If you’re at least 21 years old, chances are you’ve already made or, at the very least, have had the urge to make your own booze. Maybe it was in your college dorm, hidden under a pile of dirty clothes. Or maybe you bought a brewing system with your first real paycheck. Or maybe you’ve just dreamed about it and you’ve decided that now is the time to try it.
The problem with the last option, though, is that the price of homebrewing equipment can add up pretty quickly (especially if you want high-quality gear). Carboys, kegerators, countless tubes and siphons — they all cost money. Then, when you screw something up (as you inevitably do from time to time), you’ve not only wasted your money but also your time. That’s where homemade hard cider comes in.
Hard cider is so, so much easier to make than beer, yet the brewing process still allows for just as much creativity and expression. With the right tools, you can prepare a batch of hard cider in just a single weekend. Here’s how it’s done.
From a broad perspective, learning to make hard cider and then actually making it is fairly straightforward. You basically just get yourself some fresh apple juice (either by mashing the apples yourself, or buying pre-squeezed juice), add some yeast (Champagne yeast is a great choice), then wait a few weeks for everything to ferment. There are a few finer points to it, but that’s the overall idea.
What You Need to Make Hard Cider
- 2 1-gallon glass carboys (aka demijohns) with lids
- Bung (aka “stopper with a hole in it,” which are often included with the airlock)
- 1.5-pint glass jar with lid
- Measuring glass
- Siphon hose
- Star San
- Mortal and pestle (optional)
While you might get lucky and be able to score the equipment above on sites like Craigslist, you can look for it the at a local homebrew shop or on websites such as Northern Brewer. Another great option is Amazon — you can find carboy kits with the airlock and bung for about $15 and deals on large-volume carboys.
No matter where your gear comes from, make sure it’s completely sterile. That’s what the Star San is for.
Ingredients to Make Hard Cider
- 1 gallon fresh-pressed apple juice
- 1 packet Champagne yeast
- 1 Campden tablet
The apple juice can be obtained however you choose, but make sure that it’s as fresh and pure as possible. The most badass way to do this is to mash and juice the apples yourself, but that can be a bit of a labor-intensive activity, so we understand if you’re not up for it. If you are, however, there are all kinds of DIY tutorials for making your own cider press online.
Your other option is to buy pre-squeezed apple juice from a store or farmers market. If you go that route, make sure to read the label. Store-bought stuff often contains preservatives (especially if the juice came from outside your state), which can inhibit or prevent fermentation. Avoid anything with preservative chemicals like potassium sulfate or sodium benzoate. These prevent bacteria (yeast included) from growing in the juice — which unfortunately means it won’t ferment. That said, don’t shy away from stuff that’s “UV-treated” or “heat-pasteurized” though — that stuff doesn’t hinder fermentation at all.
Brewing Your Hard Cider
Before starting, don’t forget to sterilize everything with Star San. This will prevent any wild, unwanted bacteria from ruining your brew.
Funnel your juice into the glass carboy, and, with your mortar and pestle (or with the back of a spoon), crush the Camden tablet. Add the crushed tablet into the juice; this will help kill any bacteria or natural yeasts that might be present in juice and allow for the selected Champagne yeast to thrive once it is introduced. Put on the cap, and give a gentle shake. Set aside for 48 hours. After 48 hours, pour 1 cup of the liquid from the carboy into a clean glass jar and freeze for use later in the recipe.
In a measuring glass, re-hydrate the Champagne yeast according to the instructions on the packet and add to the juice-filled carboy. Fit the bung and airlock into the carboy, Open and carefully add a bit of water to the airlock (look for a fill line somewhere in the middle). This will let CO2 gasses out without letting oxygen in. Check up on it periodically and make sure that the water level remains constant for the duration of the fermentation process.
Place your carboy in a tray, or at the very least, on top of a towel, just in case overflow occurs during the start of fermentation, which should begin in 24 to 48 hours. Once fermentation begins you can safely place your container in a dark cool spot to do its work. Ideally, fermentation should occur at around 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (a deep basement or an unheated garage in spring or fall should work). Check up on it daily, and take notes if you want to for future cider projects.
At three weeks, take that reserved frozen juice out of the freezer and funnel it into the fermenting cider. The sugars in this reserved juice will then start to ferment so be sure to recap with airlock and bung.
Fermentation can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks to complete — you’ll know fermentation is finished when you no longer see tiny bubbles rising to the top. When all foaming and bubbles have subsided, siphon the cider into a clean glass carboy, taking care to not transfer over any of the dregs at the bottom of the fermentation jug by keeping the hose just above the sediment. Either cap and refrigerate in a gallon jug or funnel into swing-top bottles leaving 1.5-inch headspace at the top (you’ll need about seven 500-ml bottles per gallon of cider). Keep refrigerated and drink within one month to ensure fermentation doesn’t restart as it could cause pressure to build and the glass to shatter. If you want to store the cider for longer, check with your local homebrew shop about stabilization options.
Article first published by Drew Prindle on March 4, 2016. Last updated by Sam Slaughter in September 2018 to include more details and visual aids.