How is Cider made? (Part 1)

So, we've already explored a nice bit about the history of cider, and touched on some factors of its making, like the yeasts that ferment the apple juice, but let's now look at the practical side a bit more; fill in the blanks of how cider is actually made! 

Often people think of cider as similar to beer, so tend to assume it's made in a similar way, even that is it 'brewed', but it’s actually created in basically the same way as wine. Where beer is brewed, both cider and wine are made; they are created by fermenting the sugars in fruit juice, into alcohol. It's likely largely the fact that industrial cider can be found in the pub being poured by the pint, alongside beer, and at similar prices, that gives people this false impression!

When you know that cider is made in the manner of wine, and how many apple varieties exist, it's far easier to understand that the world of cider is actually as varied as the world of wine, and often works in similar ways for the cider maker. For example, good cider makers also work seasonally, and use a number of styles and techniques that you may have heard of from wine, such as Pet Nat, or the Traditional Method - which is the method used to make Champagne - as well as having some techniques of their own, unique to cider and perry making, such as Keeving.

So, over the next few articles, we're going to give you a summary of the basic stages of cider making, such as pressing the apples for their juice:
Where It All Begins: The Harvest
We mentioned in the section on apples that there are different kinds of apple varieties, each with different properties that will create different tasting ciders. And not only do they look and taste different, but as they will become ripe at different times of year (at the earliest in early Autumn, through to as late as Christmas) the maker must harvest them at different times. It's quite helpful for the cider maker this, for a number of reasons, as it means they can press different varieties at different times and spread the effort out. Otherwise, they'd have far too much to do all at once.
For a fine cider maker, the question of ripeness is a key one! If apples are harvested before they are properly ripe, they may lack flavour, so makers keep a close eye on ripeness, either walking the orchards to test the apples themselves or having trusted orchardists monitor this for them. To get the best out of the apples they use, they want the ripeness to be just right! Partly for the sake of taste, partly for the sake of the apples sugar content!

Some makers say that when the apples fall from the tree the fruit is ready, and this traditional approach it reflected in the term 'windfall', meaning the fruit has fallen from the tree in the wind (so it can easily be picked off the floor). But most makers will pick much of their fruit off the tree when it is ripe, as the winds don't blow like clockwork and apples can rot if left on the ground. Big commercial orchards may use machines to shake trees and then pick up the apples, smaller makers often use handpicking to collect their apples. If the trees are big, which can often be the case for perry pear trees, the traditional way to shake fruit free from high branches is using a long pole with a hook on the end, called a panking pole, which you may have noticed as the image for one of our earlier articles.

One other challenge for a maker is that not all the apples on a single tree will become ripe at the same time (some may get more sun than others, some more shade) so they may have to pick apples in an orchard or from certain trees multiple times, to get the ripest fruit possible.

Once the apples have been harvested, the maker may even let them ripen further before washing, sorting and then pressing them for their juice. Each fine cider maker has their method, and subtly varies what they do when. What comes after the harvest, brings us onto how cider is actually made...

First things first, are you of legal drinking age?

No, but I'm working on it