This article is part of a series on making your own hard apple cider at home. It's a simplified step by step guide. If this is your first time making hard cider, you can find more information about the ingredients and equipment in the article "What You Need To Make Hard Apple Cider"
Fermenting Hard Apple Cider
- Sanitize your fermentor and lid or stopper. Collect the juice into the fermenter. Use your hydrometer to take a Specific Gravity reading. Also note the potential alcohol reading. Record this reading for later use.
- Decide if you need to add sugar (Calculating how much sugar to add will be covered in another post).
- Add campden tables at a rate of 1 table per gallon. Crushing the tablets will improve it’s performance.
- Wait 24 hours to allow the sulfur to gas out.
- After 24 hours, pitch the yeast. Add some yeast nutrient. Put the airlock on and fill it to the fill line with water, or better yet, sanitizer. (If the temperature drops in the primary fermenter, negative pressure will draw liquid from the airlock. Using sanitizer helps insure that no bacteria is in the liquid).
- Place the fermenter in a cool place, ideally 60 degree F., but no higher that 65 degrees.
- Fermentation should start within 24 to 48 hours. You will know by the activity in the airlock. It should be “percolating” like a coffee put but slower. This bubbling activity is caused by CO2 escaping.
- Monitor the fermentation temperature. The temperature should be close to 60 degrees. If the temperature starts to climb above 65 degrees, you can help cool it down by covering the fermenter with a wet cloth or towel. Optionallly, you can put the fermenter in a tub of water. Since liquid changes temperature slower than air, you can lessen the impact of any ambient temperature changes. You can also drop some ice cubes in the tub as necessary to help maintain the temperature.
- Monitor the fermentation activity by observing the
airlock. As time goes by, the activity will slow down. Eventual the
activity will be so little that it will be several seconds or even
minutes between bubbles. This is an indication that primary
fermentation is almost complete. The time period for this typically
is a few weeks, but depending on temperature, and the starting
gravity, it could be one week, or it could be several weeks. Several
weeks if fine, be patient.
At this point we want to take a hydrometer reading. The reading should about 1.010. This will (hopefully) not be the final gravity, but we do want some fermentation activity to occur in the secondary fermenter. Additional fermentation in the secondary fermenter will create co2 gas. This gas will form a blanket over the cider and help protect it from oxidation.
- Rack to the secondary fermenter. The
objective here is to separate the cider from the sediment on the
bottom of the fermenter. Allot of that sediment is spent yeast, and
if we leave the cider on it too long, it may induce an off flavor.
Use a racking cane and tubing to form a syphon and transfer the cider with minimal splashing, so as not to induce any oxygen which can cause oxidation. Install the airlock onto the secondary fermenter just as we did on the primary. Leave it in the 60 to 60 degree F. environment as before.
- Rack again for clearing. After a week or two we should see that the cider is starting to clear. In some instances it may have cleared already. Other ciders may take weeks or even months to clear. If the cider is not clear after two weeks, rack it again. However, this time there will be no fermentation activity to create a co2 layer to protect the cider from oxidizing. Therefore, ideally, when filling the next vessel, we top it up all the way into the neck to help prevent oxidation.
- Let the cider clear. Again, this might take days, or weeks, or even months (hopefully not months). But be patient. Winemakers say you can tell when a white wine is clear by placing the newspaper behind it. If you can read the paper though it, it’s clear, and ready to bottle.
Bottle the cider.
- Gather the necessary
- Bottling bucket, or other vessel. This can be the primary or secondary fermenter if you prefer.
- Spoon for stirring
- Racking cane (if not using a bottling bucket)
- Bottling wand
- Bottles and caps
- Priming sugar (if you want carbonated cider)
- Sanitize anything that will come in contact with your cider. Basically this is everything above except the capper and priming sugar.
- (Optional) Add priming sugar. This step can be skipped if you want a still cider. If you want your cider to be carbonated, add some sugar. Use at the rate of 4 oz of sugar for 5 gallons of cider. (Ugh, we might have to do math again!). Melt the sugar in two cups of boiling water. Add the sugar to the bottling bucket (or other vessel). Rack the cider on top of this solution. Stir gently to insure the sugar is well mixed
- Bottle the Cider. This process is best done in the sink (or bathtub).If your using a bottling bucket, attach your tubing to the spigot. If not using a bottling bucket, use your racking cane. Attach the bottling wand to the end of the tubing. Fill each bottle right to the top, when you remove the bottling wand, it will have displaced the enough to leave a proper head space in the bottle. Use your capper to crimp the cap on the bottle. You may want to rinse the bottles with warm water or wipe with a damp cloth to remove any spillage residue.
- Let the bottles carbonate. The best place for this is where you did the fermentation. However, we can let it be a bit warmer, more like 65 to 70 degrees F. Depending on the temperature, it can take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks to carbonate.
Drink, Enjoy, Repeat!