Apples in a glass

Summer past its peak; rather-ripe apples appeared on a market, so it’s time to talk about cider, about fresh sparkling apple cider. This beverage has been pleasing humankind for many centuries. Cider, technologically, is an apple wine. In fact, Germans, straightforwardly call their version of cider – Apfelwein. North Americans like to assign old European names to irrelevant things, and then give new names to objects which names were borrowed. Thus, in North America, unfiltered apple juice is called cider, and cider itself is called hard cider.

It’s hard to say when people started making cider. Evidently the drink provokes the invention if you live among apple gardens. However, “Geography,” written by the Greek historian and geographer Strabo (ending of BC – beginning of AC), and “Natural History,” written by the Roman author Pliny the Elder (beginning of AC), are considered the first evidence of cider production. Pliny reports about the production of apple wine in Mediterranean. Strabo mentions production of cider-like beverages in some regions of modern France and Spain. By all means, neither Spain, nor France existed as realms during those times, but it doesn’t matter to our story. Kingdoms rise and fall, but people made, make and will be making alcoholic beverages. Until quite recently it was believed that cider was unknown in England, until William the Conqueror brought his reign and cider in 1066. However, recent studies showed that Romans, during their expansion in the beginning of AC, found cider on territories of modern England. Perhaps, there was some recession in cider production after that and again renaissance with William the Conqueror. Thus, Spain (together with Portugal), France and England can be considered as homelands and keepers of the art of cider-making. Until XI-XII centuries, in apple-growing regions of France, Spain and Portugal, production and consumption of cider dominated over grape wine, but later wine took over. Cider is a gentler drink and more difficult to store than wine. Currently, cider, with different degree of popularity, is made and drank worldwide. We can even notice some kind of cider renaissance. It will not take over wine, but interest to cider is growing, different kinds of cider appear on a market. From places that didn’t make cider before to traditional cider-making regions. Nowadays England has the highest cider production and consumption in the world. Other famous traditional cider places are north of Spain (Asturias, Galicia, Cantabria and Basque Country) and north of France (Normandy and Brittany). As well as cider can be found about anywhere where apples grow.

As for apples. Both, regular eating and special cider apples are used for cider production. Cider apples have high level of sugar (alcohol should be made from something), high level of tannins (for astringency and aroma intensity), and high level of acidity (for freshness). Last two parameters may vary from variety to variety. Producer chooses type of apples according to traditions and to the planned taste of a cider. One maker uses only cider apples, other – only eating apples, another uses mix of cider apples with eating apples. Quite often, a complex mix of many varieties is used to achieve a specific taste. Although, sometimes only one variety can be used. England is a good example of difference in traditions. According to apple usage, it had divided into two factions. West Country makers use mainly cider apples and their cider is strong, tannic and aromatic. Wels and East England makers prefer eating apples and their cider is softer and more gentle.

I have yet to meet British non mass-market cider. Although, I had recently tried Craigies, Ballyhook Flyer, 2013 from Ireland. Ireland is another country of traditional cider-making. Their cider is similar to the ones from West Country. It is aged and made out of a mix of three cider apple varieties. Pay attention that the year of production is printed on a label. Most ciders are sold immediately after being produced and don’t have the year of production on labels. The cider is very cloudy (unfiltered), color varies from dark-amber to brown, and has low carbonation. Alcohol content is 5.9% abv. It has a pronounced aroma of very ripe red apples, fallen leaves and old orchards, as well as inherits rich taste of ripe apples with refreshing acidity, tannic bitterness and good aftertaste. This cider is dry. It goes good with pork, old cheeses or just by itself. I was completely satisfied. The price is about $7 for 0.5l.

According to established laws and regulations, in order for a beverage to be called cider, its main ingredient has to be apples. However, the required ratio of apples varies in different countries. For example, in France, cider should be made solely from apples, in England at least 35% of raw material should be apples, in USA – at least 50%. The rest can be other fruits and berries, such as pears.

Pears, however, have a right for independence. England, France and Spain traditionally make pear analog of cider – perry (poire, perade, accordingly). Nowadays, some other countries in Europe as well as in New World produce perry. They often call it pear cider or perry cider, although perry’s homeland countries are not too fond of that. I agree with them: if a unique name does exist, what’s the point for unification and simplification?

Since technologically cider is an apple wine, it is produced with accordance to wine technologies. Apples are gathered from trees, then grinded into puree and pressed into juice. Juice ferments in a vat using wild yeast strains that are present on apples or by adding special strains. It is important to do the fermentation at a low temperature, 4-15C, otherwise gentle apple aroma of the beverage disappears. It is the same approach as with white wine. Since the temperature is low, the fermentation takes longer time, about three months. Shortly before yeast consumes all the sugar, cider is transferred from lees to clean vats, and fermentation continues. This gives light carbonation to cider. When fermentation is finished, cider is ready for filtration, bottling and consumption. However, in some cases, aging can take up to three years, sometimes it’s done in oak (e.g. Basques do oak aging).

Cider is very variable; there is a choice for any taste. Alcohol content can range from 1 to 13% abv. Cider can be clear or have different levels of cloudiness, depending on filtration. Color of a beverage may vary from nearly colorless to brown via all shades of gold. Cider can vary from a dry taste to sweet. Addition of different fruits and berries determines the taste as well.

Some of the producers from England and Quebec make ice cider by analogy with ice wine. It’s made, accordingly, from frozen apples. Alcohol content of such cider is 9-13% abv.


Cider can be still (as many Basque’s ciders), but most types of ciders are carbonated. Mass-market ciders are usually carbonated using CO2 from a balloon. The most traditional way is a light carbonation, which is achieved during the secondary fermentation in a closed vat. Sugar can be added during secondary carbonation to increase CO2 production. Some high quality ciders are made with accordance to traditional champagne method.

Most ciders are bottled in beer-type bottles, those that were made by a champagne method are bottled in champagne-like bottles and then corked.

Clos Normand Brut is a good example of a high quality Normand cider that’s made by a champagne method. It is brut, and sugar doesn’t block cider aroma. Alcohol content is low, 4% abv. Cider is clear and has an amber color. Its aroma and taste are rich. It is made out of cider apples, which yield a refreshing acidity, light tannic bitterness and a rich palate of ripe apples with undertone of fallen leaves. It is refreshing and aromatic. Additional bonus: the cider is not expensive, about 10$ for 0.75l.

Domaine de Kervéguen Cidre à l’Ancienne Brut is another classic French cider, but this time it is from Brittany. Alcohol content is 6% abv. It is clear with light cloudiness and with amber orange color. It is dry but very soft, which brings some sweetness into the taste. It has good but very soft acidity, light tannins and aroma, and a taste of ripe yellow apples. The price is about 20$ per 0.75l.

The New World also offers some interesting ciders.

Beckhorn Hollow from Eve’s Cidery is made in State of New York, near Finger Lakes. It is famous wine region in NY (actually there are only two of such – Finger Lakes and Long Island). It is dry cider fermented in a bottle using traditional method. It is completely clear, pale-golden cider, 8.5% abv. This cider is aged and made out of cider apples harvested in 2014. It has a saturated bright taste of green apples, and is refreshing with pronounced tannins. I was impressed. The price is about 20$ per 0.75l.

Cider-makers of Oregon also use hop, which is expected. Oregon grows a lot of apples and hop. Buff Run Cider is a clear, almost colorless cider with high carbonation. 6.7% abv. It is dry, with some acidity, and with a taste of green apples and a very light touch of hop. The intensity of the taste is much lower than Doc’s Draft’s. The price is about 7$ per 0.5l.

Another interesting product from NY cider makers is Doc’s Draft, Dry Hopped Hard Apple Cider. It is a dry cider, 6% abv, clear, with a greenish pale-straw color and a strong carbonation. Interesting feature of this cider is a hop involvement. Hop is not an exclusive right of brewers anymore. Without any trace of sugar in taste and with bright aroma of green apples and fresh hop cones, the cider feels refreshing. Aftertaste has a nice hop bitterness. The price is about 7$ per 0.65l.

The mass-market ciders are usually highly carbonated, sweet, clear, and have alcohol content of 5 to 7% abv. Perhaps, the most world-known mass-market cider is English Strongbow. If you have ever tasted cider in a bar, with a high probability it was the Strongbow.

Here are two mass-market ciders from one of the producers in Washington State. One is an apple cider, the other is a pear cider. Second one is actually made out of a mix of apples and pears. Both are sweet, clear, and highly carbonated. Alcohol content is 6% abv. Pear cider is smoother, and apple one is more refreshing (pears have less acidity than apples).

Ciders from smaller producers demonstrate much higher taste variety than those from mass-market. The only disadvantage of those ciders in comparison with the mass-market ones is their price. They are usually significantly more expensive.

There is not much to say about mass-market ciders, since one can find them everywhere, and the basic idea of their taste is easily obtainable after trying any of those.

The prices mentioned are from WA stores, so you can compare relative prices of different ciders.

Choose cider according to your own taste and enjoy your summer!