Cocktail Hour: How to Make Simple Hard Cider

Homemade hard cider: quick and dirty.

I’m always interested in simple, quick, boozey experiments that I can do in my limited-space apartment.  If you are too, then grab a gallon of apple cider and a little yeast, and you too can make booze at home.

I had conceptualized with some friends the idea of making hard cider from store bought pressed cider.  If you can find unpasteurized cider, then turning it into alcohol is as simple as leaving it out of the fridge.  But your average, grocery store cider will work, too.  Mike suggested buying some champagne yeast and following Alton Brown’s directions for Ginger Beer.

The Whole Foods in Manahattan carries brewing supplies in their beer section; so all it took to acquire the correct yeast was a quick conversation with a knowledgeable clerk (my trips to Whole Foods are becoming less and less painful; I wonder if I’m gentrifying?).  He sent me away with “White Labs Pitchable Liquid Yeast,” a champagne yeast in a test tube.  The entire tube is enough for five gallons of booze.

All the equipment needed.

After swinging by the grocery store to pick up a gallon of cider, I returned home and helped myself to a glass.  I needed to make room in the jug for the yeast to expel gas.  Then, I tipped about a tablespoon of yeast into the jug. Following Brown’s instruction, I capped the jug, shook it up, and left it out on my counter for 48 hours.  Then, I put it in the fridge for two days, popping the lid off to release the carbonation once a day.

It was as simple as that.  After four days, I poured myself a glass and it tasted just like store bought hard cider.  It had a bit of a thicker mouth feel, and the nose was reminiscent of apple cider vinegar (now more so, after sitting in the fridge a couple more days).  It wasn’t very carbonated, but did have a few bubbles and felt zingy on the tongue.  I think if I had brewed it in a glass jug, it would have carbonated better (Home brewers? Is that true?)

I have no way of testing the alcohol content, so I don’t know if I could actually get sloshed off of my homemade cider; but it was fun to do and it tastes good.   Give it a whirl yourself, and let me know how it turns out!

10 Responses to “Cocktail Hour: How to Make Simple Hard Cider”

  • It wouldn’t carbonate better if you fermented in a glass jug, it would if after fermenting, you put a measured dose of fresh cider in a sealable beer bottle and capped it. The head pressure needs to get high enough to “lock” CO2 into solution, It’s a much higher order of process, but with bottle conditioning the vinegar flavor should eventualy clear up. Although it could also be pasturized prior to fermentation, and…..well you can just keep getting deeper into the rabbit hole. Cider like that takes time, whereas this stuff is simple, tasty, and better than drinking it unfermented.

    Next time look for the dry Red Star Champagne or Cote De Blanc yeast. White Labs is a great yeast supplyer, but it’s expensve for what you are doing, and the rest of the vial is wasted. Red Star comes in 5 gram packages for like $0.50. One pakage/gallon should work fine.

  • Mike Z has it right…especially on the rabbit hole part.

    If you’re looking for better fermentation & possibly a higher alcohol content let it ferment for a week and then transfer it into sterilized swingtop bottles. You can sterilize* the bottles simply by putting them through a cycle in the dishwasher along the the funnel you’ll use for transferring and then let them sit another week to carbonate. It is worth noting that the higher the alcohol % you target, the less sweet it will be as the yeast needs to eat something, and there will be an upper limit based on how sweet the cider is.

    * also worth noting, if you’ve got a store where you can likely get one-step sanitizer, which is even easier than sterilizing bottles in the dishwasher, and a blow-off valve which makes fermentation even more of a set it & let it be situation.

  • WHich whole foods, I wonder??? I love the idea of making my own… since the good stuff costs crazy money.. $9 a small bottle!!! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Thanks guys! This is why I love the blog; projects can be a group effort. All very interesting stuff to know; and I do like how quick and dirty making cider this was is. But it also seems like it can be pretty versatile depending on how knowledgeable and committed you are.

    Deana – I go to the whole foods on Houston and…the Bowery, i think is the other cross street. They’re got a great beer section and the staff there is awesome. I can’t remember if the one on Union Square has a beer department, but that whole foods is a hell on earth anyway.

  • Doesn’t apple cider from the grocery store have preservatives that inhibit fermentation? What should you look for in the cider?

  • Hmm,I haven’t heard that. I really just picked up a gallon jug of whatever farm-fresh apple cider was on the grocery store shelf. The fermentation is cause by the yeast eating the sugars and pooping out alcohol, so if you’re introducing yeast to the cider, it will ferment. And mine definitely did.

    I saw experiment, and see what happens!

  • David is right, My favorite cider here (Pattersons) has preservatives, I can keep the yeast healthy and active up to about 1% alcohol and get some fizz, but can’t really kickoff a good fermentation before the yeast is overstressed and gives up.

    You have to scrutinize the label to be sure there are no preservatives. Usualy you find no preservatives clarified Apple Juce that has been bottle pasturized, however You can find preservative free un-clarified cider, but you gotta look for it. Ususly you have to go to the orchard and get it.

    Too many kids were getting sloshed on cider that would ferment in the bottle from the natural yeast on the fruit. You could tell ’cause the bottle would bloat, it would be lghter in color, it would be fizzy, and there would be a pile of sediment on the bottom of the bottle. I actualy have footage of Doug pulling bottles off the shelf at Giant Eagle in ’97 before they started putting the preservative in!

  • I had been wanting to make my own lately; this is the first step, thank you!

  • If you want to measure the alcohol content, you need to measure the specific gravity (with a hydrometer) and temperature before and after fermentation. You calculate it using the equation here:

    As Mike noted, it won’t carbonate unless you seal it in glass bottles that are intended to be under pressure (e.g. a beer bottle) and add a fresh source of sugar. If you use a glass jug, it may shatter. Using sucrose (table sugar) is preferable to using fresh cider in my opinion, because you’re able to control the amount of fermentable sugars you’re adding and thus your final carbonation better.

    Finally, if you’re going to spend the money on White Labs yeast you may want to consider buying the White Labs cider yeast. It’s the same price and results in a better cider, in my opinion. You could also save money by buying a five gallon carboy, pouring 4 gallons (NOT five) into it and adding one vial to all four gallons.

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