Rikki Hammond, in the excellent blog The Cider Drinker, has written for us a great beginners guide to cider. This is a good introduction to the exciting world of cider drinking. Rikki writes regularly on all cider related news, and reviews, on video, all the best ciders, and some of the not so good, so I STRONGLY recommend you check out his website
The Cider Drinker Homepage> http://theciderdrinker.moonfruit.com
Rikki’s video reviews> https://www.youtube.com/user/Dormin87
Cider – A Beginners Guide
Picture the scenario. You’ve popped to your local shop/off-license/pub to peruse what variety of alcohol they have on offer. You’ve been a beer drinker for most of your life, and decide that tonight’s the night you pop your cider cherry. You view the drinks on offer, and decide to go for the most eye-catching and cheapest one they have on offer.
After your purchase, you head back home/to your table, crack open the can or bottle and take your first sip of fermented apple juice……….and are promptly overwhelmed by a hideous taste that makes you almost gag, forcing you to tip the rest of the contents down the sink or palm it off to a mate.
That was my first experience with cider! Now, ten years down the line, my taste buds have developed, and to all you people who have had this same experience with cider, I say to you, give cider another chance!
Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, but most people have only tried the cheap, mass-produced ciders available, and probably think this is what all ciders taste like. This is most definitely not the case. So, where do you start looking for better tasting drinks? The answer, is right in the very shop or pub you bought your first cider from.
Different types of cider
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of different apple varieties out there, and with this comes the ability to make a lot of different tasting drinks. But first off, we need to know the different types of ciders out there, these are as follows:
‘White’ Ciders – The absolute bottom of the barrel, coming in at 6-10% ABV, no colour and usually smells and tastes of chemicals, perfect if you don’t care about taste and want to get wasted quickly, as they are usually dirt cheap
Mass-Marketed Ciders – The next step up, not naming any names, but you know the ones I mean. Usually 4-5% ABV, quite a pissy colour, and rather bland tastes in the mouth. Still cheap, although some companies try to rip you off big time, and probably the biggest type of cider people have tried.
Vintage Ciders – If you see the ‘V’ word on a bottle, it quite often means that the cider has been left to age (most likely in oak barrels,) and gives it a much deeper colour and stronger taste. Vintages usually come in between 7-8% ABV
Farmhouse/Scrumpy – Now we’re getting in to the big boys. A whole variety of tastes and colours are present in these ciders, and are almost always cloudy in appearance, due to the cider being unfiltered. This also means, you will probably get natural sediment in your bottle too. Again, these can range anywhere from 6-8% ABV normally.
‘Real’ Cider – The top end of the cider chain. Unfiltered, no artificial stuff added in, and no sugars. Just 100% pure apple juice left to ferment of it’s own natural causes, and almost always still not sparkling. The range of tastes and colours here are phenomenal, and the ABV can be anywhere from 3 to 8%.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg (or ciderberg if you will,) as we can also get in to apple wines, apple brandies, pommeau, ice ciders and more, but we’ll stick with the basics for now.
With VS From
One thing I have noticed from drinking a lot of cider, is the wording on the bottle can plays a big part in whether the drink is going to be good or not, and it all comes down to two words, with and from.
If you spot ‘with’ plastered all over the bottle or can, this could mean that the drink has been made with apples, but also a lot of other crap thrown in too. All the company has to do is add one apple to the drink, then the rest can be concentrated apple juice, imported from another country, and they can still label it as cider, because it’s made ‘WITH’ that one apple.
If you see ‘from’ however, it’s usually accompanied with ‘100% apples’ or something similar. This, more often than not, means you’re getting the real deal, with no nasty additives thrown in, and makes for a much better tasting experience.
Other buzz-words to watch out for are ‘premium’, ‘refreshing’, ‘clean’ and ‘crisp’, as these usually indicate that the drink is going to be NONE of them, those words are merely there to whet your taste-buds, and to make you buy the drink, and then you will most likely be wholly disappointed with the end product.
The Next Step
Ok, so you’ve tried your hand at a few different ciders off the shop shelves, and have decided to have a pop at ‘real’ ciders. But where do you even begin? That’s where ale and cider festivals come in to play. More often than not, they will have a vast array of drinks on offer at very reasonable prices too. Find out where your nearest festival is held, and book a day to go and visit it with a couple of your mates, and let the adventure begin.
The festivals I’ve been to come in two flavours. Sometimes you will be given a beer card, which equates to £10, and you’re free to fill the card up with whatever drinks you want (you can even go back for a second one if you want,) or you simply walk in to the festival, and pay for the drinks as you normally would in a bar. Either way, you’re gonna get through a lot of drinks while you’re there. But which ciders to try?
The best bet is to ask the guys behind the bar on their recommendations, and have an idea as to whether you’d prefer a sweet or dry tasting cider. The bar staff almost always allow you to have a little taster of a drink if you’re interested in it, and if you like it, they’ll fill up your glass from there. As you try out the ciders, you’ll find out for yourself which ones you do and don’t like, and can use this knowledge for when you take a trip to your next festival, because believe me, once you’ve been once, you’ll want to go again and again.
If you can’t afford to go to your local festival, have a look online to find out if any pubs are offering ‘real’ ciders, and try them there. You might end up paying a little more for them, but the end result will still be the same.
So as you can see, there’s more to cider than meets the eye. Once you’ve tasted a real cider for the first time, you’ll begin to wonder what you ever saw in those mass-marketed ciders in the first place, but the only way you’ll find out, is to go out there and expand your taste-buds!
Don’t forget to check out Rikki’s blog for all your cider related inquiries