Just Brew It: How to Make Hard Cider at Home

“It is indeed bad to eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider.” -Benjamin Franklin

Homebrewing is more popular than ever these days and the recipes for homebrewed beer are endless. If you are looking for a cucumber ale or a chocolate cranberry stout, odds are good that someone has a batch brewing away in their garage or corner of the rec room. While I like beer as much as the next guy, when brewing at home I don’t necessarily reach for the barley and hops. Some of my favorite home brews aren’t beer at all. While Benjamin Franklin may have been off base on the virtues of eating apples, I share his appreciation for hard apple cider.

In Colonial times, hard cider was the drink of choice. Thomas Jefferson brewed cider from apples grown at Monticello, George Washington offered cider as a reward for voting during his run for the Virginia legislature, and John Adams drank a tankard every morning, declaring it a tonic of health. By the mid-1700s, the per capita consumption of cider was over 30 gallons a year.

The popularity of hard cider dropped drastically in the years after the Civil War, as railroad distribution of easily stored grains made beer a more economical choice. Thankfully, in recent years, hard cider has slowly gained new popularity among craft brewers and wineries.

Hard apple cider is a great choice for home brewing, especially for those new to the art. It may be spiced or flavored in a variety of ways and natural additives can be used to tweak clarity, gravity and carbonation. At its simplest though, apple juice and yeast are all that’s needed to produce hard cider at home.

This recipe for DIY cider keeps it basic. Working with fresh apple juice, brewer’s yeast and a little corn sugar for carbonation, in a little over a month a cider is born. The process is simple, but take care to make sure all equipment is thoroughly cleaned before using boiling water, alcohol or commercial sanitizers.

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Step 1

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Pour 2 gallons of apple juice into a sanitized carboy or brewing bucket. If using store-bought apple juice, be sure to select one with no preservatives. Fresh-pressed apple juice should be pasteurized by heating to a temperature of 160-170 degrees (do not boil!) before use to kill the bacteria and wild yeast that may affect fermentation negatively.

Step 2

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Dissolve half a packet of cider or ale yeast in 1/4 cup warm water and add to the apple juice.

Step 3

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Cap the carboy or sealed brewing bucket with a stopper and airlock. An airlock allows gasses to be released while preventing outside exposure. Within a few hours, bubbles will begin to emerge in the airlock, indicating the yeast has begun consuming the sugars in the apple juice.

Step 4

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After 10-14 days, the bubbling will subside. You will also notice the solids have settled in the bottom of the vessel as a muddy mess known as trub. When bubbling has nearly stopped, it’s time to transfer cider into a secondary vessel, separating it from the trub (a process known as racking). This can be another carboy or brewing bucket or a sterilized bucket. This step is necessary to stabilize and clarify the cider.

Step 5

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Use plastic tubing to siphon cider from the primary to secondary vessel, taking care not to disturb the trub that has settled to the bottom (trub is to be discarded). The secondary vessel must be lower to the ground to allow gravity to push the flow of cider. Fill the tube with water before inserting it into the cider and the secondary vessel to “prime” the flow.

Step 6

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Once transferred, cap the secondary vessel with an airlock and let it rest undisturbed in a dark space for 10-14 more days before bottling. If you’re using a bucket without a lid as a secondary vessel, clean and sanitize the primary vessel and return the cider to it for this step.

Step 7

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Before bottling, add ⅓ cup of corn sugar to the cider. As yeast consumes this sugar inside the sealed bottles, carbonation will form.

Step 8

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Use plastic tubing or a funnel to fill sterilized bottles, leaving 1 inch of headspace at the top. Swing caps are convenient for home brewing, but many brewers prefer to use conventional bottles and a bottlecapper. Using either type of bottle, make sure there are no gaps or leaks when you seal the bottles.

Step 9

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Gaze longingly at the bottles stored in a dark space. After three weeks, have a drink. If the carbonation has not reached satisfactory levels, wait a week or two and have another. Hard cider improves with age, although one may run the risk of a burst bottle if the sugar content is high and the shelf life long. The carbonation processed may be stopped by refrigerating the bottled cider. It’s time to start another batch!

Materials

  • 2 gallons apple juice (without preservatives)
  • ½ package brewer’s yeast (ale or cider recommended)
  • ⅓ cup corn sugar

Tools

  • 3-gallon carboy
  • Additional carboy or brewing bucket
  • Rubber stopper
  • Airlock
  • 4 feet of plastic tubing
  • 20 swingtop bottles or bottles and bottlecapper
About Mick Telkamp 

37Posts

A former Midwesterner living in North Carolina, I write about my adventures in backyard chicken-keeping and suburban homesteading over at HGTVGardens, and my exploits in the culture of Southern cooking ...

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  24. mikeslink says:

    I have a 5-gallon carboy that I use for brewing beer. I noticed that your cider recipe is for 2 gallons. Can I just multiply the yeast and corn sugar to make a full 5 gallon batch like below?

    5 gallons of Apple Juice
    1 and 1/4 packet of yeast
    0.83 cup of corn sugar

    • Mick Telkamp says:

      Absolutely! Amount of yeast used has some wiggle room and you can reduce a little to one packet if you don't want to open a second. This is a great time to get started with apple season upon us. Good luck!

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