There are more than 300 cider apple varieties. These apples are not like the ones you buy from the supermarket, they have special strains high in acids and tannins that are unique to the West Country – Somerset, Devon and Herefordshire.

Cider apples fall into four categories, according to the tannin, sugar and acidity levels:

  1. Bittersweets are high in tannin and low in acid – eg: Yarlington Mill, Dabinett
  2. Sweets and low in both – eg: Sweet Coppin, Sweet Alford
  3. Bittersharps are high in both – eg: Kingston Black, Broxwood Foxwhelp
  4. Sharps are low in tannin and higher in acid – eg: Frederick, Crimson King

Most traditional apple varieties contain a combination of all four. It’s down to the expertise of the cider makers judgement on how to blend so the final result is a balanced mix of sugars, acidity and tannins. Too much of one may result in the cider being overpowering and undrinkable.

Foxwhelp Cider Apples

Foxwhelp Cider Apples

Tannin gives cider the colour, the more tannin, the deeper the golden brown. Tannin also give dryness, the same dryness in red wine that sits at the back of your tongue when tasting it.

These give unique tastes and characteristics depending on the combination of apples that are pressed to make real cider.

The apples also have fantastic names: Tower of Glammis, Galloway Pippin, Watson’s Dumpling, Red Cluster, Foxwhelp to name but a few!

Cider makers choose their apple selection before pressing the cider apples together. Other producers press the apple types individually, then blend to taste the juices before they ferment. And some don’t even blend, they sell the cider as single varietals, for example, Kingston Black which is fermented in old rumm barrels to give a distinctive flavour and Redstreak whose production as a single has been traced back to the 18th century.

Did you know: 45 per cent of all UK apples are now used to make cider – Learn more at cider facts.

Further links:
Cider Apples at NACM
Cider Apple varieties by County

Cider making has long been a traditional countryside craft, that involves years of experience to get the correct blend of apples for a great tasting cider

The production process for making real cider is simple, and has remained unchanged for centuries:

Select apples, press them, ferment slowly in barrels over the winter and by early summer you will have dry, still, refreshing real cider!

However, here is the basic simplified process that cider producers follow to make real cider:

Preparation

Apples arrive from the orchards in October, they are washed (surface sterilsed) and sorted to remove rotten apples. All leaves, twigs and other orchard debris is removed to leave just the fruit that meets the standard.

Pulping

Apples are then mashed, either mechanically using a scratter, or by hand – to create a pulp which is put into the cider press.

Pressing

The cider press extracts the juice from the apples, which then goes directly into plastic fermentation barrels.

Fermentation:

No yeast is added as it occurs naturally on the skin and in the flesh of the apple. The fermentation is a slow process due to the low temperatures over winter. However, early summer you can check whether the cider is ready by the following methods: clarity, taste and specific gravity (% ABV).

Larger producers also use these steps to make the cider taste great:

Assessing

All Cider Makers rely on their own ability to taste the fermenting ciders to measure the fermentation process.

Blending

On a large scale, once fermented, the cider is transferred to a maturation vessel, usually a very large oak barrel where matured ciders from previous seasons are combined and blended as the cider maker completes the finished product.

Of course, you don’t need to be a farm producer to enjoy making real cider. You can do this at home with the basic equipment for cider making. The links below provide more information on how to get started.

Further links

Thanks to a natural hybridisation between two fruits, thousand of years ago edible apples developed, and the discovery of a refreshing glass of cider began.

Travelling through the Middle East, to Turkey, and then across to what would become Britain, neolithic people were familiar with planting and working with the wild apple Malus syvelstris.

1204 AD is the first written record in this country we have of cider as a form of payment by a manor in Runham, Norfolk.

The Celts made a crab apple cider before this, and continued to be improved by the Romans, who developed cider making equipment for crushing and extraction of the apple juice they produced from their newly planted orchards.

When the Romans left it was the Christians turn to keep the orchards thriving in small pockets of land. The Normans introduced a number of new cider apples.

During the dark ages, monks preserved the knowledge of cider making, assisted by the Bishop of Bath who bought cider presses for his monastery in 1230.

Henry VIII sent fruiterer Richard Harris to France who bought back new varieties, including the Pippin, and created orchards in Kent, now the fruit basket of England.

Throughout the 17th Century the number of orchards increased, and the preference of Cider compared to fine wines grew more popular amongst gentry and royalty.

In the 18th Century, Cider became the drink for all classes to enjoy. More farms produced cider to give as payment to their workers, a second pressing of the apple pomace resulted in a cider that was around 2-3% ABV. Half a gallon for breakfast, same for lunch and more which they carried in the fields.

Cider Drinker - Photo Credit: NACM

Cider Drinker - Photo Credit: NACM

Into the latter part of the 19th Century, and cider was approached more scientifically, by fruit growing societies and clubs to improve and experiment with grafts of cider trees, look at the best varieties and efficient production processes.

A campaign to stop payment in the form of alcoholic beverages brought about the addition of a clause to the Truck Act of 1887 which prohibited the payment of wages in this way.

Today, modern cider making still relies on the same basic principles as have applied for centuries. The taste for cider has been rediscovered and a quiet revolution has begun.

Sales of cider are increasing strongly, with this success has come a greater demand for good quality cider fruit. Farmers and land-owners throughout the west country have planted over 8,000 acres of new orchards in the last decade.

It’s a success for farms, the conservation of our ancient cider apple varieties and for cider drinker’s who demand real cider.

This page explains some of the terms associated with cider, perry and cidermaking.

  • Acetification – a fault in cider caused by the airborne acetobacter bacteria, which generates acetic acid in the cider. This happens when the cider is allowed to be in contact with air, and is the same fault that can occur in wine and beer. The unmistakable taste of vinegar is the result. Your best bet is to use it as cider vinegar in the kitchen.
  • Apple – the fruit used to make cider! But not just any old apple – different types of apple are used, depending on the type of cider being made. In some parts of the UK (notably Eastern parts) culinary (cooking) or dessert (eating) apples are used; whereas in other parts, especially in the western areas, specially grown cider apples are used. Cider apples are classified as Bittersharp, Bittersweet, Sharp or Sweet, depending on the relative amounts of acid and/or tannin present in the apples – see the individual definitions of these terms for more explanation. There is a large number of different varieties of cider apple – some well-known ones are Kingston Black, Foxwhelp, Dabinett, Chisel Jersey and Tremlett’s Bitter.
  • Bittersharp – a type of apple relatively high in both acidity and tannin – will taste sharp and astringent (bitter)
  • Bittersweet – a type of apple relatively low in acidity but high in tannin – will taste astringent (bitter) but not too sharp
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – gas given off during fermentation. This may be harnessed by means of a secondary fermentation in bottled cider or perry to produce a naturally sparkling drink. Makers of keg ciders will have processed this natural carbonation out and will have to artificially add it back to give a simulated “life” to the cider.
  • Cheese – parcels of fruit pulp to be pressed are built up into a stack called a cheese. The parcels were traditionally wrapped in long straw or horsehair but nowadays usually in some sort of polyester cloth which will allow the juice to flow through it while preventing the solid matter from being squeezed out under pressure.
  • Cider –   In the UK, the term cider always refers to an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of apples. In the USA, sweet cider (or simply cider) means apple juice (unfermented); and hard cider is used to mean alcoholic cider.
  • Dry – lack of sweetness in cider or perry, based on the amount of sugar or other sweetener present in it. Dry cider or perry has a low amount of sweetness compared to medium or sweet. The majority of real ciders are naturally dry, as nearly all the sugar gets fermented out. They are then sweetened to produce medium or sweet ciders.
  • Fermentation – the conversion of sugar in apple or pear juice to alcohol, resulting in cider or perry respectively, by the action of yeast. Carbon dioxide is given off during the reaction, allowing sparkling ciders or perries to be made naturally.
  • Hair or hairs – a term sometimes used for the cloths normally used to wrap the pulp when building a cheese. This is derived from the old practice of using horsehair for this purpose
  • Keeve – to use a traditional technique (too complex to explain here!) which results in a cider which is naturally sweet.
  • Medium – medium sweetness in cider or perry, based on the amount of sugar or other sweetener present in it. Medium cider or perry has a higher amount of sweetness than dry, and a lower amount than sweet.
  • Mill – a device used to turn the fruit into pulp so that it can be pressed to extract the juice. There are several types of mill – some will crush the fruit whereas others will chop or grate it into small pieces. See also stone mill and scratter. The term cider mill is sometimes used to refer to the whole cider farm or cider works, factory, etc.
  • Mock – another term for a cheese – sometimes spelt or pronounced muck.
  • Mouse –  a fault in cider affecting the taste. Cider can develop a taint (off-flavour) caused by the formation of ethanamide by certain types of wild yeast – the taste is known as mouse. It’s difficult to describe the taste, but presumably if you’ve ever tasted a small rodent it tastes similar! There are various treatments but no proper cure, once the mouse taint has developed. If it’s not too far gone then the best bet is to use up the cider before it gets any worse!
  • Orchard – a plantation of cultivated fruit trees – apples or pears for cider or perry. The term is also used for other fruits.
  • Pear – the fruit used to make perry. Special types of pear (called perry pears) are used, as dessert pears are not good for making perry. Some well-known varieties of perry pear are Gin, Rock, Hendre Huffcap and Blakeney Red.
  • Perry –  an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of perry pears. In the USA, the term pear cider is used for perry.
  • Pomace – another name for apple pulp – sometimes used to refer to the spent pulp after pressing. This is often used as animal feed.
  • Press – mechanical equipment designed to exert pressure on fruit pulp to extract the juice. Traditional presses are normally operated manually, but in larger cider works today many presses are hydraulically operated.
  • Pulp –  the crushed, chopped or grated fruit from milling apples or pears, prior to pressing.Rope     (n) a fault in cider caused by bacterial activity, resulting in the cider becoming viscous or oily. In extreme cases, the cider when poured forms ‘strings’ or ‘ropes’, hence the name. Usually the ropiness manifests itself in the early stages by small clumps of viscous matter floating in the cider – if you’ve ever seen ‘mother of vinegar’ in a vinegar bottle then it looks a little like that (but it’s not the same thing). This can be removed and the cider’s taste is unaffected and it can normally be drunk without any ill effects on the drinker. The ropiness will only get worse with long term storage, as there is no proper remedy. The best bet is to drink up the cider before it gets any worse!
  • Scratter –  a type of rotary mill operated by hand or by motor power, which crushes and shreds or chops the fruit between spiked or toothed rollers. (From the verb scrat meaning ‘to scratch’ – the verb ‘to scrat’ meaning ‘to mill’ is not often used these days).
  • Screw Press –  a type of press which works by screwing down a beam, board or plate tightly on top of the fruit pulp to exert pressure on it and extract the juice. Some presses have a single central screw and others may have two or more screws.
  • Scrumpy –   Unfortunately this term means different things to different people! The usual meanings are 1. (n) simply, an affectionate slang term for cider, usually applied to draught cider. 2. (n) implies an inferior or poorly made cider 3. (n) high quality real cider made from traditional methods – this is the definition we at the Scrumpy User Guide advocate!
  • Sharp –  a type of apple relatively high in acidity but low in tannin – will taste sharp (acidic) but not astringent (bitter). Many cooking apples fit this profile.
  • Single varietal –   (a or n) a cider or perry made with a single variety of apple or pear, respectively. One of the best known single varietal ciders is Kingston Black, made entirely from that apple variety. Most ciders and perries are made from a blend of apples to get the right balance of sweetness, astringency and acidity, but some varieties can be used alone to make a very good cider or perry. This is analogous to single varietal wines made from grape varieties such as Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Stone Mill – a type of mill consisting of a circular horizontal stone, usually with a circular trough cut around it near the outer edge; and a second circular stone which was vertical and would roll around the trough in the lower stone. The vertical stone would be supported by a wooden beam and pivot around the centre of the horizontal one, and would be pushed around manually or by horsepower. The fruit would be pushed into the trough to be crushed by the rolling stone. There would usually be an outlet for the juice at one point where the juice was collected in between revolutions. Such mills were still used by some cidermakers well past the mid-20th century but there are probably none still in use today. The mills can still occasionally be seen at cider farms or in museums.
  • Sweet 1. (a) indicates a high level of sweetness in cider or perry, based on the amount of sugar or other sweetener present in it. Sweet cider or perry has a high amount of sweetness compared to medium or dry. Many sweet ciders are produced by adding artificial sweetener to dry ciders (see dry). 2. (a or n) a type of apple relatively low in both acidity and tannin – will taste sweet with little sharpness or astrigency (bitterness). Many eating apples fit this profile.
  • Tallet – a loft, typically above a barn, where apples are stored and allowed to mature for a while before being pulped for cider. Some cidermakers believe this improves the quality of the juice and softens the apples, making them easier to pulp and improving the amount of juice extracted. See also tump.
  • Tannin – a substance present in apples and pears to a greater or lesser degree, which imparts astringency to the resulting cider or perry. Good ciders and perries need a certain amount of tannin in the fruit mix. See bittersweet and bittersharp.
  • Tump – West Country word meaning a hill or heap. In cidermaking, it is used to refer to a mound of apples left to mature before being pulped, sometimes in a barn or even in the open air. See also tallet.
  • Yeast – a micro-organism which will convert sugars to alcohol during the process of fermentation. All alcoholic drinks are made using some form of yeast. In the case of cider and perry, traditionally there was no need to add any yeast, as the yeasts naturally present in the fruit does the job. Many traditional ciders and perries are still made this way, but some cider and perry makers use a known yeast to give more consistent results.

So you want to buy cider? We hope to give you instant access to a number of resources here.

Whether you want to sample cider direct from the producer, at a pub, or in your home we provide you with various pages in which you can find out which ones are near you, or if you are travelling somewhere which ones you will be passing. Don’t forget to take a container or two!

Browse the following pages to find cider producers and outlets:

The location and contact information for producers and pubs is from a variety of sources, personal records, CAMRA publications and other cider related sites. We are grateful for their permission to use this.

The photos you see below are the latest added by the community of Real Cider, that’s you! We use the flickr photo sharing site, where you can add your own cider photos to the Real Cider group for all to enjoy.

A photo or picture says a thousand words; as well as exploring how people enjoy cider, you can also see the variety and colourful life that exists for our apples all around the world.

[feedsnap, 20]http://feeds.feedburner.com/RealCiderPool[/feedsnap]

» View more photos at the Real Cider group on Flickr.