Making hard cider at home Q&A

by Homebrewing

Is my cider fermenting?

Many beer homebrewers panic when first making cider.  When you make beer, you see lots of activity in glass carboys.  Cider doesn’t do this.  Cider does not have the active fermentation you see in beer.  If your fermenter isn’t airtight, you may not see much activity at all.  This isn’t a problem.  The best way to see if your cider is fermenting is to check the specific gravity.  Measure the specific gravity of your cider, wait two days and then measure the specific gravity again.  If your cider is fermenting, the second specific gravity will be lower.

Why does my cider fermentation smells like ass?

Yes.  Cider often produces lots of hydrogen sulfide while fermenting.  Unfortunately for us, hydrogen sulfide can be detected by smell in quantities as low as 2 parts per billion.  Cider fermentations can make your fermentation room smell awful.  Some describe the smell as rotten eggs, farts, or wet dog rolled in swamp water.  In time the smell will dissipate, and your cider will be fine!

Can I use the apple juice from Target/Wal*Mart etc…?

Yes.  You’ll hear lots of debate about the quality of the apple juice from grocery stores, but if you buy 100% apple juice with no sulfites you will get a good cider.  I’ve used Mott’s apple juice, Archer Farms apple juice, and several other commercial brands with great success.  I’ve also used organic apple juice and freshly squeezed apple cider.  The fresher apple juice makes a better apple wine, while the commercial stuff is great for making Hornsby/Woodchuck-style ciders.

My cider is VERY dry?  How do I sweeten it?

To back sweeten the cider, you can use Splenda, lactose, or other non-fermentable sugars.  Another option is once the fermentation is complete, you can add potassium sorbate to stabilize the cider.  After stablizing, you can add honey, sugar, more apple juice, or a can of frozen apple juice concentrate.  I usually keg my cider, and before I’m ready to serve it I’ll add the frozen concentrate.  This way I don’t need to add the sorbate or worry about renewed fermentations.  This won’t work if you bottle your cider.

Can I use pasteurized cider?

Pasteurization does not affect the fermentation.  Pasteurization kills most of the bacteria in your cider by heating the cider to a point where the harmful bacteria cannot survive.  This does not affect the fermentability of the cider.

Should I use apple cider or apple juice?

Both are pretty much the same thing.  Cider is unfiltered apple juice, and usually very cloudy because of the unfiltered apple particles.  Apple juice is clear.  Both apple juice and apple cider will make an exellent hard cider.

Can I naturally ferment my cider?

If you got your cider fresh directly from apples and it isn’t pasteurized, you probably can ferment your cider without adding yeast.  If it’s from the store, you need to add yeast.  Apples contain wild yeast naturally, so it should start fermenting.

Many people use this technique with great results.  Some also produce an undrinkable beverage using this technique.  This is too unpredictable for me, and I use wine or cider yeast every time.  Using known yeasts give you more predictable results and fewer failures.  This doesn’t mean you can’t produce a great cider using a natural fermentation.  The choice is up to you.

Can I use beer or wine yeast for the cider?

Yes, but beer and wine cider yeasts tend to strip the cider of its apple flavor.  Your best choices are WLP775 English Cider Yeast or WLP720 Sweet Mead Yeast.  These will leave more apple flavor in your cider.

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!