A Crash Course in Hard Ciders (#WorldWineTravel)

We're taking a crash course in hard ciders, and taking a look at examples of English, Spanish, and French styles with pairing including Sichuan, Japanese fried chicken, and a decked out ham and cheese sandwich. Class is in session and it is delicious!

The ciders in this post were sent as samples. Please note that no other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Hard cider is one of those things I just keep meaning to dive into and learn about. I enjoy them fairly often but haven’t managed to get a clear handle on the various different styles. Today we’re taking steps to correct this by getting down to cider basics and exploring three bottles and pairings.


Hard Cider vs. Cider


In the U.S. we specify between hard cider, which is alcoholic, and non-alcoholic cider. The latter being the unfiltered raw apple juice ordered at quaint farm stands. (What we call apple juice, is the clear filtered version.)  However, generally speaking, when you see cider in the rest of the world, they’re talking about the hard stuff. 



Cider – More Like Beer, or More Like Wine?


The answer is both. In one sense, cider is more like wine as it’s an alcoholic beverage made from fruit rather than a grain. In the case of most other fermented juices, we refer to the resulting drink as a “fruit wine.” (Although, cider made from pears gets its own name - perry.)


However, stylistically ciders are in many ways more like beer, as ciders are often slightly bubbly like beer. They also tend to have similar levels of alcohol. While the alcohol in cider can span a broader range, on average, most contain between 4 to 6 percent alcohol, which is also more similar to beer. 


You’ll also find Apple Wines being sold. There isn’t an official definition differentiating between apple cider and apple wine, and “apple wine” was originally another term for cider. Today though, it typically refers to ciders that have had sugar and yeasts added to them in order to push the alcohol content higher. These typically aren’t carbonated. 



The Real Johnny Appleseed


Hard ciders have a very long history in the US, dating back to colonial times. Most of us will have grown up with the story of Johnny Appleseed traveling the countryside spreading apple seeds around. The real Johnny Appleseed was named John Chapman. He grew up during the Revolutionary War (he was born in 1774) and became an orchardist and nurseryman in adulthood. He managed to become a bit of a land baron by developing orchards and selling them off. The apples he was growing in his orchards tended to be varieties used for cider rather than for eating and were far more profitable. 



Cider Apples


The types of apples that are favored for making cider tend to be different from those most of us like to eat. They’re are often referred to as "spitters" – so named, because you might find yourself spitting one out if you bite into it. They tend to be small and very tart, which actually makes them perfect for making cider. 


I found the following classification of cider apples in a very helpful article entitled The History of Cider Making on UTNE.com:

  • Sweet: Low tannin, low acidity (Golden Delicious, Binet Rouge, Wickson)
  • Sharp: Low tannin, higher acidity (Granny Smith, Brown’s, Golden Harvey)
  • Bittersharp: Higher tannin, higher acidity (Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Foxwhelp)
  • Bittersweet: Higher tannin, lower acidity (Royal Jersey, Dabinett, Muscadet de Dieppe)


Cider Styles


I’ve discovered that my nebulous grasp of ciders wasn’t without foundation. Whereas wine tends to be classified by grape, region, and to some extent style, and beer has established and codified styles to go by, cider styles aren’t as established. However, there are a few basic styles and traditions to go by. 


An article from Edible Grand Traverse entitled Hard Facts on (Hard) Cider Styles succinctly laid out some of the standard styles:

  • New World Cider—primarily from culinary/table apples, generally lower in tannin and higher in acidity. Refreshing, not too cloying or austere. (I also saw these referred to as Modern Ciders elsewhere.)
  • New World/Heritage—primarily from multi-use or cider-specific bittersweet/bittersharp apples, sometimes wild or crab apples for acidity/tannin balance.
  • English Cider—bittersweet and bittersharp varieties cultivated for cider, traditionally fermented, aged in older wood barrels. Rarely an overly apple character, due to malolactic fermentation. Dry, full-bodied, austere.
  • French Cider—Normandy styles, from bittersweet and bittersharp apples cultivated for cider. Fruity character and aroma, tends to a rich fullness, spicy, smoky, typically a touch sweet to offset apple tannins.
  • Spanish Cider—traditionally made with sharp and semi-sharp apples, wild yeast fermentation, contact with chestnut barrels or stainless steel tanks, as with the English and French ciders, both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Typically fresh, citric and floral aromas, lively acidity.


From here, there are lots more variations and styles to explore. Ciders can be sparkling or still, wood-aged or not, mixed with other fruits, made in rosé style, hopped, and on and on.


This article on Cider Styles goes further in breaking out more categories, and I also found this CiderGuide.com look at Cider Styles, Old and New to be very helpful.



That’s a lot, so how about we start with three. Winesellers, Ltd. provided me with samples for this post, in very distinct styles. (They actually provided 4, so I’ll have another to explore down the line). As always, all opinions are my own, and no other compensation was received.  I had a lot of fun playing around with the parings for these.



Dunkertons Organic Black Fox Cider with Sichuan




Abv: 6.8% SRP: $8

Region: Herefordshire, England


Susie and Ivor Dunkerton founded Dunkertons in 1980 with the goal of making organic ciders and perry without using any concentrates or chemicals. They were both living in London at the time – Ivor was a producer for the BBC and Susie worked in London theatres. They both loved cider and felt strongly about organic products, so they left the city and bought land in Herefordshire that had cider trees and began experimenting.


This cider is made with up to 14 different cider apple varieties. As opposed to the English cider style described above, this one is Medium Dry. 


Tasting Notes: Bruised caramel apple, fuzzy peach, honeysuckle, honey, and a bit of funk. It’s a touch syrupy but had good depth of flavor.  


Food pairing: Given the sweetness in this cider, I thought it would be interesting to try it with spicy Sichuan takeout. It worked solidly well and was a fun alternative to our usual pairings, but I wanted a little more brightness to make it an ideal match. 


The Dunkertons website recommends this with a traditional ploughman’s lunch with a classic British cheddar or a hearty organic beef stew. I think a good sharp cheddar would make a particularly good pairing. 



Mayador Sidra Espumante 2017 and Japanese Fried Chicken




Abv: 5% SRP: $8

Region: Asturias, Spain


Bodegas Mayador is one of the oldest producers in the Asturian region. The family behind it has been making sidras since 1939 when Manuel Busto Amandi founded the company. Their orchards are located fairly close to the coast near the small town of Villaviciosa in the Asturias region of Spain. Fun fact: The name is taken from the term “Mayo,” a person smashes and crushes the apples with a wooden paddle before the juice is then fermented into cider.


This limited edition sparkling sidra is made from a blend of Asturian apples. It’s produced from their traditional Sidra Natural fermentation in chestnut barrels. It undergoes an unusually lengthy maturation process of 14 months. It’s medium-dry in style and has light effervescence. 


Tasting Notes: Bruised apples, vanilla, honey, hay, and a little funk on the nose. On the palate, a pleasant hint of chamomile joins the party. The fizz is subtle and delicate. 


Parings: We enjoyed this with Japanese-style fried chicken and it made for a really good match. I thought it worked particularly well with pieces flavored with Japanese curry, as the hints of funk played nicely off of the earthy curry.  


The tech sheet recommends this with regional pairings like salt cod in tortillas, large platters of steak, and pungent Spanish blue cheese. 



Daufresne Brut Cidre with a Fancy Ham and Cheese Painini




Abv: 5% SRP: $10

Region: Normandy France


Daufresne is located in the lower part of Normandy on hillsides with loamy, schist-rich soils on a south-facing plot. Philippe Daufresne planted the orchards in the late 60s. Today, the manor and orchards are managed by Madame Ghislaine Davy. 


The cidery uses apples collected from orchards within the estate but also surrounding orchards, which allows multiple varieties to be used (Bisquet, Noëldes Champs, Domaine and Rambault). The first apples, fallen before maturity are left for the cows to graze before the remaining apples are removed from the orchard. This cider is allowed to age on the lees for complexity. 


Tasting Notes: Great balance of flavors with apple notes and citrus notes. The leesy quality really comes through and adds depth, while the lively bubbles keep things refreshing.


Pairing: We had this with a ham and cheese panini with Gruyère, apple slices, caramelized onions, and mustard. This was a STELLAR pairing. Absolute magic. 


The tech sheet also recommends this with a braised turkey sausages, savory cabbage, and roasted root vegetables, as well as whole-grain cranberry and citrus applesauce bread.


*****


The rest of the World Wine Travel Blogging Group (#WorldWineTravel) is exploring hard ciders this month, hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla.



Additional Resources Used For This Post & Extra Reading
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7 comments

  1. I haven't opened that bottle from France yet but your description makes me anxious to do so. The pairing sounds lovely.

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  2. Love, love, love this crash course, Nicole! Yes, it IS very confusing and you have done a great job of laying out some basics. Thanks for joining the party. I don't think I ever realized the "perry" was the name of a hard cider made from pears. And now I have to go find some. Thanks! ;)

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    1. Thanks so much Camilla! And thanks for hosting and arranging the samples as well.

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  3. I love all this history of ciders, with their styles from around the world. It's really fascinating. I attended a session at SommCon that spoke with two guys making cider in NY who were foraging and finding heirloom cider apple trees to make their cider from. They are saving these trees, that often might just be in someone's yard and the owner might want to pull out, since they can't make pies from the apples.

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    1. Thanks Robin. I'd love to do more informational sessions/master classes on cider. That sounds really interesting and good on them for seeking out the trees and giving them a new purpose before they're lost.

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  4. I always thought cider was more like beer until tasting a few from a cider house outside of Austin. Turns out the cider master made wine for some time before switching to cider. Most are so different from the northern Spanish more sour style. I thought about pairing mine from Spanish Basque with something miso, but I'll try your Japanese chicken dish first!

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!