Homemade Hard Cider: The Final Steps

The apples have been pressed, the yeast has been cultured, and the sugar has all been turned into CO2 and alcohol! Now, we are ready for the next steps in the homemade cider-making process.Carboys


The cider is separated from the lees- the thick sediment that settles on the bottom of the fermentation vessel, in this case the carboy. We did a second pressing after the first freeze in November, this cider we let ferment in much colder temperatures than the first pressing did. When racking you can transfer the liquid into a second ferementing vessel, storage containers, or bottle right away. We racked the iced ciders into another carboy, in case they weren’t fully finished fermenting (we didn’t want any bottles exploding!). This is officially the secondary fermentation. You can let the cider rest at this stage for as little as three weeks, or up to 3 months. If you would like to let it mellow out for more than 3 months I recommend racking it a third time after the first two months. Time allows the cider to mature and its flavor will become more balanced as the harsher notes are smoothed out by slow chemical and biochemical reactions.RACKING

Why Rack Hard Cider?!
The cider should not sit for long on a heavy crop of yeast, because the dead yeast will ‘autolyze’ (breakdown all or part of a cell or tissue by self-produced enzymes)  which tends to give unpleasant flavors.

After you have racked your cider into a second sterile vessel you should taste it! The best part! You can now adjust the flavors all different ways.

1. Add spices- adding a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, or mulling spice bags can create delicious ciders. But remember, a little goes a long way!
2. Mix in other natural flavors. I am a supporter of all natural ciders- but some people have had success with adding “natural” apple flavors, other other fruit extracts.
3. Sweeten it up! Even though you have racked the cider off of most of the yeast cells there are still yeast living in the “filtered” cider. Yeast feed on fructose and sucrose, so just adding more sugar to the cider will reactivate the yeast and they will turn that sugar into alcohol. Meaning you will have a higher percent alcohol without making the cider any sweeter. However, yeast does not feed on stevia or xylitol-two natural sweeteners.

You can either choose to make these additions at the beginning of the racking process and let the cider infuse the flavors. Or you can add them halfway through, or right before bottling. It’s all part of the experiment!


The cider we pressed first round was left in the primary fermentation vessel for so long…a bit too long actually. Since we knew the fermentation had officially stopped (and we double checked with a hydrometer) we bottled this straight from the primary carboy. Hydrometer readingWe used a hydrometer and looked for a reading for specific gravity of 1.005 to .999 S.G. This means that almost all of the sugar has been turned into alcohol. The cider was siphoned out of the carboy and funneled into sterilized wine bottles. We then corked the bottles, most people advise using a bottle capper or champagne stoppers because quite a bit of pressure can build up in the bottle. We keep most of our cider still (non-carbonated) and have had pretty good luck avoiding explosions…knock on wood! They will be stored in a cool, dark area for months- or even years. Bottling ProcessBottling











My favorite of the regular ciders was the Hard Lemonade Cider. We added a canister of Country Time lemonade with 2 pounds of white sugar to the 5 gallons of freshly pressed cider before the yeast was added. We also primed the carboy with corn sugar or dextrose. This is one of my favorite priming methods because it creates more of a  fizzy feeling than an overpowering bubbly feeling.

According to How to Make Hard Cider Site, You can also use:

  1. 1/8 – 1/4 cup of brown sugar (for best mixing, dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup of boiled water, before you add it) OR
  2. 1/4 of a can of frozen apple juice concentrate, OR
  3. Corn sugar (dextrose)
    1/8 cup dextrose per gallon of cider
    OR 1/2 tsp. dextrose added into EACH PINT BOTTLE as you bottle.
    OR 3/4 cup dextrose for 5-6 gallon carboy (jug)

After priming and bottling our cider should be bubbly and ready to drink in a couple of weeks! Then we will have to go through this entire process again when our iced ciders are finished with their secondary fermentation. P1110429And Clementine guards the corks…

Have you ever bottled your own cider? Was your process similar? What is your favorite kind of cider!?

Sweet Apple Wine- with agave nectar

As promised yesterday; I’m sharing some of our experimental hard cider recipes! The simplest way to make apple juice into something a bit more exciting was shared in this post. Today I will be talking about how to make this entire process into more of a science experiment! So exciting! (I’m such a nerd). You can also think of this process as adjusting a recipe. …Making alcohol appeals to foodies, scientists, and, really, all people that like to drink!Cider3

(Me acting like a mad scientist)

These are the recipes that have produced some delicious hard ciders over the years. Obviously, I can’t take credit for most of these. My boyfriend and his friends have been experimenting with cider recipes since they “borrowed” apples from their college cafeteria and brewed it in their bath tub. The COMMON bathtub. Not. Even. Lying.

Anywayyy… Today I will share with you my favorite recipe- so far! We haven’t bottled our cider yet, so I will add my second recipe after our next taste test! To be technical, adding sugar usually makes for a higher level of alcohol making these recipes more apple wines, than hard ciders.

Each of these recipes is for a 5-6 gallon recipe. For the pure original gravity the specific gravity was measured at 1.050 and 13 degrees Brix. That means if you didn’t add any more sugar the potential alcohol would be 6.9%- and it would be considered a Hard Cider.

After getting the original measurements we add the sugar source.

This time we added potassium metabisulfite, also called Camden tablets to the juice before fermentation. This sulfite kills off all of the wild yeast in the juice, insuring that the commercial yeast (which must be pitched at least 24 hours later) is the dominant fermentation agent.Sweet Apple WIne

We didn’t make a yeast culture and used dry yeast packets. Next time I would like to make a yeast culture in order to ensure a higher population of yeast before pitching them into the carboy. The yeast is then pitched into the carboy and the primary fermentation begins. We let the carboys bubble away until they stop gurgling, usually about 2-3 months. The liquid is strained from the must and filtered into a sterilized container, usually another carboy. This mixture sits for a couple more weeks, then it’s time for the taste test! If it passes our intense taste test then it it ready for bottling!

If the flavor is questionable there are a couple of options, the wine can be put through a second fermentation, or if it is contaminated or has a common cider disorder it might be in need of some more intense attention. But! That’s for another post!

What kind of sugar source would you add to your apple wine?!

Making Hard Cider like it’s 1903

P1100775CIdermaking at home is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to make your own alcohol. The key to delicious cider, is, of course, the apples! A crisp, sweet, well-rounded cider is made from a variety of apples. Our batch of cider used an old English variety (too old for me to even know what type of apples they are) mixed with Red Delicious, Cortland and some green apples. Very specific, I know. Each press was a different mixture of the apples and tasted a bit different. There are 100s of apples recommended for cidermaking.Apples

If you don’t have access to apples, unpasteurized juice can be used to make natural hard cider. Because of some (quite exaggerated) cases of sickness from people drinking real cider, finding unpasteurized apple juice can be a difficult task. Local orchards, farmers markets, or natural food markets may sell unpasteurized cider. Red Jack Orchards sells jugs of unpasteurized apple cider, when it is in season.

The ultimate way to make your own cider is pressing the apples yourself with a hydraulic cider press, or a screw-type wine press. Luckily we have access to a homemade hydraulic cider press! So, after your apples have been picked and cleaned, the next step is to sanitize, clean, scrub, and wash every inch of the equipment. (Most boring step!)Pomace

2. Feed apples into the grinder box. The whole apples are chopped up into easily squished pieces.

3. The ground pumace drops from the grinder box into a giant tub. This tub is then dumped into the press-which is lined with a wool-cloth. Slatted wooden racks are placed on top of the cloths.CiderPress

4. This process is repeated, stacking cloths and wooden slats one on top of another. The stack is then positioned underneath the pressing mechanism. Holding tank

5. Juice is squeezed out, flows through a tube, and into a holding tank as pressure is applied.Cider1

6. Carboys are filled from the holding tank with the fresh pressed juice.

7. The pressed pomace is composted.

Only in North America does the word cider refer to primarily the unfermented, fresh-pressed juice. Throughout the rest of the world, cider indicates an alcoholic beverage.



The absolute easiest way possible:

-Fill a fermentation vessel- jug or carboy. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit in a cool location out of direct sunlight.

– In a few days, the cider will begin to bubble, froth, and foam over. Clean the sides of the container every day. Once this fast fermentation subsides, usually a week or so, depending on temperature. Fit the jug with a fermentation lock filled with water. Let the vessel ferment for another month or two. Siphon off the cider into a clean vessel, leaving the sediment, or lees, behind. Let the cider mellow for another month, then it should be ready to bottle! Taste test the cider and make sure you like the flavor!

…Getting a little more creative:

Tomorrow I will show you the experiments we did with varying yeast strains, killing the wild yeast, adding flavoring, spices, and using different sugar sources (including mini marshmallows!)

Have you ever made your own cider?! What is your favorite recipe?