Wild + Slow: Fermenting Hard Cider at Home

The process of fermenting hard cider started 8 months ago.

As I illustrated in this post from October, and the video below, a lot of elbow grease went into the marathon of crushing apples through our antique press.

Note: This post is simply the story of our exploratory adventure with home fermentation, not a how-to from an expert source. Our method is fairly experimental, with the only direction coming from The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

This is the 5th year of attempting fermented hard cider, and it continues to be an exciting trial-and-error process. Here’s the full story.

October 16, 2016

Chopping, mashing, cranking, pressing….

Watch the day unfold:

After pressing, we left the cider in buckets with a loose covering until some sort of activity began (about 3 days). Nothing was added, we simply relied on wild yeasts to do the work.

Then we bottled up all the cider into carboys/jugs, making 3 different batches. The majority of cider stayed plain, but we mixed 2 small batches with flavorings

On the left is pawpaw pulp, and on the right is blackberries.

What is a pawpaw you ask?

Just the most magical, indigenous fruit that much of North America is blessed to have at their fingertips, but often is hidden in plain sight.

The fruit looks like green mangoes (see below) and the flesh is a yellow-hued custard of banana/tropical deliciousness.

Pawpaws usually grow deep in the woods near water on tall, thin trees with tropical looking leaves. The fruit blends right in, which can make it hard to spot when they’re ripe in September – October.

Last year we attended the Ohio Pawpaw Festival and fell in love, hence the foraging excursion that resulted in this small batch of cider. More on pawpaws another time.

To finish these small batches, we siphoned plain cider in with the flavorings.

Swirl, swirl, swirl….

3 important parts of our fermenting process:

  • Using multiple varieties of apples (ours were discards from a nearby neighbor’s orchards)
  • Using natural yeast from the apples
  • Using sterilized vessels with airlocks

The airlocks were added shortly after this photo; the freshly siphoned batches were just taking some time to settle down first.

Here’s what the cider looked like throughout the winter (this shot was taken 2 weeks after the initial pressing).

All of the cider was re-racked about 2 months later, once the bubbling in the airlocks stopped. Basically this means the cider was siphoned out of these vessels (which were then cleaned), and then siphoned back in – with the addition of some sugar to reactivate and feed the yeasts.

Cut to spring

March 14, 2017

We decided to bottle the blackberry batch in mid-March. We drank it young, and it wasn’t quite ready, meaning it had a low alcohol content. But it was still good, and had a beautiful color, which somehow I failed to photograph.

June 30, 2017

Ready to bottle the rest for drinking!

The forever-home bottles got cleaned and prepped to receive the fully fermented, fizzy cider. You can find the Bottle Tree pictured below right here.

Just the pawpaw flavored jug and 2 carboys of plain cider were left, which was a hell of a lot of cider! You can see how beautifully the color has changed, 8 months later…

A little bit of sugar was added to each bottle to continue the fermentation and add to the carbonation.

The siphoning into smaller bottles took an hour or so…

A huge rainstorm blew through during all of this, adding some nice mood lighting (and wetness).

I was dazzled by the effervescence. So many bubbles!

At the bottom of the carboys lies the dregs, aka the yeasty sediment. You can use the dregs as yeast… or you can add it to soups or other culinary creations. I’m still figuring out how to best utilize this leftover part of the process.

The middle shot below shows some of the clear, “good” cider, and the one on the right is cloudy because it was pulled from the bottom of the carboy. Not ideal.

It’s not very easy to siphon around the dregs, and although they’re not too pretty the taste is still good.

And there you have it!

We got well over 20 bottles of various sizes, and look forward to enjoying them and sharing them with family and friends.

The pawpaw batch is crazy good, so I want to experiment more with that flavoring, and others.

I am so excited for this fall when we can get started on fermented cider attempt #6!



Betsy Brockett was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at the age of 28, and continues to thrive despite the challenges that cancer has created in her life. Holding a degree in Art & Visual Technology from George Mason University, Betsy expresses herself through writing, photography, painting, pottery, and more. She is most often found cultivating, creating, practicing/teaching yoga, or simply enjoying the beauty of life.

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