Cider kits are one of the easiest ways of making cider at home. Even if you've never done home brew before, it's hard to go wrong. Cider kits contain concentrated apple extract, a packet of yeast and instructions. Some may come with extra ingredients, such as flavourings and yeast nutrient.
Cider kits generally fall into two camps; budget kits which tend to weigh around 1.5 to 1.8kg and consist of a single can, and premium kits, which start at 3kg and contain two cans, or pouches. Single can kits will require the addition of extra fermentable sugar, as the premium kits already contain two cans of concentrate, in most cases, no additional sugar is required.
This guide works for both budget and premium kits, the only difference will be if you need to add any extra sugar. It's worth calibrating your fermentation vessel before you first use it, so that you have accurate measurements, as the printed markings are not always reliable. To do this, either weigh jugs of water (1 litre = 1kg) or use water bottles of a known size, say 2 litres. Use a permanent marker to mark off the values in one or two litre increments. You don’t need to do them all, but it’s worth making sure you have 19, 21 and 23 litres marked, as these are the most common volumes you will be brewing.
The most important part of home brewing, before you even think of making any cider, wine, beer etc. is sterilisation. Every single item of equipment you use has to be clean and sterile before use, including tin openers, spoons, fermentation vessel (FV) and so on. Because your unfermented cider (must) is warm and contains a lot of sugar, it is an ideal environment for bacteria or other bugs to grow and the only thing we want to live in the cider is our cider yeast. There are a number of sterilisers you can buy, but VWP is widely used because it is both a cleaner and steriliser. It is chlorine-based, so you do need to rinse all your equipment thoroughly with clean water, to avoid any chlorine smell or taste in your cider. If you bought one of our starter packs, then this will include a small tub or packet of cleaner & steriliser to get you started. We also stock no-rinse sanitisers, which although more expensive, are much easier to use.
If using VWP, make up a gallon (4.5 litres) or so of cleaner & steriliser inside your fermentation vessel and give it a good swirl round. You can use a soft cloth to clean the surfaces, but never use a scouring pad or anything that can scratch the plastic. Put your spoons, tin opener and any other equipment in the steriliser for a minute or so, too. It's handy to sterilise the fermentation vessel lid, then use that as a sterile surface to rest your spoons, etc. on, once you have cleaned them. Give everything a good rinse with clean tap water to remove any steriliser, before proceeding to the next step.
Put your cider kit can(s) in a washing up bowl. Fill the bowl with hot water, to soften the liquid inside the can. Move the cans around every few minutes, to ensure the contents are warmed up. After 10 minutes or so, the cans will be ready to use. In the meantime, boil up as much water as needed in the cider kit's instructions, in most cases, around 3.5 litres and sterilise your can opener, if you haven't already done so.
Open the cider kit can and tip it into the fermentation vessel (FV). Once most of the concentrate has come out of the can, add a litre of your boiled water to the empty can/ and give it a stir with a sterilised spoon, to dissolve any remaining concentrate, then add it to the FV. You may need to use oven gloves to pick up the can! Do this for as many cans as you are using, then if you need to, add more boiling water until you have added as much as the cider kit's instructions require.
Now you should have about 6 litres of apple concentrate and hot water in the fermentation vessel. Using a sterilised spoon, give it a good stir, making sure to scrape any concentrate off the bottom of the FV, until it is all dissolved. Don't skimp on this step, or you will affect your hydrometer reading (step 7).
Now you need to add cold water, to bring the level up to the total required amount. For a standard 40-pint kit, you need to top up to 23 litres, but for other kits, check the exact amount as you may need as little as 18 litres in total. If you are normally happy to drink your tap water, then you can use this for your cider. However, if you find your water is heavily chlorinated, you may want to use bottled water. We always use bottled water to brew our cider as it tastes much better!
Now that you've added all the extra water, you need to give it a really good stir, to make sure that the concentrate is properly mixed. Use a sterilised beer paddle or spoon and stir vigorously and try to get as much air into the mix as you can. After a few minutes, you should end up with a nice big froth on the top.
Now that everything is thoroughly mixed, it's time to take a hydrometer reading. By comparing this reading with one after fermentation has finished, you will be able to determine the alcohol content of the finished cider. If your fermentation vessel is fitted with a tap, draw off a sample into a trial jar. If your fermentation vessel doesn't have a tap, then use a sterilised turkey baster or pipette to take a sample. Once you have enough liquid in the trial jar, add your hydrometer and give it a spin to remove any bubbles, which could give a false reading. Take a reading from the liquid's surface.
Now it is time to add the yeast. Check the instructions that came with the cider kit. Most cider kit yeasts can be added dry, but some require you to rehydrate them in warm water first. If no rehydration is needed, carefully cut a corner off the sachet and sprinkle onto the top of the must. Leave for a few minutes, then gently stir in.
Fermenting cider needs to be kept at a specific temperature for best results, the optimum temperature is 18°-20°C, and the maximum is 22°C. If your brewing area is too cold, a heated brew belt may be needed.
The final step is to ensure that the lid of the fermentation lid is firmly clipped down and to fit an airlock, part-filled with water. An airlock helps to show that fermentation is active, as it will bubble as CO2 is released by the fermentation process, although you should always use a hydrometer to check if fermentation is complete. An airlock also helps to keep oxygen, bacteria, fruit flies and other unwanted items out of your cider.
Even though your cider kit instructions say the Cider may be ready in 4-5 days, we advise you to leave it for a full 2 weeks to finish fermenting. The only sure way to know if fermentation has completed, is to take a hydrometer reading. Your Cider kit instructions will tell you what reading to expect, but it will generally be around or below 1.000.
Once fermentation has completed, you can transfer the Cider to a bottles, adding 1 tsp of sugar per bottle. This will enable secondary fermentation to take place, which will carbonate your Cider (give it fizz). Carbonation should be done at room temperature and takes 1-2 weeks. While your Cider will be ready to drink after this time, you will find it tastes much, much better if allowed to condition in a cool area (ideally 13°C) for a minimum of 4 weeks and preferably 2 months. Bottle conditioned ciders will reach their optimum flavour at about 3 months old, so long as you can wait that long!
Q. Why isn’t the airlock bubbling?
A. Not all fermentation vessels have an airtight lid, so the CO2 produced by fermentation may be escaping from under the lid seal. The only way to check that fermentation has completed is to take a hydrometer reading. It may take up to 3 days for fermentation to start, so be paitent.
Q. What is all that froth and foam on my cider?
A. This is called the Kraüsen and is made up of yeast, and escaping CO2 gas. It is perfectly normal and shows that you have a good fermentation. It will normally subside after 1-2 days.
Q. My fermentation seems to have stopped and the hydrometer reading is around 1.020, what can I do?
A. The fermentation may have “stuck”. This can be because the temperature is too cold, there wasn’t enough air in the wort when you added the yeast, or the yeast was past its optimum use by date. Make sure that the temperature is between 18-22°C (ideally 20°C). You can try giving the cider a stir with a sterilised spoon, adding more yeast, or if all else fails add some Amylase, which will break down some of the sugars, enabling the yeast to digest them.
Q. How do I work out the strength of my cider?
A. You will need to take a hydrometer reading (Starting Gravity or SG) before you add the yeast and then a second one at the end of fermentation (Finishing Gravity or FG). Now use this formula:
ABV=(SG-FG) x 131.25
Q. I took a hydrometer reading after a week and my cider has finished fermenting, why should I wait 2 weeks?
A. Even though the yeast has finished fermenting, it still needs time to clear up some of the other compounds that we produced during the fermentation process. This will give your cider a better flavour. In addition, the longer you leave your cider, the more yeast will sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, giving you a clearer cider.
Q. I added too much/too little water to my cider, have I ruined it?
A. Probably not, so long as you were within 2-3 litres of the required amount. If you added too much, the cider will be a little understrength and will lose a bit of its flavour. You can try adding sugar or apple juice to increase the gravity. If you added too little water, the Cider will be stronger and have increased flavour. Either way, it’s not generally a disaster!