The process of making cider is complex. And, nothing is quite as refreshing as a nice, cold hard cider. As the cider market continues to grow, cider connoisseurs are being made every day. Just like the craft beer scene, some may be interested in the process of cider making. So, how is cider created and what goes into making your favorite alcoholic beverage?
Pick Your Cider Apples
Cider starts with apples. What apples do you ask? It can really be made from any apples, but ciders apple – not cooker or eater apples – are the best due to their dryness. Cider apples can be defined further as sweet, sharp, bittersharp and bittersweet apples. These apples are differentiated by the level of acid and tannins within them. These apple combinations are mixed together to get the desired level of acid, tannins, and sugar (which decides the alcohol content by the end of the process). Got it? Next step!
Cleaning & Pressing Apples
They clean those bad boys. That’s right, they get a nice washing until they are squeaky clean. Then these juicy little beauties are ground down and turned into a heap of apple pulp, also known as pomace. They build up layers of the pomace and give it a nice mechanical squeeze (push it! push it real good!) until they can extract as much of the liquid as they can. It is worth noting that some cider-makers still do the pressing manually — you are the real MVPs of the league.
Now we have all this juice and nothing to do with it. Well, hold your horses! They can collect the juice into either vats or casks and move it to the next step in the process.
Hard Cider Fermentation & Filtration
Like all alcohols, we need to introduce the fermentation process. They bring that delicious juice to a temperature somewhere around 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They allow the cider to go through its own natural fermentation or they can kill off the natural yeasts and add other yeast. Cider fermentation that is slower prevents the loss of its key features, such as aroma and flavor profile. In most cases for commercial cider yeasts are added.
Are we close to drinking it yet? Not quite.
As the fermenting process continues, the liquor is placed into a new vat. Why you may ask? To leave behind the yeast that has built up and is no longer active (goodbye old friends, your duties were valiant). To avoid contamination and prevent other harmful bacteria, all air is removed from containment. The process of placing the liquid into a new vat and leaving the yeast behind is called racking and is essential to a clear and tasty cider. Fermentation takes care of the rest of the job, creating carbon dioxide with the remaining sugars, a natural layer of protective cushion for the pushin’. This fermentation can either be completely exhausted for a dry and still cider or it can be bottled up at select times to get some natural carbonation in the bottle. Now, most cideries will let the cider go completely dry and still and back sweeten it with sugars that yeast do not eat, to make it more palatable for the consumer. They also can mix other vats of cider for a mixture or other juice additives to get desired sweetness or flavor profiles. Keep in mind, the process of fermentation can take three months to up to three years depending on the particular product. Seems like yesterday our cider was just a young boy…Now its time to bottle it up.
Hard Cider Bottling & Pasteurization
Bottling cider takes many forms. They can do a simple “beer” bottling process and move the vat contents into bottles, allowing them to ferment to exhaustion, back sweeten, and add carbonation levels that are deemed suitable. They can also follow a process similar to champagne, adding additional sugars for the remaining yeast to eat in the bottle and putting them in heavier duty champagne bottle. This method is not only risky and needs attention but can create bottle bombs if done incorrectly. They will then allow this mixture to age and build higher levels of carbonation.
Either way, the bottles are filled and capped. Every bottle must go through the pasteurization process to kill all of those little bits of bacteria that we can’t see without the naked eye (sorry eyes, put some clothes on). Either cold or heat treating bottles are available to cidermakers.
Side Notes & Shipping
It is worth noting that either at the “pomace” stage, vatting stage or directly within the bottling phase, other flavors, fermented fruit juices or additives are added to create unique flavor profiles or to keep the cider preserved like an Egyptian mummy.
As shown throughout the process, everyone can have such a different approach. That’s what allows each cider to be unique in its dryness, sweetness, bitterness, or any other flavor profile under the sun.
When the ciders are aged to the cideries liking, they have their labeled bottles package up and send to a store near you.
Now, yes, now, it’s time to pop the top and start enjoying your sweet, or dry, bubbly treat! I think we all came out of this a bit wiser and a bit closer to our cider, and that’s all we could ever ask for. This is how hard cider is created. This is how hard cider is made. You can also learn about the history of hard cider.