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Cider - new sophistication to a traditional drink


June 2012  

 
CiderCider has always had a strong following of enthusiasts, but recently it has been making a real comeback, not just as a refreshing alternative to beer and other traditional drinks, but also as a beverage for the connoisseur.

Cider is an ancient drink and was probably made thousands of years ago in areas where apples grew prolifically. It is thought that nomadic tribes in Spain and France made a strong drink called shekar which they introduced into Britain. Shekar is a word of Hebrew origin meaning strong drink.

But while the Romans helped introduce Britons to agriculture, it was the Normans that really got the cider industry growing here. Northern France had already developed top quality orchards as well as vineyards before they arrived in England; but once here they found our heavy rainfall and mild climate was perfect for apple cultivation.

Making cider is a fairly simple process - basically crush apples to produce apple juice, put the juice in a barrel and leave it in surroundings with some warmth. Natural yeasts on the fruit will react, the juice will begin to ferment - and eventually you will have a basic cider.

Over the years new varieties of apples were introduced mainly across southern England and the production of cider grew and spread. Soon it became a very common drink for everyone, and it was produced is high quantities on farms, many of which had substantial orchards with cooking and dessert apple trees and also a few special cider apple trees. In the 18th century cider was sometimes used as part of a pay packet - evidently a typical daily allowance was three pints a day.

Today, while the basic process remains, the production of cider is of course a lot more sophisticated. For a start, the variety of apples available is astonishing and this leads to a tremendous range of specialist ciders. Most modern ciders are made from several blends of apples to produce a unique taste.

In taste, ciders can be traditional, with a heavy, deep flavour, to a very light and gently fruity cider. Adjustments in the production process to alter the acidity and tannin levels produce a range of ciders, from sharp and bitter sharp to bittersweet and sweet. The alcoholic strength can vary between 1.2% to just under 8.5% ABV.

There are “master cider makers” who can produce a range or specialist ciders. There is also a “real cider” company which is passionate about producing quality ciders from traditional methods.

Organic ciders are now becoming more and more popular, and there are still orchards in the UK where no pesticides are said to have been used for hundreds of years.

Amazingly now nearly 50% of all apples grown in the UK are used in cider making and the volume produced every year is around 130 million UK gallons. Like beer, a number of small individual cider producers are developing specialist ciders and ciders are also being made from “limited pressings” and single varieties.

Today, the old “soider” of country folk is certainly becoming a very sophisticated drink.


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