Cider has different meanings in the United Kingdom and the United States. Both meanings refer to a product containing the juice of apples.
American-style unfiltered, unfermented unpasturized Cider
, left; Apple juice
In North America, cider was traditionally fermented, but that alcoholic apple drink (see below) is now referred to as hard cider. Today in North America, cider is a nonalcoholic beverage; a subcategory of apple juice, traditionally made from early-harvest apples, which have a lower sugar content and are more acidic, thus cider has a more tart, tangy taste than apple juice. It is generally (though not always) unfiltered (giving it an opaque appearance from suspended solids), and is traditionally unpasteurized. (It is occasionally still sold unpasteurized, which is considered to have a better flavor, but the possibility of salmonella and E. coli infection means that most apple cider is pasteurized.)
Apple ciders are often made from blends of several different apples to give a balanced taste. Some businesses may try to pass off standard apple juice as cider. There is some local competitiveness among cider mills in apple country for the highest quality blends, and makers keep their formulas secret. One trick used to add interest to a cider blend is the addition of a percentage of crabapples. Cider doughnuts are often sold at cider mills and contain cider in the batter.
Hot cider or mulled cider is a popular fall (autumn) and winter beverage, consisting of (nonalcoholic) cider, heated to a temperature just below boiling, with cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices added.
Another cider available in the US is sparkling cider, a carbonated nonalcoholic beverage made from filtered apple cider or apple juice.
In the UK and Canada, cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice. It is predominantly (but by no means exclusively) made in the southwest and west of England. Cider is often stronger than beer, and is frequently over 6% alcohol by volume. The common eating apples are unsuitable for cidermaking, being low in tannins; specific apple cultivars bred especially for cidermaking are preferred.
Ciders comes in a variety of tastes, from sweet to dry. Sweet cider tends to be popular with young people, and is often the drink of choice for teenagers in the UK (along with alcopops; see also Snakebite). This is aided by preferentially low duty rates for cider compared to beer, which reduces its cost.
Modern, mass-produced ciders are generally heavily processed and resemble sparkling wine in appearance. More-traditional brands, often known as scrumpy, tend to be darker and more cloudy, as less of the apple is filtered out. They are often stronger than processed varieties. In very large quantities (in excess of 2 gallons per day) scrumpy can cause temporary blindness due to trace amounts of cyanide found in apple seeds. Such consumption is extremely rare. Abdominal pains known as "Devon colic" have been attributed to mild lead poisoning; the acidic juice dissolves lead from the traditional cider presses used in that region.
Famous brands of cider
Cider in other countries
In Australia, 'cider' can be either an alcoholic drink as described above, or a sparkling nonalcoholic beverage made from apples. Alcoholic cider is sold in bottleshops, while the nonalcoholic version is stocked in the soft-drink lanes of the supermarket.
French cidre is an alcoholic drink produced predominantly in Normandy and Brittany. It varies in strength from below 4% alcohol to considerably more. Cidre Doux is usually any cider up to 3% in strength. 'Demi-Sec' is from 3 to 5% and Cidre Brut is a strong cider of 5% alcohol and above. Most are usually sparkling. Higher quality cider is sold in Champagne-style bottles (cidre bouché), but screw-tops are used for the cheaper supermarket-quality product. Until the mid-20th century, cidre was the second most-consumed drink in France (after wine) but an increase in the popularity of beer displaced cider's market share outside traditional cider-producing regions. In restaurants in Brittany, cider is sometimes served in traditional ceramic bowls (or wide cups) rather than glasses. A kir normand is a cocktail aperitif made with cider and cassis, rather than white wine and cassis for the traditional kir. Cider is still made in the Channel Islands, but there is a great deal less now than there was in the past. In Jersey, the only locally produced cider currently sold in shops is a strong (above 7%) variety.
German cidre, usually called apple wine, is traditionally produced in the area of Frankfurt am Main. The strength is from 6 to 7% and is of dry taste. It is typically served in ribbed glasses of 0.33 litres.
In Luxembourg, viez (pronounced feetz) is rather like English scrumpy. It is cloudy and varies from nonalcoholic to very alcoholic. It is made only in autumn. It is sold by the side of the road in reused plastic bottles and should be drunk within a few days of purchase. The quality can be extremely good.
The Spanish regions of Asturias and the Basque Country are well known for traditional sidra, an alcoholic cider of 4 to 8% strength. Sidra is traditionally poured in very small quantities from a height into a wide glass, with the arm holding the bottle extended upwards and the one holding the glass extended downwards. This is called to escanciar and is done to get air bubbles into the drink, thus giving it a sparkling taste like Champagne that lasts a very short time. Spanish sidra is closely associated with sidrerías ("cider houses"). In the Basque region of Guipúzcoa, it is a tradition to visit sidrerías between February and May to drink new sidra from the barrel accompanied by a meal (like the well known "txuleton").
Applejack is a strong alcoholic beverage made by concentrating cider, either by the traditional method of "freeze distillation", or by true evaporative distillation. In traditional freeze distillation, a barrel of cider is left outside during the winter. When the temperature is low enough, the water in the cider starts to freeze. If the ice is removed, the (now more concentrated) alcoholic solution is left behind in the barrel. If the process is repeated often enough, and the temperature is low enough, the alcohol concentration is raised to 30-40% alcohol. In freeze distillation, hazardous concentrations of methanol and fusel oil may develop. These toxins can be separated when regular, heat distillation is performed. Home production of applejack is illegal in most countries.
Cocktails may include cider. Besides kir and snakebite, an example is Black velvet in a version of which cider may replace champagne.
Other alcoholic beverages are also made from apples, such as apple wine and the distilled spirits apple brandy and calvados. A popular aperitif in Normandy is pommeau—a drink produced by blending unfermented cider and apple brandy in the barrel (the high alcoholic content of the spirit stops the fermentation process of the cider and the blend takes on the character of the aged barrel).
Other fruits can be used to make cider-like drinks. The most popular is perry, known in France as poiré and produced mostly in Normandy, which is made from fermented pear-juice. A branded sweet perry known as Babycham, marketed principally as a women's drink and sold in miniature Champagne-style bottles, was once popular but has now become unfashionable. Fermented peach juice can be made into "peachy".
How to make cider
Scratting and pressing
After the apples are gathered from the trees, they are "scratted" (ground) into what is called pomace or pommage, either by means of a common pressing stone with a circular trough, or by a cider mill, traditionally driven by the hand, water-mill, or horse-power, but these days likely to be electric. When the pulp is thus reduced to a great degree of fineness, it is conveyed to the cider press, where it is formed by pressure into a kind of cake, which is called the cheese.
This is effected by placing clear, sweet straw or hair cloths between the layers of pomace, usually alternating with slatted ash-wood racks, until there is a pile of 10 or 12 layers. It is important to minimise the time that the pomace is exposed to air, to reduce oxidation — and, at the same time, the cheese must be constructed evenly, or the whole pile slithers onto the floor.
This pile is then subjected to different degrees of pressure in succession, until all the must or juice is squeezed from the pomace. This juice, after being strained in a coarse hair-sieve, is then put into either open vats or closed casks, and the pressed pulp is either given to farm animals as winter feed (or thrown away) or used to make liqueurs.
Fermentation is best effected at a temperature of 4-16°C (40-60°F). This is low for most kinds of fermentation, but works for cider as it leads to slower fermentation with less loss of delicate aromas.
Shortly before the fermentation consumes all the sugar, the liquor is "racked" into new vats. This leaves dead yeast cells and other undesirable material at the bottom of the old vat. At this point it becomes important to exclude airborne acetic bacteria, so care is taken to fill the vat completely, and the fermenting of the remaining available sugar generates a small amount of carbon dioxide that helps to prevent air seeping in. This also creates a certain amount of sparkle, and sometimes extra sugar is added at this stage for this purpose and also to raise the alcohol level. Racking is sometimes repeated if the liquor remains cloudy.
The cider is ready to drink at this point, though more often it is matured in the vats for up to two or three years.
Blending and bottling
For larger-scale cider production, ciders from vats produced from different varieties of apple may be blended to accord with market taste. If the cider is to be bottled, usually some extra sugar is added for sparkle. Higher quality ciders can be made using the champagne method, but this is expensive in time and money and requires special corks, bottles, and other equipment.
- The Hereford Cider Museum (http://www.cidermuseum.co.uk/)
- The National Collection of Cider and Perry (http://www.middlefarm.com/cidershop.html), East Sussex, England
- The Straight Dope: What's the difference between apple juice and apple cider? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_048.html)
-  (http://www.iespana.es/valdedios)
- Review ciders at RateBeer,com (http://www.ratebeer.com)