Cider Guide

The Cider Guide

Often referred to as hard cider in North America to differentiate alcoholic cider from non-alcoholic apple cider, cider is a globally consumed fermented beverage usually enjoyed chilled or over ice and made in most cases from apples or some other fruit such as pears.

It’s distinctly tart and yet sweet, enjoyed by many instead of beer or a cooler on a hot summer day. It’s one of the most refreshing alcoholic beverages, and its low ABV is a happy accident since it goes down as easily as juice.

Apple Cider

Apple Cider

A Festival of Apples

The long-standing traditions of wassailing the apple trees or bobbing for apples is very near and dear to the hearts of cider producers. Autumn is a prime time due to the abundance of apples in their orchards, and so cider festivals are often organized to pay homage to this tart fruit. It provides the producers with a fun opportunity to pick their apples but also to showcase their cider creations to the locals paving the way for larger sales next year. Despite summer being cider’s most prolific season, autumn is the time for many bars and pubs to focus on cider specials and events to capitalize on this traditional festival.

How It’s Made

Although any variety of apple can be used to produce cider, in most cases it’s actually a cider apple that’s grown specifically for the beverage. Traditionally, the apples would be pressed using a horse-drawn cider press, but for most ciders produced today, it’s done by machine with the only memory of this fancy press being in the form of small statues often seen as garden ornaments or flower features.

Once the best apples are hand-picked from the orchards, they are ground into pomace either by hand, mill, horse-powered or by machine. The pulp from the apple is then sent to a cider press and formed into layers that the producers refer to as “cheeses into a block”. The entire process is done rather quickly to eliminate oxidation of the pomace, and the press pushes down on the layers to extract all of the must from the pomace. Once all the juice is strained off, it’s transferred to either closed casks or open vats to ferment. Unlike other spirits, cider is fermented at a very low temperature of just 40–60 °F. This slows down the process but keeps the most delicate aromas from the apples that would otherwise be lost. Before all of the sugar is consumed, the must is racked and placed in new vats leaving the dead yeast cells at the bottom of the old one. The new vats are filled to the brim to eliminate any air which prevents acetic bacteria from forming and this second fermentation is what produces the small amount of carbonation we enjoy from the bottle. While most ciders are quite natural, some producers do add extra sugar at this point, and it’s not uncommon for the cider to be racked again into a new vat if it’s too cloudy. At this point, depending on what type of flavor the producer wants to impart, they might add some additional apple juice or other fruit flavoring to the cider. For most ciders, the average fermentation process takes about three months at which point it’s ready to be bottled and sold. However, despite it being ready, many producers opt to age their cider in casks or vats for up to three years giving it a much fuller body and aroma. If desired, some vats will even be blended to produce a more tantalizing cider for the specific region that it’s expected to sell in. Prior to bottling, a little more sugar might be added to give it an extra sparkle. While most ciders come in beer style bottles, they actually taste nothing like beer, yet are often enjoyed by the same demographics.

Flavor Profiles

Like wine, beer and many spirits, the flavor profile of ciders can differ quite dramatically. Some are quite tart and dry whereas others are very fruity and sweet. They range in color from almost a light straw yellow to a golden amber and even dark brown. Usually, the change in color is due to the filtration between the pressing of the apples and the fermentation process. However, it can also be due, in part, to the apple selected. While most ciders are sparkling meaning they have some carbonation, others are enjoyed flat. In North America, the average cider purchased resembles a light white wine in color, whereas in parts of Europe it’s the dark brown ciders that are favored for their more robust flavor profiles.

Various Beverages

While cider is used for a number of other spirits and liqueurs, the actual cider drink doesn’t always include just apples. Recently many producers have turned to pears to create new ciders and focused on branding the drink to its predominant female demographic.

In Europe, cider holds a longstanding history said to be even more popular than wine back in the 12th-century. Today, it still remains a popular beverage consumed both cold and warm. Despite cold cider being popular in North America during the summer months, in Europe it is equally popular during Christmastime and throughout the winter. In Austria, cider is usually made at home as most farmers have an apple tree on their property. Served with food, it’s a staple drink throughout much of the region.

In Belgium, cider company Stassen SA has created new variations of cider including raspberry, cherry, and blackcurrant flavors. Even Stella Artois beer has created its own cider in a region that has managed to really diversify its flavor profile.

Of course, in France, cider is a very popular beverage and is even used as a hallmark in the famous Calvados brandy. Click here to read our brandy guide.

In Germany, cider is usually called Apfelwein, meaning apple wine and is quite tart and sour but well enjoyed throughout much of its regions.

Cider enjoys popularity throughout much of Europe. Of course, Britain is the epicenter of cider where it’s been a staple of the monarchy for more than a thousand years.

Today, the United Kingdom consumes more cider than anywhere else in the world. It’s served on tap at many pubs and restaurants and is a fixture on the shelves at liquor stores throughout the land. There are close to 500 cider makers in the UK alone, and its production makes up more than 60% of all cider produced in the EU.

Harvested cider apples

Harvested cider apples

Dangers of Cider

Unfortunately, cider is one of the most commonly abused alcoholic beverages. While the term cider is obvious in many parts of the world, in places such as North America and Asia it is often misconstrued as being non-alcoholic and, therefore, accidentally served to children.

In fact, even in my home, while writing this article my wife asked our three-year-old if she wanted to try our “juice” not realizing it was alcoholic. Thankfully I managed to stop her before our daughter was able to take a sip.

It’s important for parents, especially in regions where cider can refer to a non-alcoholic beverage, to double check before giving their children, the elderly, recovering alcoholics or people on medication cider. Since many ciders taste just like juice, it can be quickly consumed causing harm to those unable to handle alcohol. Not only can it result in intoxication, but for the very young or at-risk, it can cause severe damage to vital organs and can even result in death.

In Canada and the United States, cider is a growing trend with companies popping up all over the map and producing it. However, unlike much of the rest of the world, it is usually referred to as “Hard Cider” in North America whereas cider means the non-alcoholic version of the drink.

Like craft beers, since cider only requires apples to produce, many home brewers are creating their own versions of cider and despite it being a fairly historic drink, it’s crept up into the mainstream crowds of modern America.

Recommended Ciders

There are quite literally thousands of different ciders produced all over the world. Here is a very small selection of some of my favorites that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Doc's Cider

Doc’s Cider

Doc’s Hard Apple

One of the only ciders that really makes you feel like a man, there’s something nostalgic in a very southern Americana kind of way. It’s the kind of cider that makes me want to trudge out into the woods with an ax in one hand and cider in the other. This is that kind of cold, refreshing beverage you can drink while camping or in the comfort of your summer home on Cape Cod. There’s something really down to earth about this cider, and it makes me go back for more. It’s a riper apple flavor with stronger notes of tartness and sugar wrapped with a taste of wet moss and limestone with a hint of leather. It’s worth every sip.

Crispins hard pear cider

Crispins hard pear cider

Crispin Venus Reigns

When Crispin sent me this limited release, barrel aged pear cider I was a little hesitant. They’ve also sent me four other ciders that really weren’t anything special, but this particular cider is made from the Colfax golden pear wine and aged for 26 months in red wine casks which gives it this robustly fresh pear flavor with bursts of jam and ripe berries framed by notes of sherry. It has beautiful hints of vanilla and honey with the warmth and spiciness of a strong red wine. As far as ciders go, this is one of my favorites and if you can find it, buy it.

McKenzies hard cider

McKenzies hard cider

Mckenzie’s Lazy Lemon Hard Cider

Citrusy without the bite, this is a rather unique and fragrant cider that any citrus lover will love. The lemon cuts through like you’d expect but almost has the kiss of an orange like a Meyer lemon. It’s a fruity, yet tart summer drink that’s perfect for a lazy day at the cabin.

Julian Apple Pie Cider

Julian Apple Pie Cider

Julian Hard Cider

A staple on the west coast, Julian’s hard cider offers a range of craft ciders worth your attention.

Strongbow Cider

Strongbow Cider

Strongbow Cider

A traditional English cider, Strongbow is made from a hand-selected blend of 50 different cider apples which all play a part in creating its dry, crisp and refreshing taste. It’s a really elevated traditional cider and one I think you’ll enjoy.

Conclusion

Cider is an elevated beverage for the average beer or cooler drinker. Don’t let one cider fool you into giving up on the drink. Since, like wine, it’s range of flavors is so vast, you’ll be sure to find one you enjoy. One great benefit to a good cider is that you can often find one that will pair with any food from raw oysters to a barbecued pork shoulder or even dark chocolate. Try a selection of different ones and I’m certain you’ll have a new summer drink. Just make sure your wife doesn’t offer any to your three-year-old. What’s your favorite cider?

Summary
Article Name
The Cider Guide
Description
An in-depth look into the world of hard cider, how it's made and recommended bottles.
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8 replies
  1. Mark says:

    Strongbow is not a traditional cider,and is as far from “real cider” as it’s possible to be (neither are Addlestones, Dry Backthorn, Woodpecker etc.)

    “Real cider is a long-established traditional drink which is produced naturally from apples and is neither carbonated or pasteurised. However real cider is in a similar situation to that which faced real ale some 30 years ago with the number of outlets for real cider diminishing, even in the West Country.”

    Dunkertons, Once Upon A Tree and many more are much, much better: http://www.real-cider.co.uk/uk-producers/

  2. Nicholas says:

    Dear Gentlemans’ Gazette,

    I love reading your guides, blogs and general life advice and i do not think i have ever actually written anything to a website as a comment before but the above guide must be spoken about.

    The best Cider in the world comes from Normandy in France and the South West of England. Strongbow, which is why i am writing to you, it an alcoholics cider, it is the drink of choice for 16 years olds, people who live on park benches and broke students. As mainstream mass produced ciders go, it is maybe only surpassed in its disgustingness by something like white lighting.

    When you have the choice of so many greats why choice something so so poor.

    Adelstones cloudy cider, mass produced, widely available in the UK in Pubs and Bars but does resemble something that came from an apple, or if you so wish dig a little deeper, Hick’s cider farm in Somerset, UK (the real home of cider) , where the port barrel aged cider sold by the litre from the barrel really is something to savour, its little purple hue from the barrel and distinctive sweet porty taste. In Normandy the farms are endless, i luckily reside next to a few in the aptly named “Calvados” region where all good french cider comes from. Manoir de Grandouet to name but one delicious cider, but of the best are to be found in the local Saturday markets, where you simply have a choice of Doux (sweet) normally about 2.5- 3.5%, perfect for the lunch time tipple or the Brut (dry) normally between 4.5 – 5.5%.

    Your writing on clothes and male grooming is so good, don’t let poor research and topics that really lie outside of America tarnish that.

    A loyal reader

    • J.A. Shapira says:

      Hi Nicholas,

      Very valid points. In fact, I agree with you that Strongbow is certainly not what it once was.

      Here’s the reason it was chosen: We have readers from all over the world stretching from the United States and Canada as far as Africa and all over Asia and Europe. One of the biggest issues when we write spirit-related articles is recommending products that are universally available. For most of the products, that’s next to impossible, however, we do our best.

      The issue is that in order for me to recommend a product, I personally have to try it and enjoy it. I probably sampled well over 40 or 50 ciders for this article and unfortunately, many of the traditional ciders had to be cut because A: they weren’t available everywhere, or B: the flavor profile was too unique that even if I liked it, most ‘cider’ drinkers would not.

      The other reason which made this particular article difficult is unlike Scotch whisky which is the same wherever you are, the term ‘cider’ has different meanings based on geographic location. The flavor profiles differ considerably so for someone in London the term cider might make them think of a beautiful dry and somewhat tart flavor whereas for someone in Los Angeles they might think of a sparkling fruity drink that’s enjoyed over ice.

      Since most of our readers are in the United States we try and make sure they wholeheartedly understand all of the articles. At one point Strongbow (in my opinion) was a great cider, but that recipe changed considerably. However, today, Strongbow is really the only ‘original’ bigname cider available on a global scale and while it’s certainly much sweeter, it has a loyal following and is still rather delicious. I mean, let’s face it, how could anyone say it tastes terrible? It’s basically juice.

      For Americans looking for something as close to the ‘real’ thing from Europe as possible, Strongbow is the closest thing. Sure, you can find the traditional dry ciders in parts of the US and other countries but for the most part it’s far more difficult and would involve travel. On top of that, you’d have many ‘cider’ drinkers who would spit it out thinking there was something wrong with it because they know cider to be something completely different. Hopefully, that helps to clarify why Strongbow was chosen and labeled a ‘traditional’ cider, although perhaps I could have been more clear from the beginning and for that I apologize.

  3. Lawrence says:

    Strongbow in the states is the traditional no longer- sickeningly sweet now-although I hear the traditional still drinkable version can still be found in the UK.

  4. Amelia says:

    Strongbow dry cider was my main go-to drink back in college. But in 2014, I stopped seeing it in stores. But then it came back in two different super sweet variants. They were tasty to me, particularly the mead-reminiscent honey one, but I still would much prefer what I knew and loved ever since my first sip on vacation in London.

  5. Nicholas says:

    Excellent article, although I do have to point out that the term hard cider is not universal across Canada. I have a friend from Nova Scotia who says alcoholic cider is always called hard cider, here in Ontario it was only in the last couple of years I learnt this term but I still have yet to hear anyone say it. There is only one type of cider in Ontario and it’s always alcoholic. For anyone in Ontario I do recommend Sir Isaac’s Pear Cider, it’s cheap yet I found it to be quite a good taste. Compared to Magners which is a popular brand this tasted more like actual pears. Of course I’m no expert but this is just a personal recommendation.

  6. Michael says:

    Great articles. The “Ciders” caught my eye, but I often wonder about my favorites of yesteryear. At U. of Sussex 50 years ago we liked “mead” , Merydown Mead. Was that a cider of sort? In Nassau i was goaded into “Crippled Cock” 20 years ago . They referred to it as “Barnyard Scrumpy”. Was that a cider?

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