Why You Should Consider Brewing Hard Cider

Who doesn’t love a good hard cider?

In the fall months, nothing hits the spot like apple or pear cider beverages. Even in the summer, hard ciders are beer-garden staples, which is a great reason to start brewing hard cider with your unique and local flavor profiles. Here’s why you should consider including a hard cider option in your brewery offerings.

What is Hard Cider?

Hard cider is an alcoholic beverage brewed from fermented juice. Traditionally, apples or pears are used, but modern brewmasters have branched out to all kinds of juices and flavor combinations. Most hard ciders are 4.5% to 7% alcohol by volume (ABV) but can be made with an ABV as high as 12%. Higher ABV drinks tend to be dry ciders because the sugar is consumed during fermentation.

Although the fermentation process is similar to beer brewing, hard cider usually contains no hops or malt. Hard cider is not the same as hard apple cider beer. Some brewers are adding beer flavor by crafting hopped hard cider beers.

Types of Hard Cider

A half empty bottle of hard cider sits on a table. The brewery logo and alcohol content are printed on the glass bottle in white text.There are several varieties of hard cider, identified by their level of sweetness. Any type may or may not be carbonated.

  • Dry hard ciders – have the least amount of remaining sugar ( 0.5%) after fermentation and are usually more acidic than the other ciders. The yeast consumes most of the natural sugars in the brew, leaving a less-sweet drink with a higher ABV than most ciders. Dry ciders are often aged in oak barrels to enhance their natural flavors.
  • Off-dry cider – typically contains a bit more residual sugar (1-2%) than dry ciders and generally is smoother with a richer flavor.
  • Semi-dry and semi-sweet cider – these are similar and have 2% to 4% residual sugar and more robust fruit flavors.

Beyond sugar content, ciders are also differentiated by the kind of fruit used as the base. While apples and pears are most common, you can use any fruit.

5 Ways Hard Cider Can Benefit Your Business

Non-standard drink offerings are becoming more popular among breweries looking to stand out. From citrus-flavored beers to fruity kombuchas, brewmasters are searching for new ways to please patrons whose tastes have grown beyond basic and provide beverages to customers with special dietary needs.

1. Go For Seasonal Appeal With Exciting New Flavors

Hard cider is often associated with fall and winter, making it a perfect addition to a craft brewery’s seasonal offerings. A signature hard apple cider can provide a unique and flavorful alternative to traditional autumn beers. When served hot, the classic flavors of fall can warm up the chilliest day.

2. Diversify Your Products

By brewing hard ciders alongside craft beers, a craft brewery can diversify its product portfolio and appeal to a broader audience, including patrons who are not beer drinkers but want something more interesting than soda. As a growing segment of the alcoholic beverage market, hard cider is an attractive way to expand distribution channels and reach new markets, increase sales and build revenue.

3. Support Your Community With Local Sourcing

Many craft breweries pride themselves on using locally-sourced ingredients; the same can be true when making hard cider. Using locally grown fruit and botanical ingredients can create a unique and authentic flavor profile while supporting local farmers and suppliers – and connecting with the local culture. What’s your area known for?

4. Offer a Customer-Pleasing Alternative

More and more customers seek a gluten-free or lower-alcohol alternative to beer and alcohol. By offering a gluten-free signature hard cider, a craft brewery can make its products attractive and accessible to more customers.

5. Inspire Creative Marketing Events

Launching a signature hard cider flavor – or flavors – is the perfect opportunity to invite customers to special events. For instance, you could offer free sample flights of your hard ciders with any purchase or hold a contest to guess a mystery flavor profile with an unexpected twist, like peach jalapeno or raspberry mint. You could even build menu choices to pair with your craft hard cider flavors perfectly if you serve food.

How to Make Hard Cider at Your Craft Brewery

Three pint glasses of hard cider are lined up in a row, each with a different brand logo printed on the front of the glass. The ciders are light, golden, and dark colored.Brewing hard cider isn’t tricky, but it does take time. Before committing to big batches, start in small quantities to refine the flavor profile you’re attempting. Here are the basic steps for making hard cider (without getting too technical).

Start With the Juice

While many brewers start with store-bought apple juice or cider, your fresh-pressed juice produces a bolder, brighter flavor. Start with fruits, berries, honey, or other sweet or semi-sweet liquid ingredients. Clean the fruit thoroughly and extract the juice with a crusher and a fruit presser. Combine juices and add flavor elements like herbs or extracts to create your unique blend.

Do You Have to Pasteurize Your Juice for Hard Cider?

Because fruit juice is prone to microbial spoilage, most states have laws in place for commercial juices. Still, federal guidelines and some state laws allow the use of unpasteurized juice under certain circumstances (Massachusetts, for example). If you choose not to pasteurize (and even if you do), establish effective cleaning and sanitation processes and ensure everyone follows them.

Boost Your ABV

You may want to add extra sugar at this stage, depending on the fruit you’re using and the level of sweetness and ABV you wish to achieve. Of course, you can add regular cane sugar, but if you want a more interesting flavor, try brown sugar, honey, candy- or fruit-flavored syrup, maple syrup, or agave.

Add Yeast

Put your juice in a fermentation container and start the fermentation process by adding your choice of yeast. For example, wine or champagne yeasts work well for hard cider.

Ferment Your Juice

Seal the cider in a fermenting vessel and allow enough time to reach the dryness level you want to achieve. Fermentation generally takes about two weeks, plus an additional week to settle.

Age Your Brew

The vessel you choose for the aging process may be a traditional wooden cask or a more modern container. Fill the container to the brim, leaving no room for air, and let it age until the flavor is just right.

Add a Wine Fining Agent if Necessary

Consider adding a wine fining agent, such as gelatin or pectic enzyme to ensure your cider is not cloudy.

The Bottling Stage

When your craft hard cider is ready to bottle, you may need to add last-minute ingredients to make a carbonated or still cider. Add a priming agent if you want the end result to be sparkling cider. If you prefer a non-carbonated cider, add sulfite to end the yeast processing.

Ready to get started? Let’s talk flavors.

Flavorings for Craft-Brewed Hard Cider

A bottle of hard cider rests on it's side next to an apple. The bottle and apple sit on a beige tea towel that's set out on a wooden background.

Hard cider’s crisp, cold taste is no longer limited to apple flavor and can be marketed as a uniquely refreshing summer beverage. You can brew hard cider from any juice and add other exciting flavor elements for deeper, more complex flavors.

Here are a few creative hard cider recipe ideas for every season.

Fall and Winter

  • Maple Bourbon – Infuse with real maple syrup and age in bourbon barrels for a sweet, slightly boozy cider that tastes like autumn.
  • Cherry Vanilla – Tart cherries and creamy vanilla are not your grandma’s cider. Create a rich, indulgent flavor that’s familiar and yet a completely new taste experience.
  • Caramel Apple – What treat says October more than a caramel apple? Invoke the flavor of childhood with the classic combination of caramel and apples for a sweet taste of Halloween gone by.
  • Apple Pie – Turn the classic fall dessert into a hard cider with the warm spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves complementing the sweet apple flavor.

Spring and Summer

  • Ginger Pear – Ginger pairs perfectly with a juicy pear flavor to create a crisp and spicy hard cider, the perfect refreshment for a hot day.
  • Lavender Honey – This floral, sweet hard cider infused with natural lavender and honey appeals to adventurous tasters who want a more botanical flavor.
  • Raspberry Hibiscus – This hard cider combines the tartness of raspberries with the floral notes of hibiscus for a delightfully different flavor combination.
  • Pineapple Passionfruit – A tropical twist on hard cider, this flavor features the citrus taste of pineapple with the sweetness of passionfruit for a surprising pop of summer.
  • Strawberry Basil – Combine strawberries and basil for a light, refreshing summer cider with interesting botanical notes.
  • Blueberry Lemonade – The tartness of lemonade balanced with the sweetness of blueberries makes a tart, sweet, fruity hard cider. Cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries also pair well with lemonade flavor.

As you can see, the potential flavor combinations are endless. Turn a favorite dessert, a regional fruit, or a flavor trend into a tasty alcoholic beverage your customers will love. Can’t decide on a flavor? Try crowdsourcing on social media for ideas and let your customers tell you what they want. Then line up plenty of fun brewery events to promote your new drinks!

Today’s young brewery customers grew up with beverage flavors of every variety, from raspberry-lime sparkling water to Georgia Peach Coca-Cola, and they want something interesting from you. Fill this consumer demand by buying or brewing hard ciders your patrons can enjoy all year round.

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