Cider is a fermented beverage made typically from apples, but sometimes other fruits – most commonly pears but also peaches, apricots and berries. It is called "apfelwein" in Germany. In the United States and Canada (where "cider" can also refer to fresh apple juice), it is sometimes qualified as "hard cider". Cider made from pears is technically known as "perry" (or "poiré" in French).
Although cider is often placed in a similar category to beer (to which it is a popular alternative), the cider production method is closer to winemaking than brewing. Unsurprisingly, it is sometimes also known as apple wine.
The earliest records of cidermaking date back to the first Century BC, when the Roman armies arrived in Britain. Recipes explaining how to make cider soon spread to other parts of the Roman Empire which, at that time, included territories all around the Mediterranean, from Tunisia to northern France and Portugal.
As knowledge of distillation became more widespread, so cider-based spirits (applejack and apple brandy) began to appear. The most famous of these is French – more properly, Norman – Calvados.
The fruit is harvested in autumn, traditionally by hand but now increasingly by using mechanical, tractor-like harvesters. Some producers favor maceration prior to pressing (which tends to extract more tannins from the skins) but in the main, the apply juice is extracted in a press or mill, and then begins fermentation – the conversion of sugars into alcohol (by either cultured or naturally occurring yeast).
The pulp (pomace) left behind is either discarded or used for distillation.
Cider production methods vary from region to region and style to style. They dictate not just the cider's alcoholic strength, but also its depth of color and whether it is clear or cloudy, still or sparkling.
Alcohol levels vary considerably between ciders; most fall somewhere around 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), but some high-strength ciders reach 13 percent. Cider was traditionally a still, relatively dry, cloudy liquid, but modern consumers have shown a clear preference for clear, off-dry, sparkling styles.
Most modern-day, mass-produced ciders are clear, sparkling, mid-strength (5 percent ABV) and the color of pale straw. They are carefully filtered to remove any residual apple matter, which might be unappealing to many consumers.
A side-effect of this filtering is the removal of flavor compounds, making these ciders relatively light in flavor. Sugar is regularly added to compensate for this.
Traditional, cloudy cider styles contain a fair quantity of residual solid matter because they are filtered only gently, if at all. As a result, they have a stronger, more obviously "appley" taste and aroma.
Unless bottle-fermented, these more traditional styles are still, and rarely have anything more than a very gentle sparkle. Some farmhouse producers add very little, let alone filter, often exposing the cider to the risk of spoilage yeasts such as Brettanomyces.
Cider's sparkle is created in one of three ways. The simplest method, used for most large-scale ciders, is direct carbonation, in which pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) is mechanically added as the cider is bottled.
|The second, more traditional, method is to seal the cider in vats just before it finishes fermentation – meaning that the very last stages of fermentation take place in the vat, creating a slight spritz in the liquid.
The most expensive and labor-intensive method is to put the cider through secondary fermentation in bottle. This is the method used to make Champagne, and creates high-quality ciders of greater complexity (and higher alcoholic strength).
Here, a final dose of yeast and sugar is added to the cider as it is bottled and sealed. The yeast consumes the sugar inside the bottle, creating both alcohol and pressurized carbon dioxide. Carbonated ciders are generally lighter and simpler than bottle-fermented ciders, which tend to be quite complex in aroma, flavor and structure.
The most developed and one of the more historic regions for cider production is England – the British are the biggest consumers of cider per capita in the world. Southwest English counties such as Somerset, Devon and Cornwall have a long history of cider production, as does the East Anglian county of Suffolk and also Kent, in the southeast of the country.
Further afield, cider is very popular in Ireland and throughout Europe, mainly in regions with a Gaelic or Celtic connection, particularly Brittany, Normandy (the home of Calvados), the Basque Country, Asturias and Galicia. In Germany, the Pfalz and Rheinhessen regions produce apfelwein alongside their regular grape-based wines.
Outside Europe, the Australian island state of Tasmania (known as the Apple Isle) is, as the nickname suggests, a prolific grower of apples, some of which are fermented to make cider. Argentina has a developed consumer and production base too.
Synonyms include: Apfelwein, Cidra, Chistr, Most, Sagardo, Sidra, Apple Wine, Hard Cider.
Food pairings for Cider include:
- Seared scallops
- Thin-sliced octopus drizzled with sudachi (Japanese citrus)
- Apple-glazed pork chop