What’s so cool about this Make Hard Cider recipe and why is it an experiment?

Well, it’s more interesting than using a kit, more risky and kind of a crazy thing to do!

Why risky?  Well because it is easy to mess this up and still get a good result and that is in fact the point.  I’ll admit the first couple of times I tried to make cider the result was somewhat noxious.  So you could say that this is a Make Hard Cider Easy mess it up and still get a good result recipe, a bit of a mouthful though.  On the other hand, this is simple and fun to do.

During this process and amongst several dubious results, I have experienced explosive jets of fermenting juice and in one case, on opening my bottle of yeast starter too quickly discovering the pressure so great and the jet so strong that it actually hit the kitchen ceiling, covered the counters, dripped into the drawers and well, let’s just say that the cat did not seem willing to come into the kitchen again for several days!  On the plus side, the house was permeated with a rather nice smell of fermenting apples; well I thought it was a nice smell anyway.  In my opinion this effect can sometimes be easier to achieve than actually getting a great drinkable result.


There are a number of ways to go about making Hard Cider and all will potentially produce quite a different a result.  We are going to concentrate on doing it the easy way, assume that we do not have access to orchards or farms producing fresh unpasteurized juice, an apple press or anything else not immediately available outside a typical city or a local store.  One thing I will say though is that when you do this and get a great result, you are likely to be hooked and want to experiment further.
Here is a classic video where “Green Deane” makes the core process look really easy.

Now the first time I did as Mr. Dean suggested I got quite a different result.  One of the keys to success is the yeast starter.  So let’s focus first on that.  Here is the process that we followed that got us a great result and also taught us the most.

Now because the process takes a week or two, if you try it just one way you could potentially be disappointed if you get a poor result.  So to learn the most, quickly and maximize the probability of a good result we ran this as an experiment with four small concurrent batches going at the same time, each one slightly different.  This was very easy and as it turns out and much more satisfying in the long run.

Potential variables are
•    The juice used (variations in brand and type)
•    The temperature (location of the fermenting juice)
•    The apples (lots of different kinds of organic apples)
•    The yeast starter (natural, ‘from the apple skins’ and purchased yeast starter products)

Simple summary of the process of Making Hard Cider
1.    Make a yeast starter
2.    Add to apple juice and attach a fermentation lock and leave for a week in a warm place
3.    Bottle and add sugar, allow to charge and refrigerate
4.    Drink!
Easy!  Well maybe, the devil is in the details though.

5 gallons Apple Juice (preservative free) In separate one gallon bottles
4 Organic Apples
1 packet yeast starter (Apple, Champaign or Wine)
2 oz Sugar

Equipment, if you live in an area where getting some of this stuff is hard to do, click on a picture and it will take you to a cheap online store.

•    4 one gallon demijohns

If you buy your apple juice from a farmers market or health food store you can buy it in one gallon glass jugs known as ‘demijohns’, they usually have a circular handle on the neck. If you are very lucky your supermarket may even carry them though they usually have their apple juice in plastic bottles.


•    4 fermentation traps

•    6 ft of 5/16" (3/8") racking / Siphon hose  

The hose above can be used with this useful siphon, it saves sucking on the hose to get it going and thereby possibly introducing bacteria.

This 5/16" auto siphon pump starts a siphon with a single stroke in as little as an inch of liquid, eliminating siphoning woes and making it easier and faster to transfer cider to bottles.

•    Funnel, about 5 inches give or take

•    Simple strainer to stop the peel getting from the starter to the demijohn

•    Empty plastic soda bottles
o    12 x 1 liter size  – Ideal for bottling (Half liter will do, the size is not so important as using whatever you have to hand)
o    5 x 2 liter size – Ideal for Yeast Starter

First, what you should know about a Yeast Starter

There are two schools of thought here, whether to use natural yeast from an apple skin or a purchased yeast starter product.  We therefore decided to try both, the goal being to observe and taste the difference.  

Natural Yeast Starter
Yeast is really fungus, plain and simple.  Apples (organic) have yeast naturally occurring on their skins.  Non-organic commercially produced apples have various chemicals sprayed onto them to increase yields; these typically kill the yeast.  It’s also important to wash apples of this type before eating not because they are dirty as such but because they can have a residue of these chemicals which are harmful to humans.   It’s ironic that commercially produced spotless looking apples are potentially more harmful than a non washed apple grown naturally even if it has rolled around in the dirt.  This is a key point as in order to make a yeast starter you must use organic apples and it is important NOT to wash them.   The yeast sits on the surface of the skin and if you wash them you will probably wash away all the natural yeast, defeating the object.  I learned this first hand as on my first attempt I did not get a fermentation reaction, the starter simply went moldy.    It was only after discussing this with my wife several days later when she said rather guiltily “you can’t eat apples that have not been washed!” that was when I realized what had happened….  

Benefits of making a yeast starter using organic apples
When you make a yeast starter this way you have taken the first step in making Hard Cider naturally and it has cost you only one apple.  Historically this was the way Cider was made before the advent of modern methods of processing and packaging yeast products.   The next point is admittedly subjective but those that have created a good batch of natural yeast starter will tell you that the taste of the resulting cider is quite different, more ‘appley’ and sweeter than when using packaged yeast.  This is certainly true in our experience, this effect being noticeable in the smell of the starter within just a few days of starting the fermenting process.

Problems of using a natural yeast starter from organic apples
It takes a little more effort to peel the apples and the result is unpredictable.  This is because there is no way to know what kind of yeast is on the apple and whether it has been contaminated with a disruptive bacteria.  By way of perspective though it’s worth noting that all organisms are carrying bacteria, all produce, all animals and people.  It’s in your body, on your skin and perfectly natural, in fact your body depends on them to function.  There is a growing weight of evidence that suggests that environments that are too clean can lead to illness and reduced ability to fight infection.  So the bacterial is natural and nothing to worry about.  Sometimes though there will be too much bacteria and too little natural yeast to ferment effectively.  When the apple peel is put into the apple juice the yeast will start to grow by processing the natural sugar in the apple juice and produce alcohol quickly reaching a tipping point and killing residual bacteria.  On the other hand, if there are too much bacteria and too little yeast the bacteria will multiply and the juice will go bad before the yeast has multiplied sufficiently.  Which way this process will go is inherently unpredictable.   Each apple you purchase will have a different type and quantity of yeast and bacteria on its surface.  The part of the country the apples were grown in, where you live and the time of the year will all play a part in what type of bacteria your apples are exposed to.  

The good news

Once you have a good yeast starter it can be stored and reused many times, so you only have to do this once.  Also as it is the yeast starter that is the foundation of the Hard Cider you eventually make it is worth taking the time to get a good one.  Whether or not a yeast starter is going to be good is usually quickly apparent, so you will not waste too much time on a duff batch.  You should be able to smell the difference between a good batch and a bad one within just a few days.  This is one of the reasons we recommend that when starting a batch of natural yeast starter you get at least four going at once using different apples.  You will be able to discern the bad from the good by comparison.  Also, as long as at least two or more are successful you will have more than enough and have the benefit of subtly different tasting Hard Ciders.

Key points
Use organic apples, do not wash them and get several different batches going at once.

Purchased yeast starter
There are quite a few different products available of this type.  Typically they are dried and sold in small sachets and are relatively inexpensive.  They are usually formulated to produce a certain type of wine, beer or champagne.  Generally wine or champagne yeast can be used to Make Hard Cider.  However the resulting Hard Cider is usually quite different and often fairly dry and wine like.  There are a few places selling yeast specially for making Hard Cider but in our experience we have not found them significantly different from champagne yeast.  Hence we recommend purchasing at least one of any kind and getting it going alongside the natural batches, this will give you something to compare to.  

Benefits of making a yeast starter with a commercial yeast product
Generally the results are more reliable, predictable and the fermentation process will be likely to take off more quickly.

The downside of making a yeast starter with a commercial yeast product
The resulting brew tastes quite different, dryer and less ‘appley’ though it has to be said that some people prefer this result.   In the opinion of the authors it is however less interesting and satisfying than making cider with purely natural ingredients.  

Key points
Create at least one batch of yeast starter from purchased yeast to act as a comparison to your natural starters.

Recipe Process

1.    Buy four different types of organic apples and 5 gallons of apple juice, make sure they are 100% juice, not “from concentrate”.  Also be sure that they are preservative free; if the juice has preservatives in it, it will kill the yeast and therefore be a non-starter!  If this in not made clear on the label it is worth taking the time to call the supplier to check.  We have successfully used the Kirkland brand found at Costco.

2.    Sanitize all your bottles and utensils.

3.    Pour your apple juice from one of the gallon bottles into five plastic soda bottles half filling each (2 liter size).

4.    Peel each of the four apples and pop the peel from each apple into a different bottle (ie one apple type per bottle, don’t mix them).  You can go ahead and eat the peeled apples as it is only the peel that is used.  Seal each and put them somewhere warm away from direct light.  Pick the location carefully, you will want to get to them easily and examine them each day for about a week.  Depending on the time of year and your local climate this may vary, in the winter we have found that a kitchen cupboard above a forced air vent worked particularly well.

5.    Add your purchased yeast as directed on the packet (usually a small amount is all that is needed) into the fifth bottle, seal and place with the rest.

6.    Label each bottle with the date and type of apple or yeast starter.

7.    After about 1-4 days you will notice that the bottles get very hard and you should notice the fermentation process taking place.  Now this is where things will get interesting!  You will probably find that the purchased yeast will start first.  You are also likely to find quite a difference in how quickly the fermentation process kicks off in each bottle.  Also, as the fermentation process starts you should notice that the peel will rise to the surface.

8.    Carefully release the pressure on the bottles that go hard by partly unscrewing the cap and smell the gases that escape.  If all is well you will notice a fairly strong and health ‘appley’ yeast smell.  You will also see a fuzzy cloud of froth on the surface of the juice.  If one or more of the starters do not start within 5 days then the most likely reason is that the temperature is too low or the juice has preservatives in it.  It is usually pretty apparent if there is too much bacteria in the any of the starters as the smell will be quite different and noticeably unpleasant, you may even see green or brown mold forming.  This is another reason why getting five batches going at once is a good idea as you will notice the difference between a good batch and a bad one by comparison.  Expect to have some failures here but don’t despair as you only need two good ones to be successful. Each gallon of apple juice will require about half a liter of starter, hence3 filling half a 2 liter bottle with apple juice and peel to get enough starter for 2 gallons.

9.    Check them every day and release the pressure on each as necessary.  Once you have a starter which has been fermenting this way for 4-5 days, usually around 5-8 days total, it is ready for the next stage.

10.    Carefully transfer the successful yeast starters into the one gallon demijohns, using a sieve to catch the peel.  We are assuming that you will have at least one, and worst case three, failures therefore you will either pour one starter into each demijohn or half of each (half a liter) into each.  In either case it should be enough (don’t forget to make sure everything has been sanitized.)

11.    Add the juice from the rest of the gallon bottles filling each demijohn to about an inch short of the top.  It is usually best to siphon the juice into each as the object is not to aerate the juice as which is too easy to do when pouring a gallon of juice and if the juice is exposed to too much air you increase the risk of adding harmful bacteria to the mix.

12.    Attach a fermentation trap to each demijohn making sure that there is a small air gap under the trap.
13.    Make sure you label each bottle so that you can keep track of which type of apples you used and which is the batch with the purchased starter.

14.    Place the demijohns back in a warm place away from direct light.  The temperate of this location will make a difference to the result and how fast the fermentation takes place.  Some people prefer to make a slow fermented Hard Cider some just want to get the result quickly.  We have found that anywhere from 65F (18C) – 80F (26C) is ideal.  The higher temperate producing a much more vigorous fermentation.  Generally, you will notice fermentation starting with 2-4 days and ideally you want to let it go for another 3-6 days.  Once the fermentation slows it is time for the final stage.

15.    Siphon the fermented cider into one or half liter plastic soda bottles adding about half to a full teaspoon of sugar to each.  Again be sure to label each as you go, there is nothing more frustrating than mixing up your batches at this point.  Seal the bottles and put them back into a warm place.  Be sure to check them regularly as the sugar will re-initiate the fermentation.  As soon as the bottles get hard put them into the refrigerator and this will stall the fermentation process.   This step adds a little extra alcohol and naturally carbonates the cider.

Your Hard Cider is now ready to enjoy and is likely to be about 2-3% alcohol.

Considerations and variations
Now this is when the fun really starts.  When you have done this once you will have gained a great insight into the process and no doubt have an opinion as to what type of cider you prefer.

We like to use plastic bottles as that allows us to know when the time is right to refrigerate without opening them.  All you have to do is squeeze the bottle, if it’s hard, it’s ready.  Also as we are recycling soda bottles, they are effectively free.  Another problem with glass bottles is that they require a special gadget to cap them; they typically do not have a screw top and can explode if left unattended in a warm location.  Because this process takes place over several days it is easy to forget to check on them.

Re-using the Starter

You do not have to go through the starter creation process each time you want to make Hard Cider, you can use your successful batch of cider to kick off your next batch or even make a much larger quantity.    You will be left with some sediment in the bottom of each demijohn.  If you liked the cider DO NOT THROW THIS SEDIMENT AWAY.  Instead leave about an inch of liquid on the bottom of the demijohn and pour as much of it as you can into a plastic soda bottle, making sure to avoid too much air space.  This is now your starter for your next batch.  It will keep quite well for several weeks in your refrigerator.  When you are ready to start a new batch, add some fresh apple juice and repeat the starter process if you want to create a greater volume of starter.  As you now know what the cider will be like from this particular yeast starter and you can be sure no bacteria has contaminated it you will be much more likely to get a consistent result.

More experimentation
It is however a lot of fun to repeat the 4-5 batch process adding further variations.  Use Pear or Mango Juice instead of Apple for example.  Try a brown sugar or add cinnamon.  Add additional sugar during the fermentation phase.  Allow the juice to ferment longer in the second stage.  This is done by placing it in a medium warm place, adding sugar and releasing pressure regularly.  This will produce a more alcoholic and less sweet result and be the subject of further articles.                        

Gluten free?

All of the ingredients; apples, apple juice, yeast and sugar are by nature gluten free.  

Share your experience

Have you produced your own natural yeast starter?  Do you prefer one type over another?  Have you had a failure or have you achieved great results?  We are interested in your experiences, whether good, bad, fun or mishap. Share your experience, either comment below or use the contact us link to submit your story.


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This entry was posted on Sunday, July 26th, 2009 at 10:30 am and is filed under Hard Cider Recipes, Hard Cider Yeast, Homemade Cider, How To Hard Make Cider, How To Make Cider, Make Apple Cider, Make Cider, Make Hard Apple Cider, Make Hard Cider, Make Hard Cider Easy, Make Hard Cider Yeast, Make Your Own Cider, Make Your Own Hard Cider. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 comments so far


i actually have a question now i have brewed cider before a nice sweet cider bought the yeast form the store and the one thing i never fully understood was yeast and its alchohal rating it said on the package 18 percent achohal tolerance what does h mean? does it mean that the yeast will produce a cider thats 18 percent alchohal then die? i was curious i am looking to make a strong cider. but have no clue how to know which to make please help me

February 5th, 2010 at 3:09 am

Yes James, you have it right. Essentially a key difference with purchased yeasts is that they are usually cultured for reliability and alcohol tolerance. The catch is in my opinion that the result is often more wine like than cider like. So it really depends whether your goal is to produce a product with a high abv or simply very applely tasting hard cider but with a lower abv.

February 9th, 2010 at 8:54 pm

How much starter yeast is required to get a one gallon carboy going? Do you need to use the entire 1 liter or starter yeast? How much would be needed for a 5 gallon carboy?

July 25th, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Thanks for the great and encouraging site. There is lots of great advice and information. I press apples I get for free–trying to find and use a mix of varieties and crab apples. There is a lot of advice out there on the internet on how to achieve traditional cider flavors through blending of varieties. I’ve tried different purchased yeasts and did side-by-side comparisons with wild yeasts. I like the wild yeast much better. Anyone who chooses to ferment cider should realize that using different yeasts will yield different tasting results. I’ve found that wild yeasts taste most like apples and that champagne yeasts or beer or wine yeasts make the cider taste like wine, champagne or beer. I appreciate your advice for making wild yeast starters. It really improves the chance of getting things off to a good start. I recommend trying wild yeasts! Don’t be afraid of a little experimentation. With a little searching you may find orchards with presses and cider for sale, presses to rent at local beer or wine making stores, free apples for the picking, and other enthusiasts willing to share expertise or equipment. Remember that it is the traditional way of doing it and that people have been doing it that way, using wild yeasts for centuries–without fancy devices, electricity or manufactured yeasts. Consider yeast nutrients as well.
Thanks again! I love your blog. It’s nice to know that hard cider is being crafted and that enthusiasts exist!

October 30th, 2010 at 10:19 pm
Chef Deetz

What an amazing site!!!!
Very well done!!!

I can not wait to start!!

January 4th, 2012 at 11:25 am

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