CAMRA Learning
What is Real Cider?

What is real cider?

Real cider is a long established traditional drink, but most of the cold fizzy products we are used to seeing are far from the real thing. Real cider is produced naturally from apples and is neither carbonated or pasteurised, while real perry is made from pears. Many of the well-known ciders sold in the UK are not produced naturally from apples but have been produced artificially using syrup.
The popularity of real cider is rising as more people discover how deliciously mellow and aromatic the flavours of naturally-produced cider can be. A glass of real cider or perry represents generations of production dating back hundreds of years. The basics of cider production have remained the same the whole time – simply pick and press the fruit, allow to ferment and enjoy.

Why does an apple taste sweet yet cider is naturally dry?

To make cider the apples are milled, i.e. reduced to small pieces, and then pressed to release the juice. Using the natural yeast, which covers the apple skin (or introduced yeast) and the sugars contained within the juice, fermentation takes place. Once fermentation is completed the sweet sugars have been converted into alcohol leaving a dry product. Cider can then be sweetened by using unfermented apple juice or artificial sweeteners.

Which apples are best for making cider?

The apples, which we eat as a dessert fruit, are very different from the specialist fruit, which is usually used to make cider. There are over 600 types of apples grown in The British Isles and each one has a unique balance of sweetness, acidity & tannins. Of these, it is estimated three quarters are cider apples. It is the three components of sweetness, acid & tannins, which give the cider its range & depth of flavour. In the majority of cider making areas specialist cider apples are used, in Kent dessert apples balanced with the acidity of cookers are used.

What’s special about a cider apple?

Cider apples are usually more closely related to the wild crab apple than to eating or cooking apples. They are smaller, harder and lack the unblemished attraction of eaters or cookers. If you tried to eat a cider apple you would discover its main difference from eaters or cookers is its tannin level. Tannin is responsible for the astringency of the fruit, making the fruit taste bitter and drying the mouth & making it difficult to swallow.

How do you know which apples to use?

Cider apples are classified by their balance of acid & tannin according to four categories:-

• Bittersweets, low acidity, high tannin
• Sweets, low acidity, low tannin
• Sharps, high acidity, low tannin
• Bittersharps, high acidity, high tannin

Cider Makers use a closely guarded mix of apples at pressing to create their blend of cider, which is why if you try one that is not totally to your taste another cider may suit you better. Today the consumer tends to prefer sweeter, smoother less acidic ciders so Cider Makers tend not to favour bitter sharp apples with their intense astringency and high acid content. Planning how the cider will taste starts with the planting of orchards where several different varieties of tree are planted together. This means that all the apples can be harvested and processed at the same time to make an outstanding product.

How is the fruit harvested?

With traditional orchards, the fruit has ripened by September. Long ash poles (which can be 40 foot long for perry trees) are used to knock the apples & pears from the trees. As it falls it is stacked up in mounds or tumps, covered with straw waiting to be bagged up & sent for milling & pressing. This is a labour intensive process which many growers would welcome help with. A new type of bush tree has been planted; this is a faster growing dwarf variety of tree. Bush trees are laid out in tight rows with wide avenues between them. Harvesting is automated with tractor borne vibrators clamping around the tree trunk & shaking the fruit off. Blowers are used in lining up the fruit between trees and then a machine like an apple combine harvester is used to lift the fruit & discard stones, twigs & leaves.

What is Perry?

As cider is made from apples, perry is made from pears, not just any pear though. These are perry pears, which tend to be smaller & harder then dessert pears. Perry tends to be produced sweet or medium sweet although CAMRA’s 2003 National Bronze Perry was Barkers Dry from Worcestershire. Perry also contains natural levels of non-fermentable sorbitol. Perry trees while bearing fruit in 3/5 years will continue to produce fruit for 200 or 300 years. This is much longer than apple trees, this has lead to the phrase “plant perry for your heirs”.

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