What Is Hard Cider? A Guide to How Its Made and Various Styles

hard cider

In the simplest of terms, cider is the unfiltered, raw fresh-pressed juice of apples or sometimes pears. After removing the pulp sediment and fruit pieces, it can go on to create hot apple cider or apple cider vinegar; it has many usages. In another instance, with the incorporation of yeast, fermentation occurs, producing alcohol, thus creating one of the most popular fermented beverages in the ready-to-drink category, hard cider.

The definitive history of cider is ambiguous. The apple cultivar (Malus pumila or M.domestica) grows far and wide around the globe. Archeologists found the carbonized remains of apples in Anatolia dating as far back as 6500 BC. An apple left to its own device will naturally start to ferment with the abundance of wild yeasts that encompass their environment. Therefore, we can assume that where there are apples, there has fortuitously been some form of cider.

How It’s Made

Hard cider is akin to wine in many ways. That is, it’s fermented from fruit juice, like wine. It starts with the apples, cider-making apples, to be precise, as the acid and tannin levels differ from regular apples. Different varieties of cider apples get used depending on their inherent quality and contributing character to the desired style of cider.

Cider apples go through a milling process, creating a pomace. The apple pomace is then pressed to extract the juice. Some cidermakers will do this manually, while commercial cideries often mechanize the process. Then fermentation. Like wine, this can happen in various vessels like stainless steel, barrel or even clay. The next choice is which yeast to use: wild, commercial, or both. This decision depends mainly on the desired flavor profile.

There are numerous decisions to make along the way, like when to stop the fermentation and how. Other considerations include blending, carbonation (if and how), fining, filtration and aging. All these choices come down to the cidermaker and the style of cider they want to produce.

Types of Apples that Make Hard Cider

Species of cidermaking apples get the charming endearment of “spitters” as they are unpleasant to eat. They can be astringent, bitter and tannic. However, in cider, these attributes are desirable and contribute to color, body, and mouthfeel.

There are two standard systems, based on tannin structure and acidity elements, that further help categorize the style of cider. A well-made cider will have all these elements in balance.

The British Categorization System (does not include sugar levels):

  • Bittersweet: low level of acidity and a high level of tannin.
  • Bittersharp: high levels of acidity and tannin.
  • Sharp: high in acidity but low in tannin.
  • Sweet: low tannin and low acidity (the least commonly used, although can be part of a blend).

The French Categorization System (includes sugar levels):

  • Sweet: high sugar, low acid, and low tannin.
  • Bittersweet: high sugar, high tannin, and low acidity.
  • Bitter: low sugar, high tannin and low acidity.
  • Acidic: low tannin, low sugar, and high acidity.

There are thousands of varieties of apples that grow across the globe. Some specific cider apples species include:

Ashmead’s KernelCortlandLiberty
Kingston BlackCox’s Orange PippenMcIntosh
Bramley’s SeedlingFoxwhelpNorthern Spy
Brown SnoutFrequin RougePerfection
Bulmer’s NormanGolden RussetSomerset Redstreak
Chisel JerseyHarry Master’s JerseyWickson Crab

Different Types of Hard Cider

There are a couple of ways to define cider. The first one relates to sugar content. A dry cider contains less than 0.5% residual sugar, off-dry cider has around 1-2%, and semi-dry and semi-sweet styles have above 2% and 4% residual sugar, respectively.

Besides sugar content, regionality can also determine style, similar to wine. France, Spain, and the UK are the three most famous cider-making countries.

The most notable cider-producing regions in France are Normandy and Brittany, where they use primarily bittersweet or bittersharp varieties. There are two main categories: brut, a dry, crisp style with 4.5% ABV, and doux, a slightly sweeter version with 3% ABV. Appellation D’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) or Appellation D’Origine Protégée (AOP) ciders show specific regionality, adhearing to strict production methods. Cidre Bouché is a style of French cider that uses the keeving process. This technique removes nutrients from the juice at an early stage, allowing a long, slow fermentation. The result is a fruity cider, naturally sweet and with low ABV.

In Spain, Sidra Naturel comes from two main regions, Asturias and Basque. These ciders undergo a slow fermentation with wild yeasts in chestnut kegs. They’re unfiltered and usually uncarbonated with 5-6.5% ABV. Traditional Spanish ciders are dry, tart, and acidic. Asturias ciders are fruity, whereas the ciders from Basque are more tannic and savory.

The UK also has two distinct styles of cider. First, from the West Country, like Somerset or Devon, they use local bittersweet and bittersharp apples. A “scrumpy” cider comes from a local farmhouse using only apples (no concentrate). They are cloudy, bone dry, uncarbonated, tannic, and high in alcohol (6% ABV). And in East Anglia and Kent, the ciders are lighter, sweeter and fruit-forward, sometimes with the addition of other fruit. These ciders can be up to 7.5% ABV.

Best Yeast For Making Hard Cider

The skins of apples are a hotbed for ambient yeast. For cidermakers who are crafting a cider that speaks of their specific region, using this native yeast is the best option.

Champagne yeast is prevalent in cidermaking as it ferments efficiently, producing a clean, crisp cider. Some popular brands of Champagne yeast used are Lalvin EC-1118, Red Star Champagne, Pasteur Champagne and Premier Cuvee.

White wine yeast is also a favourite for producing more aromatic and fruity versions. 71B or M2 from Lallemand or Côte des Blanc from Redstar are yeast strains typically used.

Beer yeast is also an option, which can add a wide range of aromatics to the cider.

Due to the growing popularity of cider, there are now specific developed strains of cider yeast available. Whether natural or commercial, the chosen yeast will dictate the final flavor profile of the cider, so it’s an important consideration.

Differences Between Hard Cider and Beer

These two popular beverages are regularly side-by-side on restaurant lists. However, their similarities start and end at fermentation, which they both go through.

The most significant difference between beer and hard cider is that beer is brewed predominantly from barley. Other grains can also be used depending on the desired flavour profile, including corn, oats, rice, rye, and wheat. The brewing process involves a series of steps that convert the grain into a fermentable liquid.

In contrast, hard cider relies purely on the fermentation of fruit and is a more straightforward process. Today, there is a growing trend of crossover styles and hybrid versions of these beverages in the craft beer and cider markets.

The Best Ways To Serve It

The best serving temperature for hard cider is between 40-50°F (4-10°C). Like wine, the ideal temperature depends on the body and style of the cider. For instance, if a light-bodied cider is too cold, its delicate aromas will be difficult to decipher.

Serving hard cider on tap requires a dedicated and thoroughly clean draft line. Hard cider is naturally gluten-free, and contamination from other beverages would be a risk. Loss of aromatics from a dirty draft line can also occur.

Glassware is also an important consideration. A glass with a bowl large enough to swirl for aeration is preferable, as is a glass with a stem. Much like wine, holding the glass directly can warm the liquid inside. Using glassware with a stem help keeps the drink at its optimal temperature for longer.

The diversity of styles and flavor profiles of hard cider lends itself well to pairing with food. French cider will pair well with a variety of cheeses such as Livarot, Pont L’Eveque and Brie. Oysters go particularly well with hard English cider, and seafood pairs nicely with Spanish versions.

Hard cider has become so popular that there is now a certification to become a pommelier who is a cider expert.

© 2021 - 2024 SOMM TV | Forgotten Man Films. All Rights Reserved. View our Privacy Policy.