WHAT THE HECK IS HARD CIDER?

Squeezing Tthe cheeses in a rack & cloth press

At first glance it seems so simple, really. Crush some apples, squeeze out the juice, put that juice in a container and let it ferment, pour it off into bottles and, voilá!  You've got hard cider.

But now look under the hood.  Apples, what kind?  The orchards of cider apples were cut down during Prohibition, a movement that started in Upstate New York!  


Once Prohibition was repealed, hard cider never came back.  People wanted alcohol and they wanted it immediately.  It takes years to build up a fully-functioning orchard.  Making beer was a no-brainer.  The ingredients were quickly grown and there was a ready supply of experienced brewers recently emigrated from Eastern Europe. 

 

YOUNG HEWE'S CRAB TREES




More recently there were a few prescient apple growers who liked cider, wanted to continue the tradition and tailored their orchards to that end.  But only now have commercial orchards started planting cider trees. 

 

 

Once you've got the apples, and you press out the juice, you've gotta ferment.  That's where the yeast comes in, a little organism that seems so simple yet is incredibly complex in operation.  It has been said that we don't make cider, we just guide it along. There are good yeasts and bad yeasts.  Wild yeasts and "domesticated" yeasts.  They consume the sugars in the juice and their waste is-alcohol!

Yeast does the heavy lifting that makes everything work.


And then there are the problem organisms.  Bacteria like Acetobacter aceti that ride along on fruit flies and can turn a perfectly good cider into an awesome vinegar.  Spoilage yeasts that can produce some truly funky off-flavors. 

All of these live and die in the cider sea and are affected by pH and acidity, (which are not really the same thing), oxygen, CO2, sulfites, nitrogenous materials and a host of other factors.

Checking specific gravity to measure the progress of the fermentation.

 

How do you know anything about what's going on in there?  You've gotta test, and that's where the high school chemistry angle comes in.  Weighing, measuring, titrating. calculating.  It's painstaking, demanding and rewarding at the same time.  The learning is all part of the fun, and you're following a tradition blazed by cidermakers over hundreds of years!