How is cider made?

In recent years cider is becoming an increasingly popular drink. In many countries the sales of cider are rising while the other more traditional drinks such as beer and lagers are declining. Although its popularity makes it seem a modern drink the production of cider has been around for centuries. The art of making cider was perfected by the Romans who invaded England around 55 BC and found that cider was already being made. The apple trees grew naturally, and the locals would use any that were too bitter to eat to in making cider. In these early orchards there were a great variety of apples and the drink was a mixture of all of them.

The Normandy Orchards the first to classify their apples

Over time the farmers learnt to clone certain apples in order to produce specialist orchards. By the late 1500’s there were 65 named apples to be found in Normandy, France with many of the early great ciders coming from this region. During the early year’s people would drink a pint of cider a day as it was seen as being healthier than the water. Cider is not as strong as wine as the sugar content of the apple is lower than the grape, so it was seen to be the weaker drink. Over the years a second adding of sugar, or extra fruit, has helped to increase the alcoholic content of the drink.

The type of apple used in cider will vary from region to region. In Kent the apple growers use a combination of cider apples and eating apples whereas the West Country apple growers in England will use only cider apples. You cannot eat a cider apple as it is too bitter. Over the centuries cider makers have experimented with the cider apples so that mow there are many different varieties. A certain cider producer will use their own specialist variety of cider apple. The different variety of cider apple will affect the drinks final colour.

A cider-press with its stone

When the harvested apples are gathered in they are ground into pomace using a pressing stone in a circular trough, or by a cider mill. This has been powered over the centuries by man, horse, water and more recently by electricity. The pulp is then placed in a press, in layers with sweet straw and slatted ash wood racks in between the layers. The pressed mixtures then release the juices which are then strained and then put into either open, or closed vats. After this the fermentation takes place. This is when the natural sugars in the liquid breaks down into alcohol and marks the time when extra sugar is added for a stronger added product. The fermentation takes place between 4 and 16 degrees and this cool, slow process enables cider to keep its delicate taste. Sometimes the vat is changed so that the dead yeast at the bottom of the barrel is cleared away. This last fermentation is when carbon dioxide is produced as the remaining sugar is broken down and the vat is closed.

There is a difference between sweet ciders and strong ciders. Sweet ciders have had more artificial sugars added to them, whereas the dry ciders rely more on the breakdown of the natural sugars in the fruit. Cider production is basically the same as it has been for centuries, but the drink has never been more popular as it is today.