• Background on Hard Cider
• Making a Rustic Cider
Hard cider in America is facing the same identity crisis that beer underwent thirty years ago. There was a time before craft beer when drinkers could only chose from a selection of nearly comparable neutral-flavored lagers. English brown ales and true pilsners were limited to stale imports. Sure, there was a recollection of such beers, but few, if any, domestic brewers made them.
In much the same way, the average person’s exposure to hard cider today has been limited to sweet, mass-market versions. Most imports have followed suit. Traditional cider in this country has been kept on life support by an odd assortment of farsighted orchardists, hobby brewers, and determined Luddites. These are ciders with complexity, acidity, and good food compatibility. As the old New England aphorism almost goes… Only good can come of this.
The widely available “cider coolers” have dropped into a convenient pattern, fueled by industrial production methods, product consistency goals, perceived customer preferences, blather blather, in short, the usual assortment of cost-shaving, profit-enhancing, product-dumbing maneuvers that beverage makers are famous for. Granted, there is a segment of the populace that will always favor a sickly-sweet-fruity-something to avert the possibility of tasting alcohol, tannins, bitterness or sourness. But should the entire cider industry be geared to such sacchariphiles? Enter the other ciders.
Traditional ciders, which might also be referred to as hard, real, fine, or artisan, are a very old and very diverse dynasty. You might remember from your ethnobotany graduate studies, that apples and honeybees did not originate in the Americas, but instead were brought by early Europeans. Apples were grown and grafted by the Chinese, the Romans, and most inhabitants of Northern Europe for thousands of years.
The apples brought here were largely for cider making. Early settlers consumed prodigious amounts of hard cider. The notion that apples are sweet and for eating out of hand is actually a recent development.
At its most basic, cider is an extremely uncomplicated drink that one could easily imagine primitive peoples making. Crush some fruit, collect the juice through a basket, and leave the juice to set for a few days. That’s it. Incipient wild microbes and enzymes from the fruit, the terroir, the basket, and perhaps the cidermaker’s sweat or spittle, set the fermentation going. It was, and is, this easy. No cooking, no malting of grains (nor is spittle required). In three to five days you’ve got a cloudy, wonderfully spritzy, fresh cider with a few percent alcohol and ample aromatic properties. It is no wonder than during my high school and college years, I would see, high up on a dormitory window ledge, a jug of cider fermenting in the cool autumn air.
My cider senses have been re-awoken. Triggered by a germinal memory of that tart and carbonated cider of my youth. Or perhaps it was the tannic odor of soggy dropped oak leaves in the woods, or the cider vinegar smell arising from wet grass around a forgotten apple tree. Cider must be.
Cider, at its simplest…
- Cidre Nouveau
Find a glass jug, 2 qts or 1 gal in size. Sanitize with a teaspoon of chlorine bleach and a cup of water. Cap, shake, allow to sit for fifteen minutes, then rinse thoroughly. There should be no residual odor of bleach.
Fill the jug 80-90% full with fresh, unfiltered apple cider. Add a sachet of dry brewer’s yeast, cap, shake vigorously until the cider is oxygenated and the yeast is not clumped. Loosen the cap without removing, such that CO2 gas can be released during the fermentation. NOTE: If you fail to do this, the bottle WILL explode during fermentation.
Place in a cool place for a week, checking on it periodically. When the gas production has ceased and the cider tastes tart and fizzy, you’re done.
 Legally, these are probably termed FABs, “flavored alcoholic beverages.” Icky.