Homemade hard or craft cider is not at all sweet like commercial ciders. Balance tartness, bitterness, and sweetness of your cider by selecting a blend of apples. If you only include bland fruit in your cider you’ll produce a bland cider. Learn details on how to make hard cider below.
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.
Find everything you need to make your very own hard cider at The Hoppy Brewer and browse our Bottling Equipment.
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