I’ve recently been drinking more cider, I still don’t know much about it, but I now know I enjoy it. You see before this, like many others, I thought all hard cider was just sweet, sugary non-sense. Until, I had my first heritage cider. Heritage cider is basically artisanal but even more so. Its artisanal, artisanal cider. Its crafty-craft cider. You get it. But for a more in-depth definition of the word – heritage cider is made with cider-specific heirloom apple varieties, and produced with traditional winemaking techniques. It is incredibly nuanced, with plenty of regional differences and unique flavors to go around. There are many dry ciders, some bone dry – with a range of different notes to experience, from citrus, to funk, to smoke. My first good cider was a French cider, and it was funky! I’ve never drank something so funky…it was awesome! And then I had another which was dry hopped. It had flavors a little more up my alley that I was use to. It had all the flavors of beer, with a hint more of fruitiness, and it was toned down big time on the carbonation making it easy to chug. I mean really, really easy to chug.
If you’re a craft beer drinker, the craftsmanship and artisanal qualities of small-batch, heritage cider may just appeal to you. Heritage cider takes great care and a long time to make, so there is a lot of technique to get excited about. These apples aren’t easy to grow. It can take 5 years for a new tree to bear fruit….you’re supporting makers who believe in sustainable farming and take a long, thoughtful view about how they make cider. The apples matter. Fine heritage cider is made with cider-specific apples. Not the apples you found in your lunchbox. It’s just like wine. There is a difference between the grapes used for grape juice and Pinot Noir. It’s the same with cider apples. Cider apples are packed with character and flavor, which are reflected in a glass of heritage cider.
With over 10,000 varieties of apples, you can be sure that cider is just as complex as anything else too. Cider doesn’t just taste like apples. In fact, that’s a little like saying that great wine tastes like grapes. It has an aroma and unique set of notes that evoke all sorts of different tastes; from herbs to grapefruit to caramel. Terroir isn’t just for grapes either. Climate, rainfall, soil, and temperature all impact the characteristics of fruit. Cider makers are discovering how a single variety can make a different cider when it is grown in different places. When you taste a cider, you are not just experiencing the art of the apple, but a specific place and time too. Some great apples that are perfect for cider making, but taste terrible if you take a bite out of it. These cider apples are nicknamed after what you will probably do after you take a bite; spit it out, hence the name, “spitter”. When these apples are eaten raw, they can taste just like a teabag, but they when fermented, they can create incredible, sophisticated cider.
Made primarily with apples, some ciders come in a whole heap of fruit flavors like apple and blackcurrant, lemon and lime, and mixed berry. These tend to be a lot sweeter than the ones we’re used to. Pear is also a popular cider flavor among the bottled drinks but that’s not to be confused with “Perry”. Where pear flavors cider is made mostly with apples, a Perry is a beverage made entirely with pears specifically grown and harvested for a delicate summery drink.
Quick tidbit: Only Americans feel the need to call it “hard” cider. Everywhere else in the world cider is just cider. Alcoholic cider is the result of a natural fermentation process. So don’t be confused. It’s not spiked, like “hard lemonade”. The fermented juice of apples is just cider. AND cider is also gluten free for anyone with gluten sensitivities!
Lastly, if you’re feeling up to making a warm cocktail this chilly season, cider goes great with that. You see, in the Middle Ages, people made “dépense”, a steeped apple cider drink that consists of 2 parts hard cider, sliced apples and oranges, and 1 part ginger beer. Let it sit in a pitcher for 3 to 6 hours and serve chilled, or warm it up being careful not to boil it so you don’t cook off any alcohol, and serve steamy hot.