What is hard cider?
Simply put, hard cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice. Hard cider does not necessarily need to be made from only apples, other fruit juices can and are used in different combinations to produce hard cider, most notably perry, which is fermented pear juice. Only in America is it known as hard cider to distinguish the alcohol content. To Europe and other areas of the world, cider is the alcoholic drink.
According to U.S. regulations, hard cider alcohol content can be up to 7%. Above 7%, or now in some instances 8.5%, and it becomes classified as apple wine. In order to be considered hard cider in the United States, the product must contain a minimum 50% apple juice. The apple juice can be fresh pressed or concentrate. Many of the large scale cider producers use concentrated juice in their products.
When did hard cider originate?
The first discovery of hard cider is not known definitively by historians, but when one traces the history of apples, there will most likely be hard cider at the same time. Many unearthed artifacts revealed that hard cider or cider was being produced by the Greeks and Romans. When the Romans invaded England around 55 B.C., they found that cider was being enjoyed by the locals there. The main reason our ancestors drank cider was for safety, as the local water was contaminated and much more dangerous to drink. The alcohol content purified the drink, killing off unwanted bacteria known to grow in water, making it much safer to consume. It was easy to store for short periods and the lower alcohol content of cider made this an ideal alternative. Plus, the pleasant taste made this drink popular with everyone, even the children. Cider is by far still the most popular drink in England today.
How was hard cider important in American history?
Cider was such an everyday item in life that the earliest settlers brought the practice with them to America. Since the safety of drinking water was still a concern in early America, cider continued to be the best choice. Early settlers also believed cider could aid and prevent many illnesses. Many credited cider with living a long lifespan. It was also used to help keep warm during the brutally cold winters.
John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, believed that the best apples were grown directly from seed to tree. John collected seeds from Pennsylvania cider mills and began distributing them across the west, where he established nurseries in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He also distributed them to many settlers far and wide.
Cider in America suffered tremendously during prohibition, as many orchards were burned to the ground by staunch advocates. After the repeal, cider never recovered. Many turned to other beverages of choice, and apples were now being planted for direct consumption, rather than cider making. Many of the heirloom varieties used for cider making died off.
What should hard cider look and taste like?
Hard craft ciders vary in appearance and color. They range from pale golden color to deep golden amber. They can range anywhere from sweet to dry and in between. Because craft ciders are a handmade product, not on a massive scale, they can tend to have some cloudiness to them at times.
What type of apples are used to produce hard cider?
Apples are known as heterozygosity. This means that apples grown from seed will not adapt any of the characteristics of its parents but rather develop its own unique taste. The apple nurseries and trees distributed by Johnny Appleseed were too sour to eat alone and, therefore, were perfect to use for cider making. This helped perpetuate the drink further into American culture and history.
The classification of apple varieties known as bittersweets or bittersharps are the best cider making kind. These are acidic and contain high tannins perfect for producing the best cider.
What is the process of making hard cider?
Apples are gathered at the orchard and ground down into what is called “pomace.” The pomace is layered onto racks, and the racks are stacked then pressed to extract the juice. The juice is then fine strained to remove any apple pulp. Once the juice is extracted, it is fermented at temperatures varying between 40-60F. The lower temperature helps slow the fermentation process to retain the natural flavors and aroma.
Fermentation can occur with yeasts naturally present, or many cider makers now add yeast. Yeast feeds off the natural sugars in the apple juice. The result is alcohol and carbon dioxide. Before fermentation is complete, the juice is racked (siphoned) into new vats. This leaves behind the used up yeast and other undesired compounds in the bottom of the old vat. It is important that, during the final fermentation, the juice not be exposed to air. Exposure can cause the juice to go bad. Think of cutting into a fresh apple and letting it sit where oxygen exposure invariably causes the fruit to turn brown. During the final fermentation carbon dioxide will be let off, which naturally produces a protective layer on the juice, reducing air exposure.
Cider is ready for drinking as soon as two months after fermentation is completed. It can also be aged up to three years. Since no one batch of apples pressed is guaranteed to produce the same tasting juice, cider makers will blend batches to produce a more consistent taste and mouthfeel.