Hi imbibers. Meet cider.
Oh, you’ve happened upon each other before? Was it in college while studying abroad? A curious order at a taproom when you weren’t feeling beer? Or maybe at that backyard barbecue over Memorial Day weekend?
Whatever your original encounter, now is the right time to take your relationship with cider, the fastest growing beverage in American history, to the next level.
Speaking of history, you’ve probably also heard that cider has a pretty lengthy one — a tale of revolutionary founding fathers, of America’s drink and Johnny Appleseed, of Prohibition anarchists and a dismissal from the public eye for the better part of a century. Cider was as American as, well, apple pie, and then it was wiped from the nation’s drinking record thanks to a number of causes, from evolving economics and changing agriculture to stalwart teetotalers and general ignorance about what the drink was.
But today, cider is back — bigger and bolder than ever before, with a reach from coast to coast, apple farming for cider on scales previously unseen.
So, let’s get to know cider a little bit better.
THE CORE PRINCIPLES
1. Cider is made from apples. There are specific apple varieties grown for cider with specific qualities that ferment into a complex drink, but with 7,500 different apple varieties known to man, the options and blends are virtually unlimited.
2. Cider has history. The apple has been around for millennia, with its birthplace thought to be somewhere in the Kazakhstani Alps and the westward expansion of agriculture occurring around 6,500 BC. The fruit has been fermented into some form of cider ever since then, with records dating back to 55 BC, making mentions of Julius Caesar, Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, and Emperor Charlemagne as fans of the beverage.
3. Apples + Yeast = Cider. The formula is simple: trees grow apples; apples are picked, crushed, and pressed into juice; juice is fermented with yeast; and along comes cider.
Within the cider community, the ideal apple blend and a balanced cider are thought to contain the holy trinity of acid, tannin, and sugar/fruit content.
4. Cider isn’t necessarily sweet. Apples naturally maintain higher sugar content, but the basic process of fermentation turns those sugars into alcohol, leaving the resulting liquid dry. From that point, producers are able to add — if they feel so inclined — juice, sugar, or other sweeteners back into the cider to fatten it up.
5. Cider is an equal opportunity drink. Recent consumption reports have shown that cider is consumed nearly equally between men and women, unlike any other beverage category in the market.
6. Portland has been one of the top three cider-consuming cities in the country for the last four years, which makes this love affair a whole lot easier for you
How do you put this newfound knowledge to good use? The seventh annual Oregon Cider Week
returns for 10 days, June 21-July 1, providing ample opportunity for your shot with cider.
If you’re feeling less than confident about how to talk about cider, I also have that covered:
Get multilingual. Cider from France is called cidre
(see-drah), cider from Spain is sidra
(sid-rah) and the Brits spell it with a “y” instead of an “i.” Below are a few other ways to speak like the experts.
A sharpness found on the top of the tongue, and a balancing flavor component of the cider.
A dry, mouth-puckering effect from acid or tannins.
When yeast converts the sugars in juice into alcohol — and a cider is born.
This word is used to describe both flavor profiles and an appreciation for taste.
A natural, astringent phenolic compound found in the fruit (or from aging in/with oak), sensed by a dryness on the sides of the tongue and mouth.
One of the biggest misconceptions about cider — and in talking about cider — is sweetness. As previously mentioned, cider is almost always fermented to complete dryness, which means in order to be sweet, sweetness is added back into the cider.
In simplest terms, there are four levels of sweetness: dry, off-dry, semi-sweet or semi-dry, and sweet. Though the actual sugar levels are not fully (or legally) established distinguishing one from another, there are noticeable differences:
tend to have higher tannin and bolder acid profiles that showcase the stark, mineral side of the apple.
are fuller bodied than bone-dry ciders, with more fruit-forward aromatics and flavors, with a touch of tannin and more apparent acid.
Semisweet or semi-dry ciders
are middle of the road, somewhere between sweet and dry, full-bodied and robust but with softer tannin and acid, easy drinkers and what most mass-market ciders classify as.
are comparable to dessert wines: intentionally honeyed and viscous, though many still maintain inherent acid from the apple.
To fulfill the aforementioned holy trinity of a perfect, balanced cider, it takes the right apples. Though there are plenty outside of these, there are four traditional classes of cider apples: sweets, sharps, bittersweets, and bittersharps, and they are as billed:
are low in acid and tannin with a sweet and even profile (think Galas), while sharps
are loaded with acidity and ferocity (like Granny Smiths).
are low in acid and high in tannin (hence the name) and bittersharps
are high in acid and high in tannin — these latter two categories are not apples for eating like the former two classes, but apples for cider!
There are a lot of ways to categorize cider, and not all are agreed upon within the industry, but there are two basic camps: modern and heritage, roughly following the definitions of the United States Association of Cider Makers
are those primarily made with readily available juice or apples — typically culinary/table apples — lower in tannin, higher in acidity, easier drinking, and often with adjuncts like hops, berries, and even ginger.
are those primarily made with multi-use or cider-specific apples (like bittersweets and bittersharps), and heirloom, wild or crab apples, for a cider higher in tannin and acidity. Also referred to as orchard-based or fine cider.
Enough of this talking about cider, let’s get to Tasting Cider
There is no right or wrong way to taste cider. The bottom line is: you should be drinking something you like. Cider, like taste, is subjective, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. After finding a vessel from which to drink and a cider to pour into it, you’re already off to a great start. Understanding and appreciation of the time-honored sip, aka the celebrated art of drinking, will come with experience.
How to Taste Cider:
1. Find some glassware. Ideally, your tasting cup will come in a format and texture that will help to express the hidden and subtle aromas of the oft-subdued cider aromatic profile. Try a wine glass with a larger, thinner bowl — which will help you swirl (and maybe spill) the cider to coax out harder-to-find aromas.
2. Get your cider to the right temp. Dry, tannic ciders show best at room temperature, while sweeter ciders should be chilled. If you’re not smelling very much, it could be too cold; if it’s showing too much alcohol, it might be too warm.
3. Pour, lift, swirl, sniff, sip, repeat. What do you smell, what do you taste? How does it feel on your tongue, and after you swallow? Do you like it? It’s as easy as that!
And now, my favorite part: drinking and eating together. This is a philosophy I’ve pinned my career on — perfect pairings. As mentioned earlier, taste is always subjective, but an ideal culinary match might just change your taste. For us at Cidercraft Magazine
the nation’s only print publication dedicated to hard cider, finding ways for our readers to connect with the drink is the summons we gleefully accepted when we launched four years ago.
Food and cider pairings can go one of two ways: complement or contrast. Cider’s inherent fruit quality and natural acidity give it an upper hand over other beverages: the former a quality that sharper, more acidic foods mingle with and the latter a trait that contrasts elegantly with richer foods. And when it comes to complementing, cider balances out proteins, vegetables, and, of course, apples.
For the Tasting Cider
book, and at Cidercraft Magazine
, we are fortunate to work with some of the best chefs in North America, who offer innovative, ingenious, and delicious recipes featuring or pairing with cider. Below are a few of my favorites.
Fiery Apple Wings
Moroccan Carrot Spread
Grilled Summer Vegetables With Pickled Cherries and Buttermilk Dressing
Endive and Apple Salad With Honey Vinaigrette
Blistered Snap Peas Salad With Portobello and Harissa Aioli
Herbed Pappardelle With Wild Mushrooms and Gorgonzola Dolce
Vietnamese Pork Burger
Oven-Roasted Brunch Salmon
Cider-Braised Pork Sandwiches
Rhubarb Pistachio Tart
Now, educated cider lover, you are ready to take on the world of cider. And during Oregon Cider week, June 21-July 1, that world is your oyster. Slurp it up!
÷ ÷ ÷
is the author of Tasting Cider: The CIDERCRAFT® Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider
, and is also the editor-in-chief of Cidercraft
and Sip Northwest
magazines. She has been published in a wide variety of publications across the Pacific Northwest and calls Seattle home. When she’s not tasting (or drinking) cider, she’s eating her weight in cheese.