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Questions about Hard Cider

A friend of mine suggested that using pasturized, unfiltered apple juice or so-called "fresh cider" would be preferable to buying or otherwise procuring unpasturized apple juice (if at all possible). His reasoning was that I could then introduce or otherwise control the yeasts that would produce a better product. To be clear about this, I'm not referring to apple concentrate or Motts off the shelf, I am talking about the gallon jugs of cloudy, unfiltered farm-stand apple juice that is always (or often) labeled "lightly pasturized.

Can I make hard cider with this?

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  1. I don't see why not. Yeast eats sugar, and pasteurization doesn't affect sugar at all.

    However I will say that the ciders I've had made from unpasturized juice are far, far superior to any other. The bacteria introduce a range of aromas and flavors that make for a much more interesting beverage. I find most commercial cider to be pretty boring and one-dimensional. A great Normandy cider though, unfiltered and unpasteurized, is a marvel of flavor.

    Of course, I'm not sure what you need to worry about in terms of bad bugs in there. There must be a book on the subject.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      There are a few titles out there, including a couple of editions of a cidermaking book by Annie Proulx, who went on to write The Shipping News IIRC. And Paul Correnty also has a good book on the subject.

      1. re: Josh

        Any such ciders available in the states (specifically, LA)?

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            That's the exact one I was going to recommend, Jim. That stuff is incredible.

          2. re: Pei


            these guys make some truly excellent ciders, available in new england, not so sure about la.

            1. re: andytee

              I've seen their stuff at least one place here in CA. Wasn't all that into it - kind of boring. Normandy cider is where it's at, IMO.

        1. I have made hard cider for many years both at home and for a commercial cider company.

          The unpasteurized farm stand juice is definately the stuff to use. It has a much better flavor than the pasteurized stuff. You do have to use camden tablets to sterilize it overnight to kill any bacteria or wild yeasts. Then you add a yeast formulated specifically for hard cider.

          The stuff in supermarkets sometimes/usually has a small amount of preservatives that will kill your cider yeast and it won't ferment.

          9 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            Some ciders (such as the one I mention above) are fermented with the unpasteurized juice, no yeast pitched. Do you not recommend that?

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              Some brewers are scared of the naturally occuring bugs and they deliberately sterilize the product so they have complete control of the end result. This gives you predictable flavors that you can count on. The Dupont is not made this way. The Dupont production is similar to Belgian lambic, allowing the fermentation to take place with the bacteria intact, which gives a much more interesting, if unpredictable, flavor.

              Each style has its place. The kind of folks who enjoy chugging Wyders or Woodchuck would probably find the Dupont unappealing.

              1. re: Josh

                One has to keep in mind that in reality the yeast isn't really wild anymore with long term producers. Yeast always escapes with each batch and they become part of the wild yeasts available in an area. The newer yeasts are the ones that grew the best in the cider, wine, etc. and so by natural selection are better suited to the fermentation. This is why the Belgian lambic producers never clean their facilities because the wild yeasts and lactic bacteria are so well suited for that type of fermentation.

              2. re: Jim Dorsch

                Using wild yeast/spontaneous fermentation means that you have many variables beyond your control. It depends upon your region whether the wild yeast will make a tasty product or one that has undesirable flavors.

                I made some very interesting tasting ciders and fruit wines with wild yeast when I was in college out on Long Island, NY. Something about the region produced great local wild yeasts. Where I am currently, in Westchester, NY. The few times I tried to ferment with wild yeasts every item came out with a sour off taste. For the beginner I recommend sterilizing your juice and using a commercial cider yeast strain. These are yeasts that have been grown to give the cider (or beer, wine, mead, etc.) certain flavor profiles and the yeast is adapted to growng well in a specific product. Using a bread yeast or an ale yeast will make your cider taste unusual. After a few sucessful batches then try using wild yeast. Although they won't be totally wild since you sometimes introduce yeasts to an area just from the tiny amount that escapes from home brewing. As in cooking it is always better to start with a proven recipe until you know how to make it and what it should taste like, then you can start changing one item at a time to create your own version. The secret to great brewing is sanitation, control, and keeping detailed records of every single thing you do to your product from start to finish. Creativity is great but you have to know what you did that created a new great or lousy product so you can repeat it or prevent it the next time you brew.

              3. re: JMF

                If i choose to use the camden tablets to sterilize the cider, will they alter the flavor in any way? I am about to brew my first batch with a few friends so any help would be great. What type of yeast has worked best for you? I have heard a lot of good things about the L1118 strain.

                1. re: maritimer95gt

                  The camden tablets won't change the flavor profile in any way. I don't like the L1118 strain which is a champagne yeast. They don't add anything to the flavor profile because they are neutral, but you can end up with a cider so dry it can be sour. I would use a decent white wine yeast, say for a Riesling style, or a specific cider or sweet mead yeast. I like to have some residual sugars there so that the cider has a hint of body, and isn't mouth puckeringly sour. I would also try to get as many different types of apples into your initial cider. They more complex the blend, the better the hard cider will be.

                  1. re: JMF

                    Yes, you want to get some good, tannic apples in there, and other types. Find a copy of Paul Correnty's book, or the one by Proulx and Nichols. They discuss types of apples to mix into a cider.

                  2. re: maritimer95gt

                    Be careful, though to allow the cider to rest for at least 24 hours after adding the camden tablets. They release a sulfurous smell that does clear off but is not something that you want lingering.

                    After my first batch, I stopped doing the camden and always got good results. It's up to you. I agree 100% with JMF on the L1118 strain. My results from that yeast were good, though quite dry and somewhat tart.

                    1. re: Ernie Diamond

                      If you use a good commercial yeast, and the cider is very fresh, then you don't have to camden. Only do so if the cider is more than a few days old.

                2. While I prefer unpasteurized to drink, I think the preservatives would keep your yeast activity down. Pasteurized might ferment better, if it doesn't also have preservatives. It is probably hard to find unpasteurized, unpreserved cider and you'd probably have to know someone in the biz and give him a waiver to get it. Frozen concentrate might work if it isn't loaded with preservatives. My background is from having a little home brewing and wine making experience and enjoying cider from the area orchards. Let us know when your first batch comes out and we'll come over and try it. It is very popular in UK.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: dijon

                    In my area, NYC and Hudson Valley, NY there are many local cider makers who offer unpasteurized, no preservative sweet ciders for sale that they make themselves. Every fall I buy 5-10 gallons and make hard cider. Then in the late winter I use whatever is left over to make my own cider vinegar from the dregs of the hard cider.

                    1. re: JMF


                      That's terrific, I have never been able to find unpasteurized, unpreserved in the midwest. The occasional cider borne microorganism illness has everyone scared about liability. I think it is something like the unpasteurized milk biz, very spotty availability.

                      1. re: dijon

                        Unpasturized cider is very easy to come by in Michigan, especially here in Traverse City.

                  2. Great discussion. I have beer brewing experience, cider looks straight forward. Looking to get a batch working. Any suggestions in getting close tastes to Magners and then the one listed here - Dupont?

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: patdrennan

                      The Dupont cider website notes that its product is unpasteurized & unfiltered...which means you could culture the yeasts/bacteria from a bottle of Dupont & use them to ferment your own cider. (As long as that bottle has been treated fairly well in transit)

                      I've done that many times for various beer yeasts. Two caveats - pay attention to sanitation (ie, flame the lip of the source bottle before pouring off the liquid). The exposed lip of the Dupont bottle will likely be heavily contaminated with undesirable yeasts & bacteria...you don't want those carried along with the good stuff. Also, sometimes the yeast used for bottling a beverage is not exactly the same one used to ferment it...but they are usually close relatives.

                      1. re: liegey

                        Im agree about culturing the yeast. That is probably the only way you will get a similar tasting cider.

                      2. I have never made hard cider and I am wondering how difficult it is to make? My father and uncle made beer and wine when I was younger, but I have never tried to use yeast for anything other than bread dough.

                        I was buying fall produce at a local orchard the other day, and they are staring to press their own cider. The owner said that he would sell me fresh (unpasteurized) cider straight from the press for $1.00 a gallon if I supplied the containers. Would this be the best starting point, or should I have it pasteurized it with the cider that they sell?

                        What kind of yeast is used to make hard cider?

                        How long (approx time) is the ferment?

                        I have my fathers 5 gallon glass carboy and a bubbler cap, will that work?

                        Thanks in advance, and I hope I didn't hi-jack the thread.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          It's very easy. Order special cider yeast. Primary fermentation is anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending upon the temp. The warmer, the faster, the worse tasting. The colder the slower, the better tasting. Secondary fermentation of 1-2 months for best taste. Do a cider making search online for tons of directions.

                          1. re: Kelli2006

                            Anyone else no where to get cider for $1.00 a gallon...If I could get a steady supply at that price I would be VERY interested...great that you have a source....Hold onto it with both hands.

                          2. If you don't want to take any chances, read through all of the above posts and stop by a brew shop, talk to the guy in there, and he'll give you the appropriate yeast.

                            If you feel like gambling a bit....I've made cider here in NH for the past three years. I brought by 5 gallon carboy down to a local orchard when they're pressing cider, and they filled up my carboy straight from the press.

                            I then brought it home, put on the fermentation lock, and let it sit until somewhere around Christmas/New Years. At least here in my basement in southern NH, the cider is just about at the end of the fermentation by then.

                            I then bottle in beer bottles (you'll need to pick up bottle caps and a capping device from the brew store), and leave it for about another month before drinking.

                            With the final fermentation that takes place in the bottle, the CO2 (byproduct of sugar conversion to alcohol) remains trapped in the bottle, and adds a bit of fermentation.

                            Just remember, the later you bottle, the less fermentation. Bottle too early and you'll have exploding bottles.

                            I've been trying to replicate the cider that I've had in the Basque and Asturian regions of Northern Spain. They follow a similar process (they call it "sidra naturaleza"), and I've been lucky that most of my batches have tasted very similar. It's a got a bit of a sour taste, so maybe not for everyone's pallette.

                            Using wild yeasts is definitely more of a gamble. Two fermentation barrels sitting next two each other may be introduced to different yeasts and the tastes will be slightly different. But that's what I think makes it fun is the unpredictability.

                            Once you have your hard cider, try making some applejack. Just put your hard cider (maybe one gallon or so) outside on a really cold night (or in the freezer), and in the morning, pour off the liquid (alcohol's freezing point is something like -100 C) and throw out the ice. Repeat this for three or four nights, and you'll have some nice smooth applejack. Just go easy drinking it. This method concentrates all the impurities (unlike distillation, which leaves them behind) and will give you a vicious hangover.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ChrisB

                              Hey Chris, what specifics do you have about how to make Basque style cider? Know any good info sources?

                            2. Chris,
                              Thanks for the reply and at only $1.00 a gallon for the fresh pressed cider, I think I might make a safe (pitched yeast) and a batch with wild yeasts.
                              I was very surprised to hear that you ferment it for so long. I had expected 2-3 weeks fermentation and then quickly bottling it and possibly serving it with pumpkin pie as a Thanksgiving desert beverage.
                              I have my fathers capping press and I am all too familiar with exploding bottles. My father used to make a batch of ginger beer or sarsaparilla for my sisters and I, and we would go into the cellar to get a bottle after school, but we quickly learned to listen for the hiss of a impending bottle explosion before we opened the door.

                              I have experienced applejack before, but I was unaware of the method that it was made. I had (wrongly) assumed that it was bottled at a higher gravity and then second fermentation gave it the kick that I remember.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Kelli2006

                                I used to make hard cider every fall back when I was brewing a lot. (IIRC, "cider" *is* hard everywhere else save the USA- what we in the US call "cider" is "unfiltered apple juice" elsewhere.) I don't think pastuerization will affect fermentation as much as the addition of potassium sorbate (or some other chemical "sterilizers") found in many supermarket ciders but its more difficult to find "pure" cider every year.

                                I used to use champagne yeast and fermented in glass gallon jugs, using either an airlock or the old fashioned "balloon" method. Hard cider is one of the few alcoholic beverages that is drank *during* fermentation, so it's always fun to sample as things progress. (Indeed, fermentation will continue IN the refrigerator, however slowly, so keep the cap loose or continue using an airlock).

                                Applejack always sounds easier than it really is- the concept of a frozen cube with an inner core of alcohol never really happens- most freezers (and US winters) only get it to a "slurpee", and straining the ice from the liquid is imprecise, messy but nonetheless can result in a rewarding homemade liquor. (Years ago, one of the few books on brewing available in the US was a slim volume called AN ESSAY ON BREWING, VINTAGE AND DISTILLATION TOGETHER WITH SELECTED REMEDIES FOR HANGOVER MELANCHOLIA OR HOW TO MAKE BOOZE by John F. Adams. Hopelessly out of date, it's still an amusing read. I always recall him saying that one of the miracles of distilling alcohol is that it can be done on either end of the temperature extremes- heating or freezing.)

                              2. I don't have a problem being able to buy the cider at the orchard as it comes from the press, and he is giving me a $.15 cent a gallon discount because I am supplying my own containers. They also sell it heat pasteurized at the orchard, so I am wondering if this might be better for making cider? Cider making is very common among the local Amish (Ohio) community, but they usually have their own orchard.

                                I will have to purchase champagne yeast, sterilizing supplies and caps. I have a few brown glass beer bottles, or would it be better to use wine bottles to ferment the cider in?

                                Thanks for the advice.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Kelli2006

                                  I'd ferment it in gallon (4 liter) wine jugs, the thicker the better (tho' if you'd got an airlock and it stays clear, you don't have *much* worry). Bigger would be better still.

                                  *IF* you choose to bottle at the end of fermentation (rather than just drink it from the gallon jugs, maybe racking it to new jugs to get it off the sediment), then by all means use the thickest, deposit/returnable beer bottles you can get since you really won't know the amount of sugar you have left after bottling.

                                  Champagne bottles- nice and thick- USED to take a beer cap, but I've noticed that many no longer are the right size. Some brewers still use those champagne-style bottles, tho'.

                                2. I am currently fermenting a gallon at home. I missed the apple cider and hard cider I grew up with in Danbury, CT.

                                  Thankfully, LA residents can buy top-quality unpasteurized apple cider both in Julian (east of San Diego) and east of LA in San Bernardino County in Oak Glen. I drove up to Oak Glen recently. It was a little 909, but my kids loved the drive and picking apples and the cider is excellent!

                                  I did not sterilize it, instead adding some White Labs English cider yeast. My gallon is currently fermenting and I can't wait to try in (in a year).

                                  1. I am getting interested in brewing my own beverages. I'm not a huge fan of beer or wine, so I tried some cider and I loved it! This being my first venture into cider brewing, I naturally have a few newbie quesitons.

                                    1) Some people tell me cider has a very short shelf life. Anybody care to comment how long it lasts before it spoils? Would spending a bit more on the oxygen-absorbing bottle caps be a good idea if the cider is going to sit for upwards of 6 months?

                                    2) All the recipes I find online tell me to use 5 gallons of juice with the standard packet of yeast. If the cider goes bad quickly, I'd like to keep my batches down to 2-3 gallons at a time (especially with the first few batches that I'm probably going to screw up). Should I adjust how much yeast to put in or does it not make too much of a difference?

                                    Thanks in advance for the help.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jrtomsic

                                      Never use the brewing kit yeasts. They are old, and mostly bacteria, and for the most part, dead. Use WYeast (read up on that) and visit your local homebrew supply and ask for liquid lager yeast.

                                    2. I'm a wing-it sort of brewer, so you may not want to trust my responses.

                                      I read somewhere (can't remember where) that you shouldn't really drink cider that's more than a year old. I found four bottles in my basement yesterday that were two years old. I tried them, and they tasted fine. However, I decided to err on the side of caution, and dumped them all down the drain. My wife nearly killed me. She won't drink my cider, but it is excellent for cooking with.

                                      I don't know anything about oxygen absorbing bottle caps. I use normal beer bottle caps on beer bottles, which work fine. I've also used corks in wine bottles, which also works fine.

                                      As for your #2 question, don't worry about it. You're not going to screw up any batches. I don't even pitch yeast in my cider--I just depend on the ambient wild yeasts.

                                      I don't really see how you can add too much yeast, though. There's only a finite amount of sugar that the yeast can feed off of. And once the yeast goes dormant, it's going to sink to the bottom of the container anyway. Then when you rack off to a new container, you'll leave the bottom inch or two of funk.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: ChrisB

                                        I don't know that oxygen-absorbing caps would be necessary in a live beverage, since yeast activity should consume oxygen via fermentation.

                                        If you look, for example, on a bottle of Etiene Dupont Cidre Bouche, which is unfiltered, you will find a warning about potential biological hazards associated with such a product. However, this product is sold by the importer in various vintages, implying that aging might not be a concern in this regard. Still, one must warn the potential drinker.

                                        1. re: ChrisB

                                          >>I read somewhere (can't remember where) that you shouldn't really drink cider that's more than a year old. <<

                                          I can't imagine why not...made correctly, it will taste a lot better after a year or more than it would when "fresh". I don't consider it even ready until at least 8 months.
                                          I would say that the advice you read is absolutely incorrect.

                                          1. re: ChrisB

                                            I hope your sink enjoyed your cider! We recently found a whole case of cider we made 3 years ago. We drank it, it was even more delicious than we remembered, and we survived. If there seemed to be something wrong with a bottle then we would have dumped that bottle for sure.

                                            Yikes, I just noticed how old this thread is.

                                          2. My friend and I have had a batch of hard cider fermenting for a month and a half. It's our first batch so we arent sure if it will turn out. We used a recipe off this site http://www.motherearthnews.com/librar...

                                            For our batch we used cider with no preservatives, but it is basically apple concentrate with some water.We also used a half barrel rubber keg (starilized) for a carboy. Dec 1st will be the day we unseal the batch and try it out. Please reply with some input on our hard cider.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Yooperman

                                              Hey Yooperman,

                                              I have also tried making hard cider with apple concentrate and it worked out great! Don't worry I'm sure it will turn out fine. Using good yeast seems to be more important than whether you have fresh pressed apple juice or not. I followed the recipe from http://www.associatedcontent.com/arti... and it was delicious. Good luck!

                                            2. Is the Etienne Dupont mentioned by several people here more similar to the ciders of Normandy rather than British ciders? Is it corked in a champagne bottle with a bit of fizz? Where can you purchase it? I've been looking for something like that since I was in Normandy and fell in love with their ciders.

                                              1. Wild strains will give you a more estery flavour under controlled conditions. Saccharomyces cerevisiae essentially remain to complete the fermentation, but a chosen lager strain would probably be best of all your options. I've made a handful of ciders over the years. Ferment at 12'C using a lager strain, if you can find enough to pitch. Approach your local brewpub, but they might not give out their strain.

                                                Bacteria are not yeast. You don't want bacteria. Also, if you pitch enough lager strain (pitch about 2 cups of liquid slurry into 20 litres), then you won't have to worry about pasteurization. Go for non-pasteurized because it will avoid killing flavours that are natural to the fruit juice.

                                                1. my lazy-man cider recipe is to buy unpasteurized stuff, drink some fresh and pour some into a grolsch bottle with a little breathing room, and let it sit out the counter for 4-5 days, uncapping daily to test air pressure. it makes a pretty nice simple hard cider with pretty solid carbonation. no yeast, no tablets, no sterilization. juice and time and a sealable bottle.