Cider's journey is a tale of heritage, art, and culture.
There's an old saying in the British West Country that resonates deeply within cider circles: "The apple's got a heart, the heart's got a seed, the seed's got a cider, that’s all you need". Indeed, in the verdant orchards of Somerset, to the bustling colonial taverns of America, and onto the artisanal cider houses of the present day, the journey of cider is as rich and varied as the myriad apple varieties from which it springs.
Cider - this effervescent golden elixir of apples - has left a potent and lasting mark on the cultures it has touched. But what is it, exactly? Simply put, cider is a fermented beverage made primarily from apple juice, but this rudimentary definition belies its complexity and diversity. It can range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, from still to sparkling, from crystal clear to cloudy and rustic.
Cider is a drink that transcends borders and cultures, its roots stretching back to ancient times, but one that has truly blossomed in the contemporary era. As we now see, cider's popularity has exploded onto the global stage, gracing the tables of high-end restaurants, dominating craft beverage festivals, and charming the palates of consumers seeking alternatives to beer and wine. Let's embark on a journey to explore this fascinating beverage's past, dive into the art of its production, and celebrate the vibrant culture it has inspired. From ancient beginnings to promising future, cider has a tale to tell - a tale of heritage, art, and culture.
Brief history of cider
Cider's history is as layered as its flavors, dating back over two thousand years. Early European settlers, particularly those from the cider-rich regions of England and France, brought the art of cider-making with them to the shores of the New World. But its roots run deeper, even before their arrival, tracing back to the Romans who first encountered fermented apple drink in the British Isles around 55 B.C. This simple yet delicious beverage had already been a staple in the local diet for hundreds of years, if not more.
In medieval Europe, cider enjoyed the limelight as one of the most popular beverages. Monastic communities, particularly in Normandy and Brittany, were known to cultivate apple orchards and produce cider, contributing to its spread and evolution. The beverage's popularity was also fueled by the reality of the times: often, it was safer to drink cider than the available water.
Upon reaching North America, cider found a new home. The Pilgrims cultivated apple orchards and, in the absence of barley for beer, cider became the drink of choice in the colonial era. It was more than a mere beverage - it was an agricultural necessity. The apples used weren't just for drinking but were a vital food source, and their fermentation into cider made a safe and long-lasting drink. In this way, cider became intertwined with local culture and community life, even becoming a form of currency in some regions.
However, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a decline in cider's popularity. Industrialization, the growth of cities, and changing agricultural practices led to a reduction in orchard cultivation. The death knell, though, was Prohibition. By the time it was repealed, the cider industry was a shadow of its former self, and beer, made popular by the waves of German immigrants, took over as America's favorite tipple.
Yet, as with many good things, cider has seen a heartening resurgence in the 21st century. Spurred by the craft beverage movement and a growing interest in artisanal, local produce, cider has reclaimed its place at the table. Today, from traditional farmhouse brews to innovative blends pushing the envelope of flavor, cider is once again celebrated as an integral part of our shared heritage and culture.
In the English medieval times, it was healthier drinking cider than drinking water. Perhaps that was their apple a day.
Art of cider production
Cider production is both a science and an art, a delicate dance of nature and human intervention. The journey from orchard to bottle is intricate, rooted in traditional methods but often enhanced by modern technology.
Our journey begins in the orchard. Apples are harvested once they've reached optimal ripeness, which is typically from late summer through late autumn. A variety of apple types are often used in cider production, each contributing to the final flavor profile. Traditional cider apples are categorized into four main types: sweets, sharps, bittersweets, and bittersharps. However, it's not uncommon to find ciders made from culinary or dessert apples, each imparting unique characteristics to the final product.
Post-harvest, apples are washed and crushed into a pulp, creating what's called the pomace. This pomace is then pressed to extract the juice. It's here that the magic begins. The apple juice is transferred to fermentation vessels, typically stainless-steel tanks or wooden casks, where it is left to ferment. This process is driven by yeast, which consumes the sugars in the juice, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.
The art of blending is a crucial step in cider production. Master cider makers meticulously combine different apple varieties and sometimes pears or other fruits, to achieve a balance of sweetness, acidity, and tannins. This process requires a nuanced understanding of each variety's characteristics and how they interact with one another.
Fermentation can take weeks or even months, depending on the cider maker's desired outcome. Some ciders undergo a secondary fermentation, much like champagne, to naturally carbonate the cider. The fermented cider is then clarified, often through filtration or fining, before being carbonated (if not naturally carbonated), and finally bottled.
While mass-produced ciders often speed up this process and may include added sugars or flavors, artisanal or craft ciders are distinguished by their careful attention to each step. These ciders are often produced in small batches, with an emphasis on traditional methods, quality of ingredients, and nuanced flavors. Some cider makers also experiment with wild fermentation, barrel aging, and other techniques to produce unique, high-quality ciders.
Each sip of cider is a testament to this intricate process - a harmony of tradition, innovation, and the bountiful offerings of nature.
Regional variations and styles of cider
Cider, much like wine, is a mirror reflecting the soul of the land and people from where it originates. As we globe-trot from the picturesque orchards of Normandy to the rugged Asturian landscape, from the lush English West Country to the fertile American valleys, we find that cider, in its myriad forms, tells a story as unique as its surroundings.
In France, particularly in regions like Normandy and Brittany, 'cidre' is often sparkling and ranges from sweet to dry. French ciders are typically made using a method called 'keeving', where the fermentation process is stopped early, leaving residual sugars that give the cider its characteristic sweetness and low alcohol content. Keeved cider also undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle, adding a natural effervescence.
Journey to Spain and the 'sidra' you encounter is a different beast altogether. The traditional Asturian and Basque sidra is tart, almost sour, with low alcohol content and still rather than sparkling. Sidra is often poured from height, known as 'escanciado', to aerate the cider and enhance its flavors before drinking.
Venture to England, and 'scrumpy' might be the word you hear in cider circles. This traditional British cider, often from the West Country, is a rustic, unfiltered cider that can be still or slightly sparkling. Made from a blend of different apple varieties, scrumpy is rich in tannins, with a bold and full-bodied flavor profile.
Across the pond, American craft cider is as diverse as the country itself. Ranging from dry to sweet, still to sparkling, and even infused with other fruits or spices, American ciders offer a thrilling exploration of tastes. Heirloom apple varieties are often prized, and the craft cider movement emphasizes local apples, traditional methods, and innovation in equal measure.
Regardless of where it's made, cider is intimately linked to its 'terroir' - a French term used in the wine industry to describe the natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as soil, topography, and climate. Much like grapes for wine, apples for cider express the characteristics of the region's soil, climate, and the apple varieties used. A cider made from apples grown in the cool, damp climate of England will have a distinct taste profile from one made from apples in the sun-drenched valleys of the Pacific Northwest.
This reflection of terroir is what makes each regional cider unique, each sip a taste of the land and weather of the orchard, the apple's heritage, and the cider maker's craft. It's a fascinating world of variations, styles, and traditions, all tied together by a shared love for this remarkable beverage - cider.
Perry is a type of cider that is made from fermented pear juice, instead of apple juice. It shares many similarities with apple cider, including its production process and the range of sweet to dry products, but it has a distinct pear flavor. Perry can be clear or cloudy and is often pale yellow or golden in color.
Perry has been produced for centuries, particularly in England and France. In England, it is sometimes referred to as "pear cider," but traditionalists argue that this term should be reserved for ciders that contain a mix of both pear and apple juice. In France, particularly in the Normandy and Brittany regions, perry is known as poiré.
Just as with cider, there are mass-produced perries and artisanal perries. The latter are typically made from traditional perry pear varieties, which are different from the standard dessert or cooking pears. Perry pears are often high in tannins and have a strong, robust flavor, much like cider apples. The finest artisanal perries can be complex and are often compared to fine wines in their depth of flavor and balance.
Perry has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, alongside the broader growth of the cider industry, with new craft perry producers emerging and established cider makers branching out into perry production.
Production of perry or pear cider
The production of perry, often known as pear cider, is indeed similar to the production of apple cider. Here are the basic steps in the process:
Harvesting and sorting: Perry pears are harvested, often by shaking the tree and collecting the fruit that falls. The pears are then sorted, with damaged or rotten fruit discarded.
Milling: The pears are washed and then milled (or crushed) into a pulp. This pulp, known as the pommace, is prepared for pressing.
Pressing: The pulp is pressed to extract the juice. Traditional cider presses can also be used for this step.
Fermentation: The extracted juice is left to ferment, usually in large vats or barrels. This is where the sugar in the juice is converted into alcohol by yeast.
Racking and maturing: After fermentation, the perry is often racked into clean containers to remove sediment and allow the flavours to develop and mature. This process can take several months.
Bottling: Once matured, the perry is filtered, carbonated (if desired), and bottled.
However, it's important to note that perry pears are quite different from eating or cooking pears. They're generally smaller and harder, and many varieties have high levels of tannins and acidity, which contribute to the distinct, complex flavour of perry. Also, just like cider apples, perry pears have their own classifications, such as bittersharp, bittersweet, sharp, and sweet.
While the term pear cider is often used interchangeably with perry, purists argue that true perry is made only from perry pears and not from dessert or culinary pear varieties, the latter of which are often used to make what is commercially labelled as pear cider.
Cider is a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, and its ideal serving temperature often depends on the type of cider and personal preference.
Most cider is typically served cold, similar to how you'd serve beer or white wine. This is especially true for lighter, more refreshing styles of cider, such as common mass-market ciders and many craft ciders. Serving these ciders cold can enhance their crisp, fruity characteristics and make them exceptionally refreshing, especially in warm weather.
However, certain styles of cider, such as traditional English scrumpy or French cidre, can also be enjoyed at cellar temperature (roughly 55°F or 13°C), which can allow more complex flavors and aromas to shine. If you have a particularly rich, tannic cider, or one with a higher alcohol content, you might want to try it at this slightly warmer temperature to fully appreciate its depth of flavor.
In addition, there are special ciders designed to be served hot, often called mulled ciders. These ciders are typically spiced with ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and are heated before serving, making them a popular choice in colder weather or around the holidays.
Regardless of temperature, cider is usually served in a glass - either a traditional pint glass or a wine glass, depending on the style and quality of the cider. And in regions like the Basque Country in Spain, cider is traditionally poured from a height to aerate it and enhance its flavors.
Ultimately, the best way to drink cider for anyone is the way they enjoy it most. Whetherthe preference is cold cider on a hot summer day, or mulled cider in the middle of winter, cider offers a range of flavors and styles to suit anyone.
Give me yesterday's bread, this day's flesh, and last year's cider. (Benjamin Franklin)
This quote from Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father of the United States, points to the appreciation of cider even during early American history. It also hints at the aging process of cider, as "last year's cider" would have had time to fully ferment and develop its flavors.
Cider culture is as vibrant and varied as the drink itself. It has carved out a significant niche in the world of gastronomy, crafts a spirited presence in festivals and events, and has spawned a wave of cider tourism, cider pubs, and home cider-making. Let's dive into this world of shared tastes, traditions, and celebrations.
In the gastronomic landscape, cider holds a unique place. Its wide spectrum of flavors and styles makes it an incredibly versatile companion to food. From the tangy, dry ciders that cut through the richness of creamy cheeses, to the sweet and fruity ciders that complement spicy foods, the possibilities are endless. In regions like Normandy, cider even forms part of traditional cooking, lending its sweet acidity to dishes like 'Poulet Vallée d'Auge', a chicken and apple dish cooked in cider.
The world over, cider festivals and tasting events have become a staple of the craft beverage calendar. These vibrant gatherings serve not only to showcase the range of ciders available but also as a platform for enthusiasts and makers to exchange knowledge and celebrate the craft. From England's Great British Cider Festival to the Northwest Cider Fest in the U.S., these events echo the thriving love for cider.
Cider tourism, too, has blossomed. Whether it's the 'Cider Route' in Normandy, where visitors can explore historic cideries and sample cidre and Calvados, or tours of the beautiful orchards of Virginia's cider scene, these experiences attract thousands of visitors annually.
In cities around the world, cider pubs or taprooms have become increasingly popular. These establishments are dedicated to cider in the same way that breweries are to beer, offering a range of ciders on tap and even producing their own. Patrons can explore ciders from different regions, experiment with cider cocktails, and discover the drink's incredible diversity.
Parallel to the boom in craft beer and artisanal spirits, home cider making is on the rise. Enthusiasts are drawn to the simplicity of the process and the opportunity to experiment with different apple varieties and fermentation techniques. There's a sense of joy and accomplishment in creating something from scratch and then sharing and enjoying the fruits of one's labor.
Cider culture is more than just about drinking; it's about community, sharing experiences, and celebrating the incredible diversity of this age-old beverage. It's about revisiting tradition and sparking innovation. It's about the simple pleasure of enjoying a glass of cider, knowing there's a world of history, craft, and culture in every sip.
The future of cider
As we raise a glass to the past and present of cider, our gaze shifts naturally to the horizon. The future of cider, brimming with potential, promises a continued celebration of tradition and innovation, sustainability, and exciting new trends.
One such trend in the cider world is the rise of single-variety ciders. Much as wine can be crafted from a single type of grape to express its unique characteristics, cider makers are creating ciders that focus on a single apple variety. These ciders allow enthusiasts to explore the flavors, aromas, and characteristics of individual apple types in depth.
Cider hybrids, too, are making a splash. Hopped ciders, where the apple juice is fermented with hops much like beer, offers the best of both worlds - the fruitiness of cider and the bitter, aromatic qualities of hops. Spiced ciders infused with cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg are popular, especially during the colder months. Then there are ice ciders, made from apples naturally frozen in the winter, a process that concentrates the juice's sugar and flavor to create a sweet, intense, and complex cider.
Another crucial aspect of cider's future is the increasing emphasis on sustainable and organic practices. Cider producers are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment. Many orchards are adopting organic farming methods, eschewing synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. There's also a move towards local sourcing of apples, to reduce carbon footprint, support local growers, and celebrate the terroir.
Experts are predicting a golden future for cider. Its accessibility, combined with a growing appreciation for artisanal beverages and a desire for alternatives to beer and wine, positions cider for continued growth. As awareness and understanding of the diversity of cider grows, we can expect to see a broader range of styles and flavors, more dedicated cider pubs and festivals, and an even stronger focus on sustainable practices.
As cider steps into the future, it carries with it the echoes of its rich past - the traditional orchards, the ancient fermentation processes, the stories of cultures and communities. At the same time, it embraces change, innovation, and the challenges of a rapidly evolving world. Cider's journey is far from over, and for enthusiasts and newcomers alike, the road ahead promises to be an exciting one.
The last sip and the journey ahead
As we reach the end of our exploration of cider's captivating journey, we stand at an interesting crossroads - where the roots of tradition intertwine with the branches of innovation. Cider has evolved from an ancient necessity to a cherished craft beverage, each pour echoing its rich history and its thrilling future.
Across continents and cultures, cider's story is a testament to the humble apple's transformative power, shaped by the hands of time, the whims of climate, and the craft of generations of cider makers. From the rustic French 'cidre' to the lively Spanish 'sidra', the robust English scrumpy to the kaleidoscope of American craft ciders, it paints a deliciously diverse landscape.
Today, cider is more than just a beverage. It's an expression of terroir, a focal point of festivals, a partner in gastronomy, a booming industry, a craft embraced by home producers, and a vessel carrying a vital commitment to sustainable practices.
Yet, this world of cider is ever-evolving, ripe with opportunities for innovation and growth. Single-variety ciders, cider hybrids, and ice ciders are pushing the boundaries of taste and expectation. The continued emphasis on sustainability and organic practices is setting a standard for the industry's future.
The resurgence of cider is more than a trend - it's a renaissance, a renewed appreciation for an age-old craft. As we step into this exciting future, we invite you, the reader, to embark on your own cider journey. Visit a local cidery, attend a cider festival, or simply savor a bottle from your local store. Delve into the delicious depths of flavors, the fascinating variations, and the rich heritage cider has to offer.
The story of cider is far from complete, and you have the opportunity to be part of the next chapter. So here's to you, the explorer, as you immerse yourself in the world of cider - a world where every sip tells a story, and every bottle opens a door to a new discovery. Cheers to that!