Some explanations from Farnum Hill Ciders:
The word “CIDER” means fermented apple juice, as the word “WINE” means fermented grape juice.
Quick U.S. Cider Background
Cider is another old beverage renewed in our day. It was made, stored, and consumed all over the U.S from early times. But eventually, Temperance politics and Prohibition ended legal sales. Apple growers had to replace their cider orchards with “Apple Pie orchards”. Bitter, sour, weird apples that could make great cider lost all value in the States.
The Beer Mix-Up
But real cider is not brewed. There’s no grain, no cooking, and no fast route to high quality. Serious cider is all apple juice, pressed from superior cider varieties. It represents the land that grew that fruit. It takes time and patience. Great beer can be made in weeks; great cider, not.
The Color Confusion
The most complex cider is tannic, like red wine. Its gold color means people tend to chill it. But serious cider from the right fruit deserves to be tasted at about 60F. Also, cider tannins offer antioxidant effects, but with far less alcohol than red wine.
How to Drink Cider
Do you have “how to drink” questions about cider? Take advice from Farnum Hill Ciders and “SERVE CIDER to GLADDEN THE MOMENT”.
Some explanations from Farnum Hill Ciders:
Great ciders come from orchard-based expertise…
and apples you would never eat.
Cider apples are grown for pressing & fermentation,
not for munching. Why?
They contain radically high sugars (too sweet-tasting when fresh) or radically high acids (too sour-tasting) or, strangest of all, radically high tannins (intensely bitter and mouth-puckering). Many contain two, even all three of these unbalanced elements. Besides the fermentable basics, each variety has individual perfumes and flavors of its own, delicious in ciders but not in pies.
There are four groups of cider apple varieties:
Sweets: grown for high sugars
Sharps: grown for high acids
Bittersweets: grown for high tannins plus high sugars
Bittersharps: grown for high tannins plus high sugars
It’s on bitter, sour, astringent apples, prized for fermentation only—anti-pie apples, fruit-bowl pranks—on these are great ciders based.
Cider is an expression of place
Like all crops, cider apples won’t grow everywhere. Where they do grow and ripen, each fruit takes character from the local soil and climate. Each variety can yield great juice in one place and boring juice, or worse, someplace else. Or, it can yield great juices of different character in different places.
There’s no end to what a grower/cidermaker can discover about what’s possible in just one place. There’s endless potential for an apple variety, a blending decision, a growing season, or some other home-place detail that may carry a new touch of glory from the land to the palate.
Cider makers employ the craft of blending
For blending purposes, the practical cider grower needs several varieties from each of the categories below. Why? Because no amount of skill can force every variety to crop every year. The stubborn biennials take turns in cider blends.
Cider Apple Varieties: hundreds exist, just a few are named here...
Some names: Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Chisel Jersey, Ashton Bitter, Somerset Redstreak, Medaille D’or, Bulmer’s Norman.
With extreme tannins and acids, furnish crucial acid for clean fermentation and stimulating taste, plus rich flavor as above and pleasurable ‘mouth-watering’ acid reaction on the palate. Names: Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Foxwhelp, Brown’s Apple, Porter’s Perfection.
SWEETS AND SHARPS
Two further cider-apple types, respectively contribute high sugars and high acids, plus their own individual sensory hooks.
HEIRLOOM ‘CROSSOVER’ VARIETIES
Besides offering intriguing sensory pleasures, these apples support clean, balanced fermentation.
Esopus Spitzenberg (from New York, reputedly Thos. Jefferson’s favorite apple, it refused to grow in VA.). Ashmead’s Kernel (17th c. origin, English) both sport stunning flavor and acid. Golden Russet: (Colonial American, commercial for all uses pre-independence through the early 20th century, known throughout for good fermentation.) Wickson: a tiny ‘sharp’, bred for cider in California, mighty acid and floral character.
MODERN ‘CROSSOVER’ VARIETIES
Help to elaborate and articulate some blends, supplying crucial acid to balance the bitter varieties. Who knows how many more “Crossovers” wait to be discovered? Believe it or not, Golden Delicious ferments well, but not just any Golden Delicious. There’s an old strain, small, hard, and russeted, extremely high in acids and sugars, and intensely flavorful. Elstar, a Dutch grocery variety, furnishes some acid, sugar, and nuanced flavor during blending. Ditto Ida Red, American. So does New Zealand’s Gala, at least when grown in harsh northern climes.