How is Cider made? (Part 4)

So by now, fermentation has rather magically transformed a maker's fruit juice into alcohol, and the maker may have blended different batches together, to get the balance of flavours and tastes just right. And whilst some ciders will be deemed perfectly acceptable to bottle and drink now, some makers may try to improve their cider by adding a final part to the process ...
Maturing/Ageing & Bottling

The cider maker has the hard task of choosing when a cider is the best it can be; does it seem ready when wonderfully young and fruit-full, or has it got more to give, will time bring out its fullest potential, as it's properties are more suited to age? Well there are two ways to mature/age a cider, either before it has been bottled, or in the bottle, and doing either of there can be an integral part of certain techniques. Ageing or maturing a cider simply means giving it more time, because the maker thinks it may improve still. The key thing to know being that for such fine ciders, their taste will go on changing and developing (sometimes for the better, other times not) throughout the whole of their lives, until they are drunk.

It's of course widely known that red wine can age very well, even for very long periods of time, but it's perhaps less known that most wine does not age well. And it seems the same is likely true for fine cider. Cider makers understand well the benefits that ageing before bottling can have; what can happen to a cider if given an extra six months, or year, in tank or barrel - cider made with the Ellis Bitter apple for example, some say takes a good 2 years to fully develop in flavour. But it can be costly for a maker to age a cider for longer, particularly in bottles; as they have to pay for these bottles, but might not sell them for years to come. 
Of course not all ciders are bottled; some may be canned, or draft (so put into a container like a keg), and in some wonderful situations (for example if you visit certain cider makers in the UK, or some of the Sidrerias of Northern Spain) even poured directly from the tank or barrel! But lots of fine cider goes into bottle, and when ready, sent out into the world, to meet it's lucky drinker! 
And it's worth mentioning, that at some stage before bottling, the maker also has to decide whether they want to filter their cider, which will clarify its appearance. If not, they will likely leave some sediment, dead yeast particles (a.k.a lees), in the bottle (also created in the bottle when certain naturally sparkling methods are used) which will also change the texture of the cider, and over time the taste as it ages. 

Wonderfully, such ageing/maturing is something fine cider makers can justify more and more, as fine cider gets better known and understood, and also something you can do at home, looking on labelling for ciders that the maker says will age well, and starting your own cellar; at The Fine Cider Company we keep an archive of thousands of bottles, often at least a few of each we sell, so we can look forward to trying them across the years to come, seeing what has aged well and what has not. 
It's a fascinating question for the current 'new wave' of cider makers, and while there is certainly a lot to be learned (or re-learned) it does seem that some ciders or styles want to be drunk young, before changing for the worse, and others improve with age, often peaking after a period such a 3 or 4 years, and then some, a rare few, like longer still, perhaps as much as a decade... And history makes it all the more tantalising; we once came across an old written reference to ageing cider, recording that it was said in the 18th century Herefordshire cider was at its best after 7-9 years of ageing, and in the 19th century, this was said to be some 20-30 years! So ageing cider is a fascinating, but too little understood thing. The one thing we can tell you, which tends to always told true, is that once in the bottle, one thing most ciders will do over a few years is dry out slightly, as any youthful fruity flavours that were present tend to become less prominent.  

First things first, are you of legal drinking age?

No, but I'm working on it