Small Batch Hard Cider Experiments


Small Batch Hard Cider Experimentation

by Clare Speichinger


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). 

  1. Start with the fermentation in a container larger than your volume of juice to be fermented to accommodate foaming.
  2. Use 1 gram of yeast per gallon of juice.
  3. Use yeast nutrients to avoid Hydrogen Sulfide (rotten egg smell) production.
  4. After primary fermentation, make sure containers are topped-up (filled up to the neck, minimizing surface area in contact with air). See photo below.
  5. Use sulfites to help prevent spoilage and oxidation while aging.
  6. Test and adjust total acidity.
  7. Use clean and sanitized equipment.
  8. Take notes so that results can be repeated or avoided! Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols has a good cider log template.

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.

Yeast Choice

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.


Perceived Acidity

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.

Small Batch cider making is a great way to get into the hobby.  High quality juice is readily available year-round and can give you insight into the production and ingredients that can be valuable if and when you decide to ramp up production.  Come by the shop and we can help you get started!


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