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The Green Life: Beginner’s Guide to Home Brewing: Hard Cider

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September 17, 2013

Beginner’s Guide to Home Brewing: Hard Cider

1 gallon of home brew with airlockIt's apple harvest season, which is a perfect time for the fledgling brewer to try making hard cider. Home brewing offers the chance to make your own fresh organic drink that's preservative-free and low on sulfites (some sulfites will naturally occur during fermentation). Bonus: This tasty beverage is gluten-free.

First Timer's Hard Cider

yield: one gallon

Ingredients and Supplies:

1 clean glass gallon jug
1 gallon of organic, unpasteurized, preservative-free apple juice with no added sugar
2 cups of sugar 
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 pinch whole cloves
1 balloon
1 rubber band
1 packet of bread yeast


If you have a brew store in your area, substitute the following items:

1 airlock and stopper to replace the balloon and rubber band (Consult the brew-store owner on proper use.)

1 packet of wine yeast to replace the bread yeast (Côte Des Blancs wine yeast works well but ask the store owner about other yeasts that may fit a taste, body, and alcohol content you prefer.)

The amount of sugar you add to the brew before fermentation is one factor that will dictate the cider's alcohol content. In addition, different yeast and sugar combinations will produce variations in final alcohol content, body, and taste. While we cannot give you exact numbers, rough estimates are as follows:

0 added sugar ≅ 5% alcohol

1 cup added sugar ≅ 8.5% alcohol

2 cups added sugar ≅ 12% alcohol  


Combine juice and sugar into the jug and shake until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Add a couple of whole cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.

Activate the yeast by following the instructions on the back of the packet. Add the prepared yeast to the jug and shake it to mix. 

Secure the balloon to the mouth of the jug and add the rubber band to keep it in place. While the yeast in the cider is eating sugars, it will be emitting gases, which will fill the balloon. Occasionally release the gas by moving the rubber band and pulling the balloon from the mouth of the jug.

Leave the cider undisturbed in a dark, warm place to help fermentation and allow any sediment to settle to the bottom of the jug. Check on the jug occasionally to let gas out of the balloon.

After about 2 weeks, the balloon should no longer be filling with gas, which will mean your brew has finished fermenting. Leaving your cider longer, however, allows sediment to settle and increases clarity.

Now with the fermentation complete, siphon off your hard cider leaving behind any muck.

For light carbonation, return the cider to the clean jug with a few tablespoons of sugar and seal it with the cap it came with. Return it to a dark, warm place for a few days.

Finally, take a sip. Add some sugar to taste and serve warm, cold, or mulled with spices.

--image by istock/Michael Westhoff

James Rogers is an editorial intern at Sierra. He graduated from Western Washington University's Huxley College of the Environment where he studied a combination of environmental studies and journalism. While at Western, he was the editor-in-chief of The Planet magazine and has written for Conservation Northwest Quarterly, Public Eye Northwest and The Western Front.


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