Hard cider is made by fermenting fruit juices, classically from apples, and allowing the natural yeasts present in the juice to ferment the sugars into alcohol. Various cultures have been making this beverage for centuries, and it is relatively easy to make at home. There are many variations that incorporate various fruits along with additives such as honey, sugar, or cultured yeasts for a specific flavor. People who do plan to brew at home will need to find a company that sells brewing supplies and look for a cider brewing kit, which will come with everything needed.
The first step in making any sort of hard cider is selecting and pressing the fruit. Sweet fruits make a sweeter drink that can also be higher in alcohol, while tarter fruits will yield a drier cider. Many brewers like to mix several varieties of a fruit; blends of three or more apple varieties are very common in apple cider, for example. Brewers can also make pear cider, peach cider, or an assortment of other fruit ciders if they have access to the fruit.
After the fruit has been juiced, it is poured into a clean container with a burping lid. The lid allows fermentation gases to escape while keeping air out, which is important so that the cider does not turn to vinegar. Many brewers pump gas into their fermentation tanks after they pour the fresh cider in, to push the air out. Depending on the brewer's taste, the cider may be heated to kill the natural yeasts, allowing the brewer to add specific ones to the mixture, and some people also add sugar so that the end result will be more alcoholic, as the yeasts will have more sugar to convert to alcohol.
Once the cider is in a fermentation tank, it cannot be moved, because this will stir up sediments. After around two months, the cider is carefully decanted and the container is cleaned to remove sediment. The cider can age in an oak barrel, or be placed back in the fermentation tank, as long as it is meticulously cleaned. At this stage, the hard cider will taste very sharp and raw; the flavor will mellow as it ages.
People who want to make cider at home will need pressed juice without preservatives. It is often available at county fairs and roadside stands, although some brewers ask an orchard for unpreserved fruit juice. Apple cider with preservatives will rot before it is able to ferment. Brewers also need to try to keep temperatures stable during the fermentation process, and remember that cooler temperatures slow the rate of fermentation.