How To Brew Hard Apple Cider

Prison Toilet Style

Ghetto Style

Frat House Style

Professional Style

By Kevin Wilson


Hard apple cider is a great brewing project because it's fast, cheap and easy. Unfortunately, many instructions and recipes use fancy equipment and expensive or hard to find ingredients. So in this guide I'll try to give you the most important information so you can start brewing a batch of cider as quickly as possible. I recommend a 1 gallon batch.

Some people just want to brew a small batch of cider as a fun project. Other people want to brew large quantities of high quality cider without regard for the price, difficulty or all the fancy equipment required. To accommodate your particular goals, I've broken the process into four possible choices. The processes are:

Prison Toilet Style

I don't recommend this method. While it may be extremely cheap and easy, it's very likely to fail or produce gross cider. It's much better to invest a little more time and money in the process.

Ghetto Style

This method has a better chance of success and it's very easy. You should be able to find all the necessary ingredients at the grocery store. However, there's still a fairly high risk of failure. I'd recommend investing more time and money into your cider.

Frat House Style

This method has a good chance of success without requiring fancy, expensive equipment or ingredients. You'll probably have to stop by the local home brewing shop or order a couple things on the internet. I'd recommend this method for the fledgling brewer.

Professional Style

This method is almost guaranteed to produce good cider, but it's the most expensive and requires the most equipment. If your using this guide, the professional process is probably beyond your skill level. Come back when you're a level 40 elf wizard.

Equipment And Ingredients

WTF Is That For?

In this section I'll try to give some details about the equipment and ingredients you're likely to need and how to use the equipment.

Airlock - An airlock is a device used to prevent air (and airborne crap) from entering into your fermenting bottle and ruining your cider. It's like a one way valve. Your cider can be ruined if airborne crap gets in. There's two commonly used types - 3 piece and bubble chamber. Both types have a stem that fits into a rubber stopper that you shove in your bung hole (hehe). As an alternative you can drill a hole in your bottle cap and run a hose from the cap into a jar of water. If you want to get real basic, you can drill a hole in your cap and sit a marble on the hole (not recommended). Airlocks cost less than $2 so there's really no reason not to use one.

Apple Juice - The easiest way to get some juice is to buy it at the grocery store. You don't need anything special. However, there must not be any preservatives in the juice (they'll kill your yeast). Pasteurized juice and added vitamin C is fine. If you want to do it like the professional you can get your juice from a local orchard. They'll press you some awesome juice, but they generally have a minimum order which is far more than a couple gallons. They also tend to work seasonally, so you'll have a hard time finding fresh juice in February.

Campden Tablets - Made of sulfur and used to kill off bacteria and wild yeast.

Carboy - A large container used specifically for fermentation. They usually hold 3 - 6 gallons and are made of glass or plastic with a small bung hole (hehe) at the top. You can get straps to help move them.

Hydrometer - Use this thing to measure the specific gravity of your juice. I'm going to skip all the technical crap - just use the hydrometer to measures the sugar level and alcohol content of the juice. You can find instructions on the internet.

Pectic Enzyme - Used to break down pectin and allows the cider to become clear.

pH Testing - Most people don't have to worry about pH, but if you're a professional you may want to keep track of it.

Sugar / Honey - The natural sugar level in apple juice (specific gravity about 1.045) is a bit too low if you want to end up with a decent percentage of alcohol in your cider. Most people will add about 0.5 cup to 1 cup sugar or honey / gallon or until the specific gravity is 1.060 to 1.065. The type of sugar doesn't matter too much, but it can impart some flavor in the finished cider. Brown sugar will create a caramel flavor.

Tannin - Used to add astringency and flavor.

Thermometer - Most yeasts prefer a limited range of temperatures. If you want happy yeast, you'll need to keep the temperatures comfortable for them.

Yeast - These little guys eat sugar and crap alcohol. If you're lucky you can make good cider with wild yeast that's found on fruit, but often these wild yeasts aren't up to the task of making awesome cider. There's many different strains of commercial yeast available. Some will produce better results than others. Cider yeast is available and generally the ale yeasts and some champagne yeasts also make decent cider. Apple cider is usually low on flavor, so yeasts that produce fruity esters can help to add some extra flavors. Here's a lit of recommended yeasts (this is just a short list of what seems popular on the forums, many other yeasts will also work).

It usually takes about 1g yeast / gallon (0.25 teaspoon = 1g). Most yeasts are sold in 5g or 11g packages. They should be stored in a cool, dry place. It's recommended to start the yeast in a warm sugar solution, but that's usually not necessary.

Yeast Nutrients - Yeast nutrients help the yeast to grow strong and healthy, which prevents other wild yeasts and bacteria from growing and competing with your yeast. When yeasts are malnourished and stressed they can produce more undesirable alcohols (called fusel alcohols) that taste bad and can give you a headache. It also helps to prevents the yeast from producing bad rotten egg smells (affectionately known as "rhino farts"). Yeast nutrient can be bought or you can boil Grape-Nuts cereal in some apple juice, strain the liquid and add it to your juice. Believe it or not, Grape-Nuts has pretty much everything your yeasts need to stay healthy. Use 0.25 cup Grape-Nuts / 1 gallon cider. Note - I tried to strain my Grape-Nuts through a large tea bag, but it didn't strain well. I ended up with some Grape-Nuts in my cider (it settled to the bottom and I'll leave it there when I rack it to a new bottle). You may have better luck with a coffee filter. Chopped raisins may also add some nutrients.

What Stuff Do I Need?

Time to get your shit together. (I can use bad words because this page in only intended for adults 21 years or older.) You'll need the following stuff and junk:

Prison Toilet Style

Yep, thats all you really need.

Ghetto Style

Frat House Style

Everything listed above with these additions:

Professional Style

Everything listed above with these additions:

Unleash Your Yeast Beast

Now that all your ingredients and equipment are ready it's time to get the party started! This step is known as primary fermentation. But first you'll probably need to do a little cooking and cleaning (sanitizing equipment and adding sugars). Who knew brewing was like housework?

At this point your juice is more susceptible to infection than that boy living in the plastic bubble. It's critical that all your equipment and everything that goes into your juice be sterilized and all your equipment must be sanitized. Anything the juice touched should be sterile. You can buy sanitizers, like Star San, but I just use rubbing alcohol in a cheap spray bottle. Bleach is more trouble than it's worth. Wash your hands and prepare your juice in a clean place. After opening your juice try to put the cap back on your container as soon as possible to prevent airborne stuff from getting in.

After fermentation begins it's important not to tighten the cap or seal your fermentation container. You'll be awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of a loud bang and find apple juice covering everything in a 10 foot radius around your fermentation container.

Fermentation causes some foam to form on the top of the juice. This foam can easily make it's way into the airlock or hose. To prevent this you should pour out enough juice to create 2 or 3 inches of space between the juice and the top of the container.

Prison Toilet Style

All you need to do is toss in a piece of bread and let your bottle of juice sit opened in a cool, dark place. Hopefully some yeast in the bread will kick off the fermentation process. Unfortunately, there's a good chance some bacteria and mold will find your juice first and ruin it.

Ghetto Style

Pour a few cups of apple juice into a small pot. Add about 1 - 2 cups of sugar / gallon of juice. Simmer until the sugar dissolves. Add the sugar and juice back into the bottle of juice. Be sure the funnel is sterilized. Throw some yeast in your juice then leave the bottle top a little lose to let the gasses escape.

Frat House Style

Measure the specific gravity of your juice. Add sugar and / or honey as above until the specific gravity is about 1.060 to 1.065. Add yeast nutrients. Add yeast. Put on an airlock and allow to ferment.

Professional Style

Measure the specific gravity, temperature, pH and whatever else. Add sugar / honey as above. Move your juice to a carboy. Add pectic enzyme. Add Campden tablets and wait 24 hours. Add yeast nutrients, tannins, acid (not the LSD kind) and whatever else. Create a yeast starter solution. Add yeast starter to your cider. Put on an airlock and allow to ferment.

Fermentation Education

Allow your juice to ferment in a cool, dark place away from drafts, animals and bugs. It should take 12 to 24 hours before the yeasts start working (they're in the union). You'll know they're working when the airlock starts bubbling. Primary fermentation usually takes about 1 to 4 weeks, but will depend on many factors.

If the yeast refuse to start fermenting you may need to add some yeast nutrients, or they may have been killed by disinfectant residue or preservatives. If fermentation starts up but slows before completion the yeast may be "stuck". Usually some yeast nutrients will get them going. If you cider is starting to smell bad the yeasts are probably stressed and need some nutrients.

Stopping Fermentation

When the specific gravity drops to about 0.996 to 1.020 or when the airlock bubbling slows to about 1 bubble / minute it's time to stop primary fermentation. If you're an experienced brewer you can sample the cider to evaluate how it's progressing. If you prefer a dry cider with a higher alcohol content then you can let fermentation continue until the yeast have consumed all the sugars and bubbling has stopped.

Prison Toilet Style

Congratulations! Your cider is ready to drink. It'll probably taste like crap.

Ghetto Style

Place the cider in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days. As it sits in the fridge the yeast will go dormant and sink to the bottom of the container. This is called "cold crashing". Siphon off the cider into a new, sterilized bottle. Be careful not to suck up any yeast that has settled on the bottom. Add some sweeteners and flavoring (e.g. a packet of Kool-Aid). Now it's ready to drink!

Frat House Style

Cold crash and siphon the cider following the directions above, but add an airlock and let the cider sit for 2 - 8 weeks (maybe longer) in a cool, dark place. Try to fill up the container to minimize air at the top that can cause acetification (bad stuff). The aging should improve the taste quite a bit. Now you can add sweeteners and flavoring. One popular addition is half a can of frozen apple juice concentrate. If you add any sugars to the cider be sure to drink it right away, otherwise the yeast will spring back to life like microscopic zombies and eat all the new sugars. If you want sweeter cider you can add an artificial sweetener without worrying about reactivating the yeast.

Professional Style

Follow the directions above, but move the cider into kegs so it can be carbonated and bottled.


Here's a cost list for ingredients and equipment. Prices will vary:

Item Cost
Airlock $1.50 each
Apple Juice $4.00 / gallon
Campden Tablets $2/oz (depending on size)
Carboy / Bottle $1.50 (2 liter soda bottle + soda)
$5 (1 gallon glass)
$20 (3 gallon plastic)
$25 (5-6 gallon plastic)
$30 (5-6 gallon glass)
Hydrometer $8 - $12
Pectic Enzyme $1/oz (depending on size)
pH Test Kit $3 - $7
Rubber Stoppers $1 - $2 each
Tannin $1/oz (depending on size)
Thermometer $5
Yeast $1 - $5 / packet
Yeast Nutrients $3

More Stuff

So you brewed the most awesome cider in the world, ever - but you can't remember a couple details about how you did it. Now you'll probably never be able to brew another batch like it. Don't let that happen to you. Use a cider record sheet to record all the important information of every batch.

Here's a hydrometer to alcohol conversion chart:

OG = Original Gravity, which is the reading taken before fermintation begins.
FG = Final Gravity, which is the reading taken after fermintation.

OG - FG Alcohol By Volume
0.01 1.3%
0.02 2.6%
0.03 3.9%
0.04 5.3%
0.05 6.6%
0.06 7.9%
0.07 9.2%
0.08 10.5%
0.09 11.8%
0.10 13.1%
0.11 14.4%
0.12 15.8%
0.13 17.1%

Making Hard Cider by Matt Purkeypile at Backwoods Home Magazine.