Friday, August 8, 2014

A Cider for Summer: Watermelon Hard Cider

It's been over a year since I last posted a recipe and nearly a year since I last posted anything, so it seemed only fitting to spend one of my first free days since turning in the manuscript for the beer book sharing a new recipe. I say "one of my first" free days because the very first free days were spent sleeping absurdly late on weekends, gorging on episodes of Supernatural, and spending many glorious hours doing nothing at all. It was divine.

Yes, the manuscript is done, the edits are even (mostly) done, the photo shoot is done (I plan on sharing some photos of that soon), and life seems to be stumbling its way back to normalcy. Let this be a lesson to you (i.e., me), working full time and writing a cookbook that involves long, tricky, fermenty projects is really exhausting. I have promised all those near and dear to me that I will not take on any new big projects like that for quite some time.

I posted a photo over on Instagram a few weeks ago of some Watermelon Hard Cider I'd made, and was both delighted and slightly surprised to get several requests for the recipe. Delighted because I actually wrote down the recipe and am happy to share it, and surprised because, frankly, I wasn't sure how many people apart from myself would think that watermelon cider sounded good!

This was actually a random cider that I made over a year ago with a huge-ass watermelon that a friend gave us from their garden. It was an experiment, and I was keeping my expectations low. Watermelon is a funny fruit to brew with; it's mostly water, after all, and that can mean a watery-tasting brew. But hey, there was a hulking watermelon on my counter and it was going to be impossible to eat it all, so why not?

I cracked open a bottle about three months after brewing, and thought it tasted...ok. Not bad. But not particularly watermelon-y. So-so. I left the rest of the batch in the cupboard and forgot about it for a while. Another few months past and I gave it another try - bingo! Apparently this one just needed a little extra time to age.

In the end, this has a lightly sweet watermelon-like flavor with a nice crispness. It's a bit like biting slightly too close to the watermelon rind. It's super refreshing on a hot day, so I suggest making a batch now and then letting the bottles sit in your cupboard until next summer.

Oh, P.S. Use only the freshest, juiciest, pinkest watermelon you can find for this brew. Subpar sad watermelons will not do. Use both the fruit and the rinds in the primary fermentation. A lot of the pink color and watermelon flavor is in the fruit sediment, so don't be too finicky about leaving behind the sediment when you transfer from vessel to vessel. I ended up with a teaspoon or so of pink watermelon sediment in my bottles - it's fun to pour this light, straw-colored cider into the glass only to watch it turn bright pink at the end.

Watermelon Hard Cider
Makes 1 gallon (9 to 10 bottles)

Note: All brewing-specific ingredients are available at homebrewing supply stores or online at

Target Original/Final Gravity: 1.050/1.005
Target Final ABV: 6%

1 (12-pound) watermelon, very ripe
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Campden tablet
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
2 teaspoons acid blend
1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
1/2 packet dry ale yeast, or any equivalent yeast
.8 ounce (22 grams) corn sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water and cooled, for bottling

Sanitize a 2-gallon bucket, its lid, the air lock, and a spoon for stirring.

Cut the watermelon into slices and cut the fruit away from the rinds. Chop the rinds into pieces and put them in the bucket. Remove and discard any watermelon seeds, then puree the fruit in a blender. Transfer the fruit puree to the bucket. You should have a little over a gallon of liquid; add additional water as needed to make slightly over a gallon.

Crush the Campden tablet and stir it into the juice. Snap the lid on he bucket, fill the airlock with water, and attach it to the bucket. Wait 24 hours for the Campden to sterilize the juice.

Once the juice is sterilized, stir in the yeast nutrient, acid blend, pectic enzyme, and 1/2 packet of the yeast with a sanitized spoon. Stir vigorously to distribute the yeast and aerate the cider. If you like, take a hydrometer reading to determine original gravity (though it's a bit tricky to get an accurate read on this one since there's so much sediment). Snap the lid back on and reattach the air lock. You should see active fermentation as evidenced by bubbles in the air lock within 48 hours.

Let the cider ferment undisturbed for at least 1 week or up to 4 weeks until fermentation has slowed and the sediment created during brewing has had a chance to settle. At this point, the cider is ready to be transferred off the sediment and into a smaller 1-gallon jug for the longer secondary fermentation.

Sanitize a 1-gallon jug, its stopper, a racking cane, its tip, a siphon hose, and a hose clamp. Siphon all of the cider into the jug. Tilt the bucket toward the end to siphon all of the liquid. Keep transferring even when you start to transfer sediment, but stop when you see the liquid in the hose become opaque (Bottom line: Don't worry about transferring/not transferring a lot of sediment at this point. Just use your best judgement). Seal the jug with its stopper and insert the air lock. Let it sit somewhere cool and dark for another 2 weeks or up to 3 months.

To bottle the cider, sanitize a stockpot, a hydrometer, ten 12-ounce beer bottles or five 22-ounce beer bottles, their caps, the siphon hose, the racking cane, its cap, a measuring cup, and the bottle filler. Siphon 1/2 cup of cider to the hydrometer and use to determine final gravity. Drink the cider or pour it back into the jug once used.

Pour the corn sugar solution into the stockpot. Siphon the cider into the stockpot to mix with the corn sugar solution, splashing as little as possible. Siphon the cider into bottles, cap, and label.

Let the bottles sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for at least 1 month or store for up to 2 years; I find that this one is best about 6 months after brewing. Refrigerate before serving. The cider itself is a light straw color; the pink comes from watermelon sediment remaining in the cider. Be sure to pour a little of the sediment into each glass to give it a rosy color - trust me, it's tasty! If the cider tasted a little tart, add a tablespoon of simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, simmered until the sugar is dissolved) to the pint glass before serving.


  1. Yum, I love flavoured ciders, so I would absolutely love to try this!

  2. Hello Emma!

    Your watermelon cider looks super delicious, perfect for a hot summer day! :-)

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