Cider has always been enjoyed in the UK and in Australia, and it’s only in the past few years that its popularity in the USA has escalated. In California, more than 100 new cideries have opened, and in 2020, despite the pandemic, sales of cider grew 9%.
You may think of cider alcohol as an offshoot of beer, but it is, in several ways, more like wine: both are made from fruit. Cider makers use different types of apples to create ciders that have a balanced flavour. Hopefully, if consumers understand more about how cider is made, it will drive growth for this enjoyable drink.
What is Cider?
An alcoholic beverage made from fermented apple juice, cider is an extremely popular drink in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Britain has the highest per capita consumption of cider in the world and the largest number of companies that make the drink. Cider is also very popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India, Portugal, Italy and Spain.
In the USA, fermented cider is referred to as hard cider to differentiate between cider alcohol and apple cider. In the UK, cider must contain at least 35% of apple juice and in the USA, at least 50%.
What Is The History Of Cider?
The popularity of cider has fluctuated through the ages but it is enjoying a resurgence in the same way that craft beer is. Cider has existed since around 55 BC when the Romans conquered Europe and planted orchards for the production of cider. Around 600 CE, monks planted orchards and produced cider to drink and to sell to the public. When the Normans invaded in 1066, they brought tannic apples which are well suited for making cider. They planted more orchards and introduced pressing technology to optimise the cider-making process.
When during the 16th and 19th centuries, the world experienced a mini-ice age, the drastic drop in temperature killed off grapes but apples survived these icy climes, reinforcing cider as one of the leading drinks in the UK. During this time, political unrest made the acquisition of wine problematic as wars with various European countries put a halt on imports. People in the UK simply drank more cider. In the UK, cider progressed from being a working man’s drink to one suitable for the upper classes.
Cider was also used as a method of payment. The first record of this dates to 1204 CE and continued for centuries as a means by which landowners paid farm labourers. Top labourers received as much as 8 pints per day in payment. Although this practice was outlawed in 1887, it continued well into the 20th century.
The National Association of Cider Makers was formed in 1920, as cider production increased. To match consumer demand, cider producers began to plant monocultures and industriously manage their orchards in order to increase yields. There are now more than 2,500 indigenous apple varieties in the UK.
What Are the Different Styles and Regional Variants of Cider?
British cider and styles don’t simply come in medium, sweet or dry. British cider styles are more expansive and suit all tastes, depending on where the apples are grown, different types of apples and the fermentation process. Each region expresses its own unique flavours, experimenting with different equipment, techniques and fruits, adding to an already wide choice of options.
Three factors that inform British styles of cider are the type of apple, the way it is made and the use of additional flavours. In Western counties, cider is made with classic, tannin-rich apples providing intense flavours. The western style is characterised by a process referred to as ‘keeving’ which is done before fermentation takes place. Keeving results in lower alcohol content and retaining residual sweetness.
In the eastern counties in the UK, the cider is characterised by a comparative lack of tannins and the predominance of fruitiness, freshness and acidity, using dessert and culinary apples. A totally different type of cider includes the addition of fruit other than apples or flowers and honey from plants. Additions can be added at any time, but this typically occurs after fermentation and just before packaging.
Some ciders contain no or low alcohol and to qualify as a low-alcohol cider in the UK, the drink must contain less than 1.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and it must contain other flavours. The low level of alcohol can be achieved by diluting it with water or juice, halting fermentation or removing alcohol by distilling.
France is the world’s largest producer of cider and the main production sites are in Normandy and Brittany which have been producing cider since the sixth century. Cider was the second most consumed beverage in the country but after the Second World War, the majority of apple trees were destroyed, minimising production. Now, France has strict rules regarding production – only specific apples can be used and only 50% of the total volume of the juice must come from apple concentrate.
The two main types of cider in France are brut which is dry and crisp and doux which is slightly sweeter. French ciders are usually low on alcohol levels and are made using keeving, a technique that slows the fermentation process and produces a much sweeter and fruitier drink. France’s Cidre Bouché, a brut cider, has 2% ABV.
Spanish cider is more vinegary and tart and dry than other ciders and they have a green-yellow hue and a somewhat cloudy appearance because they are not filtered. Spanish cider flavours are a combination of spice and citrus. After cider makers press the apples, they use a slow fermentation process with wild yeast in chestnut kegs. Similar to France, there are regulations in place for cider makers – only authorised apples may be used and the ciders are typically still and have about 6% ABV.
Unlike European countries with strict production regulations on the types of apples or sugar content, American cider makers have more creative freedom to blend tradition with new methods, producing a variety of ciders. Top USA ciders come from Oregon and Michigan, places where there are tons of apples. In Michigan, they use barrel ageing techniques and the cider is infused with fruit and in Washington, the apples are aged in stainless steel vats. Ciders range in sweetness and in alcohol content with some containing over 11% ABV – much more than Europe.
Who Drinks the Most Cider?
Britain drinks more cider than the rest of the world combined but there are other countries that have a long and loving relationship with cider. Normandy and Brittany in France have been making cider since the 12th century.
In Spain, cider drinking, especially in Asturias, is an act of national pride.
While Germany is famous for its incredible beers, in the Hessen region apfelwein takes precedence over all other drinks. The cider industry in the USA is growing rapidly.
How is Cider Made?
There are more than 7, 500 varieties of apples worldwide that are grown for cooking, eating and making cider. Apples grown for making cider are too bitter to be eaten but, being high in tannins, they provide the cider with rich and complex flavours. A skilled cider maker blends apples to make a liquid with a perfect balance of sugar, tannins and acidity.
Cider making is similar to winemaking.
The apples are harvested and milled into a fine pulp called pomace. The juice is extracted from the pomace by squeezing it in a press. The apple juice can thereafter be allowed to ferment. Yeast that is in the fruit and in the air eats the sugar in the juice and the by-product of this is alcohol. The whole process can take anything from 4 weeks to 6 months. After the fermentation process, the cider can be bottled and sold.
Cider makers have a variety of other options when it comes to producing cider. The smell and taste can be altered if the maker introduces a different yeast strain if the cider is kept at a different temperature, if the container used for fermentation is changed and if the cider is pasteurised.
Is Cider a Wine or a Beer?
If you’ve noticed that more people are drinking cider, it’s because it has come back into favour and has become a popular alternative to beer. So, what are the differences and similarities between cider and beer?
While both use the fermentation process in production, the flavours are very different. Cider is made from fermented apple juice making it sweeter and clearer in colour than beer. Some cider tastes like a combination between white wine and apple juice. Beer is made from fermented malted barley and the colour varies according to the malt. The taste of beer is typically dry and somewhat bitter.
There are two types of cider: regular and hard. Hard cider contains alcohol and the ABV is between 4-10%. With beer, the ABV is a little higher, depending on what type of beer it is – lager, IPA, brown ale and stout. The range is from 3-10% with IPA being one of the highest.
Although cider contains antioxidants and vitamin C and beer has an inflammatory effect on the body because of the barley and yeast, cider has about 23 grams per serving of sugar while beer is sugar-free. If you really enjoy cider but are watching your sugar intake, dry ciders, which are fermented slower than hard ciders, contain a lot less sugar. If, on the other hand, you prefer the distinct bitter taste of beer and you prefer a sugar-free drink, then beer is the drink for you.
What Does Cider Taste Like?
Whether you are pairing cider with a specific food or enjoying a glass on its own, cider appeals to a large number of drinkers and one of the reasons they choose it is because it comes in a wide array of flavours compared to beer and lager. Ciders can be still, carbonated or naturally sparkling, fresh, sweet, tangy or bold or a mix of one or more of these taste sensations. There is even non-alcoholic cider for those who want the cider flavour.
An excellent cider contains all the flavours and complexity of great wine with lower alcohol content. Cider is gluten-free and full of oxidants from the fruit so it is a healthy drink.
Is Cider Healthy?
People use the terms ‘apple juice’ and ‘apple cider’ interchangeably but while both contain juice squeezed from apples, they are made differently. Apple cider is juiced apples and contains pulp and more vitamins and it may or may not be pasteurised. Apple juice is filtered juice that has been heated during production. In the USA, cider refers to freshly-squeezed unfiltered apple juice but in other parts of the world, cider refers to an alcoholic drink that the Americans call ‘hard cider’.
Cider has some amazing health benefits and contains potassium, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. In addition, the antioxidants in cider help the body to fight against cell damage as well as inflammation. Polyphenols contained in cider help to fight against conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
Phytonutrients in apple cider block the build-up of bad cholesterol and plaque both of which put you at risk for heart problems. The pectin in apple cider can help with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and constipation – pectin is a soluble fibre that keeps you regular.
What Are the Most Popular Cider Festivals in the World?
- New Zealand’s Ciderfest is described as ‘heaven for cider seekers’ and takes place at Founder’s Heritage Park which is beautiful. The festival aims to broaden awareness about cider and increase demand.
- Manchester Beer & Cider Festival is held in the Manchester hall which can hold about 15,000 people. There is no entertainment or music but food is provided.
- Cider Summit Chicago takes place annually and features ciders, cider cocktails and apple spirits from all around the world.
- Cider Week Virginia aims to increase the consumer and trade market of cider through promotion and education.
- Valley Forge Beer & Cider Festival is a fun-filled day for all beer and cider lovers and they have ciders from all over the world.
Which Breweries Make the Best Cider?
Based on a round-up of online bloggers and forums, the following cideries are supposedly excellent:
- Named after an apple-loving goat, Molley Chomper is a cidery in North Carolina. The apples are pressed fresh at the cidery before making it into one of the blends. They make Mountain Maelstrom which is sweet, and Porch Swing which is a mix of sweet and dry. Semi-dry ciders include Bent Apple and School House Blend.
- New York is home to Eve’s Cidery where you will find ciders made from organically-grown fruit. You can taste the terroir in their Autumn’s Gold, a sparkling dry cider that blends five apple varieties.
- In Oregon, you will find 2 Towns Ciderhouse, the largest craft cider maker in the state. They make the cleverly-named OutCider which is comprised of pressed Jonagold apples and it tastes semi-sweet.
- Shacksbury Rose Cider produces ciders in tin cans and they use New England apples. During fermentation, grape skins are introduced imparting wine-like tannins and delicious berry flavours.
- Finnriver Dry Hopped Cider produces ciders blending apple varieties with craft ciders, making interesting and unique drinks.
- Stella Artois is a Belgian cider that tastes similar to beer and is enjoyed in many countries. Drinking this is similar to having a light lager with apple flavour.
- Strongbow is a well-rounded cider made with a special blend of apple varieties and it has an acidic sourness with a sweet aftertaste.
What Foods Can You Pair with Cider?
Cider is even more delicious when paired with certain foods and dishes. Its light and delicate flavour complement light foods. Fruity dishes go well with fruity ciders whether the dish is savoury or sweet.
Cider is great with all kinds of pork including sausages, chops or bacon because the sweetness of the drink contrasts with the pork’s saltiness. Chicken and cider go well together and a dry cider goes well with fish such as oysters, shellfish, prawns and lobster. You can pair sweet ciders with curry dishes to help reduce the heat.
Cider works well with most vegetables, especially roasted veggies such as onions and fennel. Cheese, particularly cheddar, goes very well with cider but it also goes with a creamy cheese like brie and camembert. Sweet cider goes well with blue cheese.
Other foods that pair well with cider include:
- Creamy pasta bakes
- Quiche, especially quiche lorraine and leek quiche
- Creamy chicken or vegetable – onion, mushroom, celery, fennel and leek
- Creamy risottos with similar flavourings
- Brittany/Normandy savoury crêpes
- Roast pork, especially with apples
So Much Cider Alcohol, So Little Time
If you have never tasted cider or you have only had one or two, you will not know how much there is to choose from. The variety of tastes and flavours of cider will amaze you, so no matter what your drink of choice is, try a cider for guaranteed drinking pleasure.
Chermaine’s journey into the world of gemstones and crystals began as a child, collecting shimmering stones on family vacations. Today, she’s a certified gemologist and spiritual healer, intertwining the physical beauty of jewels with their metaphysical properties.
Chermaine has traveled to mines in Africa, marketplaces in India, and spiritual retreats in Bali, always seeking to deepen her understanding.
Jump To a Section Below
- What is Cider?
- What Is The History Of Cider?
- What Are the Different Styles and Regional Variants of Cider?
- Who Drinks the Most Cider?
- How is Cider Made?
- Is Cider a Wine or a Beer?
- What Does Cider Taste Like?
- Is Cider Healthy?
- What Are the Most Popular Cider Festivals in the World?
- Which Breweries Make the Best Cider?
- What Foods Can You Pair with Cider?
- So Much Cider Alcohol, So Little Time