Two years ago, I became interested in the classic American drink: cider. This interest was partially due to Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, and later Daniel Okrent’s Last Call. I happen to live in Fort Wayne, the final resting place of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) the great lower-Midwestern spreader of cider apples and the Swedenborgian cult. Photographing the dress rehearsals of a local theater group’s production “American Primitive”, which is almost entirely quotes from John and Abigail Adams, gave me an interest in president John Adams, who famously started each day with a tankard of cider. I wanted to learn more about cider.
At this point it is important to clarify some terms. Cider is produced by fermenting apple juice; it can be thought of as wine made from apples instead of grapes. The alcohol content is typically below that of wines, but can be anywhere in a wide range. There are many varieties, but they fit under the term cider. The gallon jugs labeled “cider” you can find in grocery stores are properly called apple juice, and are usually both pasteurised and preserved. What is typically sold as “apple juice” is filtered apple juice. To confuse things more, cider is often called “hard cider”, but this term is also used for applejack or distilled cider. The mangled nomenclature is one of the legacies of Prohibition, and only exists in the United States. Because of the confused terminology, some call fermented cider “hard cider”, unfiltered apple juice “sweet cider”, and filtered apple juice “apple juice”. Whenever I use the term cider I am referring to the fermented beverage. I refer to the unfermented varieties as filtered or unfiltered apple juice.
My interest in cider lead me to read several books on cider in 2011. These contained interesting history and technical information on the production of cider, with an emphasis on producing homemade cider.
We tried the bottled draft style ciders available locally. The draft ciders available taste good, but are a bit sweet. As I learned from my reading, they are actually kinda the light beer of the cider world: they are fermented dry, filtered, artificially back-sweetened, cut with up to half water, and force carbonated. Unlike light beer, these ciders taste good, but I wanted to try more traditional cider.
When apple season arrived, I bought several gallons of fresh apple juice from a local orchard. This fresh, unfiltered, non-pasteurised, no-preservatives added, juice is incomparably better than the pasteurised and preserved juice sold in grocery stores. We drank some of this juice fresh, but I fermented most into several varieties of cider. The first of the cider is ready—and tastes amazing—the rest are still fermenting or conditioning.
Here are links to my reviews of cider books.
- Cider, hard and sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own by Ben Watson
- Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols
- Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax
- Craft Cider Making by Andrew Lea
- Making Craft Cider: A Ciderist’s Guide by Simon McKie
- The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm
- Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast
- dry still cider
- off-dry carbonated cider
- Lalvin EC–1118 yeast
- dry still cider
- sweet sparkling cider
- raspberry still cider
- raspberry sweet sparkling cider