Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Now the weather is changing for the better, there’s a big temptation to reach for something cold and refreshing when relaxing outside. Often, and as much as we like them, a beer doesn’t always cut the mustard and we need something a little sharper, or sweeter. That’s where a nice cold glass of cider comes into its own. There’s something about the gentle fizz, the sharp tang and sweet aroma that makes the hard graft worth it... we all know that “ahh” that comes after the first gulp!
Cider has been around in this country for a serious amount of time, but it was the Roman’s that brought with them the concept of cultivating apple trees to harvest the fruit. Because most orchards were from seedlings, the taste of apples varied from those sweet and edible, to those whose bitterness and sharpness needed a bit of extra work to make them palatable – hence they started making cider as we know it. The Normans took this base and went further still by introducing orchards and improved presses to get more juice out. As the centuries passed, the climate and soil conditions in Hereford, Worcestershire and Somerset proved to be the better places to grow apple trees on a commercial scale, and sadly the smaller, regional ciders slowly went into decline. We as a nation are one of the worlds biggest consumers of cider, if not the biggest, so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of different ways to enjoy a glass or 2. Here are a few different recipes that you can try if you fancy spicing up your evenings (or brunches!) in the sun!
Cider mimosa: A different take on the classic Bucks Fizz, take some well chilled sparkling cider and add to a champagne flute ½ filled with chilled fresh orange. Add a splash of ginger liqueur or triple sec, and enjoy!
Cider Margarita: Serves 2! 1/3 pint (180ml) cider, 4 shots tequilla, 1 shot ginger syrup, 1 shot orange liqueur (Grand Marnier). Put all the ingredients in a jamjar or shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled, strain and pour into a glass. For extra zing, mix some sugar and ground cinnamon together, place on a saucer and dip the rim of the glass into some cider before dipping into the sugar mix. If you haven’t got any ginger syrup, take ½ cup sugar, ½ cup water and a good inch of fresh ginger, grated. Add to a pan, boil until the sugar’s dissolved, cool and strain.
Cider Sangria 2 ways: In a large jug, pour a bottle of wine, some sliced strawberries, oranges and limes, and fresh mint. Add a cup of lemonade and ½ cup of lime juice. Stick in the fridge for half an hour. Just before serving, add a load of ice and 2 bottles of your favourite cider. Alternatively, take 700ml pure apple juice, 4 shots vodka, 4 shots orange liqueur, cored and sliced apple, peeled orange segments, cubed melon (cantaloupe/honeydew), and ½ inch peeled fresh ginger. Add to a jug and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Take out the ginger, add a load of ice and gently pour in a large bottle (750ml) of sparkling dry cider.
We left this page last time with a few tasty cider-based cocktails, and the knowledge that thanks to the terroir of Hereford & Worcester, Somerset & the south west of England, in the 15th & 16 centuries these areas became the apple growing centre of the country.
As we underwent a period of significantly colder weather here in Western Europe, cider production went through a mini renaissance, mainly due to the apples ability to survive the lower temps. Wars with Spain & France meant brandy & wine imports were halted, & so we needed to find other things to drink. Evidence of corks & secondary fermentation in the bottle have been found as far back as the 17th century, pre-dating that of Champagne!
As war again hit, this time the Napoleonic wars, orchards were neglected by farmers tasked to grow grains & livestock – something they never really recovered from. As we came out the other side, & cider became more commercial in its products, these remaining smaller orchards were bought up by the bigger producers who were mainly after consistency & easy to drink sweet juice, thus sadly reducing the number of more flavourful heritage varieties.
Today, unlike beer, cider in the UK has a legal requirement to contain no less than 35% apple juice, otherwise it can’t be called cider. The canny reader would therefore be quite right in wondering what the other 65% of the drink would be... well have a read of the ingredients list next time you pick up a can! CAMRA, those doyennes of the real ale world are also concerned with the stranglehold these mass producers have on what was a massively varied market, & are calling for real cider to be made from no less than 90% fresh apple juice, something that the hundreds of microproducers are more that happy to do. However ideal this view is, they are not going to make a dent in the UK cider market, primarily because HP Bulmers (owned by Heineken!) are the worlds biggest cider producer, churning out a whopping 65% of the UK’s entire production, with their Strongbow brand alone accounting for 15% of the global market, & their brew vat is the largest alcoholic container in the world holding 6.8 million litres of liquid. That’s one heck of a big tank...
Until next time, stay safe & keep healthy!
Over the past 2 issues we’ve touched very briefly on the history of cider, ending on the biggest alcoholic vessel in the world owned by HP Bulmers. Today we’ll start to go through the process of making cider itself, something you can do very easily at home with a few basic tools.
It all begins with the humble apple (or pear if you fancy a perry!). As ever, the quality of the product that goes in at the start gives the quality at the end, so pick them wisely. You’ll get about 10l of juice from every 18-20kg of fruit, so if you’re planning on making a lot, scale up wisely. The fruit will then need to be prepared by washing & sorting. Bruised apples are fine, rotten or decayed fruit isn’t. Pretty standard so far, right? The fruit will then need scratting, or milled into a pomace before pressing. A pomace is simply crushed apple, & can be done low-tech with a lump of wood in a bucket, or hi-tech with a blender or ‘pulpmaster’ (big whisk!) attached to a drill.
The pomace now needs pressing to get as much juice out of the pulp as is physically possible. Commercial cidermakers use a different number of methods depending on their history or scalability. The most popular is the ‘rack & cloth’ press where the pomace is placed in-between layers of cloth and wood racks (very much like a cheese press), & then squeezed in a vertical vice. It doesn’t need to be quite as sophisticated however - you can simply put it in a hessian bag in a trug, place a plank of wood on top and stand on it! Catch the juice in a sterilised container, & you are now ready to let it ferment.
There are natural wild yeasts all around us, & fruit is no exception. You can choose to clear out these wild yeasts with a campden tablet (do some research on quantities please!) or simply let them get on with things & ferment the sugar out themselves. Now is also the time to check the sugar levels of the fruit, add pectin if it is to be clear when ready, & generally make sure the juice is as good as it can be for the yeast to get to work on it.
Fermentation, as you already know, is where the sugars in the liquid are turned into alcohol giving off CO2 in the process. In warmer temperatures this happens relatively quickly, starting within 12hrs with a cloth covering the juice leaving it open to the air (aerobic fermentation). Once things have kicked off, it’s normally switched to anaerobic fermentation by sealing the vessel to stop any further degradation from oxygen - it will create its own little protection with a blanket of CO2 over the top of the liquid. Fermentation can be done in a week, however it can, in lower temperatures, take a few months to fully ferment out. Don’t panic, all good things come to they who wait as the saying goes...
Until next time, stay safe & be kind!
If you have been following along with these last couple of articles, you will have hopefully seen your juice go through the fermentation process, and, given the warmish weather we’ve had over the last couple of months, chances are it’ll have finished fermenting & the bubbles have slowed up. If they have stopped, now is the time to rack it off & bottle it using some sterile tubing & bottles with either crown caps, screw tops or swing-top corks. If it’s not stopped bubbling, that’s cool, it will come to a stop at some point. Likewise, if you want to leave it a bit longer for all the lees (cloudy bits!) to settle out, that’s cool too. You can do this several times, the longer you leave it to settle out, the clearer the cider.
If you want a nice still cider, then bottle away. If you like a tingle on your tongue, then slip a teaspoon of sugar in each bottle before adding the cider. If you want it to last a bit longer, then a little sodium metabisulphate is your friend – please research your own amounts based on the volumes you’ve got. Let the bottles sit in a nice cool dark place for a couple of months (the longer the better!) before enjoying the fruits of your labour... with any luck it’s going to be ready for Christmas Day!
If you’re not too focused on having your own cider with the turkey this year, and you can get yourself an oak barrel, why not try and age some of it. You can get small 10l oak barrels quite readily, using a variety of oak sources. Depending on the type of barrel used, you’ll find the cider takes on the vanilla & earthy woody notes from the charred wood. If you are lucky enough to get hold a barrel that has previously been used, then you’ll get different You can also add other fruits or juices like blueberries, cranberries, cherries or raspberries to your cider after fermentation, or maybe even spices such as ginger or cinnamon. Have a play with them, try out different combinations and amounts to see what works for your taste buds.
We’ll leave it there for now, but before I sign off this issue, did you know that back in the 14th century, it is said that children were baptised in cider? It was supposedly cleaner than the water... now we use the phrase wetting the babies head as an excuse for having a boozy drink or 2... funny how things go full circle!
Until next time, stay safe, stay heathy & be kind.
The Beer Emporium