A Beginners Guide to Cider
Posted on October 06 2020
What to avoid vs what to buy and enjoy!
by Megan Broberg - Wine & Cider maker
Despite being one of the fastest growing categories in booze over the past few years, cider still hasn’t achieved that obsessive aficionado following that we see in craft beers. The craft beer category has spawned endless blogs, rating sites and hundreds of craft beer festivals, and there is nary a man with a garage who isn’t quietly planning how to turn it into a home brewery.
But what about cider? Is it not complex, varied and worthy of nerd-like obsession? I believe so. Too long has it been incorrectly categorised alongside RTDs*. Sadly Australia’s inconsistent application of alcohol levies has been partly to blame for this (this is a topic I need a whole other blog post for). In short, when RTD’s were given their own special (nonsensical) category of tax, exponentially increasing their price, young drinkers sought a sweet alternative with equal alcoholic punch, enter Cider. So the motivation was there to bring cheap ciders to market as quickly as possible. And that meant using concentrate. It would shock most people to know that a large percentage of the cider they see on the shelves at major retailers does not contain a single apple or pear.
Both the beer and wine industries operate under strict rules and regulations, what can be fermented and called beer or wine is dictated by law. I cannot ferment grape concentrate and call it wine. I cannot add hop flavour to sparkling alcoholic water and call it beer. Cider being so new to the market here as a major category doesn’t have such regulation. And in a world that feels increasingly bogged down in regulation, sometimes regulation can actually be a good thing.
So in the absence of any rules, how is the average person going to navigate this category, and what should they look for on the labels to make the right cider decision? Here’s a quick guide to exploring the wonderful world of cider.
MUST CONTAIN FRUIT. It’s simple, it will say it on the label. If it doesn’t, raise an eyebrow and put it down. Better yet, good ciders will tell you the type of fruit used; Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Granny Smith or real cider apples. The easiest assumption to make is this - if it doesn’t say real fruit, it probably doesn’t have it. Some ciders use a combination of concentrate and real fruit. If it doesn’t declare it, it isn’t there.
Some like it sweet, some like it dry. The interesting thing is palate perception of sweetness varies from person to person. So your sweet isn’t necessarily what your mate or partner considers sweet. The only way to really tell is by trying lots of ciders. Oh what a chore! When something is considered “technically dry” that means there is ZERO residual sugar, that means the yeast has consumed all available sugar in the fermentation process. An easy clue to spot these ciders is they will have a higher alcohol rate. Because yeast converts sugar to alcohol and CO 2 . Not a lot of ciders are technically dry, I think you need a small splash of sweetness in cider, not too much to be cloying, just enough to ensure your mouth doesn’t pucker after every sip. Pears are naturally sweeter so you will often find that these ciders taste sweeter as well.
Look, I am not against it, it can be done well, or it can ruin a cider. I think it’s no different to the use of hops in beer. Sometimes it can be complimentary, sometimes it can be overwhelming. I like the use of flavour when it still allows the characteristics of the fruit to shine through. It should never overwhelm the apple or pear. Most importantly it should be a natural flavour, using real fruit, or hops. Your back label will hold the key.
This is a very basic guide into your first steps in cider selection. We can get deeper into the nerd stuff next time, exploring yeast selection vs wild ferment, cider apples vs dessert fruit, method traditionelle ciders, and new world vs old world.
But for now, the best way to find your perfect cider? A sample pack of course! Fizztopia can do you a specially selected 6 pack to find your perfect cider match.
*Ready to Drink - premixed vodka and other spirits. Think of the sweet stuff you drank to get drunk in a park when you were a teenager.