We have been busy around here! There is so much fruit falling on the ground or withering on the branches, and we feel compelled to put as much of it as possible to good use! Yesterday, we started our third batch of hard cider so far this season. While we worked, we enjoyed a couple glasses of our first batch– it’s fun to work on a home brewing project that you can drink so soon.Quite a few people have asked me about how to make hard cider from whole apples, without using a press. We have never had the luxury of using an apple press– maybe someday we will be so lucky, but for now we have a pretty good method just using a juicer. Hopefully you can go get some apples, pears, or crab apples and make some drinks!Just a note before we get started– I make unpasteurized, wild cider. This means that I use the wild yeast already present on the fruit skins. While this produces a very authentic English-style cider, I know that not everyone is comfortable with unpasteurized juice, and some don’t like to gamble with the flavor of wild yeasts. I’ll include some modifications for these concerns at the end of the post.
How to Make Hard Cider From Whole Apples
You don’t need an apple press or lots of fancy equipment to make a delicious hard apple cider from whole apples! Here’s the process I have used in my kitchen for many batches of good cider.
- Apples, pears, or crab apples (to be mixed with sweet apples.) About 15 lbs. of fruit gets us about a gallon of juice. Must be fresh and organic. We just use foraged fruit. Try to include some crab apples or tart apples with your sweet ones for a better, more balanced flavor.
- A juicer. If I could do it all over again, I would probably buy a masticating juicer which would make the process easier. But any juicer will work!
- A chopping knife and cutting board.
- A large sieve and a clean kitchen towel.
- Demijohn(s), a funnel, a siphon hose, rubber stoppers, and airlocks. Some people simply stretch a balloon with a pin prick in it over the demijohn instead of using an airlock. This is one of the easiest brewing projects, in terms of equipment needed.
- Sugar (I like to use organic brown sugar.)
- Swing-top bottles.
- Wash your fruit well with water. I don’t use any vinegar or veggie wash because I want to keep the yeast on the skins on the apples.
- Cut your apples into quarters. This is mostly just to check for bugs or other issues with the apples. Discard or cut around any that have an infested core, and cut out major bruises. It’s nice to have a partner for this part, and it’s the perfect job for a kid with basic knife skills. But I have done it by myself, too. Transfer chopped fruit to a clean bowl by your juicer. You don’t need to worry about coring or taking stems out– the juicer will do that for you.
- Start juicing! As your juicer pitcher gets full, pour it through a funnel into a sterilized demijohn.
- When the pulp container starts getting full, take a few minutes to squeeze the juice out of the pulp. Place your sieve over a clean bowl, and line it with your kitchen towel. Put a couple heaping handfuls of pulp in the towel, and gather the edges and twist to wring out as much of the juice as possible. My own juicer is not great, so I actually get 50% of the total juice this way. Your pulp (now called pommace) should be really dry when you’re done, and you can just compost it. Pour the juice into the demijohn, and get back to juicing.
- Once you have juiced all of your fruit, taste the juice and add sugar. This is where a little guesswork will come in, because the acidity and tannin content, as well as the sweetness of your fruit will vary. I usually add about a cup of sugar to a gallon of juice, and I don’t like mine very sweet. During the fermentation process, the yeast will eat the sugar (both the fructose from the fruit and the added sugar) and turn it into alcohol– so this step is both for flavor and alcohol level. Those of you in the USA may not really need to add much sugar, as most of the apples there tend to be really sweet. Don’t get hung up on this step, as you can add more sugar later if the brew is turning out too dry or tart for your taste.
- (This step is optional, depending on whether you have a lot of foam/ pulp floating at the top of your demijohn.) Put your demijohn on a tray or in a bowl, and keep it in a warm spot for about a day or so. The yeast will start to become active, and things will get bubbly. Your cider will split into layers, with foam floating on top. If your demijohn is pretty full, the foam will come out the top. I think this is great, as it’s a good way to get rid of that funky stuff.
- Put a rubber stopper and an airlock on your demijohn, and let it sit for a week.
- Rack your cider— siphon it into another sterilized demijohn, leaving the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the first one, so you have a much cleaner cider in the new demijohn. Taste it and see how it’s doing. If it’s already tasting pretty dry, you can add some more sugar before you put the airlock back on.
- Some people like a pretty sweet cider, and bottle it after a week. I like mine pretty dry, tart and strong, so I usually give it three weeks or even more. Fermenting it this long means that it won’t be very fizzy in the end– but you can also add a little sugar just before bottling to regain some carbonation. This is totally up to you, of course. You could experiment and bottle half to drink and leave the rest for another week. Whatever you decide, the next step is to bottle your hard cider. Use the siphon hose to fill swing-top bottles. The type of bottle is really important, since it lets out small amounts of the pressure that builds up, so you don’t have a glass explosion later.
And you’re done! Enjoy!
[Update: My expert cider-maker brother Nathan has done an excellent guest post on 10 Tips for Making Better Homemade Cider that you will definitely want to check out!]
Some adaptations for your homemade cider…
For pasteurized hard cider— heat your juice up to 185º F in a pot over the stove. DO NOT let it boil, just keep it there for 45 minutes, stirring. This will kill all of the natural yeast, and once it is cooled you can add a commercial yeast when you add the sugar, and skip step # 6.
To use commercial yeast in raw cider— buy some campden tablets and crumble one per gallon, and add to cider. Wait 48 hours before adding commercial yeast and sugar. Skip step #6. (This method is not recommended if you are sensitive to sulphites.) For what it’s worth, my brother who is a pretty serious home brewer, adds wine yeast to the cider without killing off the wild yeasts first. The combination of wild and commercial seems to work really well for him– so there’s another option!
Commercial yeasts you can use: I can buy an apple cider yeast at our local home brewing shop, and that may be the case for you, too. But a lot of people just use an ale yeast (this one is popular) or a champagne yeast.
Note: You can also use the leftover yeast from another successful cider. This could be a great option if you have a friend who brews cider, or if you got a wild yeast cider that you liked the flavor of. You will still need to kill the wild yeast in your fresh cider (either through heat or using campden tablets) and then introduce the dormant yeast from another brew.
To make hard cider with fresh pressed, purchased juice, just skip to step # 7, and modify depending on whether you want to pasteurize, use commercial yeasts, etc.
If you want your hard cider to stay sweet, then you can stop fermentation at any point using campden tablets (one per gallon.) Or, you can just put it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process, and start drinking. Another option is to pasteurize the cider by heating to 160ºF in a water bath for at least 10 minutes, which will kill the yeast (I have never tried this myself.)
For a whole bunch more variations and ideas on how you can tweak your hard cider, here is a good resource. And lastly, if you’d like to do it all without any juicing, try making a flavorful cider using just apple scraps. Most of the flavor is in the peels, so this works pretty nicely, especially if you are making a bunch of apple pies and don’t have plans for the peels.
I hope you will all try your hand at making some hard cider this year with the fruits around you– it’s a lot of fun, totally delicious, and a great way to enjoy fall. Cheers!