Hard cider is making a comeback – not that it ever went away – especially cider produced from artisans farming sustainably and producing product using the heirloom method. Just like in wine making, one must consider factors like the type of apple, the fragrance, color, clarity, and blend of tastes. Also like in wine making, the best hard ciders are a blend of juices from different fruits balancing the acidity, tannins, and aromatics.
Apple Cider vs. Apple Juice
Apple cider is essentially apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process that removes coarse pulp or sediment. Cider may or may not be heat pasteurized. Apple juice has been filtrated, pasteurized, and vacuum sealed to give a longer lasting, clearer looking product. Most juices add additional water and other ingredients to maintain flavor and clarity. Outside the U.S., the term “Apple Cider” typically means “Hard Cider” while “Apple Juice” usually will get you a sweet cider.
Hard Cider vs. Sweet Cider
When you press apples into a liquid form for immediate bottling and consumption you get Sweet Cider. This cider may or may not be pasteurized. Allowing the liquid to ferment, either naturally or with controlled active ingredients like yeasts, one gets Hard Cider.
Hard Cider isn’t just Hard Cider
I have identified four styles of hard cider: Draft cider, French cider, Farmhouse cider and Specialty cider.
Draft ciders are quite diverse but all are produced by essentially the same process. The juice is fermented in large vessels to dryness, that is to say all sugars are converted to alcohol, these fermentations are then blended, cut and flavored. In general, draft ciders have water and/or fruit juice added to lower the alcohol content to not more then 6%. It may be dry or sweet, still or effervescent. They have a light body and are clear, bright and are usually pale yellow in color.
French style cider or Cidre has had its fermentation arrested by the process of keeving (defecation) or subjected to SO2 for the purpose of keeping the alcohol content low. A crust is allowed to form on the surface of the must (the un-fermented juice) as it ferments. This reduces the oxygen levels in the must that shuts down the yeast to stop the fermentation short of dryness. This produces a light, sweeter cider with an alcohol level usually between 2-5%. No additives are allowed in this category and the cider may not be cut with anything. French style cider may be effervescent or still.
Farmhouse style, AKA traditional, natural or “real” cider, is the oldest style. It is a cider with an alcohol content between 5 and 12%. This wide band is because nothing is done to control the alcohol content. The aroma should have floral, alcohol notes and are often astringent. Their apple flavor is more aggressive with a complex to unsophisticated flavor profile because wild yeasts may have been used. They may be still or sparkling and are usually dry. The color can range from pale yellow to nearly amber. The cider is clear and bright but may contain apple pulp that should not be confused with haze.
Specialty ciders cover a lot of ground. These are ciders with alcohol content usually under 14%. Any and all adjuncts are allowed in this style. It is sometimes cut with water or juice and can be spiced or flavored with most anything the cider maker’s imagination can conjure up.
Autumn is here and it’s calling for all things apple. So whether you are celebrating with something sparkling, or just making your own memories with the special someone, pick up a bottle of American made artisan hard cider and enjoy the taste of history and sustainability.
Here are some of my favorite artisan hard cider producers:
Black Star Farms
Breeze Hill Orchard
Blue Mountain Cider Company
Farnum Hill Cider
Fox Barrel Cider
Red Barn Cider
Spire Mountain Ciders
Wandering Aengus Ciderworks
West County Cider Winery