Making Apple or Pear Cider
By Steve Bader
Bader Beer & Wine Supply
711 Grand Blvd, Vancouver Wa 98661
360-750-1551 | 800-596-3610
email@example.com | BaderBrewing.com
Published fall 2015 in Winemaker Magazine
Cider making, like most other fermented beverages is a simple process of adding appropriate yeast to apple juice and allowing the yeast to ferment the juice into alcohol. Because of this simplicity, cider is one of our oldest fermented beverages, with large amount of historic references to cider. I could go into a long description of the history of cider, but I will leave that to others, and for you a simple Google search. There is much to read about the history of cider!
This article with focus on current cider making techniques, and how you can make your own awesome cider!
I will focus on the 3 primary ways to make cider today. The first is the most traditional, and that is picking apples, crushing them and then pressing the juice from the apples and fermenting. This is the most difficult of the methods, but potentially the most rewarding.
The second method is buying apple juice or apple “cider” that has not yet been fermented in hard cider. Typically, this juice is intended for the non-alcoholic version of cider and is available in most markets.
The 3rd method is using the modern “Cider Kit” sold today. These kits make excellent cider and are the easiest way to get started on your cider career. For many cider makers, the time savings make this a great way to have a steady supply of cider on hand.
Making Cider from Apples
Well of course you are making cider from apples (or pears). Where do you start? Gathering apples of course! First, here are the basics of what apples to use. Apples come in 3 primary categories: Sweet, Sharp, and a group called Bittersweet, Bittertart, or Bittersharp. For this article, I will reference this last style as Bittersharp.
Very few apple varieties make good hard cider as a single variety. Typically, you want a blend of apples to get a more complex flavor. Here is a general suggestion for what portion of cider should come from what type of apple.
Sweet – 40 to 60%
Sharp -20 to 40%
Bittersharp 15% to 35%
Sweet apples are typically not sweeter than other apple varieties, but they are low acid and low tannin, giving them a flavor perception of higher sweetness levels. These also called “Aromatic” apples. Common varieties are Red Delicious, Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Jon Gold.
Tart apples also have a normal sugar level, but they have a higher acid level, giving them a more “tart” overall flavor. Common varieties here are Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Winesap, Rome, Empire and Liberty.
Bittersharp apples are high in the tannins that add complex flavor to ciders, and medium to high acid levels, along with normal sugar levels. Think Crabapple here.
If you have apple trees in your yard, you are on your way! If they are all the same variety of apple, you will need to determine which category they come from, and then supplement with purchased apples from the other categories.
When picking your own apples, you want to avoid any “windfall” apples that have dropped to the ground, as they can pick up lots of unwanted bacteria that you will not want in your cider. This bacteria will make your cider unpleasant at best, and make people who drink it sick at worst. Your apples do not need to be perfect; a few bruised apples are OK. You want to discard any moldy/rotten apples.
The next step is to prepare the apples to be crushed into an “applesauce” by an apple crusher of some sort. We have a manual “apple crusher” that is powered by a hand crank. This crusher is a set of rollers that have “teeth” on the rollers to help pull the apples through the rollers. Typically, medium to large size apples need to be cut in half prior to putting them in the crusher, to allow the teeth of the crusher to grab them.
There are other ways to crush the apples into applesauce consistency, do what is easiest for you. After you have crushed the apples into applesauce, then I suggest adding pectic enzyme at the rate of ¾ teaspoon per gallon of applesauce and mixing the pectic enzyme in completely. The addition of this pectic enzyme breaks down the pectin in the apples, releasing more apple juice into your cider, and also helping to clarify your cider after fermentation is complete. Give the pectic enzyme 3 to 4 hours to break down the apples sauce, and then move on to pressing the apple juice.
To prevent oxidation and a bit of browning of your juice, also add 1 campden tablet per gallon, or ¼ teaspoon of potassium bisulfite for 5 gallons. You can choose not to add the sulfite if you desire, just be aware that there will be a bit of color browning of the juice.
Depending on the volume of apples you are using will determine the easiest method for extracting the apple juice from the apples. If you have less than about 2 gallons, you can use a fairly strong nylon straining bag and squeeze the juice out. Or maybe press the juice through a rice strainer.
If you have a volume larger than 2 gallons, then a wine press of some sort is a much better idea. Many home winemaking shops will rent presses used for grape wine production, and these also work for apple cider. There are sizes starting with about a 2-gallon capacity, going up to 18-gallon sizes. With these presses, you fill the basket with your apple sauce, then slowly press the juice out. While many people think they want to put a straining bag in these presses, resist the urge and press without a bag. You will get some of the pulp to come through, but not enough to cause problems. If you do put a straining bag in the basket, the bag typically clogs quickly, and then you must start over by emptying the basket, cleaning the bag to allow juice to flow through, and then refill the basket. Leaving the bag out and allowing a small amount of pulp into your fermenter does not cause any problems. This pulp will fall out of suspension in your fermenter and will not cause any clarity problems.
Now that you have your juice pressed, the hard work is over! There will be wild bacteria and yeast on the apples that you picked, and some will inevitably be in the raw cider. You will now want to pasteurize or sanitize the cider. You can use your typical wine making technique of adding potassium metabisulfite, waiting 24 hours, then adding your yeast to start fermentation. Dosage would be ¼ teaspoon for 5 gallons (19 L)
If you want to avoid sulfites, then you could pasteurize the cider by heating it to about 160° F (71°C), holding that temperature for 10 minutes, then cooling to fermentation temperature. This works for small volumes, but not well for larger volumes over about 3 gallons.
Next, I would check the sugar level to determine if there are adequate sugar levels to create the alcohol content you desire. Typical apple cider sugar levels will give you about 4 to 5% alcohol, so if you want a bit higher alcohol level, add corn sugar to the appropriate sugar level. A specific gravity of 1.038 will produce approximately 5% alcohol, and 1.055 will produce 7% alcohol. I like to use corn sugar when you are after a dry cider and cane sugar when you want a bit more of a sweetness perception in your cider.
Now it is time to do an acid titration or PH test on your cider, to verify that the acid level is something that the yeast will be happy to ferment in. Most apple cider will be at an adequate acid level naturally, but you may occasionally find the acid level too high to too low. If you are using an Acid Titration Test kit, you would be looking for a titration level of 0.60% to 0.80%. The PH reading would be 3.3 to 3.8. Too low of an acid level, (which is a titration of less than 0.60% or a PH reading above 3.8) can stress the yeast, and cause fermentation problems. You can bring a 1 cup sample of your apple juice to the store at this point and we will do this test for you at no charge.
I would then add yeast nutrient at a rate of 1 teaspoon per gallon, and ½ teaspoon of pectic enzyme if you are using fresh (store bought) apple cider juice that you did not crush and press.
Now it is time for fermentation! If you have added potassium metabisulfite (or campden tablets), you need to wait approximately 24 hours to add the yeast to your cider. Check the temperature of the cider and adjust it accordingly. Ideal fermentation temperatures are from about 70° to 85° F.
There are a variety of yeast choices for you to use when making cider. Here are some of the choices:
- Mangrove Jack M02 Cider yeast - Ferments high degree of esters, giving excellent flavor depth. Ferments dry and crisp.
- Vintners Harvest MA33 – Acid reducing strain, excellent when you have too tart a juice, produces fruity esters and fusel oils giving a fresh fruit character.
- Vintners Harvest CY17 – Gives nice fruity aromatics, enhances sweetness, excellent for a full, fruity, slightly sweet cider
- White Labs English Cider Yeast - Classic cider yeast. Ferments dry and retains flavor from apples. Sulfur is produced during fermentation and will disappear in first two weeks of aging.
- White Labs English Ale yeast – Ferments with a bit of residual sweetness – recent top choice in a Zymurgy article for making cider.
- Wyeast 4766 Cider Yeast - Crisp and dry fermenting yeast with big, fruity finish.
- Red Star Cote des Blanc – Produces fruity aromas, slight sweetness. Sensitive to low temperatures and low acid situations
- Lalvin – KIV-1116 – Produces fruity aromas, retains apple freshness, slight sweetness.
Ferment in primary for about 5 to 7 days, then rack into a secondary fermenter and ferment until specific gravity gets to 1.000, or a bit lower. This entire process typically takes about 2 to 3 weeks. If you cider does not clear, I would suggest adding about ½ teaspoon additional pectic enzyme.
To carbonate or not to carbonate?
While most commercial alcoholic ciders are carbonated, you do not have to carbonate the cider you make at home. This decision will be up to you!
If you choose not to carbonate, you can also “back sweeten” your cider with ease. Since you would not be trying to add carbonation and sweetness, you can use the winemaker’s trick of adding potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite and then sweeten your cider to taste. Use the standard amount of ½ teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite for a 5-gallon batch, along with ¾ teaspoon of potassium sorbate to stabilize the fermentation and prevent the residual yeast from fermenting the sugar you add to sweeten your cider.
If you want to use yeast to carbonate your cider, you do not add the potassium metabisulfite or the potassium sorbate, so that the yeast can ferment the fermentable sugar you then add into cider, creating the desired carbonation. Add bottling sugar to the cider, at a rate of ¾ cup of dextrose (or corn sugar) to 5 gallons of cider, bottle the cider, and wait about 2 weeks for the cider to carbonate at 70°F.
If you wanted to back sweeten AND yeast carbonate, use a non-fermentable sugar (malto-dextrin, lactose) to sweeten, then add ¾ cup of corn sugar for the yeast to consume and create carbon dioxide. You could also use the various forms of carbonation drops sold for individual bottles, following the directions of the carbonation drops to determine the correct quantity to add to each size bottle that you use.
Force carbonating is even easier, since you can carbonate in the corny keg with or without back sweetening. This is often the preferred method, since many cider makers also make beer and use corny kegs to dispense their beer. If you love cider and want to drink carbonated cold cider regularly, then a forced carbonation system would be a convenient way to accomplish this goal!
There are also cider kits available from Mangrove Jack and Cider House Select that come in 8 different flavors and make 6 gallons (23 L) of cider per kit. These kits include all ingredients that you need to make the cider (except for about 2 pounds of corn sugar) including yeast. These kits take 3 weeks to make and be ready to drink, so they are a great option when you need cider fast. They are available year-round, so they also allow you to make cider whenever you feel like it!
To make one of these kits, sanitize your fermenter, add 3 quarts of boiling water, the cider concentrate, 2 lbs. of corn sugar, stir to mix, then top up with cool water to the 6-gallon (23 L) level, and pitch the yeast. This juice is pasteurized, so no sulfites are needed prior to starting fermentation. Fermentation should take about a week. You can then transfer the cider to the keg or bottle it. Let it mature for 2 more weeks, and it should be ready to drink it. If you want to produce a slightly sweet cider, you can back-sweeten with the included non-fermentable sweetener, and if you do not want to create any carbonation, there is a package of potassium metabisulfite that you can add to the cider.
Is it Apple Cider, or Apple wine? There are no “official” definitions of how you differentiate between Apple Cider and Apple wine. But in general, I would define Apple Cider as “natural” strength in alcohol content when non-alcoholic apple juice (or cider) is fermented into alcohol, leaving you will approximately 4 to 7% alcohol from fermentation of the apple juice. Apple wine would have had a significant amount of sugar added to the Apple juice to make an alcoholic beverage closer to 12% alcohol or higher. Both apple cider or apple wine could be carbonated.
Making apple wine would be the same as making apple cider referenced earlier in this article and adding additional sugar to bring the alcohol content up to a minimum of about 10%, but more likely in the 12% to 14% level. This additional sugar will require a few more days of fermentation, and because of the higher alcohol level, a few more months for the apple wine to mature to give it adequate drinkability.