Tips for Brewing Your Own Hard Cider

Filtering cider. (Photo: Ben Garney/Flickr)In some parts of the country, hard cider has grown from a down-home project to a mass-marketed trendy drink. But brewing your own is surprisingly simple, requiring few materials outside of care and cleanliness. David Shearer, owner of Pine Hill Orchard in Colrain, MA shares his secrets for successfully brewing your own hard cider.

Supplies You'll Need

“Most people, when they are starting out, use one five-gallon carboy and pail,” says Shearer who has been experimenting with brewing hard cider since 1970. A “carboy,” sometimes referred to as a “demijohn,” is essentially a jug with a large body and a small neck. Carboys can be made of glass or plastic.

Other materials you will need include three to six feet of food grade plastic tubing for siphoning or “racking” your cider, and an air lock which fits into the top of your carboy. An airlock for fermenting cider, beer, etc. looks like a glass or plastic flat bubble with chambers on a cork. “The real secret to making the best hard cider is to keep air out as much as possible. It’s an anaerobic process,” comments Shearer.

You can time fermentation to coincide with a holiday party, but if you plan to store your hard cider, you will need clean bottles, caps, and a capper. Shearer recommends drinking the cider within the first year, but it can be stored for two to three years. “I had an old farmer give me a bottle he had in his basement he said was one hundred years old. It wasn’t great, but it still tasted OK,” Shearer laughs.

Choose a Cider to Ferment

Naturally, you will need unfermented apple cider and possibly sugar, maple syrup, or beet sugar to increase the alcohol content. Any unpasteurized apple cider will do, but Shearer recommends a blend of ciders for better flavor. “Traditionally, Baldwins, Northern Spys, or Granny Smiths are used, but they are a little harder to find these days, as fewer people grow them.” 

Once you have selected your cider to ferment, pour it into a sterilized carboy or a specialized bucket that has an opening on the lid for an air lock. Place the air lock (also called a vapor lock) onto the well-sealed carboy or bucket and let your cider go to work!

Shearer claims yeast is not required to brew hard cider, because the fruit contains its own yeasts. You can, however, choose to use champagne yeast to speed up the process.

The Fermentation Process

Fermentation starts right away and can take 3-4 weeks from start to finish. Generally, if you keep your cider in an area that is 65 to 70 degrees, the fermentation will last about 2 weeks – you’ll hear the bubbling. If your cider gets too cold, it will stop fermenting. Let the cider sit at least another week, then siphon it off into another sterilized bucket to help clarify your cider, since there will be a sludge of organic material on the bottom of the carboy or bucket (which may be added to your compost). Some like to let their hard cider sit another week in a well-sealed sterilized bucket and rack it once more before drinking or bottling.

Shearer explains that hard cider has an average alcohol content of three to four percent unless sugar is added. “You can add up to a pound of sugar to the cider, and that will bring the alcohol content up to seven to nine percent. Once hard cider has an alcohol content of nine percent, it won’t ferment anymore (as all the organisms needed to ferment die off at that point).”

Shearer discloses that in terms of recipes, the real ”secret” is in experimenting and finding out what you really like – sweet, dry, tart etc. For one person, Shearer even ground sugar beets with the apples to eventually make a kind of “pink champagne.”

Cris Carl writes for

Updated August 6, 2018.

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