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How to Make Cider from Apple Juice

A scientist turned engineer, Dave started making wine in 1970. His approach combines simplicity with sound scientific principles.

How to make Cider from Supermarket Ingredients

Cider is easier to make at home than either wine or beer and makes a very pleasant alternative, especially on a warm summer evening. To make cider traditionally, you need fresh cider apples and a heavy-duty screw press. To make it even more traditionally, you need a barn, a large oak cask that you can call a hogshead if you must, sackfuls of cider apples, a huge granite mill wheel and channel, and a horse that doesn't mind walking in circles for a few hours.

Alternatively, you can use supermarket apple juice and dried baker's yeast.

What You'll Need

Pop down to the supermarket and get a large plastic flagon (about 64 oz or 2 liters) of pure apple juice (not a cardboard carton) and a packet of dried baker's yeast. The brand of apple juice doesn't matter, but make sure there are no added preservatives, as these could prevent it from fermenting. (Some additional vitamin C is no problem.) If there are no preservatives, the juice will usually have been pasteurised to stabilise it. This gives it a darker colour than fresh juice, but we can live with that.

You will also need a teaspoon and a drinking straw, but you probably have these already! If you like, you can arrange everything neatly on the table and take a photograph like mine, but this step is entirely optional!

This is all you need.

This is all you need.

How to Do It

  1. Open the flagon and completely remove the inner foil seal (if any).
  2. With the drinking straw, enjoy the top two inches (5 cm) of apple juice. Waste not, want not! (The reason for this is to make a little room in the container.)
  3. Carefully tip half a level teaspoon of dried yeast onto the surface of the juice, but do not shake or stir.
  4. Replace the cap. Tighten it, then back it off a quarter turn to allow gas to escape.

And that is it! There is nothing more to do but wait (the entire process takes about five days), watch, and read my deathless prose...

Watch as the yeast quickly re-hydrates and expands across the surface, forming a slurry. The dormant yeast cells waken in a yeast heaven and soon start gorging on the sugar and nutrients in the juice and replicating like crazy. This is a yeast orgy. Clumps of cells start to break off and fall slowly to the bottom, where they carry on working on the fruit sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.

...five minutes after adding yeast, you'll see some action...

...five minutes after adding yeast, you'll see some action...

What Will Happen

After a few hours, the juice should be bubbling merrily, with a good head of froth on top. Baker's yeast tends to be a much faster starter than wine yeast and doesn't take long to get going. You'll notice that the juice has gone cloudy. This is normal. The yeast population is now far larger than the original teaspoonful and the rising carbon dioxide bubbles keep everything in motion.

The fermentation doesn't go on forever. After a few days, the available sugar is all used up, the bubbling stops, and the yeast cells start to drop to the bottom. It's impossible to say when this will happen as it depends on the sweetness of the original juice, the strain of yeast, the ambient temperature, and several other factors.

  • When the fermentation has slowed to one or two bubbles per second, typically after five days, taste it using a drinking straw. It should be fairly dry. If it is still sweet, try again in 24 hours.
  • When you're happy with the dryness, tighten the cap and put the flagon in the refrigerator (not the freezer!) This will help it to fall clear.

The cider is already ready for drinking but will look and taste better after a couple of days in the fridge. It doesn't matter if it is not completely clear. There is nothing unwholesome about a little yeast. After all, you eat it every day in bread. Some commercial ciders of the scrumpy style are traditionally served cloudy. Always keep the flagon in the fridge until serving. This prevents any risk of exploding flagons if you've been in too much of a hurry. When serving, pour carefully to avoid disturbing the sediment.

If you have judged your end point well, it will have a slight sparkle when poured, giving a freshness to the taste. If you left it a little too late, it will be still and dry, but perfectly drinkable. On the other hand, if you refrigerated it too soon, it will be sweeter and a little frothy.

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...after 24 hours, the liquid will appear frothy (the process will take approximately 5 days).

...after 24 hours, the liquid will appear frothy (the process will take approximately 5 days).

Cider Apples?

Cider apples are different from both dessert and cooking apples. True cider apples are extremely hard, even when ripe. When crushed in a mill, the juice runs clear. The softer dessert and cooking varieties tend to crush to a sloppy pulp with cloudy juice which is no good for cider.

Supermarket apple juices are not made from cider apples, but they are extracted and cleared using hi-tech centrifuge and filtering techniques that are not available to the amateur. Be grateful they have done the hard work for you!

Explanations, Hints, and Tips

This method was designed to work with no special equipment and with baker's yeast. In some parts of the world, such as the Middle East, wine yeast is not available. But if you do have access to wine yeast it will give a higher quality cider.

Sterilisation is vital if you are making cider by traditional methods. However, in my method you start with a sealed, sterile juice flagon and ferment in situ opening the top only for the minute it takes to remove some juice and add the yeast. Spoilage is highly unlikely.

Why not stir the yeast in? By floating the yeast on the surface, the growth process starts locally in the concentrated slurry that forms when the yeast absorbs the liquid and re-hydrates. A blanket of carbon dioxide soon forms which forces the air out of the flagon and protects the juice from oxidation. If you stir the yeast in, the start will be slower and the protection less.

Temperature: Warm room temperature is best. Shirt sleeves temperature, if you like. If the juice has been in a fridge, don't start and don't open it until it has warmed up to room temperature.

Sunlight: Yeast doesn't like sunlight. It's best not to place the flagon on the windowsill. Having said that, it doesn't need to be kept in the dark either.

Quantity: One flagon (64 oz or 2 liters) of cider is not very much. If you want to make a larger amount in a single batch, start by kicking off one flagon exactly as described above. When it is going well, say after 48 hours, transfer it to a larger vessel and pour in more juice, remembering to leave a couple of inches air space at the top. Cap it and back off the cap as before, to let gas escape. After that, proceed exactly as with the single flagon. But if you are going to do this, you should sterilise the large vessel before use.

Alternatively, if one flagon isn't enough, start two, three, five, or ten! The great advantage of fermenting in the original container is that there are no sterilisation worries.

Alcoholic Content: The alcoholic strength of this cider depends on the sweetness of the original juice. Typically it will lie in the range 4 to 6% ABV (alcohol by volume), or about the same as a medium-strong beer. You can increase the alcohol by adding sugar at the start, but this increases the chances of stopping the fermentation early, leaving an oversweet drink, because of the relatively low alcohol tolerance of baker's yeast. I prefer to accept the natural strength as it comes.

Still, Flat, or Sparkling: No one talks about still beer. If beer has no bubbles, it is called flat, not still, and flat beer is to nobody's liking. That is because beer is made from grain and contains little or no acid. It needs the carbon dioxide gas to give it sharpness or life. Cider, made from apple juice, contains malic acid. This lends a freshness to the taste, even in the absence of gas. So still cider is an accepted style, while flat beer is always a failure.

Quality: This cider is not meant to win any prizes. Better results can be obtained with fresh apples, wine yeast, and a great deal more work and knowledge. But you can be assured that it is perfectly wholesome because you know exactly what went into it: no preservatives, no chemicals, just juice and yeast.

Cheers! And thanks for reading!

Questions & Answers

Question: I followed the recipe to the letter. It is now in my glass. It is sour as freak but that's still drinkable. I mixed two different kinds of apple juice. Both were pure. It tastes a little bit on the weak side. But as I get to the bottom of my glass it picks up and I can taste the alcohol. Am I imagining my cider's weakness or is something else making it weka?

Answer: Apple juice contains acid (mostly malic acid) and sugar. When you drink it as juice, the sweetness balances the sourness of the acid. When you ferment out all the sugar, you taste the sour malic acid. Experiment with different apple juices. Some are less acidic than others. Second question: when freshly poured, there is maximum dissolved and bubbling CO₂ which adds to the sharpness. By the bottom of the glass, it is flatter and so will taste different.

Question: Can this cider recipe also be used for store-bought apple and blackcurrant juice?

Answer: Yes it can. But read the label carefully to make sure there are no preservatives in the juice.

Question: I made my first batch of the cider and it worked great! Can I add some sugar to this cider recipe and how much would you, the writer of this article, recommend? Or could I add a couple of raisins to the apple juice? Also when we finished our first batch, the yeast had settled at the bottom of the bottle, making the last bit undrinkable. Would you recommend rebottling the cider into other bottles after the 5 days?

Answer: If you add sugar (or raisins) before it is perfectly clear with no haze or sediment it will simply start to ferment and will end up dry again and a bit stronger. Options: you can sweeten it with sugar just before drinking it; you can sweeten it with an artificial sweetener which won't ferment; or, you can add a chemical stabilizer (I prefer not to do this). It is good practice to pour the clear cider off its sediment into new bottles especially if you are planning to keep it for a few weeks.

Question: I bought an apple and lemon mix juice and added 200 mg of sugar and yeast. It has been fermenting for the last 3 days. Should I wait longer or will it be ready?

Answer: I'm assuming you mean 200 grams, not 200 milligrams? If so, it is far too much sugar for a cider. What is the total quantity of juice? I'd suggest leaving it to ferment until it stops which could be weeks, then treat it with some respect as a strange wine. Meanwhile, why not buy some pure apple juice and follow the method in the article?

Question: I did all of this and then got to the part where it said to wait if the juice was refrigerated. I think you should maybe put that at the beginning, but I don't know if it will work. Do you think it will?

Answer: Yes, it will work but will take a little longer to start. Thanks for the suggestion. I'll fix the article.

Question: Can this cider be left longer to turn it into apple cider vinegar? And is or are there any other processes involved?

Answer: If over-exposed to the air during and after fermentation it might turn into vinegar, if infected with airborne acetobacter bacteria. However, this is a hit & miss process and not to be recommended.

Question: How to get rid of the alcohol in the apple cider? The cider bought in the supermarket has no alcohol.

Answer: Cider, for hundreds of years, has been an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting fresh apple juice. In most countries, supermarkets sell true cider. Removal of alcohol from fermented cider (or beer) is an industrial process that cannot be replicated on a domestic scale.

Question: So, my flagon (bottle) for making cider, and it has been sitting for 5 days and still has a slurry on top. It's clear otherwise. Should I fridge it to help move slurry to the bottom?

Answer: If it is still bubbling you can leave it a day or two longer. If not, put it in the fridge for two or three days. The slurry is just yeast and will do you no harm.

Question: How long will the cider last once made and in the fridge?

Answer: Unopened, it can last in the fridge for several months. Once opened, I'd recommend using it within a week.

Question: Will it make a difference in the taste of the cider to use cider yeast? I've had a taste and it seems OK. Will cider yeast make any difference to the alcohol strength of the cider?

Answer: Cider yeast is best for cider if you can get it. It doesn't change the ABV (alcohol by volume) but could give a more authentic flavour. Wine yeast is also far better than baking yeast and easier to find than cider yeast.

Question: I can only get cardboard litre containers of apple juice here. If I sterilize a 2 litre glass wine bottle and start the fermentation, leave for 48 hours, can I then transfer to a 10 litre plastic (sterile) bottle adding 8 more litres of juice?

Answer: Yes, that will work fine. In the Middle East, they like their clear plastic juice bottles. They look good on supermarket shelves. But I've noticed in UK we've moved away from plastic to help save the planet. Just make sure the juice you use is free of preservatives.

Question: How would adding 200g of granulated sugar affect the cider?

Answer: Most apple juices will give you a cider of around 5% ABV without sugar addition. Adding sugar will increase the fermentation time and result in a stronger cider, but it would taste unbalanced and too alcoholic. I prefer to use natural apple juice, unsweetened.

Question: I have started with 5 liters in a plastic container. I used 2 and a half teaspoons yeast. The container looks a bit puffy. Do I let some gas escape my cider bottle by loosening the lid a little?

Answer: Never ferment in a fully closed container. The screw cap should always be backed off enough to let gas escape. Take care when you release the pressure! By the way, you don't need to use so much yeast.

Question: Can cider be stored out of the fridge once it's been made like wine can?

Answer: Yes, it can. At room temperature, it will continue to ferment right through to dryness and will build up CO2 pressure in the bottle. This will make it sparkle when opened. But be careful not to close the cap too soon or the pressure could burst the bottles.

Question: When I make the bigger version, once I have poured it over into the bigger container and added more juice, I then add more yeast on top I assume?

Answer: You should never have to make a second addition of yeast. The actively fermenting yeast colony simply expands to colonize the increased quantity of juice.

Question: Can I put the end product of this cider recipe into a SodaStream and inject some life?

Answer: Yes, you can. If you are going to do this, let it ferment to dryness first so it is completely flat and still.

Question: I tried your method with out-of-date apple juice. It wasn't doing much so I added about 1/2 tsp. sugar. I left it for 6 days. It seems OK but I think I got a hard cider! Is this safe to use in cooking?

Answer: Six days is long enough for it to have fermented to dryness. It is probably OK, if the 'out of date' apple juice had not been opened, but I can't guarantee that! Always better to use fresh ingredients in the future.

Question: How long will it take for wine yeast to start fermenting?

Answer: It usually starts within a few hours.

Question: How long will it last being stored and does it need to be stored in the fridge?

Answer: If you want to store it, pour it off its sediment into fresh plastic soda bottles and cap tightly. Keep it away from sunlight. It doesn't need to be stored in the fridge and will keep for several months unopened.

Question: I've bottled my first attempt and siphoned into sanitized 500ml coke bottles. While siphoning it tasted quite fine. I did add a bit of sugar before siphoning and bottling. I put them in the fridge and have noticed there is still a bit of sediment on the bottom of the bottles. Is sediment at the bottom of bottled beer normal and can I try and drink it now?

Answer: The sediment is only yeast and is nothing to worry about. But if you added sugar before bottling it is likely to referment in the bottles, especially if you keep them at room temperature. If you added too much sugar, the bottles could burst. Refrigerate before opening, open carefully, and you should be OK.

Question: Would Tesco 100% Pure Pressed Apple & Raspberry Juice 1L be all right for making cider?

Answer: If there are no additional preservatives or anti-oxidants, it should be OK. Read all the small print and if there are no unwanted extras, give it a go.

© 2011 Dave McClure

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