Fermenting and Bottling
This is a follow up to Part 1 of Making Hard Cider. Missed Part 1? Check it out here!
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Now that you have your juice, it’s time to move on to the next step. Fermentation! This step can be as complex or as simple as you choose. For your juice to ferment three things are needed:
The process of fermentation is simple enough. Yeast eats sugar and generates alcohol over time. Here we will look at the process in more detail and I’ll walk you through our three different batches.
Equipment & Ingredients/Chemicals
I purchased my brewing equipment second hand online. Kijiji or Craigs list are a great way to build up your equipment and save some money. You can use items from around your house and still have success, but because this process involves some chemistry I feel more comfortable using proper equipment. That’s my opinion, if you have had success using other things, yay!
The list below is the basic items you will need for a 23L batch of wine or cider. These items can also be bought at home brew supply stores if you aren’t having luck finding them second hand.
- 23L Primary fermentation bucket with Lid
- Air lock and stoppers
- Wine Thief
- Long handled plastic spoon
- Auto-siphon and tubing
- Wine and Beer Hydrometer
- Floating thermometer (not vital, but helpful)
- 23L Glass Carboy
Ingredients and chemicals can vary. The most important thing to remember in home brewing is cleanliness. Brewing involves bacteria interacting and growing. Therefore, if your equipment and space isn’t clean you can introduce bad bacteria. This would cause your drink to go bad or possibly make you sick. So it is vital to sanitize all your equipment and surfaces before using them. And washing your hands…duh.
Other things to consider adding to your batch are:
- Camden Tablets. (Kills wild yeast to allow added yeasts to flourish)
- Yeast of choice (more on that below)
- Bentonite clay (Optional. Used to clear cider if it’s cloudy)
- Non-fermentable sugar ex. Xylitol (if back sweetening)
- White Sugar (if back carbonating)
Yeast is a wonderful thing. And there are many different strains to choose from when brewing. Yeast is a wonderful thing. And there are many different strains to choose from when brewing. Traditionally, no commercial yeast was added to cider. Firstly, because commercial yeast is quite a recent invention. And secondly, because it is the simplest. Juice from apples naturally contains a good population of yeasts anyways, so the addition isn’t necessary. Using the “wild” yeast from unpasteurized juice is also a wonderful way of creating a very unique flavour. Since the yeast will be a completely individual strain you can get great complexity in your finished cider. One of our batches uses only the wild yeasts.
Commercial yeasts for cider making can be wonderful to experiment with. You can use many different types of yeast from wine, to beer, to champagne. And all will impart specific flavours to you cider. There are yeasts meant for cider making for example, Safcider and White Labs WLP775 English Cider. Yeasts meant for beer can give cider a rustic taste, while wine yeasts give more mellow fruity flavours.
For our two batches that are using commercial yeast we have chosen an English Ale Yeast (Nottingham Dry Ale Yeast) and a Wheat Beer Yeast (SafAle WB-06)
Once you have your juice in your Primary Fermenting Bucket, you can either pitch your yeast (add it) immediately or add your camden tablets. If you are using unpasteurized juice that you pressed yourself or that you bought at an orchard you will want to add crushed camden tablets. Crush the tablets with a clean mortar and pestle, or the side of a knife and stir the powder into your cider. Allow the cider to sit, covered, for 24 hours.
Note: If you are using the “wild” yeast and not adding any commercial yeast, take a temperature and Initial Gravity reading. Cover your cider, and wait for the magic!
After the 24 hours have passed, record the temperature and take an Initial Gravity Reading using your Hydrometer and Wine thief. Taking gravity readings throughout your cider making process is important as this can help you to estimate alcohol content and will let you know if anything odd is happening. The temperature of the cider should be between 18-24C (64-75F) before you pitch your yeast. Some yeast require a pre soak, so simply follow the directions on the packet.
Stir your cider vigorously with your stirring spoon to make sure the yeast is distributed evenly. Close the lid on your primary fermenter and fit it with an airlock and stopper. You will see fermentation begin with a couple of days (bubbles in the airlock). During this time, it’s best not to open the bucket. Once active fermentation has stopped ( about a week to 10 days) you won’t see much bubbling in the airlock. It’s time to rack (transfer) your cider into a carboy for its secondary fermentation.
Note: I really can’t emphasize enough how important keeping a record of this process is. If you don’t keep track of everything you do, it will end up screwing you up later. Keep Records!
We let our ciders ferment and age in their carboys for about two months. This time frame all depends on a few things. How long active fermentation goes on, what type of yeast you use, how the cider is tasting ( you should be tasting throughout) and how clear you want your cider.
During the two months that our ciders were in their carboys, we racked them to new carboys once. Our wild yeast cider has had a bit of trouble clearing, and so we added Bentonite clay to it when we racked it. This helps to clear the cider. It’s not necessary for taste, it just looks nice. If you want to add Bentonite clay, you mix up a slurry of the powdered clay and water, let it rehydrate for 24 hours, then stir it into your carboy.
When it comes time to bottle your cider it is important to consider what type of bottle to use. Since ciders can become very carbonated I recommend swing top bottles (like these). They are not likely to explode. Using a standard beer of wine bottle can result in a mess if your cider becomes very carbonated.
Sweet or Dry? Sparkling or Flat?
Other things to think about when you’re bottling are sweetness and carbonation level. Since yeast eats sugar, using a sweet variety of apple doesn’t always equal a sweet cider. Meaning, you can actually have a very dry (not sweet) and carbonated cider. If your apples are not very sweet, there is less for you yeast to eat and you will have a nearly flat cider.
This is all about personal taste. If you love bubbles, you may want to Back Carbonate. If you need a very sweet cider, then you will want to Back Sweeten. These two terms simply mean, adding sugars of different types to your bottles right at the end before bottling.
Regular sugar is a feast for yeast. If you add it to your bottles your cider won’t get sweeter, it will get more bubbly. Some sugars, like Xylitol and Stevia are non-fermentable. Meaning yeast wont eat them. So it’s sugars like these that you would add to sweeten a cider.
For our batches we devided them into 4 groups per batch. 1 of each batch was back sweetened with a simple syrup of Xylitol. The second group was back carbonated with a syrup of Sugar. The third group was back sweetened and back carbonated with a syrup of both Xylitol and Sugar. And finally, the last 1/4 of each batch was left as it was so that we had a control group. This would allow us to see how much of a difference the back sweetening and carbonating had. 2Tbsp of syrups were added to the bottles, then we used our auto-siphon to fill them. The caps of each were labelled and they are now sitting and aging.
Cider can be drunk right away if you really want to. But you will get a much more complex flavour if you let it age in the bottles. Aging also allows the back sweetening and carbonating to kick in.
We taste our cider every week or so to see how the taste has developed and add notes to our records so that we can alter the recipe the next time.
Wow. If you made it this far I commend you! To sum up, cider making is a lot of fun and well worth the time. I hope these two posts were helpful. It’s a lot of information to take in so I suggest checking out resources as your questions arise and not trying to master all of this at once. Here are a few resources I look to for help with cider making:
- The Cider School – This site is full of helpful info and has a lot of links to other pages as well.
- Homebrew Talk – This is a great forum for all brewing needs. Lots of people eager to help.
- Modern Cider Making
If you give cider making a try and want to share your results or have questions I’d love to hear from you! Thanks guys!