What is Authentic Cider?
Cider is made by fermenting the juice of freshly squeezed apples with the help of natural yeasts and the love, care and skill of the cider maker. That's it.
Of course the devil is in the detail and the skill of the cider maker is to manage the process starting from selecting the apples right though to the fermentation and storage of the cider*. Different varieties of apple combine with seasonal variation and the individual cider maker's techniques. This gives us a huge range of wonderful ciders from sweet to bone dry. The challenge is to find artisan cider makers who know how to bring this quality, care and variety to the wider market without losing their authenticity.
Unfortunately, in the race for scale, many of today's industrial cider producers create bland characterless drinks that are not recognised as cider by true aficionados. These producers certainly don't just take the freshly squeezed juice of apples and ferment with natural yeasts. Large volume producers use apple concentrate, high fructose corn syrup and apple flavourings. Their production lines generate tens, or even hundreds of millions of bottles of so-called cider that are up to 70% added water.
A number of these producers have even created brands with a fake heritage to try to create the impression of traditional approaches and methods. Others are producing drinks that they label cider but which are arguably just alcopops. One of these mass producers openly describes their "cider" as 17.5% real apple fruit juice! They explain that they make their drink with fermented apple juice and added apple juice, sugar and natural flavouring to give a "crisp and delicious apple cider taste". Would you drink wine made this way? Producers like this are in effect saying that they have to add stuff to their concoction to make it taste like cider...
There are some famous names producing these drinks and we've probably all consumed some of them at some point in our lives. This was probably because in the past they were the only "ciders" we could find in our pubs, bars or shops. But this is changing. Sophisticated consumers want the proper stuff! You wouldn't drink wine made like this and you don't have to drink cider like this. That's why we are here.
"Everybody thinks I drink beer but I actually like cider."
— Prince William
Just as craft beer and real ale have revolutionised the beer industry, so too are artisan cider makers bringing excellent ciders to a wider audience. These cider makers stay true to simplicity and the traditional principles even if they are using modern tools and equipment. They work hard to use historic varieties of cider apple to create single-varietal styles or their own clever blends. They respect the traditional approaches to making ciders and stay away from industrial techniques.
At the core (pun intended!) of any cider is the apple. There are many, many different varieties of apple. Cider does not usually use "eating" apples but starts with apples called "spitters" - fruits so bitter and tannic that if you take a bite your first instinct is to spit out. These cider apples are categorised according to their sweetness, acidity and tannins into Sweets, Sharps, Bittersharps and Bittersweets. Fermentation unlocks a complexity not unlike what happens in the making of wine and master cider makers bring their skill and experience to complete the process of what makes an authentic cider.
Most authentic cider makers source their apples from their local orchards. Many are also meticulous about the provenance of their fruit to make sure their cider is completely organic or to demonstrate their Protected Designation of Origin (PGO) or Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.
In the making of cider, the apples are washed and any bad ones are chucked out. The good apples are crushed in a scratter which is a machine that chops them up into a pulp called pomace. Layers of pomace are wrapped in cloth and stacked in racks in a giant press which squeezes out all the juice for the cider. Natural yeasts start the fermentation and after several months of care and attention you have cider.
100% freshly squeezed apple juice is the starting point for cider. Variations in the apple growing season impact apple sweetness so sometimes a little sugar may be added to a cider. In some years the apples are high in sugar so the fermentation generates more alcohol than is wanted (the UK legal limit for cider is 8.5% ABV) and so some water may be added. This is completely different from many industrial scale producers who add sugar at the fermentation stage to generate wine-strength ciders (12-14% ABV) that are then cut with water before being bottled. Of course some traditional cider makers refuse to use any water in their cider.
*Throughout this site, the word "cider" refers to the fermented juice of freshly pressed apples (what Americans call "hard cider") although sometimes we also use "cider" to mean "cider and perry" . Perry is the fermented juice of freshly pressed pears. In Japan and Korea, cider is a soft drink similar to Sprite (in Japan the real stuff is called cidre like it is in France). What about perry? →