If you think all hard ciders are the same, it’s time to start drinking. Cider (assume I mean hard when I say it) exists in as infinite number of varieties as there are apples in the world. And that’s not even mentioning the countless ways the juice of apples can be distilled and fermented. Technique and ingredients, like in all foods, really matters.
I recently went to a cider and cheese dinner at Graze. Each course was paired with a cider from Wisconsin’s AeppelTreow. We had everything from a sparkling perry to start, to a draft cider and a berry – apple cider mix for dessert. Each was uniquely different and complimented our meal perfectly.
Cider is often made from cider apples – apples specially suited to making cider just as some apples are best for baking. These aren’t the types of apples you find in the grocery store. And that’s probably a good thing since they can be high in tannins and acids that make them rather unpalatable to eat out of hand. But they are perfect for cider.
Most cider is made from a combination of apples expertly blended to yield a balanced mix of sugars, acids, and tannins. Tannins gives the cider its color; the more tannin, the deeper the golden brown. It also gives cider its dryness, the same dryness often found in red wines. The wrong blend of these elements can result an undrinkable cider. While most cider contains a blend of apple varieties, there’s one apple that is often sold as a single varietal: Kingston Black. It’s said to be the rare, perfectly balanced cider apple.
Cider tends to reflect the country of its origin. French ciders, for instance, tend to be light and bubbly like another French specialty, champagne. Local tastes become integral to the cider making process and the cider that is produced.
As much as I love cider, my favorite cider of the night was actually not an apple cider at all – it was the perry, or pear cider. In Europe, cidermakers traditionally made ciders from both apples and pears. This hasn’t been as true in the United States, where cider and perry tend to come from separate makers. But as cider becomes more popular, I’m holding out hope that pears and apples will be united in alcoholic glory again.