Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Making hard cider: part 3

Bottled cider, ready to drink (almost)
I did tell you you would have to be patient...

But it's ready! Two months of settling and our cider is beautiful, clear and golden, which means it's ready to bottle.

First, you're going to need some bottles. You can use beer bottles or wine bottles but I prefer the Grolsch-style, swing-top bottles with rubber-seal caps.

Yes, the bottles will require an initial investment, but the whole dealy is reusable each year (make sure you ask for the bottles to be returned if you give any of your cider away as gifts).

And hey, remember the bucket that you started fermentation with way back in October? And the siphoning equipment? You're going to need them again, because part of the bottling process is racking the clarified cider back into the buckets to separate it from the last bit of sediment sludge (i.e., what you've waited two months to be rid of). But you are a racking expert now, so no worries.

Now it's time to sanitize, just as we did the last time, with a capful of bleach for every five gallons of water. Given that for our 10 gallons of cider we'd have 36 liter bottles, the siphoning paraphenalia and two six-gallon buckets to sanitize,  I opted to use the bathtub(s).

I found I could only fit about 25 bottles in the tub at one time

If you have a smaller amount, your kitchen sink is probably sufficient. Note: if you use bottles with rubber sealer rings, don't put the rubber rings in with the bleach (it can break down the rubber over time). Instead, pop the rings off and sanitize them separately by putting them in a bowl of warm water with one crushed campden tablet for about 15 minutes.

Once everything is sanitized, you'll siphon the cider out of the carboy and into the bucket, taking care  to keep the bottom of your auto-siphon above the layer of glop in the bottom of the carboy.

Welcome back to my guest bathroom...

Look at that lovely color!

See that layer of sludge? THAT is what you waited two months NOT to drink.

At this point, you have two options before you bottle: still cider or sparkling / carbonated cider. If you don't care about the carbonation, you'll need to add some wine conditioner (about 1/2 oz. per liter of cider) to your bucket to once and for all kill off any residual yeast and stop the fermentation process. If you choose the still route, your cider is ready to drink RIGHT NOW! WHOOT!

If, however, you choose the sparkling route, you will need to add some additional sugar to the cider (to re-start fermentation / carbonation) and -- I know you're probably going to freak out -- let it sit AGAIN, unopened, for at least another 4 weeks.  Last year, we did half our batch sparkling and half still and decided we wanted all sparkling this year. It's that good, so it's worth the wait. For sparkling cider, boil 1/2 cup corn sugar in 1 cup water for each 5 gallons of cider. Once it boils, stir the mixture into your bucket.

Whichever route you chose, at long last you are ready to bottle! Another tip: I highly recommend a bottle filler, which attaches to your siphon hose and releases liquid only when you depress it inside the bottle (when not depressed, it holds the liquid in place in the tube). Once you get your siphon going, it's easy peasy to just move the filler from one bottle to the next, with no mess. For sparkling cider, be sure to leave a little headspace in each bottle (for the gas); for still, fill 'er right up!

A bottle filler makes this job easy.
Lastly, affix the rubber seals onto the locking caps. If you're making still cider, your cider is ready to drink and is best kept stored in the refrigerator or a cold cellar. If you're making sparkling cider, store the bottles at room temperature for about another 4 weeks (I know, I know). Open one and check the fizziness: once you're satisfied with it, move it into the refrigerator (this will stop the carbonation).

Whichever finishing method you choose, your cider should be good for at least a year or two ... but I doubt you'll be able to keep it that long without drinking it!

So, did anyone play along at home? Show me your cider!

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Read the whole series:
Note: In this series, I have included links to Amazon for all the supplies that you will need. If you have a local homebrewing store -- such as the Vermont Homebrew Supply which is local to me in Winooski, Vermont -- I'd urge you to purchase your supplies through it, so you can ask questions and get personalized advice both before you start and during the process.


  1. I made some cider in the beginning of last month. I tasted a bit and it's not so appley. Do you think aging will bring out better flavors?

  2. Mil: Can you tell me a little bit more about how you made it? Then I might be able to help!

  3. Ohhh, cider and hard cider are definitely on my "in the future" list. We need to have slightly larger apple trees first. ;)

  4. No trees necessary, Allison -- just a nearby orchard that presses its own juice! Have fun.

  5. Nice job! I've been home brewing for years so I have a couple of things you might want to think about. I wouldn't use bleach. Look for a modern sanitizer like Star San or Iodophor. Also, if the cider is unpastuerized, you should "flash" pasteurize by bringing the cider up to 160*. This is important unless you are 100% sure no apples were picked up from the ground. Even so, its a good idea. The apples could get infected with E. Coli if they come into contact with animal feces on the ground. I just want everyone out there to be safe! Have fun.

    1. Beaware that IMHO the pasteurization ruins the fresh flavor of the cider so I deliberately seek out fresh unfiltered cider. It's a preference to be sure but I don't like it half as much when pasteurized and really, there's no need esp if you are fermenting.

  6. Anonymous said everything I was going to. Go to a homebrew shop or online (northernbrewer.com is a good one) and get some good modern sanitizer. No need to worry about a bleach flavor. Happy brewing! (or fermenting... whatever)

  7. Anonymous and Adam: I appreciate the comments about bleach but actually my brewstore recommends the bleach (cheaper and just as effective as "modern" sanitizer), as does the brewer who wrote the instructional Mother Earth News recipe that I follow. I have had great luck with it and absolutely no bleachy flavor or smell in my cider, so I think I shall stick with it. But, as with everything, there will always be lots of different methods and opinions, so thanks for posting yours!

  8. Mil: If the cider is dry, the apple flavor will be less. I sometimes back-sweeten cider once it is done fermenting what it had in order to get the apple flavor back.

  9. Wow this was a great, informative read! Really awesome tutorial! I would love to have the courage to make my own hard cider at some point in the near future. Hopefully sooner than later...

  10. Thanks for posting this, Kitchen Ninja!

    I've been doing hard cider for about a year now and found that crab apples give a great flavor, although you should do at most a 75 crab : 25 regular apple ratio. Looking forward to next year, as the whole community brings their own apples to be pressed!