Cider: Beer’s Hipper, Younger Brother

Beer had already been around for 8,000 years when the builders of the Egyptian pyramids paid their workers four to five litres of beer daily. By comparison, cider is relatively young. Julius Caesar’s invading troops first observed the Celts creating cider from crabapples in 55 BCE.

The word cider comes down to us from Middle English meaning “liquor made from the juice of fruits” and later “beverage made from apples”.

Ciders vary from dry to sweet so there is something for every palate. They may appear cloudy with sediment, absolutely clear, or anything in between. The colour varies from pale, almost completely clear to amber through to brown. These variations are mostly created by differences in filtering during production. Cider may be alcoholic (sometimes called hard cider) or non alcoholic, and still or sparkling, although sparkling cider is more common. Ciders are typically classified as Modern, Heritage, and Specialty.

Heritage ciders

Originally, ciders were made from crabapples or locally available wild apples such as Golden Russet in areas with cool climates such as Great Britain and parts of western Europe. Today, Heritage ciders are produced using culinary and cider apples including wild apples, crabapples, heirlooms, and bittersweet and bittersharp.

Heritage ciders are typically made from apples such as Roxbury Russet, Kingston Black, and Dabinett and have higher tannin levels than modern ciders. The colour ranges from yellow to amber and clarity from brilliant to hazy.

“Loyalist-style” ciders are quite dry, and are a variety of heritage cider made in Canada using McIntosh apples.

Modern ciders

Modern ciders are made from culinary apples such as Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonagold, and McIntosh. They are more acidic but lower in tannins than other types of cider. Colours range from pale to yellow, and appearance varies in clarity from brilliant to hazy. Modern ciders that are mass-produced look very similar to sparkling wine while traditional types are darker and cloudier. These traditional brands are often stronger and have a more powerful apple taste.

Low alcohol or sweet cider has a strong apple aroma and flavour, while high alcohol or dry cider is fruitier in aroma and flavour.

White cider, as its name suggests, is almost colourless. It is sweeter and some feel, more refreshing than other ciders. It is usually 7-8% alcohol by volume (ABV).

Black cider is a dry premium cider that is, strangely, amber in colour and typically has an alcohol content of 7–8 % ABV.

Specialty ciders

Specialty ciders have no restrictions on the types of apples to be used and therefore come in many different styles such as spiced, hopped, sour, wood-aged, fruit, and iced ciders.

Spiced ciders have spices such as cinnamon or ginger added before, during, or after the fermentation process. Hopped ciders have hops such as Citra, Mosaic, Galaxy, and Cascade added during fermentation. Sour ciders use non standard yeast and bacteria to elevate acid production for that mouth-puckering taste!

Wood-aged ciders are fermented or aged in wooden barrels. This adds woody, earthy flavours to the final product. Fruit ciders have other fruit or juices added to the production process, such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Ice ciders are made from apples naturally frozen outdoors or from pre-pressed frozen juice.

Cider in Canada

Cider is widely enjoyed across Canada with Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan being the only Canadian provinces that do not produce cider.

Canada has strict regulations for the sourcing and alcohol content of cider. Under the Canadian Food and Drug Act Regulations, cider is defined as the alcoholic fermentation of apple juice. In addition, it must contain at least 2.5% but no more than 13% ABV. Aside from that, the list of ingredients that may be added during production is fairly flexible, allowing for the seemingly endless varieties of cider commercially available.

Cowichan Valley Cider

The Cowichan Valley’s climate, soil and water are ideal for growing apple trees. The long growing season creates apples that have time to develop complex flavours during slow ripening. No surprise then, that the craft cider industry has been taking hold in recent years.

Whether you’re out exploring for the day or a serious cider enthusiast, visit one of our local cideries and tickle your taste buds!

Merridale Cidery and Distillery:

One of the oldest cideries in the Valley, Meridale’s orchard has over 20 varieties of apple trees and produces a range of ciders, from dry and crisp to sweet and complex.

Valley Cider Company:

This small-batch, traditional cidery produces ciders using heritage and modern apple varieties. Unique offerings include Afternoon Delight, Bloo, and Cherry Bomb.

Affinity Ciderhouse:

The Cowichan Valley’s latest up-and-coming craft cidery produces a Heritage Dry, a Modern Dry and Pome Blend (apples, pears, and quince).