What is Cider?

June 12, 2016

What is Cider?

Cider is fermented apple juice.  In the United States, there is confusion surrounding the term "cider" that dates back to the ridiculous experiment of prohibition.  During prohibition, some apple producers labeled their apple juice as cider because it could then be taken home and fermented.  But after prohibition was repealed, the name stuck as a synonym for fresh apple juice.  The difference between the dark cloudy apple juice you will see in the fall often labeled as cider and the pale yellow juice you will see labeled as apple juice is that the pale juice has been subjected to pasteurization, homogenization, and preservatives to improve shelf life.  For the purpose of this website, the term cider will always refer to the alcoholic beverage, just as it has been referred to throughout the world for centuries.  I also encourage you to go forward henceforth, now and forever, referring to cider only as apple juice that has been fermented and therefore blessed with alcohol! 

Fact: Cider is delicious. A great cider will offer all of the flavors and complexity of the finest wine, but because it has a lower alcohol content (5%-8%), it can be enjoyed by the mouthful like any beer.  It covers a spectrum of flavors from  rich and bold to light and fruity, and sweet to dry. The spectrum of colors is also wide, varying from dark amber to champagne blonde. Cider is also gluten free and packed with anti-oxidants that promote health.  But my favorite part is that the best in the world use only one ingredient to make it …apples.

How is Cider Made?

The cider making process is a beautifully simple process that is very similar to how wine is made. Apples are harvested, washed, and milled into a fine pulp called pomace.  The juice is then extracted out of the pomace by squeezing it with a press.  The apple juice can then be left to ferment.  Yeasts that occur naturally in the fruit and in the air will eat the sugar in the juice, and the byproduct is alcohol. This process can take anywhere between a few weeks to 6 months depending on various factors.  When the fermentation is complete, you are left with a delicious beverage that can then be bottled and enjoyed!

All real cider is made using the process outlined above.  However, a cider maker has a slew of options to be able to create a broad range of diverse ciders.  The taste, appearance, and smell of a cider can be altered by many factors including if the cider maker introduces a different strain of yeast, what temperature the cider is kept at, the type of container they ferment it in, if they pasteurize the cider, and many other variables.

The most important variable is the apples they choose to use in the first place!  There are over 7,500 different varieties of apples worldwide that are cultivated for eating, cooking, and cider making.  Apples that are cultivated for cider tend to be high in tannins, which provides cider with rich and complex flavors, but make the apples too bitter to eat by themselves. Cider apples also tend to be high in either sugar, which provides the alcohol, or acidity, which gives cider a taste of freshness.  A skilled cider maker will look to blend apples to make a juice with the perfect balance acidity, sugar, and tannins.  Unfortunately, in America those pesky prohibitionists chopped down most of the cider apple orchards back in the '20s!  Some still remain or have been planted since, but they are hard to come by and many cider makers here are forced to make cider with apples that are not intended for cider.  Stone Circle is doing its part to revive cider by only using apples good for cider, and growing an orchard of apple varieties cultivated just for cider making. 

Is Angry Orchard Cider?

As I have defined it above, no.  It's something else.  But before I go further, it needs to be noted that Angry Orchard played a big part in driving a revival of cider in the United States, largely because of their parent company's access to distribution.  But many of the mass "cider" producers are making their products by taking the lowest grade apple concentrate they can source from China and adding corn syrup and water to ferment it.  It is what it is, but in my opinion, it's not cider. That being said, if you like Angry Orchard, you should drink it!  I will not resort to the type of snobbery that would dictate what people should or shouldn't like.  But if you like Angry Orchard and it's the only cider you've ever had, you'll be well served to try a few properly produced ciders by local cider makers as it will likely take your appreciation of the beverage to a whole new level.

Dan Lawrence
Dan began his career in e-commerce, but abandoned the button-down life to join his brother-in-law in pursuing a mutual dream of making great cider. He recently spent 5 months in Southwest England, working with some of the best cider makers in the world in order to further develop his skillset.

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