Cider (called hard cider
in the USA) is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice
. It has always been very popular in Britain
and spread to the Colonies when migrants took the seeds for the cider-apple trees
out with them.
Types of cider
- English cider - real cider and scrumpy is cider made by the traditional method, using an ale-type yeast. It is light brown in colour, usually still, and cloudy. As with single malt whiskey there are also single apple ciders - some of these are available commercially from Sheppy's Cider and other small local producers. Mass-produced cider is still or fizzy, may be golden brown or white and is always clear, due to filtration. It may be sweet, medium or dry. Brands include Woodpecker, Dry Blackthorne, Strongbow and Scrumpy Jack. In Britain most cider making is centred around the South West counties of Hereford, Somerset and Devon.
- French cider is paler and sweeter than English cider. It is made using wine-type yeasts and is usually undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle (in the same way as champagne) to produce a very fizzy drink. Cider production is mainly centered around Normandy and Brittany.
- Spanish cider has complex flavours which can include honey and vanilla as well tasting strongly of apple. It is usually bottled in the same way as wine. The principal cider regions are Basque and Asturias in northern Spain.
- America and Canada - there are two distinct types of cider here. Sweet cider, or cider, normally refers to freshly pressed apple juice, typically warmed and spiced; the fermented type is called hard cider and is less carbonated than european types, apparently to avoid higher sparkling wine tax. New England and Oregon are the chief cider regions.
Cider is thought to have been brewed in Britain since pre-Roman times, but became more popular after the Norman conquest of 1066. At this time orchards were being planted specifically for the cider industry, and monasteries would have sold spiced ciders made to their own secret recipes. By the 17th Century most farm houses would have had an orchard and a cider press and daily allowances of cider were given out to farm workers.
Until recent times high taxation and changes in farming practice gradually led to the demise of the cider industry with many orchards being ploughed into the ground. Modern farming, harvesting and brewing techniques have led to a resurgence in cider production and its popularity is once again on the increase. Mass produced cider is carbonated and clear and hardly recognisable as being the same brew as the cloudy English farm-produced 'scrumpy', however both make a heady drink which often results in a powerful hangover!
Any apples can be used to make cider, but the best ciders are made from a blend of apples more closely related to crabapples than eating apples. These varieties are 'bittersweet' and 'bittersharp', and they provide a high levels of tannin, acidity and natural sugar; they are also easier to press being more fibrous in texture.
After picking, apples are left to mature for about a week and then poured into a 'scratcher' where they are crushed to a pulp. In the old days the apples were crushed under a heavy millstone which fitted in a circular trough and was pulled round by a horse or mule. This pulp (also called pommy or pomace) was then pressed to extract the juice. The pomice was turned into wooden racks, layered between hessian sheets or straw, and pressed by turning a large wooden screw device until all the juice had run out. The juice ran into channels and was collected into barrels where fermentation was to take place. The left over pulp was used for cattle feed or for making pectin.
Traditionally nothing* would have been added to the apple juice and it would have been allowed to ferment in the barrel using the natural sugars and yeasts present in the fruit. This often resulted in the wrong bacteria taking over and spoiled or odd-tasting batches of cider would have been the result.
*An old farmer once told me that a dead rat would have been thrown into the barrel to aid fermentation, and this has been shown by science to be more than just an old wives tale. Apple juice is very low in nitrogen compared to, say, the wort used for beer making. For the yeasts to act quickly and efficiently they need a source of nitrogen, although these days it is usually added in the form of ammonium sulfate rather than rotting flesh.
Fermentation would start almost immediately, and continue for about 6 months, after which the barrel would be sealed and the cider left to mature for upwards of 6 months.
Modern commercial cider production requires that all batches of cider taste the same and so they blend the apples or use concentrated apple juice, and sterilise the juice with sulfer dioxide before adding standardised yeast preparations. This has resulted in a fairly bland uniform drink which lacks many of the characteristics of the traditionally made ciders favoured by connoiseurs. The maximum allowable alcohol level in Europe is 8.5%; if the level exceeds this it is classed as wine and is subject to much higher taxation byt the Customs and Excise.
There is a strong movement, called APPLE (The Apple and Pear Product Liaison Executive) in the UK, headed by CAMRA to return to traditional brewing practice before the technique is lost forever.