making hard ciderMaking Hard Cider

The process and steps to making hard cider are really simple. People have been making hard cider either on purpose or by accident for centuries.

Hard cider fermentation time usually takes only a few weeks depending on the room temperature, the type of yeast and the amount of extra sugar/ingredients added to the cider.

Most hard cider will at best be between 3 to 6 % alcohol content if you don't add additional sugars. If you are want to maximize alcohol content, you will need to add additional sugars to the cider.

The worst thing that can go wrong is that you end up making vinegar instead of hard cider. This can happen from you not cleaning your equipment good enough or not killing off the wild yeast or bacteria. If this happens to you, you will know it from the smell or look of the cider. If you are ever in doubt, THROW IT OUT!

It is just like making wine

Styles of Hard Cider

There are 4 styles of hard cider:

Depending on your recipe and procedures, you can have a sweet still cider, a dry sparkling cider, a sweet sparkling cider, etc. Basically you can mix it up!

Many people adding flavorings to hard cider to give it a different taste. You can add such things as brown sugar, spices, vanilla or wood chips to create a tasty cider.

Different cider yeast strains can also give you a different outcome. You can use the same hard cider recipe and just change the type of yeast and have a totally different result.

Fermentation and Yeast

There are several sources of yeast that you can use for making hard cider. Some are better than others and it will depend on how much risk you are willing to take.

The simplest and most advisable route to take is to simply buy your yeast from a online home brew supplier or local home brew shop.

First we need to realize the impact of yeast has on making hard cider. Without yeast, there would be no hard cider, but that is almost impossible since yeast are pretty much everywhere. The problem is that we only want certain yeast to give us the results that we want.

There is yeast present on the skins of apples and that natural wild yeast is what has been made for centuries to make hard cider. It was this simple:

Crush some apples to get the juice out and put it in a barrel. Magically a few weeks later it has a alcohol content of about 3-6%.

Thing is that it doesn't always work out good and you might waste all of the juice by making something undrinkable.

This is the reason people like to kill off all the natural yeast and put in store bought yeast. They get a strain that produces consistent results, but first they have to kill off all the natural wild yeast that are present with Campden tablets.

Simply crush up some of these tablets and drop them in the cider and let it sit for about 24 hours and all the wild yeast will be dead or by pasteurizing with heat (185 degrees for 45 minutes)

Sources of yeast

Your first source of yeast for your hard cider is the natural wild yeast. Crush and press your cider and hope for the best. Let's not go there.

Next up the chain is to kill off the wild yeast and drop in some raisins. This is works great if you are in jail or a place where making alcohol is illegal.

There is wild yeast on the raisins, but you basically are in the same place you were with the wild yeast on the apple skins. You most likely will get a different strain of wild yeast that is not from your local area.

Next up the food chain is yeast that you buy at the store for making bread or baking. This is not really a good choice but it does work. This will give you a safe, drinkable product, but not the best cider that you have ever had.

Using packaged dried wine yeast is the next and most common choice.

You can buy dried wine yeast from a brewing supply store or online. There are several different varieties to choose from and each strain will give you a different finished product taste and alcohol level.

Dried yeast

Farther up the food chain is liquid cider yeast. These are going to give you probably the best results but they are somewhat pricey, but there is a way to get around having to buy yeast every time you make a batch of hard cider.

Liquid yeast

You can use the yeast from a previous batch if you have a bottle of the hard cider left from your last batch. At the bottom of the bottle is yeast and the yeast is dormant. You can pour the last few ounces of hard cider from the bottle into the new batch of hard cider and the yeast should start to ferment the new batch.

This should work most of the times but it could fail the more times you reuse the same yeast, but many home brewers do this.

Liquid Apples

You need to obtain a source of apple cider. This can be from fresh apples or you could use store bought cider/apple juice.

Fresh Apples

If you only have apples from some of your apple trees (or getting some free apples) , then most likely you are only going to be making hard cider once a year in the fall in one big batch.

Regardless of where or how you are getting your fresh apples, you are going to have to get the juice out of the apples.

Grinding and pressing is the hardest part of the whole hard cider making process. There are no short cuts here. There is really only one way to do this is to this. You have to grind up the apples then press out the juice.

You can expect to get almost 3 gallons of juice from a bushel of apples ( which is about 45 pounds of apples)

You will need to have an apple grinder and cider press.

You can easily make your own apple grinder and cider press, but you need to do this in advance. Don't have bushels and bushels of apples ready to be ground and pressed and you decide to start building your apple grinder and cider press.

Store Bought Cider

Store bought cider could come from the orchard or your local supermarket. You could also be buying apple juice instead of cider.

You will most likely be making small batches of cider. Anywhere from 1 to 5 gallons most likely. These are great to work with because you can make small batches year round and experiment with different recipes to create unique batches of cider.

You need to pay attention to the additives in the cider that are used to kill bacteria by the processors. Ascorbic acid is fine, but potassium sorbate is not. Potassium sorbate will keep the yeast from working.

Pasteurized cider is fine too. Some people say that pasteurizing changes the flavor, but the yeast will still do their thing in the cider.

One over looked source of apple juice is frozen apple juice. There usually aren't any preservatives in frozen apple juice. Frozen apple juice is most likely the cheapest source of apple juice (generic or store brand) and is available year round.

Hard Cider Fermentation Equipment


You are going to need containers to ferment the cider in. These are called fermenters.

The cheapest and simplest thing to use is the 5 gallon brewing buckets with the lids from the home brew supply that allow you to put a fermentation lock on them. (Any buckets or plastic in general, needs to be food safe. No old 5 gallon paint buckets!)

If you are making hard cider from a big bunch of fresh apples that you are grinding and pressing, you may need a lot of these buckets.

If you are making small 1 gallon batches, you can use a plastic milk jug or 1 gallon glass jug with a ferment lock and rubber stopper ( or you can use a balloon or plastic wrap with a rubber band as a a ferment lock as a way to keep wild yeast and bacteria out of your fermentation ).

Fermentor bucket

Ferment Lock

A ferment lock keeps out the out side air ( which keeps bacteria out) and allows the carbon dioxide to be released. Most store bought ones are filled with water to keep the air from entering the ferementer.

They sell these at home brew supply stores for next to nothing.

If you are using a milk jug or 1 gallon wine jug, you could put plastic wrap with a rubber band around the top or a balloon with a pin hole in it. These work just as good and don't require a rubber stopper.

Ferment lock


You use a hydrometer to measure the sugar content ( which will let you know the alcohol potential that your hard cider might have). This is not needed unless you want to get "technical" with your brewing.


Large pot

You might need a large pot if you want to pasteurize the cider before fermentation or to stop fermentation with bottled sweet cider.


Depending on the style and amount of cider you are making, you can use, beer bottles, water bottles, wine bottles,1 gallon milk jugs, 1 gallon glass wine jugs or 2 liter bottles.

Bottle Brush

You will need a bottle brush if you are cleaning out beer bottles.

Bottle brush


If you are bottling the hard cider in beer bottles, then you will need a capper, unless you are using grolsch bottles.


Sterilizing Fermentation Equipment

The fermenter and any equipment coming in contact with the cider needs to be sterilized to kill off any bacteria or wild yeast.

You can buy special cleaning products from home brew suppliers, but good old bleach works just as good and is cheap. Add a little bleach to hot water and clean off or out your equipment.The important thing to do is rise the equipment of well afterwords to get rid of any bleach left.

I like to turn my plastic ferementer buckets upside down after cleaning and rinsing, to allow all the water and drain out ( and hopefully any bleach I missed) Make sure to clean your ferment locks and bucket lids. Bleach will kill yeast and stop your cider from becoming hard cider! If you have to clean off any stuck dirt or grime, use a soft cloth that won't scratch any plastic. Scratches are great places for bacteria to hide.

You should try to never use soap on your equipment. Soap is really hard to get rid of the residue and is generally avoided in homebrewing. Just stick with bleach.

Fermenting Fresh-Pressed Cider

After pressing your cider and getting your fermenter filled up, you want to kill off all of the wild yeast and bacteria. You basically crush a few campden tablets up and drop them into the cider and put the lid on. Wait 24 hour and add either a good liquid cider yeast or a dry wine yeast to each of the fermenters.

If you don't want to use campden tablets, then you need to pasteurize the cider before putting it into the ferementer. Heat the cider up to about 185 degrees for about 45 minutes to kill off all the bad stuff. Then put into the ferementer and add your yeast after it cools to about 80 degrees.

Put the lid on and install the ferment lock. In about 24 hours or less, you should see bubbles coming out of your ferment locks. The yeast are doing their thing converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Depending on the temperature and the yeast type, it will take anywhere from a few days to up to a month of complete the fermentation process. Room temperature works fine for fermentation. Don't let the cider freeze. Fermentation will stop if it gets anywhere near that cold.

After the fermentation stops ( no more bubbles coming out of the ferement lock, you need to somehow bottle the hard cider.

Cider Making book

Fermenting Store Bought Cider

You can totally skip using Campden tablets or pasteurizing your cider before fermentation. There is no bacteria in the store bought.

Just put your cider into the fermenter and add the yeast. Install the ferment lock and fermentation should start with 24 hours. Super easy!

Bottling Hard Cider in Beer Bottles

Whenever you are making hard cider, you are going to need to have something to store your batch of brew in. Typically you are going to want to use beer bottles.

Beer bottles are 12 oz ( there are other sizes ,but they are not as easy attainable ) 12oz is just about the right size for a drink anyway. If you go bigger, your drink will get too warm or lose it's carbonation before you get it drunk.

Glass beer bottles are easy to get, easy to cap and are reusable. You won't get any off taste from glass (ever notice how much better beer taste from a bottle?)

You can buy new glass bottles from your local homebrew store or online, but you don't want to do that if at all possible You can sort of subsidize your brewing supplies by buying beer in the bottles and then after drinking the beer, using the bottles.

First thing you need to collect the right kind of bottles. You can't use screw type bottles! These bottles are too thin and can explode easily if you happen to over carbonate some of your brew.

You need the bottles that you have to use a bottle opener on.

The next step is getting the labels off of the bottles. Depending on what brand of beer it is, this can be easy or a pain in the ass to do. There are some that have a type of glue that just doesn't want to come off. You don't have to get the labels off to use the bottles, but it just looks better.

You can soak your bottles in warm water to help loosen the labels. Don't use soap on your bottles! Soap will cause problems with carbonation and the head of your beverage.

The next step is to clean out the insides of the bottles. This can be a nasty job if you haven't rinsed the bottles after emptying them and mold has grown it the bottle. (you will quickly learn to rinse out your homebrew bottles to remove the yeast sediment because it is a pain to get out after it has dried and mold has grown on it)

You will need a bottle brush to clean out the inside of your bottles. If you leave it straight like it comes new, you will find that will not reach all the crud on the bottom edge of the bottles.

Bend it in cresent moon shape.

You need to look into the bottle while it is facing a light source to see if there is anything stuck in the bottle.

Put a little water into the bottle to pre soak. Run the brush through the bottle, rinse out the bottle, check to see if anything is still stuck. If there is still crud stuck, try to soak it some more or use a little stick to scrap out the stuck crud.

I made one out of chop sticks.

I set up my sink to clean and sanitize my bottles.

One side is just hot water and this is where I soak my bottles and rise them. It gets pretty nasty.

The other side is full of hot water with bleach. I dip the bottles in the water and them put out the water. This gets the the bleach all over the inside of the bottle to kill germs. Make sure not to use any soap!

To further clean and sanitize the bottles, I put them into the dishwasher with a little bleach.

The dishwasher needs to be set on the dry cycle. This will heat the bottles up to kill any of the bad stuff.

Next the bottle caps need to be sanitized. Put a pan of water on the stove to boil. After it reaches boiling, take it off the heat and toss in your caps.

The hot water will kill all the bad stuff.

You will need a bottle capper to cap the bottles. If you are making still hard cider, you can just fill the bottles and cap and your done.

If you are making sparking hard cider, you need to put some sugar into the batch prior to bottling. You need   cup for a 5 gallon batch or just a little over 2 Tablespoons for a gallon batch.

If you are making sweet sparkling hard cider you need to add extra sugar and then stop the carbonation process before the bottles become over carbonated and blow up. You can stop the carbonation process by pasteurizing the bottles in 160 degree water for at least 10 minutes.

You need to check your bottle for the carbonation level each day starting about 4 days after bottling. This can be dangerous if you let your bottles over carbonate.

How to Make Sweet Hard Cider Still Sweet Cider

If you want sweet still cider (cider without carbonation) then you can stop the fermentation before the yeast use up all the sugar by putting Campden tablets (potassium metabisulphite) into the cider.

You can also just put in the refrigerator, which will cold the cider down to a level that will slow down or totally stop the yeast from fermenting anymore sugar.

You could also pasteurize the cider by putting it in 160 degree water bath for at least 10 minutes. The cider needs to reach that 160 degree temperature to kill off all the yeast.

The other option is to put more sugar than the yeast can use. The alcohol content will get so high that it will kill off the yeast. The hard cider left will be sweet and have really high alcohol content. (Higher than wine)

Some people will put in Splenda into the cider. Yeast can't ferment this and it leaves a sweet taste.

Making Sparkling Sweet Cider

If you want to sparkling sweet cider, it is a little more complicated.

You could kill of the yeast and force carbonate the cider, which would make it both sweet and sparkling.

The more common way is to bottle the cider after it has fermented and adding sugar during the bottling process.

If you just add enough sugar to carbonate the cider, then it won't be sweet, but if you add more sugar than is needed to carbonate the cider, then it will eventually blow up the bottles, unless you stop the fermentation process going on in the bottle.

Well doesn't get use anywhere. If you feel lucky you could just put the bottle into the refrigerator after about 4 days and hope that the fermentation stops from the cold. (Or you could have a mini bomb waiting in your refrigerator)

The best choice would be to pasteurize the cider in the bottles. This is the tricky (and somewhat dangerous) part. You have to time this right to get enough carbonation in the bottle and then kill off the yeast by pasteurizing the hard cider in the bottle. This will leave you with both a sweet and sparkling cider.

The amount of sugar you add is going to depend on how sweet you want the cider to end up. Normally in home brewing, it takes   a cup of corn sugar to carbonate 5 gallons of home brew ( 2/3 cup white sugar).

You need to adjust this to the size of batch of cider you are making. ( 2 Tablespoons of white/brown sugar per gallon just to carbonate) A good starting point would be 4-6 Tablespoons per gallon. Experiment!

To pasteurize the hard cider in the bottle, you need to heat a large pot full of water ( not all the way to the top of the bottles, but close enough to handle without getting burnt) to 160 deg F.

Put as many bottles in the pan as you can at a time and let them sit for at least 10 minutes min. to kill off the yeast.

This should give you a sparkling sweet hard cider. Just remember that this could be dangerous if you have let the bottle already over carbonate ( you should start checking the bottles by opening one a day starting about day 4 to check carbonation levels ) You don't want to heat the water much higher than the 160 deg F. Remember: lots of heat and carbonation don't mix well.

Making Hard Cider with a High Alcohol Content

Making hard cider with a high alcohol content is a simple thing to do by adding extra sugar or fermentables to your cider.

You need to know how high of an alcohol content you want to achieve and how much alcohol the extra sugars or fermentables are going to add per unit of measurement.

You can get really scientific by using a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity, which tells you how much sugars are in the liquid the potential alcohol content that is possible if the yeast use up all the sugars during fermentation.

A hydrometer is simple to use but you also need a sample of the cider and a brewing thermometer to know the temperature of the cider.

You have to make adjustments to the readings you get depending on temperature of the apple cider.

You have to measure the before and after specific gravities to figure out how much alcohol was made.

You can also do this a simpler way if you want a high alcohol content hard cider by just knowing the average alcohol potential of cider and then how much alcohol the sugars you add can contribute to you hard cider.

Most ciders have a specific gravity of 1.050, which can give you about 6% alcohol

Here are some specific gravities common fermentables that you may be adding to your hard cider:

One pound of sugar will give you about a specific gravity of 1.046 when dissolved in 1 gallon of water

One pound of honey will give you about a specific gravity of 1.034 when dissolved in 1 gallon of water

1 lb of sugar = 2 cups

1 lb of honey = 1.33 cup of honey

.010 on the specific gravity will give you about .9 % alcohol.

.025 is around 3 % alcohol

OK, now for the math. You want to make a cider that has about 10% alcohol and you are only making a 1 gallon batch of cider.

As mentioned before, most ciders are going to get close to 6% ( probably a little under that).

If you add 2 cups of sugar ( 1 lb of sugar), you are going to have 1.050 + .046 = 1.096

This should give about 12.2 % alcohol in your hard cider. You have 6 % without any more sugar, 2 cups add about 6%, so you need a little over half, so 1 cup ( a little bit over that) should give you around 10%.

You can guesstimate on this and end up pretty close. What if you have a 5 gallon batch of hard cider that you want a 10% alcohol content in?

Just take the formula for the 1 gallon batch ( a little over 1 cup of sugar) times 5. 5 cups ( heck make that 5 1/2 cups for the little extra) and you should be good to go with making your high alcohol content hard cider.

Hard Cider Recipes

Plain Jane Cider

This is how cider use to be made for centuries
Fresh-pressed apple juice
1 packet wine yeast
1 Campden tablet (If you are pressing your own apples, you can choose to not even add store bought yeast and you may or may not end up with the results you like).
Put in crushed Campden tablet, seal,let set for 24 hours, then put in yeast and seal with ferment lock.

Larger cider batches : You can make up to 5-10 gallons with one pack of yeast, but use a few more Campden tables on larger cider batches.

Hard Times Hard Cider

Simple and cheap cider recipe, as basic as you can get.
1 gallon apple juice (store bought)
1 packet yeast
Put the apple juice into a sterile fermenter and add yeast. After it is finished fermenting, add 2 tablespoons of sugar if you want a sparkling hard cider, then bottle. Bottle as is if you want a still hard cider.

Wally World Hard Cider

(Makes a 12 pack of hard cider)
1 gallon, pasteurized apple cider
12 ounce can apple juice concentrate
1 cup white sugar
Champagne yeast pack

Put all of the ingredients into a sterile fermentor and add yeast. After it is finished fermenting, add 2 tablespoons of sugar if you want a sparkling hard cider. Bottle as is if you want a still hard cider. If you want sweet and sparkling, follow the directions on the making Sweet Cider

Dazed and Confused Cider

Recipe for making a high alcohol content hard cider (makes 5 gallons)

5 gallons, sweet cider
3 pounds brown sugar
3 pounds honey
1 pack champagne yeast

Heat a little of the cider to dissolve the sugar and honey. Put all the ingredients into the fermenter and add the yeast. After fermentation stops, decide if you want still or sparkling hard cider and bottle accordingly.

Thorn Patch Cider Recipe

raspberry flavored hard cider
3 gallons cider
Frozen Red Raspberries ( about 20 -30 oz, run through in the blender first)
1 pack wine yeast

Put all of the ingredients into a sterile fermenter and add yeast. After it is finished fermenting, add 6 tablespoons of sugar if you want a sparkling hard cider, then bottle. Bottle as is if you want a still hard cider. If you want sweet and sparkling, follow the directions on making sweet cider

UTI Cider Recipe

cranberry flavored hard cider

3 gallons cider
12 ounces Cranberries (run them through a blender first 1 wine yeast

Put all of the ingredients into a sterile fermenter and add yeast. After it is finished fermenting, add 6 tablespoons of sugar if you want a sparkling hard cider , then bottle. Bottle as is if you want a still hard cider. If you want sweet and sparkling, follow the directions on making Sweet Cider.

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