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How to Make Your Own Hard Cider

By on December 10, 2013

Tricia is about to "rack" this hard cider for the second time. Read on to find out what that means....

In recent decades hard cider has been a more popular drink in Great Britain than in the U.S., but you’ve probably noticed micro-brews of apple and pear cider popping up in your town. Why let the micro-breweries have all the fun? Make some hard cider yourself and adjust the recipes to create your own blends. Tricia brews hard cider in her home kitchen in our latest video and shows you how easy it is.

First, let’s run through the brewing vocabulary. “Racking”, for instance, isn’t about grouping balls on a pool table—not when we’re talking hard cider.

Airlock - Nope, not like in Star Trek. This is a much smaller airlock and it releases gases while keeping air from entering the fermenting jug.

Yeast - Remember brewer’s yeast from the 1960s health food stores? It’s different from the yeast used in baking. Be sure you have brewing yeast.

Pitching - This is not baseball. “Pitching” here is the verb for adding yeast to the cider.

Auto siphon starter - Has nothing to do with cars and gasoline. This handy tool gets the siphon going from one jug to another, and in brewing you’ll be siphoning repeatedly.

Racking - Siphoning the cider from one jug to another, leaving the solids behind.

Hard Cider Equipment

If you want to be bare bones and small scale in cider making, then start with 1 gallon jug with stopper, an auto siphon, an airlock, yeast, sanitizer, and go to your local hardware store for 5 feet of food grade plastic hose that is 5/16” inside and 7/16” outside (or wait until your auto siphon arrives and fit the hose to that).

Keep it Clean

Start with equipment that is free of debris, and then sterilize it. Don’t use bleach, as that can give a bad flavor to your hard cider. We recommend Star San.

Recipes for hard cider

In our hard cider video Tricia is brewing still, dry cider. Watch the video for the basic steps of making hard cider.

We wanted to give you additional directions for making other kinds of hard cider: still, sweet hard cider and both dry and sweet sparkling hard cider.

Our recipes here are for one gallon of cider. These extra ingredients should be added to the cider after the second racking, and just before you bottle the hard cider.

We don’t have measurements or experience with using stevia as a sweetener, so if you have tried that please leave us your tips in the comments. Some think the sweetness of stevia has an odd lingering flavor that competes with the natural sugars in the cider.

How to Make Still, Sweet Hard Cider

By now you know that yeast likes to eat sugar. So how do you sweeten up the cider a little without the yeast producing fizzy gas? You add a non-fermentable sugar—xylitol is a sugar alcohol. How about that? We aren’t even going to mention artificial sweeteners, but we do suggest 2-3 tablespoons of xylitol as a “back sweetener”. If you have pets, be sure to keep xylitol far from their reach. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. It can even be fatal in very small amounts.

An Explosive Topic

Have you noticed that we’ve been talking about making still hard cider? As in, no bubbles, no carbonation, we don’t want any exploding bottles.

Good. Still means a lack of bubbles, so we can all go ahead and use Swing Top Bottles, in half liter or liter sizes. If you want the sparkly, bubbly stuff use another recipe and use bottles that take caps.

How to Make Sparkling, Dry Hard Cider

To keep the tart flavor of dry cider and create lots of sparkle, add sugar to “bottle carbonate” the cider just before bottling. If that sounds too tart for you, put in just a hint of xylitol too. You need to feed the yeast more sugar, which it will convert into bubbles. This will NOT make your cider sweeter in flavor. To make a sugar mixture for the yeast, boil 1/2 cup of water and dissolve either: 1/8 to 1/4 cup sugar in it, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon up to 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of honey, or 1/8 to 1/4 cup maple syrup.  Another way to supply sugar to the yeast is to add 1/4 of a can of frozen, concentrated apple juice.

How to Make Sparkling, Sweet Hard Cider

Fizzing, sweet, alcoholic—what’s not to like? Put in 3 tablespoons of xylitol and do that “bottle carbonation” thing with sugar just before bottling. Not sweet enough for you? Add xylitol again but be cautious.

Grow Your Own Apples & Pears for Unique Hard Cider

To put your personal stamp on hard cider, start with apple cider you pressed yourself! Our video on How to Make Cider shows you all the steps, with technology ranging from pre-20th century (the press) to 21st century (the iPod to listen to while you crank the press). We have tips on how to mix apple varieties for the best cider too.

Want to grow your own apple trees for cider? Check out our huge selection of bare root apple trees. You probably know that planting bare root is the cheapest and easiest way to add fruit trees to your property—we just got 13,000 bare root trees in stock and many will sell out in the next week. Five thousand more trees will arrive in January.

Pears also make excellent hard cider and are beautiful in both orchards and edible landscapes. Choose from our range of both European and Asian pear trees.

We have a wealth of videos and articles about fruit trees, all based on university research and all gathered for you at our Fruit Tree Central.

Whether the apples and pears are from your own orchard, or your local organic farmer, make some hard cider this year and let us know how you like it!

  Comments (2)

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My Grandfather bought raw apple cider by the gallon and if it sat too long it would turn hard all by it’s self - simple - no processing required.
—Ron

Posted by --Ron on Dec. 23, 2013 at 10:36:28 PM

Yep, that’s true. Apples have natural yeasts that live on the skins, but you have an equal chance of getting vinegar because of the acetobacteria also naturally present, and there is some food safety issues with some bad pathogens that can survive the alcohol.

Posted by GrowOrganic.com on Jan. 15, 2014 at 10:18:50 AM

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