Hard apple cider: materials and methods.

Sep 08 2012 Published by under Food

This is a follow-up to the last post, because Ewan requested it.

The first thing to note is that my better half is the PI on our cider-making endeavors. I'm pretty much the lab tech. Also, we have only tasted the results of this protocol once (and are at least a month out from being able to check the success of the second run), so the PI is not ready to give precise instructions with respect to how much sugar to add at bottling time, etc. The protocol is approximate because we are still working to refine it.

In other words, this is going to be one of those Materials and Methods where people grumble about details that have been omitted. I asked the PI for more detail on the details; I was told to get back to washing bottles.

However, I can point you at Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax as a source of more guidance.


Cider press
Large plastic bucket with lid and airlock
Carboy with stopper and airlock
Siphon (basically, a long length of Tygon tubing)
Bottling wand
12 ounce bottles (as many as needed)
Bottle caps
Universal capper


Apples (lots)
English cider yeast (commercially available from White Labs)
Sulfites (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)
Five Star Sanitizer (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)


Pick a whole mess of apples. Wash them and remove the worm-ridden cores. Cut into not-gigantic pieces (at least quartering the medium-sized apples).

There's a beer and wine making store in the area that has a fancy hydraulic cider press and that will press your apples for free during a few weekend hours during apple season. It's remarkably quick ... but come the zombie apocalypse, when the grid goes down, that kind of cider press will be of little use. We have one of these:

We line it with a fabric cider-bag. Before we put the pieces of wood on top and start the pressing, we put the apples in the cider-bag. But to maximize the juice recovery, you want to grind the apple pieces with a crusher:

To facilitate the crusher throughput, we attach one of these hoppers to the top:

and fill it up with apple pieces, then start turning the hopper crank with the hopper positioned over the cider-bag-lined cider press.

Press the cider into a big bucket (we used a 5 gallon bucket). Note that pressing 5 gallons of cider may take one adult a full workday and then some.

Add sulfites.

Pitch yeast.

Put lid and airlock on bucket.

Ferment to dryness.

[I'm pretty sure somewhere around here in the process the PI was making measurements of specific gravity and sugar content and alcohol content. The PI is being very closed-notebook about this right now, so see what Pooley and Lomax recommend.]

Rack to secondary (carboy with airlock), adding sugar if desired.

Let it age. (How long? Until it tastes mellow enough. Or until you need the carboy for something else.)

Wash bottles and sanitize 'em. Also sanitize your siphon and bottling wand.

If you want some carbonation in the bottled cider (or to increase the sugar content somewhat), make a sugar solution and add to the cider in the carboy. (Make sure to eyeball the available volume so you don't dissolve the desired amount of sugar in too much water to fit.)

Get the bottles near the carboy, stick one end of the siphoning tube in, and pipette by mouth to get things flowing. Attach the bottling wand and start filling the bottles.

For 12 ounce bottles, to get the right amount of headspace, you need to fill until just a moment before overflow with the bottling wand in the bottle. (It dispenses liquid when you press the end of the wand against the bottom of the bottle, and stops dispensing when you lift it up.)

Cap the bottles. Let them age for a month or more.

When the apple tree is full of apples, do it again.

10 responses so far

  • Cuttlefish says:

    You have all those things? I want all those things! I have apple trees planted in my yard (including some brand new varieties), and expect to be bartering hard cider for important things in just a few years. How much do the things cost? Where do you get the things?

    (Yes, I can google. Yes, I can research. I can save time and effort by asking you. Please?)

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      We got the cider press/crusher/hopper from The Internet. I can't remember which retailer it was, but they were offering a bundle that included all three of those for around $300 -- kind of a deal, since the list price for the press alone was about $300. The cider-bags are mostly sold by the same retailers that sell the presses -- again, I'd probably just Google around for the best price.

      The bottling equipment (bucket, carboy, airlocks, bottling wand, caps, capper, sulfites, and yeast) we got at one of the local beer and wine making shops, but I suspect they can be found online too.

  • Dave C-H says:

    Nice work you guys!!! We have the exact same crusher/press combo, but I don't think I've ever made it through more than a couple gallons before calling it a day. 'Course, we have to spend a lot of time cutting worms out of our apples, but perhaps you have the same issues. Anyway, my hat's off to you! I'm going to have to go find that English Cider yeast--I've been using whatever wine yeast I have lying around.

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      Verily, the whole process would be much quicker without the worm-removal part of it. But I like my hard cider vegetarian.

  • katiesci says:

    You forgot the step to sanitize the mouse you'll be pipetting with!

    Seriously, props. I got a box of apples this year and made many a pie, crisp, and two batches of dumplings but never would I attempt this.

  • How fucken drunke can you get off this shitte? Is it strong?

    • Janet D. Stemwedel says:

      My recollection is that the first batch had an alcohol content of close to 8%. And they go down smooth ... so yeah, you can get the job done.

  • Ewan says:

    T(h)anks, Janet :-).

  • anon says:

    This pseudo-technique-sharing post is a sad example of rationalization by a couple of drug addicts. What are you teaching your children? To drown their sorrows in booze? At some point you need to grow up and face life.

    We are telling you this for your own good.

    DrugMonkey and PalMD

  • RMD says:

    The tree is doing well this year. If we beat the squirrels to the fruit, we'll try to duplicate your protocol. What I had of last year's batch was darn good. Let's discuss further when we see the work in progress later this week...