Hard Cider Ingredients

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Hard Cider Ingredients

Making a simple batch of hard cider requires very few ingredients; making a great batch of hard cider will take a few more.  This page caters to all experience levels.  Most of these hard cider ingredients, except the raw cider, can be found at a local homebrew store.  They can also be found on online homebrew stores or Amazon.

Keep in mind, you may not need all the ingredients for any given recipe.  Clicking the links or images will take you to amazon to purchase the item.  Using the links provided supports this page by providing a small commission from Amazon, at no additional cost to you (even if you end up selecting a different product!)

If you want to see products that offer cider concentrate and yeast in a convenient, pre-packed unit, visit the hard cider kits page.

Raw Apple Cider

The first major decision in making hard cider involves how to get the raw cider. In general, it is better to get the cider from as close to the source as possible. In order of preference, the options are: make your own cider from whole apples, buy cider that has been minimally processed, or buy juice or cider from a grocery store.

Make your own cider from whole apples

This is the best option when it comes to quality and taste of the final product. However, it is a big undertaking to make more than a gallon or so of cider without specialized tools. For smaller amounts, you can simply quarter apples, put them in a blender (or juicer) and strain through a cheesecloth. For larger quantities, you will need special tools for grinding and pressing the apples.

Buy cider that has been minimally processed

Although not as common as it used to be, you can still find raw apple cider at fruit stands or farmers markets. The product may be pasteurized or not (be sure to ask). The community of those making hard cider is split on the topic of pasteurization. Some say it’s totally fine to use unpasteurized cider (even preferred) while others think using anything that hasn’t been pasteurized is unsafe. Make your own decision and act accordingly. If you are uncomfortable using unpasteurized cider, it is possible (but difficult) to pasteurize it yourself.  Personally, I wouldn’t use purchased 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).

Buy juice or cider from a grocery store

The most convenient option is to buy apple juice or cider from a grocery store. For a detailed description of the difference between the two, see the page ‘the difference between apple juice and apple cider ‘. In general, you’ll want to pick the least filtered product you can find (regardless of how it’s labelled). 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). These types of juices and ciders are often more expensive than the totally clear ones, so balance your available budget with how badly you want a high quality product.

Yeast

Yeast is an essential ingredient needed to make hard cider.  Here are seven of the most common types of yeasts used to make hard cider.  For a full overview of each, see the page on hard cider yeast.  My recommendations for a beginner is to start by using one of these four yeasts.

If you are a more advanced cider-maker, and can really control your fermentation (preferably stopping it before it goes dry), these yeasts can produce a great cider as well.

Note: Don’t use bread yeast to make hard cider.  It will make an alcoholic beverage, just not one you will want to drink!

Sugar

Sugar is sugar, right?  Well, sort of.  As you learned in the process of how to make hard cider, sugar doesn’t make the hard cider sweet.  Sugar controls the alcohol content and level of carbonation.  The amount and type of sugar you use will be determined by the specific recipe you are following.  In general, the common forms of sugar used to add alcohol content and carbonation are:

  • Dextrose – A favorite in the homebrew world because it’s easily fermentable by yeast.  What’s not easy is finding it.  It’s the only sugar source that is not available at a common grocery store.  You can find it online, at a brew store, or at a health food/supplement store (also used by bodybuilders).
  • Honey
  • Brown Sugar
  • Apple Juice Concentrate – Adds sugar and apple flavoring.

Sugar Substitutes (Sweeteners)

One of the most common ways to make hard cider taste sweeter is by adding non-fermentable sweeteners.  This is an area that you can easily manipulate to give the hard cider the sweetness you want, without needing to use more advanced techniques.  There are three different categories of sugar substitutes:

  • Sugar Alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, etc)
  • Natural sweeteners (stevia)
  • Artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, Sweet ‘N Low, etc)

See the page ‘best hard cider artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes‘ for detailed explanations of each of these types and my recommendations.  In summary, any sugar alcohol (such as Xylitol, Sorbitol, or Truvia) will work great, and Stevia is a very good choice as well.  Artificial sweeteners will add a bitter, chemical aftertaste to the hard cider.

Some people complain that their hard cider loses too much of the apple flavor during fermentation.  One way to have more apple flavor in the final product is to add apple flavoring just before bottling.  This product is a concentrate, so a dab will do ‘ya.  I recommend using 1/4 teaspoon per gallon, but you can adjust to your taste preference. 

Pectin Enzyme

All ripe fruit contains pectin, a jelly like glue that holds plant cells together.  As the alcohol level rises during fermentation, the pectin causes wines and ciders to become cloudy, sometimes called a “pectin haze”.  Pectin Enzyme breaks down the pectin preventing the haze from forming, resulting is a more clear looking cider.    It can be added any time in the process, but the best time to add pectin enzyme is prior to fermentation, about 12 hours prior to pitching the yeast (and 12 hours after using any Campden tablets).  Pectin doesn’t affect the taste of the finished cider, so if you don’t mind a little haze (I don’t, personally), there is no need to add pectin enzyme.

Yeast Nutrient

Yeast cannot live on sugar alone, it needs other nutrients as well.  Yeast Nutrient can include things such as diammonium phosphates (DAP), amino acids, vitamins, zinc and yeast hulls.  These give the yeast cells some much needed nitrogen and phosphate.  The outcome is healthier, more active yeast that will complete the mission of converting the sugar to alcohol faster and more completely.  The question is, do you really want your yeast to be super-active (as this can have negative impacts on flavor)?

If you are on the fence about including this in your batch, know that the higher the alcohol content and the more ‘exotic’ the yeast, the more help the yeast will need.  Add it at the same time as the yeast if you do use it (prior to fermentation).  Still want more info?  Check out this article and this one as well. 

Yeast Energizer

Yeast energizer is a lot like yeast nutrient, but is intended to be added during fermentation if it’s struggling.  Unless you have a very specific reason for it, this is not necessary

Potassium Metabisulfite (Campden Tablets) &
Potassium Sorbate

Potassium metabisulfite (referred to as ‘k-meta’) is a sulfite added to many wines and ciders.  It is sold most commonly as ‘Campden’ Tables, but also comes in powder form.  Potassium sorbate (often referred to as just ‘sorbate’ or ‘k-sorbate’) is another additive that comes in powder form.  These 2 additives are basically the opposite of yeast nutrient; instead of allowing yeast to thrive, they make it so yeast cannot multiply.  They don’t kill active yeast, so using during active fermentation is not advised.

Using these additives to halt yeast reproduction is used primarily for 2 reasons:

  • To remove any wild yeast on unpasteurized cider prior to fermentation (so they don’t interfere with the yeast you add).  They are not needed in this way if the cider is pasteurized, as that process kills any wild yeast.
  • To stop fermentation in the later phases.  You can add them prior to fermentation completely finishing, to retain some of the original sugars in the raw cider.  Or you can add after fermentation is complete, but prior to adding any additional sugar after fermentation (back sweetening)

One can be used without the other, it’s just not quite as effective.

Note: Carefully when using potassium metabisulfite.  Use Campden tables at 1 tablet per gallon (crushed and dissolved in water first).  However, use powder potassium metabisulfite at 1/4 tsp per 5-6 gallons!  For this reason, Campden tablets are much easier to use in smaller batches.

Note 2: Sodium metabisulfate can be used instead of potassium metabisulfite

Acids and Tannins

Acids are important in making hard cider because they give the finished product a sharp, crisp character.  The best way to get the necessary acid is by using a blend of apples, about 1/4 of which should be high in acids (Granny Smith is a common variety high in acids).  Unfortunately for us, most commercial juice has a lot of sweetness, but is lacking in the acid department.  Adding malic acid (the acid found naturally in apples) can help balance the cider. If you suspect (or have measured) that your raw cider could use a boost of acid, add a small amount of malic acid (between 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp per gallon). Note: The 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp per gallon quantity is from all acid sources.  Don’t add 1/2 tsp of malic acid and 1/2 tsp of acid blend to a gallon.

In addition to missing acids, the raw cider is likely low in tannin.  Tannin adds complexity to the finished hard cider, and are commonly used in wine-making as well.

An acid blend is a very convenient way to get multiple acids in a single product.  An acid blend will contain malic acid (from apples), citric acid (from citrus), and tartaric acid (from grapes).  Some blends will have an equivalent ratio of all 3, and some will not (the one linked here is 50% malic, 40% citric, 10% tartaric).  Acid blend is also added at between 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp per gallon. Note: The 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp per gallon quantity is from all acid sources.  Don’t add 1/2 tsp of malic acid and 1/2 tsp of acid blend to a gallon.
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