The Cider Making No Brainer

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First off, if you aren’t already making hard cider, you should be. It really is a no brainer, which I will explain briefly here. Cider is cheap to make, easily sourced, hardly any work, and great for those friends who can’t do gluten! Your only materials are Apple cider/juice, yeast, and maybe a few optional adjuncts, so cost can be as low as $20 a batch depending on your juice source. There isn’t an actual brew process, so it cuts a couple hours out of your normal brew day requirement. Just clean, sanitize, mix ingredients and profit! Since you aren’t using grain in this, it becomes a convenient brew to have on hand for friends(or in my case, SWMBO) who don’t/can’t do gluten.

Edwort's Apfelwein


edwort's apfelwein in progress
I first stumbled onto EdWort’s cider recipe on the Homebrewtalk forums and couldn’t figure out why SO many people were brewing it. I took his recipe and went to town. I remember that first sip, and how confused my taste buds were! If you haven’t made or had his recipe yet, you should know it is completely fermented out and has no back sweetening in it so you end up with a VERY dry, almost tart hard cider. My brain kept telling me hard cider should be sweet, and there was something wrong with this, but I pressed on and about a third of the way through the pint, it clicked, this stuff was delicious and I should never be without it. Ever. Since then I have played with his recipe, making it my own and adjusting it slightly (not a lot to adjust, since it is so simple).

Lonnie’s Edwort’s Apfelwein Variant


-5 gallons of Apple Juice/Cider (no additives, ascorbic acid is ok)
-1 lb of Corn Sugar
-1 Can of Apple Juice Concentrate
-1 Package of Red Star Montrachet wine yeast.
-Ferment at room temp (around 70 degrees)
-Leave in fermenter 4 weeks, at least.
-Keg/bottle it up as per usual, and enjoy!

Some Recipe Notes and Other Variations:


I have made this many times over the last couple years, and have tried several variations, and this is the one I settled on as my favorite. Keep in mind the Corn sugar will thin out the cider, and raise the ABV. I have replaced the Concentrate with another pound of corn sugar, and vice versa. I find the concentrate helps keep some of the apple character, and the corn sugar makes it drier. I like the combination of both. I have used a few different yeasts, including the Nottingham Ale yeast, and I find this wine yeast to be the cleanest. It packs down tight, has no kraussen and is very inexpensive. There are specific cider yeasts out there, and you might find you like those better. I also prefer apple juice to cider, as you end with a crystal clear drink that just looks great without the cloud that cider will retain. I have aged this on Bourbon Oak as well, with mixed results. I have back sweetened it as well up to 1.003, 1.008 and 1.012 and find I like the 1.003 the most as it ends up just taking the edge off of the tartness without really sweetening.

Cider from Fresh Apples


apples ready for crushing
Using Juice/Cider for your recipe is the quicker route, but if you have access to apples, pressing your own can be wonderful as well. I have many a great memory of pressing apples in my youth. Selecting your apples for pressing does deserve a little thought. While different varieties provide different subtle characters to the cider, much of that is dampened when fermented. The one piece of advice I would give for pressing apples for hard cider is to make sure you have more than one variety. This will help flesh out your flavors. Predominantly, you will want a sweet apple like Red Delicious, Fuji or Gala. Mixing in some Tarts like McIntosh, Liberty, or Winesap though will really bring a bite to your cider. If able, adding a little bit of a bitter variety, such as Cortland, or Newtown adds character as well. A decent apple orchard should have options for all three flavor categories. Please discuss your favorite apple blends for pressing in the comment section below.
To press your apples for their juice, remember to first wash them to remove any detritus or if applicable, any pesticides. You will need to crush them before pressing them, and that depends on your equipment available. Many fruit presses will come with a grinder attachment which will do the job wonderfully, but if you don’t have that, then you will need to get creative. There are many types of pulpers/juicers available that could work, or failing all of those you can cut the apples up and crush them in a homemade giant mortar and pestle (bucket and pole!) Take that pulp and move it to your fruit press and squish away! Once you have gotten your desired cider, you will need to pasteurize it to kill off any wild yeast before pitching your own. This is optional, as you might want to try getting creative and letting the wild yeasts remain, but be cautious as this can produce some pretty odd flavors. I prefer not to boil it completely, so raising it to about 160 degrees and holding it there for a few minutes should do the trick.
Cool it back down to under 80 degrees, transfer to the fermenter and pitch your desired yeast!
finished cider! Enjoy
In the end, play around with the recipe, and find an end product that you like. I am sure you will. A must-have in any homebrewer’s repertoire, cider is a niche-pleaser and a real treat.
Photo Credit

apple cider in glass - Rich Orris
 
If you are happy with your process then my comment is irrelevant but there is really no need to apply any heat to destroy wild yeasts. You simply add one crushed Campden tablet (K-meta ) to every gallon of juice and the free sulfur dioxide the tablet produces when it dissolves in liquid will kill any yeast and mold. The SO2 will evaporate off within 24 hours so you wait that length of time before pitching your yeast.
Additionally, heat will set pectins and so will create a cloudy cider. If that is what you want that's your call... I prefer my ciders bright clear so I also add pectic enzyme about 12 hours before I pitch the yeast and that will help ensure a clearer cider.
 
What do you look for in an OG? I'd think that you'd get more consistent results by adjusting the corn sugar to hit the same OG on every batch. I buy UV-pasteurized cider from a local grower and mill, and found the gravity to vary from 1.035 to 1.052.
 
My friends and I produce a wonderful apple cider every year. We begin with 5 gallons of apple juice and with a little math add enough sugar to bring up the OG to give us about 11% alcohol. After fermentation is complete and a sufficient period of time for aging has past we split the batch into kegs and add 2.5 gallons of apple cider to each half. Because there is still yeast floating around in the original apple juice we use K-sorbate and Campden tablets to stabilize the cider. We let it sit for 24 hours and then put it into the keezer and 2-3 weeks later we have delicious 5.5% hard cider that tastes just like apple juice, it's extremely dangerous.
 
Nice article. Thanks for sharing. I've done single gallon jugs with different yeast and different amounts of sugar and what not... to get the feel for what I liked and what the girls liked. Like you I enjoyed the tart dry stuff but no one else did so. Adding just enough residual sugar to take the edge off is what I do now too.
Again, thanks for sharing. Reminds me I have to get some juice and yeast!
Na Zdrowie!
 
I would say most apples harvested at the right time will hover around 1.045-1.050 but yes, they can vary more than that depending on the variety and ripeness of the apple.
If you are buying mass produces juice though, the variation will be minor.
Adjusting the Corn sugar might help that some, but I would be careful how much you add, as it adds no body at all, just ABV. So the more you add to get your OG where you want the thinner the end product will be. I have found my end product to be pretty stable based off the above recipe, but I tend to get my juice from Costco most every time, so I am probably starting off with very similar juice each time.
 
You could accomplish this with normal back-sweetening as well.
Ferment your juice (getting to about 5.5-6% normally), hit it with Campden tablets, then back-sweeten up to about 1.012-14 and you would get a very similar product to your process with less waiting.
Though, it might just be six or half a dozen!
 
Thank you for the straight-forward article. I'm wondering if you've experimented with adding other fruit juices to the apple juice base. We have pomegranates from which we make jelly and liqueur. Any advice on how much pom juice I might substitute for apple juice in the recipe without making it too tart?
 
Sweet cider directly from the orchard is a great way to start, but the results can be variable depending on the apples being used. Some people use apple juice from big box stores, but I've found the resulting cider isn't all that great. I make cider every fall with apples from local orchards. My apple mill is a re-purposed electric yard waste grinder. I have to chop the apples in half, but that doesn't take very long. My press is a small wine press with a BIAB in it.
I like to wait until late October before obtaining any apples. The later season apples seem to make a better cider. I've tried making single variety cider with various apples but for me the best is a mix of as many varieties as I can get. I try to keep the tart granny smith type apples to no more than 20% of the total with the bland red delicious type sweet apples at about 50%. Jonagold, Jonathan, York, Stayman, are all good varieties. Cortland is somewhat blah, but use what you can get. Ask at your local prchard if they have any oddball antique varieties. Smokehouse, Grimes Golden, Norhtern Spy and Winter Banana are all good older varieties to look for. I'll buy orchard rejects that I can get for $5-$10 a bushel. I prefer to go into the orchard and pick up drops or apples still on the trees that were missed by the harvesting crew, but only some orchards will allow this. Most apples are picked before they are ripe, so gathering your own is a good activity. Look around your own neighborhood for anyone with apple trees in their yard and usually they'll give you all of them, because they are tired of picking then up. Let the apples sit for a few weeks or a month once you get them home to fully ripen and "sweat".
Two tricks I tried last year: Grind the apples one day, store in 5 gallon buckets overnight and press the next day. Makes "cider day" easier since cleaning the grinder and press is separated. The other thing I tried is to let the juice "kick off" with its natural yeast before adding store bought yeast. The natural yeast doesn't hurt anything that I can tell and the cider will have some more complexity. I always make at least one batch with only the wild yeast. You don't have to use any chemicals at all in your cider if you don't want to. I'll also freeze some jugs of sweet cider, let it thaw slightly and pour off the thick sugary result to make a higher ABV ice cider.
 
Another "in my experience" comment: Wife and I prefer sweet ciders, and if you're looking to avoid K-meta, using Nottingham yeast and cold crashing when the gravity reaches 1.012 - 1.015 will very effectively stop fermentation. Notty drops like a rock when it gets cold. You can't risk bottling, however, because you will end up with bombs at room temperature. If you keg, this is the only way to go for sweet ciders. Mix, ferment, chill (at the desired level of sweetness), keg, serve! I found that Notty brings out more of an appley flavor that you can serve and enjoy immediately versus Montrachet (which gets a little rocket-fuelly in my opinion, and needs some serious age time to mellow out).
 
I haven't used other fruit juices in this recipe persay, but I have used a lot of other fruits and juices in other recipes, included fruit infused beer, and kombucha as well.
I haven't used Pomegranate juice before, but my gut reaction would be to start out small with it, as its a pretty strong tasting juice. Maybe 4.5 gallons apple, to .5 gallon Pom? Give it a go! The nice thing is this stuff is so easy to make, doing test batches isn't onerous at all. Or do what Rekoob, above, does and do small test batches using different ratios and then use the ratio you like best moving forward.
Other thing I would say to watch out for is that different fruits have different kinds of sugars and acids and give you different end products? IE: why you see hard ciders every where but almost never hard orange juice.
 
I won't get too deep into the process, but it basically the following process:
1. Kill off the yeast somehow, Potassium Nitrate or Campden tablets should work.
2. add sugary syrup to taste. This can be done by taking samples and trying different ratios, or mathing it out!
3. Enjoy
4. Profit
Really, you can add ANY type of sugar source to sweeten it (honey, back sweetening syrup, sugar, fruit juice) Each will impart their own flavor flairs. The key is to make sure your yeast is dead before you do so, otherwise it will reactivate and ferment all of that sugar out again.
 
I have several friends that swear by this method, while it DOES stop fermentation, it doesn't remove/kill the yeast, so you always risk reactivation. BUT that being said, as you suggest, in keg, it can work just as well, as most time kegs are going right into the fridge and should keep most yeasts happily asleep. In bottle, it definitely won't work, unless you always keep all of your bottles refrigerated. At that point, its just asking for trouble. I do think in most cases, backsweetening of any kind should be married with Campden Tablets.
 
i always use 1-2 cans of apple juice concentrate to back sweeten, depending on how sweet i want it. have also used a can of cranberry juice concentrate and a can of pear juice concentrate to change the flavor up.
 
Typically, K-meta (or Campden tabs) won't in fact kill off a virile colony of yeast. What most wine makers do to back sweeten is allow the cider (or wine) to age about 6 - 9 months, racking every couple of months. This process reduces the number of living yeast cells to very few in number. You then add K sorbate AND K-meta. The K-sorbate prevents the cells from reproducing and the K-meta prevents other yeast from colonizing the liquid. You can then back sweeten with little concern that the yeast will be able to ferment the added sugar.
 
sulphur smell suggests that you are stressing the yeast - perhaps they do not have enough nutrient. You may want to provide the yeast with some DAP or equivalent and you may want to aerate the must by whipping air into the frmenter. As long as the gravity is above say, 1.010 , degassing (removing CO2)
and incorporating oxygen is good for the yeast and is not bad for the wine (or cider)
 
I do not, as I keg mine, and then carbonate with CO2, but you can. you can also bottle it still if you like, some people do prefer it uncarbonated.
 
Depends on the yeast. Cider does make some sulfur, but it goes away. WLP cider yeast (775?) makes a LOT of sulfur.
 
Has anyone tried using that non-fermentable sugar from the brew shops for back end sweetening? I'm wondering if I can use that without killing the yeast, and still bottle condition.
 
Yes you can. I've sweetened with xylotol and bottle conditioned with dextrose. Worked like a charm. Let it age after bottling in order to smooth out the flavours. Turned out really nice after 4-6 months aging in the bottle.
 
Thanks for sharing. When I bottle it do I add the same amount of priming sugar as home brew? Do I have to age it in the bottles like home brew?
Thank You,
Larry
 
I have been making hard cider (more correctly apple wine) for 8 years now. Started with 5 gallon water bottles and now do one 55 gallon drum. I have never worried about the wild yeasts and just pitch a strong champaign yeast with dissolved common granular sugar. 6 weeks later or when the ABV reaches 1.000 try to stabilize the fermentation then transfer to 5 gallon cornelius kegs for aging and carbonation. I also add cinnamon sticks and cloves at this time.
 
This should be a simple subject on a very old traditional process, but I observe:
1) Some folks posting appear not to care to distinguish between "Cider" & apple juice.
2) Most folks will not have access to orchards with owners willing to indulge in amateur picking.
3) Apple juice concentrate & plain apple juice are needed here, beware that either is free from preservatives!
4) It's now many years since I tasted English cider made from "cider apples" (whatever they are) & I can assure readers it was delicious With high ABV & it did not taste of apples. In those days it was distributed & pulled from wooden barrels. No commercial cider that I have tasted since tastes anything like as good. In fact most commercial ciders to me seem more like apple flavored white sparking wine.
5) Has anyone researched how the good stuff was made in the old days?
6) BTW, I once years ago, filled my car with free windfall apples. Getting useful juice therafter was a nightmare & not something I will ever try again - you have been warned!
 
I've made cider for years in many variations. My ideal was sparkling, very slightly sweet, in bottles. Don't even try it! Twenty years of brewing beer and I never had any bombs...until I tried this. I carpet bombed my basement. If you want it sparkling.........keg it.
 
I make a simple cider using brown sugar, Motts Apple juice,Red star yeast mentioned here and back sweetened with two cans frozen apple concentrate, which I think is pretty good, but it ends up to be too acidic after a few glasses. Is there anything I can do to cut down the acidity.
 
Sounds like a great way to keep the natural sweetness of cider but still elevating it by making it hard. I'm not set up for kegging. How could I add the sweetness to the cider and still have enough yeast in it for priming without my yeast eating to much and explosions happening?
 
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