Cider making is actually a simple process and resembles wine making very closely. At the core (get it? lol), the process is press, ferment, rack, age and bottle. However, there are numerous branches (I could do this forever) that you can take while making cider. Some cider makers add nutrients or fining agents, while some don’t anything. There are also countless yeasts that can be added, or you can let nature take over and see what happens. I won’t get into the technical aspects or the chemistry as that would lead to a very long post. And don’t worry, the chemistry isn’t too scary. Without going into the weeds too much, I’ve outlined the basic steps.
Apples are hard. And even if you let them sweat (pressing after a few weeks of picking) they are still hard to press whole so you will need to grind them into pieces. Once the apples are in pieces, you can then press them and get some juice!
After you’ve gotten your juice, you have a choice to make. You can either add commercial yeast, which will give you a more reliable end product or you can allow the juice to naturally ferment. If you opt for natural, the end product will change from year to year depending on which strain of natural yeast is stronger.
If you are using commercial yeast, the fermentation process will be quick, up to 14 days depending on the room temperature. Natural fermentation takes longer to start and longer to finish.
Once your cider has finished fermenting, you’ll need to rack it either into bottles if you’re happy with it, or into another tank to age. A third option would be to leave it on the lees (dead yeast and apple pieces) but the longer you leave it sit, the more the cider will take on the taste and smell of the lees…. musty smell and taste.
Aging can be optional depending on what you cider is like after fermentation. If you taste it and it is good, you can bottle it right away. If it is sharp, you may want to let it sit in a tank or wine barrel for a few months to smooth out. This is very comparable to aging wine.
Once you’re happy, you bottle! At this point your cider is dry. There should be no residual sugar for the yeast left. And, your cider will be flat. Surprise! Cider isn’t normally carbonated. (Yes, there are natural ways but that’s another story.) Most commercial ciders are forced carbonated, like a giant soda stream.
If you like your cider carbonated, you can either invest in a kegging system or you can back sweeten. However, back sweetening can be risky as you need to make sure you don’t add too much and cause your bottles to explode, yes that happens and yes it can be a mess.
Those are the basic steps, yes at each step there are many options you can take depending on what you are trying to make but in the simplest terms, press, ferment, rack and bottle.