Here in Sonoma County there is an abundance of apples to make hard cider with in the summer and fall. However, a lot of people like to try their hand at fermenting apple juice in small quantities before advancing to five or ten gallon batches which takes more of an investment in apples, equipment, and time.
It also gives you the opportunity to try out different yeast strains, juice blends, enhancement products and ingredients (honey, fruit, oak, hops...etc.) on smaller batches to determine their contributions before applying them to larger volumes. If making apple cider vinegar is your goal, making hard cider is the first step. Small batch cider making is also logistically easier (less volume = less weight to move = less space needed and less work overall). Also, with such small investments in juice ($5-10 per gallon), losing a batch isn’t the end of the world. Larger batches have their advantages though in the long run as they tend to age better with less oxidation due to the smaller surface area to volume ratio. And at the end of it all, it is nice to have several cases of cider to enjoy.
The same rules apply when making small batches of cider (click here for full instructions).
Topping Up the Carboy is Important
BAD: The container on the left is not topped up. Large head space.
GOOD: The container on the right is topped up. Small head space.
There are many yeasts to choose from when making hard cider - our Cider Yeast Guide provides descriptions and technical specifications.
Wine making yeast are generally the go-to choice, but ale yeast can be used to make good cider too. Our perennial favorite cider yeast here at the shop is M2; it is known for its expression of pineapple, citrus, and blossom notes and for accentuating volume in the mouthfeel. DV10 or Prise de Mouse (EC118) are Champagne-style yeasts that can also be a good choice, but these clean fermenting yeast take more of a ‘hands-off’ approach and do not add character nor body to the cider. We have also experimented with the French Saison strain from Wyeast, but surprisingly found that it produced little of the fruit and spice character that it is known for in ales. Another ale yeast that the staff here at The Beverage People agreed made a good fruity cider was the London ESB strain from Wyeast.
Other Ingredients and Enhancement Products
Small batch hard cider production lends itself to experimenting with interesting ingredients and enhancement products. A few that are worth a try are listed below.
Total or Titratable acidity can be cheaply and easily measured in juice or in hard cider with an acid test kit. Note that this is different than the pH of a juice or hard cider. Titratable acidity has to do with how bright or dull a juice is perceived to be, based on the amount of acid it contains (further discussion here). When a juice is out of range, it can be adjusted by adding a food grade acid (like malic or tartaric) or neutralized with potassium bicarbonate. Store bought juice will generally be low in acid and will benefit from an adjustment.
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Aromas of melons and strawberries.