Craft vs Industrial
Much is written and discussed about the word “craft”, in the context of beer or cider it is just so hard to properly define. To me anything described as “craft” conjures up thoughts of manual processes, people fettling, adjusting and tweaking until they feel it is just right. It isn’t necessarily about years of experience although that probably helps, to me it is more about the love and passion and the hands-on input of the people doing the crafting. Think of the cidermaker checking his apples, watching the processes happen, trying the juice, checking the fermentation and then most importantly testing the cider before giving his approval. All very different to the computer controlled automated production lines, where it’s all about touch screens, keeping costs low and maximising output.
It’s like Ikea compared to the man selecting the best timber to hand craft his own furniture, an off the peg suit from a high street shop compared to the Saville Row tailor, Subway or a baguette from the local deli. Somehow you just know the difference.
Phil and I taste cider from all over the world, often we get a parcel delivery at the office with a customs sticker on and it turns out someone has ordered a mixed case from somewhere or another. Sometimes these turn out to be, how can we put it nicely “better suited to their local market”, sometimes they are real gems.
We are lucky enough to have a few shops locally to us with fantastic cider ranges making stocking up and experimenting dangerously easy. Best of all is when we get out to see cidermakers, sit round the table and talk cider. Sometimes we know what we are looking for, other times we are guided by suggestions from the makers, maybe a particularly fine Perry or a stunning single varietal.
As with most things in life, even if you don’t really know what you are talking about it is critically important that you sound like you know what you are talking about. This is easily tested with a suitable focus group, typically your mates in the pub, who are usually keen to uncover any blagging quickly. Such focus groups are often ready to sympathetically let you know you have been rumbled and gently break the news that you need further swatting. In extreme cases ridicule and humiliation may follow, so best to be safe and get the knowledge on board asap.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Is it a sweet or dry cider? Rule of thumb, a dry cider is one where all the sugar has fermented and there is an absence of sweetness. It could, however, mean that there is a presence of tannin. Traditional cider apple varieties tend to be high in tannin, which has a drying effect in the mouth and will make juice feel thicker and more full-bodied.
A sweet cider will, no surprises here, have a high sugar content, either because not all of the sugar has fermented or because it has been added later in the process. Some cheap ciders have saccharin added instead because it is cheaper. Sweetness can add depth to the flavour, with the taste remaining in your mouth for longer.
Ciders referred to as “medium” sit in the middle of this scale, it is a relatively new description says not a great deal about the cider but at least it tells people how your cider compares to others.
Another variable in cider is the acidity, from low to high mostly determined by the types of apples used. The right hit of acidity can give a cider a refreshing quality, too much and the cider is too sharp.
This is introduced to cider to stop yeast and bacteria growth, otherwise the cider remains “live” and can go off very quickly.
Varies, from still (little or no carbonation), through petillant (moderate, slightly sparkling) to sparkling (high level of carbonation). Carbonation can be achieved through the fermentation process – which can be a bit hit or miss in terms of achieving a consistent quality - or by the cider being ‘force carbonated’ with the addition of CO2
NOT TOO COLD
Too cold, and the flavours and aromatics in craft cider is lost. By letting the cider ‘open up’, as you would a wine, and bringing its temperature to room temperature (ideally, around 50-55 °F / 10°C) you’ll be able to really taste and savour the subtle flavours at their best.
Pick the right glass
Tall, slim glasses are good for cider to show off properly, a bit like the Peroni one your mate “borrowed” from the pub. If you want to see the bubbles in a sparkling cider and have the aroma wafting to the max, it’s a good idea to choose something like a pilsner, fluted champagne or our own Copa glass.
CHEW ON THIS…
Take a good mouthful of cider and ‘chew’ on it a bit by rolling it around your mouth, and really concentrating on the weight, body, texture and taste on your tongue. Of major importance is to look thoughtfully at a random object whilst doing so to ensure the audience awaits your words of wisdom with suitable levels of anticipation.
A full-bodied cider will feel and taste … well … full-bodied. It will be heavier and richer than a lighter-bodied cider and the taste will linger just that bit longer. Generally, ciders have a mouthfeel similar to white wine.
Full-bodied ciders that are complex and interesting make can pair with food brilliantly. Lighter-bodied ciders are especially good for drinking on their own on a hot day or to chillax after a long day at work: they’re good ‘sessional’ ciders.
Contrary to popular belief the perfect food pairing for cider isn’t always an extra large donner. Food pairings that work really well include cheese, cold meats. But other interesting combinations are fish (oysters and crab are especially good), burgers, pizza and chicken. Spicy foods often work well as the fresh fruity cider acts as a perfect palate cleanser and can soften spicy heat.
If you’re tasting a range of ciders, best to start with dry and work towards the sweet end of the cider spectrum. That way, you won’t blow out your tastebuds too quickly.
USE A BIG WORD
‘Organoleptic’ is the fancy adjective for using the sensory organs. The organoleptic evaluation of cider will describe its appearance, aromas, taste, body and finish.
Okay, so you won’t find pommelier in the dictionary. But seeing as we have the sommelier (wine expert) and the cicerone (expert on craft beer), we think it’s high time cider knowledge, skills and hands-on expertise gains some proper recognition with a brand new ‘pommelier’ qualification. What do you reckon? Tweet @cidersmiths.
There are many weird and wonderful web resources to explore the finer nuances of cider, including tasting notes. For a comprehensive guide to all things cider, you can’t do much better than read ‘World’s Best Cider’ by Pete Brown & Bill Bradshaw.