Cider is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of apples. Cider is popular in the United Kingdom (especially in the West Country) and Ireland and widely available. The UK has the world’s highest per capita consumption, as well as its largest cider-producing companies. Cider is also popular in many Commonwealth countries, such as India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Aside from the UK and its former colonies, cider is popular in other European countries including Portugal (mainly in Minho and Madeira), France (particularly Brittany and Normandy), northern Italy (Piedmont and Friuli), and northern Spain (especially Principality of Asturias and the Basque Country). Central Europe also has its own types of cider with Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse producing a particularly tart version known as Apfelwein. In the U.S., varieties of fermented cider are often called hard cider to distinguish alcoholic cider from non-alcoholic apple cider or “sweet cider”, also made from apples. In Canada, cider cannot be called cider if there are no apples. Furthermore, according to the Food and Drug Regulations in Canada, cider cannot contain less than 2.5% or over 13% absolute alcohol by volume.
The juice of most varieties of apple can be used to make cider, but cider apples are best. The addition of sugar or extra fruit before a second fermentation increases the ethanol content of the resulting beverage. Cider alcohol content varies from 1.2% to 8.5% ABV or more in traditional English ciders, and 3.5% to 12% in continental ciders. In UK law, it must contain at least 35% apple juice (fresh or from concentrate), although CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) says that “real cider” must be at least 90% fresh apple juice. In the US, there is a 50% minimum. In France, cider must be made solely from apples.
In 2014, a study found that a 1-US-pint (470 ml) bottle of mass-market cider contained five teaspoons (20.5 g) of sugar, nearly the amount the WHO recommends as an adult’s daily allowance of added sugar, and 5–10 times the amount of sugar in lager or ale.
Perry is a similar product to cider made from fermented pear juice.
Appearance & Types
The flavour of cider varies. Ciders can be classified from dry to sweet. Their appearance ranges from cloudy with sediment to completely clear, and their colour ranges from almost colourless to amber to brown. The variations in clarity and colour are mostly due to filtering between pressing and fermentation. Some apple varieties will produce a clear cider without any need for filtration. Both sparkling and still ciders are made; the sparkling variety is the more common.
Modern, mass-produced ciders closely resemble sparkling wine in appearance. More traditional brands tend to be darker and cloudier. They are often stronger than the mass-produced varieties and taste more strongly of apples. Almost colourless, white cider has the same apple juice content as conventional cider but is harder to create because the cider maker has to blend various apples to create a clearer liquid. White ciders tend to be sweeter and more refreshing. They are typically 7–8 % ABV in strength. Black cider, by contrast, is dry amber premium cider which has an alcohol content of 7–8 % ABV. The descriptor black usually comes after the brand name such as Union Black and Barnstormer Black.
Geography & Origins
Cider is an ancient beverage. No one knows when or where it was first made, because the native distribution of its principal component, the apple, is so widespread, from the Near East to northwestern Europe. In the cider market, ciders can be broken down into two main styles, standard and specialty. The first group consists of modern ciders and heritage ciders. Modern ciders are produced from culinary apples such as Gala. Heritage ciders are produced from heritage, cider specific, crab or wild apples, like Golden Russet. Historically, cider was made from the only resources available to make it, so style wasn’t a large factor when considering the production process. Apples were historically confined to the cooler climates of Western Europe and Britain where civilisation was slow to develop record keeping. Cider was first made from crab apples, ancestors of the bittersweet and bittersharp apples used by today’s English cider makers.
English cider contained a drier, higher-alcohol-content version, using open fermentation vats and bittersweet crab apples. The French developed a sweet, low-alcohol “cidre” taking advantage of the sweeter apples and the keeving process. These are the roots of the standard styles we know today. Cider styles evolved based on the methods used, the apples available and local tastes. Production techniques developed, as with most technology, by trial and error. In fact, the variables were nearly too widespread to track, including: spontaneous fermentation, the type of vessels used, environmental conditions, and the apple varieties. Refinements came much later when cider became a commercial product and the process was better understood. However, since there is growing popularity in ciders, the production of specialty styles has begun to increase.
Modern ciders are made from culinary apples and are lower in tannins and higher in acidity than other cider styles. Common culinary apples used in modern ciders include McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Gala, and Fuji. A sweet or low alcohol cider may tend to have a strong aromatic and flavour character of apple, while drier and higher alcohol ciders will tend to produce a wider range of fruity aromas and flavours. Modern ciders vary in color from pale to yellow and can range from brilliant to a hazy clarity. Clarity can be altered through various cider making practices, depending on the cider maker’s intentions.
Heritage ciders are made from both culinary and cider apples, including bittersweet, bittersharp, heirlooms, wild apples, and crabapples. Common apples used in heritage cider production include Dabinett, Kingston Black, Roxbury Russet, and Wickson. Heritage ciders are higher in tannins than modern ciders. They range in colour from yellow to amber ranging from brilliant to hazy. Clarity of heritage ciders also depends on the cider making practices used and will differ by cider maker as well.
Specialty style ciders
Specialty style ciders are open to a lot more manipulation than modern or heritage style ciders. There is no restriction to apple varieties used and the list of specialty styles continues to expand. Listed on the USACM Cider Style Guide, specialty styles include: fruit, hopped, spiced, wood-aged, sour, and iced ciders. Fruit ciders have other fruit or juices added before or after fermentation, like cherries, blueberries, and cranberries. Hopped cider is fermented with added hops, common hop varieties being Cascade, Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic. Spiced ciders have various spices added to the cider before, during, or after fermentation. Spices like cinnamon and ginger are popular to use in production. Wood-aged ciders are ciders that are either fermented or aged in various types of wood barrels, to aid in extraction of woody, earthy flavours. Sour ciders are high acid ciders that are produced with non-standard, non-Saccharomyces yeast and bacteria, which enhance acetic and lactic acid production, in order to reach a sour profile. Ice ciders can be made by using pre-pressed frozen juice or frozen whole apples. Whole apples either come frozen from the orchard, dependent on harvest date, or are stored in a freezer prior to pressing. When the pre-pressed juice or whole apples freeze, sugars are concentrated and mostly separated from the water. Whole apples are then pressed in order to extract the concentrated juice. For the pre-pressed juice the concentrated solution is drawn off while thawing occurs. Although, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) cider producers can only label a product ‘Ice Cider’ if it is produced from apples naturally frozen outdoors.
Two styles not mentioned in the USACM Cider Style Guide are Rosé and Sparkling Cider. Rosé cider can be produced from apple varieties that have reddish-pink pulp, like Pink Pearl and Amour Rouge. Rosé ciders can also be created through the addition of food-grade red dyes, previously used red grape skins, like Marquette with high anthocyanin concentration, red fruits, rose petals, or hibiscus. Lastly, sparkling ciders can be produced through methods of direct carbonation, addition of carbon dioxide (CO2) or by Méthode Champenoise to re-create the traditional Champagne style.
Specific Cider Styles
Scratting & Pressing
Apples grown for consumption are suitable for cider making, though some regional cider-makers prefer to use a mix of eating and cider apples (as in Kent, England), or exclusively cider apples (as in the West Country, England) and West of England. There are many hundreds of varieties of cultivars developed specifically for cider making.
Once the apples are gathered from trees in orchards they are scratted (ground down) into what is called pomace or pommage. Historically this was done using pressing stones with circular troughs, or by a cider mill. Cider mills were traditionally driven by the hand, water-mill, or horse-power. In modern times, they are likely to be powered by electricity. The pulp is then transferred to the cider press and built up in layers known as cheeses into a block.
Traditionally the method for squeezing the juice from the apples involves placing sweet straw or haircloths between the layers of pomace. This will alternate with slatted ash-wood racks until there is a pile of ten or twelve layers.
The set is then subjected to increasing degrees of pressure until all the ‘must’ or juice is squeezed from the pomace. This juice, after being strained in a coarse hair-sieve, is then put into either open vats or closed casks. The pressed pulp is given to farm animals as winter feed, composted, discarded or used to make liqueurs.
Fermentation of ciders occurs by a very similar mechanism to the fermentation of wine. The process of alcoholic fermentation is characterised by the conversion of simple sugars into ethanol by yeasts, especially Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This is because, as “Crabtree positive” yeasts, they produce ethanol even during aerobic fermentation; in contrast, Crabtree-negative yeasts produce only biomass and carbon dioxide. This adaptation allows them a competitive edge in the fermentation of ciders due to their high alcohol tolerance, and because of this tolerance, it is common for ciders to be fermented to dryness, although that is not always the case. Fermentations will carry on until the yeasts run out of nutrients and can no longer metabolise, resulting in a “stuck” fermentation, or the fermentation is stopped.
Steps taken before fermentation might include fruit or juice blending, titratable acidity and pH measurements and sometimes adjustments, and sulfur dioxide and yeast additions. Fermentation is carried out at a temperature of 4–16 °C (39–61 °F). This temperature would be low for most kinds of fermentation, but is beneficial for cider, as it leads to slower fermentation with less loss of delicate aromas. Fermentation can occur due to natural yeasts that are present in the must; alternately, some cider makers add cultivated strains of cider yeast, such as Saccharomyces bayanus.
During the initial stages of fermentation, there are elevated levels of carbon dioxide as the yeasts multiply and begin to break down the sugar into ethanol. In addition to fermentative metabolism of yeast, certain organoleptic compounds are formed that have an effect on the quality of cider, such as other alcohols, esters and other volatile compounds. After fermentation, racking occurs into a clean vessel, trying to leave behind as much yeast as possible. Shortly before the fermentation consumes all the sugar, the liquor is “racked” (siphoned) into new vats. This leaves dead yeast cells and other undesirable material at the bottom of the old vat. At this point, it becomes important to exclude airborne acetic bacteria, so vats are filled completely to exclude air. The fermenting of the remaining available sugar generates a small amount of carbon dioxide that forms a protective layer, reducing air contact. This final fermentation creates a small amount of carbonation. Extra sugar may be added specifically for this purpose. Racking is sometimes repeated if the liquor remains too cloudy.
Apple-based juice may also be combined with fruit to make a fine cider; fruit purées or flavourings can be added, such as grape, cherry, raspberry, or cranberry.
The cider is ready to drink after a three-month fermentation period, although it is more often matured in the vats for up to three years.
Blending and bottling
For larger-scale cider production, ciders from vats produced from different varieties of apple may be blended to accord with market taste. If the cider is to be bottled, usually some extra sugar is added for sparkle. Higher quality ciders can be made using the champagne method, but this is expensive in time and money and requires special corks, bottles, and other equipment. Some home brewers use beer bottles, which work perfectly well, and are inexpensive. This allows the cider to become naturally carbonated.