Initially I was afraid of making hard cider. As a homebrewer without a kegging setup, I had no way to make the carbonated cider I was used to drinking without also fermenting away all of the sugar. I tried backsweetening, only to push the fermentation further and produce 10% ABV apple wine that was bone dry. I tried adding flavors like vanilla and cinnamon, only to overdo it and ruin the final product. After a few early attempts, I gave up for a while.

But it’s been a few years. I’ve matured as a brewer and as a person. I’ve accepted that tasty still cider is better than crappy sparkling cider. And I got a uKeg pressurized growler as a gift, so I was able to have a small taste of the carbonated cider dream. So when I took home a gallon of leftover apple cider after the holidays, I figured I’d give this hard cider thing another shot.

Hard cider is very simple: pour the cider, pitch the yeast, and wait!

It turns out that hard cider is quite easy to make, if you don’t overthink it. It doesn’t even involve a boiling step! Just add the cider to your sanitized fermentor, pitch your yeast, and wait. Carbonation is optional, so don’t think of it as a requirement. And if you want to backsweeten, grab some potassium sorbate to prevent further fermentation and experiment with different juices to create the perfect blend of flavors.

The American Homebrewers Association has an excellent step-by-step tutorial for making hard cider. I’ll recap some of the steps below.


Style Standard Cider (BJCP C1)
Recipe Type Cider
Batch Size 1 Gallon (more if you backsweeten)
Original Gravity 1.052
Final Gravity 1.000 (before backsweetening), ~1.020 (after)
ABV 6.8% (before backsweetening), ~4.2% (after)


All you really need to make hard cider is cider, yeast, and time.

Kind Amount
Apple Juice or Cider 1 Gallon
Kind Amount
Vintner’s Harvest SN9 1 packet

At a minimum, cider and yeast is all you need! You can use any preservative-free apple juice or cider as a base. The yeast is also flexible, but the SN9 was recommended to me by the owner of my local homebrew shop. If you decide to backsweeten, grab the apple or other fruit juice(s) of your choice. I went with more apple juice and some white grape juice.


Your base cider is likely already pasteurized, so it should be safe to ferment it without boiling first. Boiling can add a “cooked” taste to your cider, so you’ll want to avoid that if possible. Just add the cider to the sanitized fermentor, let it reach room temperature, and pitch the yeast. Take a gravity reading first if you want to measure your ABV later. Seal up the fermentor, shake it up to aerate, and let it do its thing for at least two weeks. Afterwards, you can transfer to secondary for additional aging or prepare for bottling.

The cider after several weeks of fermentation. Tastes dry (like wine) because so much of the sugar has been converted into alcohol.

If I bottled my cider directly, I’d end up with a very dry, sparkling hard cider. That didn’t seem like its maximum flavor potential, so I decided to backsweeten the cider. I added 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate to the fermentor and let it sit for 24 hours. Then I experimented with different blends of the hard cider with apple juice and white grape juice. I settled on an 4:1:1 ratio of hard cider to apple juice to grape juice. I put most of the cider in growlers to remain still, but I put some in my uKeg for a few days to carbonate.

My makeshift flavor blending lab. I mixed the hard cider with apple and grape juice to find a flavor balance I enjoyed.


Tasting the pre-sweetened hard cider was… underwhelming. It had very little apple flavor or sweetness left, and the color went from a rich dark brown to a pale yellow. I was very happy that I tried backsweetening this time around, because it made a world of difference. The white grape juice added vanilla notes and some smoothness, and I even thought I tasted oak like in a Chardonnay. The apple juice added back the apple flavor and full body that I expected in a sweet hard cider. And the uKeg was clutch for carbonation, letting me achieve my sparkling cider dream.

The final cider after backsweetening. Still pale yellow, but with a much sweeter and rounded-out flavor.

Now that I know hard cider isn’t impossible to get right, I’ll be making more small batches in the future. The easiest thing would be to experiment with different fruit juices when backsweetening to create a wide variety of flavors. I also want to try a variety of different yeasts; maybe Beligian yeast would add some interesting spice character. Or maybe adding actual baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg is the way to go. So many possibilities!