juice. Once you have your juice, you'll need the following items, all available at our store:
- Fermenter and air lock. Many people use a 6.5 gallon bucket with a lid. Another popular option is a 6 gallon carboy.
- Cheese cloth or large straining bag (if you are using a fruit press)
- Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite (for option B below)
- Sanitizer (we recommend Star San and a spray bottle).
- Yeast: an important choice, check out our yeast recommendations.
- Yeast nutrient: this is a fermentation secret weapon. Healthy yeast means tasty cider.
- Recommended: A carboy for secondary fermentation / clearing.
- Optional: Pectic enzyme (to help clear cloudyness). You want this for option A below.
- Bottling bucket, bottle capper, caps, bottles, and a syphon tube.
- Alternatively, buy a wine kit.
Different Options for Brewing
When you ferment juice, you want to first kill any wild yeast or bacteria, then add your own yeast. Wild yeasts and bacteria can do all sorts of nasty things, from a slight medicinal flavor, to turning your whole batch into vinegar. If you are using pasteurized juice packaged in sanitary bottles (e.g. the juice in a store that doesn't need refrigeration), you can just sanitize your fermenter very well and use option C (no heat, no sulfites). If you have very clean fruit, you may get away with using option C. We know some very good cider makers to consistently do this. But we've also wasted gallons of cider tasting vinegary this way too.
Option A: Use Heat
This is the safest method, especially for imperfect fruit. The heat will drive off some of the aroma though. Heat your juice slowly to 165F. Cover with a lid and hold at that temp for 10 minutes. Leave lid on (unless you have a wort chiller, then use that), and cool in the sink in a bath of ice water. When the juice is cooled to 70F continue with Fermentation Directions.
Option B: Use Sulfites
Since heating fruit degrades the aroma and flavor somewhat, winemakers almost exclusively use campden tablets [wikipedia], or sulfites, to clean the must before pitching yeast. The procedure here is to crush one campden tablet per gallon of juice (must) and let set for two days in your sanitized, covered, fermenter before pitching your yeast.
This is the option I use as it has these benefits: The sulfites are mild. They don't affect flavor and are mostly neutralized by the time you drink the wine. They are just strong enough to discourage wild yeast and bacteria, yet allow your yeast (added a day or two later) to thrive. More than likely, your favorite bottled cider has been sulfited.
Option C: Wild
The third option is to not use heat nor sulfites to sanitize your must before fermenting. This method carries the highest risk of ending up with something funky (or vinegar). It is very important to use very clean fruit and clean your press and crusher well for this method to work. This method actually works quite well with pasteurized juice which has been canned (put in plastic bottles that don't need refrigeration).
Assuming you don't take the wild option, you will need to pick a yeast. This is kind of the fun part of cider making as it is one of the few choices that is not made for you in the process. Choice of yeast is also the primary determinant in the flavor of your finished cider next to the care you take in its making.
- Lalvin 1116: an excellent default, not quite as dry as full on champagne, yields a sophisticated flavor.
- Lalvin 1122: a good option for cider drinkers who prefer something a little off-dry.
- Lalvin D47: yet another good choice, this Côtes-du-Rhône yeast will deliver a flavorful cider.
- Red Star Champagne: the only yeast that actually says "champagne" on the packet, champagne yeasts finish "bone dry".
- Lalvin 1118: another champagne yeast, but with a slightly different profile than Red Star's
- Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead: another good option for off-dry afficionados.
- Ale yeast: yet another popular option for producing a cider perhaps a little less dry.
The first step is to ensure your fermenter and everything that touches your cool must is clean and sanitized. ("Must" is what unfermented juice is called in winemaking.) The best and easiest way to do this is to have some gallon-ish sized vessel (a bucket, water pitcher, whatever) full of star san. Pour a bit of star-san into your fermenter, swish it around and coat all its surfaces a few times. The goal here is to expose all surfaces of your fermenter to star-san for at least five minutes. Dump that star san back into your bucket, and put any small equipment you plan to use in that bucket (airlock, siphon, etc). Don't fear the foam! Star-san is effectively magic in that it keeps your stuff safe but won't hurt your yeast (within reason).
Now to pitch up some yeast. Heat one cup of water to boiling. Turn off heat and add yeast nutrient (this will stink, sorry). Let cool to around 80-100F and then add pectic enzyme (optional). Pour mixture into your clean, sanitized fermenter. Transfer must (juice) into fermenter and pitch your yeast. Use about one packet of yeast per 5 gallons of must. Too much yeast is better than not enough. Use yeast nutrient according to your package directions (wyeast says 1/2 tsp per 5 gallons, others say 1/2 tsp per gallon). Use about 1 tsp pectic enzyme per 5 gallons of must (optional).
Cover your fermenter and attach a sanitized airlock. Let ferment at 65-75F for a couple of weeks. Once airlock activity as subsided, give it another 3-5 days then either bottle it (see below) or rack (siphon) into a carboy and allow it to clear for another week first.
Bottling your Cider
Make sure your fermentation is finished. The cider should taste very dry. A hydrometer reading is the best way to check. A hydrometer is the only way to know for sure what is going on in your fermenter. If you bottle it too sweet you could get exploding bottles from too much fermentation in the bottle.
Clean and sanitize a bottling bucket. Heat two cups of water to boiling, turn off heat, and dissolve priming sugar (corn sugar a.k.a. dextrose). You want about 1 oz per gallon (or 3/4 cup for a 5 gallon batch). Pour this hot dissolved sugar solution into the bottling bucket. Carefully siphon your cider into the bottling bucket. Fill your cleaned, sanitized bottles, leaving 1-1.5" headspace. Cap and leave in a warm room for 2 weeks to carbonate. Cellar or refrigerate for 3-12 months. Cider ages well so give it some time for most fantastic results.
This article is intended as an introduction to the world of cider. A quick visit to your favorite search engine should yield links to many popular forums and social media outlets for cidermaking. Books are not dead! Detailed references we recommend include Annie Proulx's Cider, her Country Wisdom Bulletin edition Making the Best Apple Cider as well as Sandor Katz's classic Wild Fermentation.
We sell everything you need to make hard cider. Check out our cider making equipment selection for things like carboys and funnels and so on. For yeast, nutrients and finings, check out our cider ingredients selection.