Cider Categories 101

We're sure you're itching to find out why the bottles you're receiving as part of this set are so different from the cider you'll commonly find in pubs & shops, but before we get into that let's briefly mention what all ciders have in common. That is; in some form or another, all cider is essentially apple juice, where at least some of the sugars present have been fermented into alcohol. We'll delve into the many methods cider makers can use for this in later articles, but for now let's enlighten you about the three main categories of cider:

Mass-Market Cider
This is what most people think cider is, & why wouldn't they, you'll come across it more than anything else. But historically, it's actually a fairly new creation; being the ever-advancing creation of huge cider companies, perfecting the means of making industrial volumes of cider cheaply & consistently, over recent decades. These are the cider brands that most people are familiar with, typically sold by the pint & often described in the same way: "fizzy", "sweet", and "apple-ly". Usually, such makers will take lots of different apple varieties as their starting point, and take their products through a lot of stages, controlled by science, to make their cider; both the processes used & the aims of the makers mean the results are all pretty homogeneous. This industrial approach to cider making does allow for a consistent taste, and using concentrate lets the maker produce it all year round, which is no doubt good for business (requires less storage space, & they can make more as required). Increasingly, in the name of 'innovation', this means adding other fruit flavours, not just apple, and this kinds of industrial cider has become all that most people know cider to be! While there is nothing wrong with this, it does seem to mean we have lost touch with all that cider can be; it's almost shut the door to other possibilities, as these big cider makers have become so dominant. And in our opinion, the way such cider is made removes the potential for more complex flavours, aromas, styles, and simply more variety for those who drink! Both Farmhouse and Fine cider do have the potential for complexity that variety brings; varied apples, varied seasons, varied methods, & a whole world of small cider makers, not just a few big ones.

Farmhouse Cider
Traditionally made by farmers, with apples from the orchards on and around their farms: a farmhouse cider is typically made with close to 100% juice (it is sometimes known as 'real cider'). Such ciders can be big on flavour in comparison to mass-market alternatives, and they are usually made with traditional cider apple varieties. The methods and knowledge used to make farmhouse cider are often passed down the generations and trace back to the days when farm labourers would have been paid in cider. At times, farmhouse cider making can involve a pretty simple approach, a 'let it do this thing' way thinking. Sometimes this will mean the cider can end up a little acetic (vinegary), but on other occasions, the cider that results can be exceptional. 

You might have come across a good few farmhouse ciders; served in country pubs, on holiday in Devon, Cornwall or Somerset, or at local festivals. They are usually still and dry, because that's what happens if you let apple juice ferment and do nothing to stop it; the fermentation will keep going until it has converted all of the sugar in the juice into alcohol. So yes, by implication, it's like mother nature wants us to drink dry cider, not sweet cider!! As for being still rather than sparkling, well people sometimes find it surprising that all cider starts out still - the bubbles have to be added; either by cleverly forcing the gas the fermentation naturally gives off into the liquid, or by the maker adding gas to the cider (called carbonating) before they sell it! A good cider maker can make a naturally sparkling & naturally sweet cider, but it takes a good bit of knowledge & skill to do well, which brings us onto the new wave...

(New Wave) Fine Cider
Fine Cider is not a new thing - it's probably better to think of it as a forgotten thing, that is being rediscovered! And there's nothing to say that a farmhouse cider can't turn out to be damn fine! But there are a few differences: in a similar fashion to farmhouse cider makers, the cider in this category tends to use as close as possible to 100% fresh-pressed apple juice. The real difference is that these new wave makers take a mix of past methods, combine them with some modern knowledge, and aim to create a finessed version of farmhouse cider. For example, they tend to be very selective about the apples & pears they use; not just which ones, and how they are used, but their ripeness and how they were grown. They also dig deep into understanding how their chosen methods of cider making work. Even if they opt for a minimal intervention approach (similar to some Farmhouse making), they tend to have a good bit of knowledge about what they are doing, and what is going on with their fermentations. 

The results of such wonderful, passionate cider makers, testing and pushing the boundaries, means the world of fine cider is a broad spectrum. It's full of different tastes and styles, as makers test and perfect their making over time; giving you lots to choose between, and many things to enjoy! Just as you might know a few wines you often like to drink, as they are made from certain grape varieties, you can get to know certain apple varieties & their characteristics. Whether you want a little glass of something naturally low in alcohol with lunch, a 'Champagne Method' cider, a still dry cider to pair with your dinner, or an exceptionally succulent sweet cider for after dinner (to mention but a few of the options...) there is a fine cider that has been finessed to delight you. And any Pommelier will tell you that it's more than possible to swap out wine for cider at the diner table; if anything, cider can pair better and more broadly with food than wine! 

First things first, are you of legal drinking age?

No, but I'm working on it