Cherry is a popular choice for flavoring hard cider because cherry juice will complement the apple whether it is sweet or tart. I have found many versions of the recipe including black cherry cider, sour cherry cider, tart cherry cider and everything in between.
Obviously pairing cherry and apple is a hit!
This cherry hard cider recipe is especially awesome when your only option is to make a cider using store bought apple juice that can sometimes lack depth and flavor on its own. This is because commercial apple juice is made from sweet dessert apples that are great for eating but once fermented the apples become one-note.
A good juice for traditional cider has a blend of sweet, tart, acidic and tannic apples that become complimentary after fermentation. Of course, this juice can be hard to find or expensive, so apple juice is a great base for the beginner.
First time making hard cider?
If you are lucky enough to find yourself with an abundance of cherries during the cherry season, fresh is always best!
I have used frozen cherries in the past because they are typically the most affordable and available. A quick google search shows my local grocery charges about $5 per lb for frozen. That can add up quickly!
Also, pressed cherry juice can be used and maybe the easiest option since there would be no solids to remove. I encourage you to try variations, i’m sure all will result in a great drink!
The cherries or cherry juice is best added after initial fermentation has slowed down or stopped. Adding the fruit after initial fermentation helps to protect the flavor and aroma which can be lost during aggressive initial fermentation.
Homemade Cherry Hard Cider:
I started with 5 gallons of store brand apple juice that was from concentrate. This is definitely not the best juice to work with but because I will be adding flavor to it, the juice should work well. I also wanted to try this recipe with concitrate juice because a lot of times my readers can only find this kind of juice.
Using a hydrometer, I measured the original gravity of this juice at 1.044 which I calculated would produce around 5.5% ABV if I fermented it to near dry, or near 1.002 FG. An ABV in this range is perfect for me so I did not make any sugar additions although apple juice concentrate can be added to boost the sugar content and in turn raise the expected final ABV.
After I took the hydrometer reading I poured the juice into a 6 gallon plastic food safe fermenter along with yeast nutrient to ensure strong fermentation. I like to add the nutrient at the same time as the cider so it mixes thoroughly.
I then pitched a pack of Nottingham directly into the fermenter.
Once the SG stabilized and I was confident fermentation had completed, I was ready to add the berries. I took the frozen cherries out of the freezer to thaw and then mashed them in the bag to help extract the juice. I then poured the berry slurry into a clean and sanitized fermenter.
Note: If you are concerned about the sediment from the cherries, you could pour the slurry into a mesh dry-hopping bag which will allow you to pull most of the berries out when you are ready to rack.
After about 2 weeks of the cider aging on the cherries, placed it into the fridge to cold crash for a couple of days. This allowed the suspended yeast and sediment to drop to the bottom of the vessel so the cider could be racked off the top cleanly.
Cherry Hard Cider Results:
Original Gravity: 1.046
Final Gravity: 1.002
With the cherry cider finished, I racked it into a keg with one can of apple juice concentrate for back sweetening before quick carbonating and going to tap.
Note: Since I was going straight to keg and then into the fridge, I was not concerned about refermentation. If you choose to back sweeten and bottle, please read up on the standard bottling procedure.
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Cherry Hard Cider Recipe
- Clean and sanitize all cider making equipment before starting.
- Pour the Apple juice into the fermenting vessel.
- Take a hydrometer reading to measure the gravity and record.
- Add yeast nutrient if desired.
- Pour the yeast into the fermenter.
- Close the fermenter and install an airlock filled with sanitizer.
- Allow the cider to ferment in a cool and dark place for about two weeks.
- Pack the cherries into a hop bag and place the bag into the fermenter for about a week.
- Cold crash, rack and bottle.