Cider comes in a variety of tastes, from sweet to dry, although flavour differs enormously within these descriptions. The appearance of cider ranges from very dark, cloudy and sludgy through to very crisp, clean and golden yellow, and with the most processed, almost entirely clear. The varying colours and appearances are generally as a result of how much of the apple material is removed between pressing and fermentation. Sparkling cider is most common, but still version is also made.
Modern, mass-produced ciders are generally heavily processed and resemble sparkling wine in appearance. More traditional brands tend to be darker and cloudier, as less of the apple is filtered out. They are often stronger than processed varieties, tasting more strongly of apples.
White cider is made by processing cider after the traditional milling process is complete, resulting in a nearly colourless product. This processing allows the manufacturer to produce strong (typically 7-8% ABV) cider cheaply, quickly, and on an industrial scale. Brands of white cider include White Lightning, Three Hammers, Polaris and Frosty Jack.
Most cider is made industrially nowadays, although traditional methods still survive. In this picture the layers of pomace are wrapped in canvas.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). There are many hundreds of varieties of cultivars developed specifically for cidermaking.
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”, where the pommage is pressed and formed by pressure into a kind of cake, which is called the “cheese”.
Traditionally the method for squeezing the juice from the cheese involves placing clear, sweet straw or hair cloths between the layers of pomace. This will usually alternate with slatted ash-wood racks, until there is a pile of ten or twelve layers. It is important to minimise the time that the pomace is exposed to air in order to keep oxidation to a minimum. The cheese needs to be constructed evenly, or the whole pile slithers onto the floor.
This pile is then subjected to different degrees of pressure in succession, until all the ‘must’ or juice is squeezed from the pomage. 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 or discarded, or used to make liqueurs
Fermentation is best effected at a temperature of 4 to 16 C (40 to 60 F). This is low for most kinds of fermentation, but works for cider as it leads to slower fermentation with less loss of delicate aromas.
Shortly before the fermentation consumes all the sugar, the liquor is “racked” 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 care is taken to fill the vat completely, and the fermenting of the remaining available sugar generates a small amount of carbon dioxide that helps to prevent air seeping in. This also creates a certain amount of sparkle, and sometimes extra sugar, such as white cane sugar, is added at this stage for this purpose and also to raise the alcohol level. Racking is sometimes repeated if the liquor remains too cloudy.
Homebrewers can use elaborate 55 gallon plastic drums. More simply they use a 2 or 3 liter bottle of pasteurized store bought preservative free apple juice, add a touch of yeast, champagne ideally, and replace the cap after drilling a small snug hole for an airlock. For larger batches of hard cider, using a culligan water jug works with the addition of a rubber stopper, or even a garbage bag, to keep the system sealed. However, the use of a glass carboy is preferred, since the plastic jugs can affect the taste severely. The cider may then be racked by careful pouring and bottled with 3 tsp. of raw sugar into a 2 liter pop bottle to secondarily ferment for carbonation. Apple based juices with cranberry also make fine ciders; and many other fruit purees or flavorings can be used, such as grape, cherry, and raspberry.
The cider is ready to drink after a three month fermentation peroid, though more often it is matured in the vats for up to two or three years.
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 inexpensively. This allows the cider to become naturally carbonated.
Conventional apple cider has a relatively high concentration of phenolics and antioxidants which may be helpful for preventing heart disease, cancer, and other ailments This is, in part, because apples themselves have a decent concentration of phenolics in them to begin with.
It can be very acidic and contain high sugar levels. Excessive consumption can therefore erode the tooth enamel rapidly.
A distilled spirit, apple brandy, is made from cider. Its best known forms are Calvados and applejack. Applejack is a strong alcoholic beverage made in North America by concentrating cider, either by the traditional method of “freeze distillation”, or by true evaporative distillation. In traditional freeze distillation, a barrel of cider is left outside during the winter. When the temperature is low enough, the water in the cider starts to freeze. If the ice is removed, the (now more concentrated) alcoholic solution is left behind in the barrel. If the process is repeated often enough, and the temperature is low enough, the alcohol concentration is raised to 3040% alcohol by volume. In freeze distillation, methanol and fusel oil, which are natural fermentation byproducts, may reach harmful concentrations. These toxins can be separated when regular heat distillation is performed. Home production of applejack is illegal in most countries.
A popular aperitif in Normandy is pommeaua drink produced by blending unfermented cider and apple brandy in the barrel (the high alcoholic content of the spirit stops the fermentation process of the cider and the blend takes on the character of the aged barrel).
Cocktails may include cider. Besides kir and snakebite, an example is Black Velvet in a version of which cider may replace champagne, usually referred to as a “Poor Man’s Black Velvet”.
A few producers in Quebec have developed cidre de glace (literally “ice cider”, sometimes called “apple ice wine”), inspired from ice wines, where the apples are naturally frozen either before or after harvest. The alcohol concentration of cidre de glace is 9-13%.
Other fruits can be used to make cider-like drinks. The most popular is perry, known in France as poir and produced mostly in Normandy, which is made from fermented pear-juice. A branded sweet perry known as Babycham, marketed principally as a women’s drink and sold in miniature Champagne-style bottles, was once popular but has now become unfashionable. Another related drink is cyser (cider fermented with honey).
Another similar drink is plum jerkum, made from fermented plums, traditional of Warwickshire in the English Midlands. It is said that it “left the head clear while paralysing the legs”. The Warwickshire Drooper plum from which it is traditionally brewed is now uncommon, which explains the rarity of the drink.
Peach juice can be fermented into “peachy”.