How is Cider made? (Part 4)

By now, fermentation has rather magically transformed a maker's fruit juice into alcohol, the maker may have blended different batches of cider 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 considering a final step in the process ...

Maturing, Ageing & Bottling
Whilst there will be many who say that maturing and ageing are separate processes, for simplicity let's understand them to mean the same thing, that is letting the cider develop for an extended time after it's finished fermenting in the pursuit of changing or adding other qualities to the cider. One of the key decisions in this stage of the cidermaking process is choosing what type of vessel to age or mature the cider. The choice of vessels can range from stainless steel to traditional oak barrel, to ancient terracotta and modern plastics among many others. Despite these vessels to job to protect the cider from oxygen and germs in the outside world, in time both will sneak into the cider and subtly change how the cider tastes and smells. As you can imagine a wooden barrel is likely to leak oxygen into the barrel contents, far more quickly than a stainless steel tank, and thus the changes can happen more rapidly in the former case. Not only this, but a natural material like wood can contain its own bacteria (microflora) which are introduced to the cider when it's transferred into the barrel. Over time it is these microflorae that can create the woody, smoky, vanilla, tobacco and butterscotch notes that are so often characteristic of barrel-aged ciders (among others). In contrast, a stainless steel tank will introduce very little additional flavours to the cider and arguably this allows makers to produce a cider that is the purest expression of the fruit they've used.

At some stage before bottling, the maker also has to decide whether they want to filter their cider, which helps to clarify its appearance or leaves sediment and dead yeast particles (a.k.a lees) in the bottle. By leaving the sediment in the bottle other (good or bad) flavours may develop, by removing the sediment from the bottle the make retains a little more control over the finished flavour. The presence of sediment in the bottle often helps to preserve the "shelf-life" of cider for longer than if otherwise filtered out, but comes at the risk of the sediment continuing to influence the flavour of the cider in a bottle, beyond the cider maker's control. So when is a cider truly finished and best to drink? It's a fascinating and particularly tricky question. If you're drinking a cider that has the sediment left in it, the respective answers might be that a cider is never truly finished and you'll never know when's truly best to open it from the bottle!

... And that is the basic process of making fine cider. As you delve more into this world, you'll discover all the glorious nuances of what we have simplified in the last few posts. In your next post, we're going to surprise you with a whole different topic ...

First things first, are you of legal drinking age?

No, but I'm working on it