Buying Apple Juice for Making Hard Cider

Hard Cider YeastIt is almost always best to press fresh apple cider when making your own hard cider.  However, this isn’t always a feasible option, and you may find yourself needing to buy apple juice to use when making your hard cider.

When buying juice to use for hard cider, be sure to select an option that has not been heavily filtered (has sediment in it), doesn’t contain chemical preservatives, has been pasteurized, and is not from concentrate.

The problem is that the most apple juices found in grocery stores don’t meet this criteria.  Some do, and they are often quite expensive.  Want to know more?  Here’s what you need to know when buying juice to make hard cider:

Apple Juice vs Apple Cider

As discussed in great length in the page on the differences between apple juice and apple cider, there are very few rules and guidelines around what is labelled apple juice and apple cider.  This means that you cannot relying solely on the label when making your selection.

That being said, more often than not, a juice that meets the criteria listed on this page as being good for making hard cider will most likely be labelled as a ‘cider’, and not a ‘juice’.  However, many juices that are not good for making hard cider will also be labelled ‘cider’.

Confused yet?  Read on for a better understanding.

Ingredients, Additives, and Preservatives

In general, most containers of apple juice list very few ingredients on their label… many only list 1.  The most important thing is to avoid any preservatives that will kill your yeast.  

Here are some things that will appear, and some commentary on if they are ok to have in the juice.

Sometimes listed as ‘Apple juice’, ‘Apple cider’, or just ‘Apples’, this is a good ingredient to have.  🙂

Preservatives such as potassium sulfate and sodium benzoate are sometimes added to apple juice to prevent icky things like bacteria and mold from growing in the juice.  

While that sounds like a good thing, it also means that it won’t let yeast grow either.  Without the yeast, there is no hard cider.  Therefore, you cannot use any juice that has these (or other) chemical preservatives in it.

I have looked at a lot of store-bought juice, and I have yet to come across one that contains chemical preservatives.  Maybe I’m lucky, or maybe it’s a regional thing.  Either way, this is the most important part of juice selection!

Some juices have ascorbic acid, vitamin C or malic acid added to them.  These are perfectly fine to have in the juice you are going to ferment.  

The one tiny note is that if a manufacturer is adding these acids, it may be a subtle acknowledgement that they know their juice is short on acids from the apples themselves (not a good thing for making hard cider).

Pick the Option that has the Most Sediment (least filtered)

In general, you’ll want to pick the least filtered product you can find. It will either be very cloudy (little bits of apple in suspension in the juice) or have lots of sediment at the bottom (apple bits are not suspended).

Most apple juices will be brightly colored with no sedimentation.  These may be more visually appealing, but the heavy filtration has removed the depth of flavor that will balance the sweetness when making hard cider.  If possible, avoid these options.

Juices and ciders with low filtration are often more expensive than the totally clear ones, so balance your available budget with how badly you want a high quality product.  

Pasteurization

The cider community is definitely split on the topic of pasteurization.  While many see it as a vital part of making a consistent and safe hard cider, others wouldn’t consider using any form of pasteurized juice in their cider making.

With regards to buying apple juice, nearly all juice you encounter will be pasteurized.  The only time this may not be the case is if you are buying from a farmers market, directly from an orchard, or from a fruit stand.

That’s a bit of a complicated question, hence the division in the community.  While many people make hard cider with unpastuerized juice, there is absolutely a risk involved in it.

There is nothing about fermenting hard cider that will ‘correct’ a problem with contaminated juice… the alcohol content is not high enough to do that.

It is possible (but difficult) to pasteurize apple juice yourself.  The most common method is to slowly heat it.  The problem is that if you don’t heat it hot enough (or long enough), it won’t be pastuerized.  And if you heat it too hot, you will ‘set the pectin’ which will cause your hard cider to be very hazy.

Personally, I wouldn’t purchase unpasteurized cider.  

However, I don’t pasteurize cider when I press it myself (maybe that doesn’t make complete sense, but that’s what I do).

From Concentrate

When apple juice is marked ‘from concentrate’, it means that a company has pressed the apples into juice, then removed some of the water to make a concentrate.  Later, and most likely in a different location, they add the same amount of water back that they removed, in order to restore the original proportions (if it’s labelled 100% apple juice).

It doesn’t seem like there would be anything wrong with removing water and adding it back, some people have concerns with how the water is removed.  It’s believed that manufacturers heat the apple juice up to remove the water.  Some people think that this process also removes some of the flavor from the juice.  When water is added back later, the flavor that was removed is missing, and the product is more bland.

I don’t have a lot of hard facts to verify this, but it’s generally regarded that apple juice from concentrate is not quite as good to use as one that is not from concentrate.  Also, for the same reason, it’s not best to buy frozen apple juice concentrate and reconstitute it yourself to use for making hard cider.

Organic Apple Juice

Apple Juice marked as ‘organic’ simply means that the apples used to make the juice were organic.  To the extent that that is important to you, you should use organic apple juice.  I am not aware of any impacts on taste or flavor of the finished hard cider.

Apple Juice Using Multiple Varieties

Some apple juices list the variety of apple on the label.  If this is the case, it’s generally a good idea to use an option that has multiple varieties in it.  This is a good idea for the same reason they make and market that type of juice: each variety gives a slightly different flavor profile, giving the complete juice greater depth of flavor.

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