Book Review #5, Apples to Cider – How to Make Cider at Home

For the fifth book review here at Cider Says (see here for the first four):  “Apples to Cider – How to Make Cider at Home”, by April White, with Stephen Wood of Farnum Hill Ciders, published February 2015.  It is currently $18.72 on Amazon.

This is a review of a book provided to Cider Says by Farnum Hill Ciders.  Thanks Farnum Hill!  Although I will take care to treat it the same as any other review, there is always the potential for bias as I received it for free.  The only consideration I knowingly made was pushing this up in my review cue.  I love free stuff, especially cider!  Want your cider or cider-related product reviewed here?  Contact me.

2015-10-05 13.52.24 2015-10-05 13.51.58
<front & back covers; click to biggify>

Unlike some of the other books in the earlier four part series of books from my library, I read this one cover to cover.  It was a fairly quick read, and I was lucky enough to be on an airplane, so I read it in one sitting.  It was written by April White (not associated with Farnum Hill), but it appears she spent extensive time with the Farnum Hill folks, and there are some subsections written by Steve Wood from Farnum Hill.

Although the main focus of this book is presenting a cider making method for amateur home cidermakers to follow, there is a great amount of information which would appear to anyone who has an interest in cider.  I especially liked some of the history of Farnum Hill Cider / Poverty Lane Orchards, cider styles & regions, cidermaking methods, extensive cider apple variety descriptions, and the terminology & glossary sections.  They also included some information on the cidermaking methods used at Eden Ice Cider (Ice Cider, VT), E.Z. Orchards (French Cidre, OR), and Eve’s Cidery (Methode Champenoise, NY) in addition to Farnum Hill (NH).

Pros:

  • Very well laid out and easy to read.
  • Lots of beautiful and helpful photos!
  • Although I didn’t test out the cidermaking instructions, they were very clear, including specific equipment lists, timelines, methods, measurements, etc, in a way I haven’t noticed in the other cidermaking books I’ve seen.

Cons:

  • They used some terminology without defining it.  After a bit I realized there was a glossary, so that would mostly solve that issue for the true beginner cider reader.
    • The only term I don’t think was very well defined is tannin, which can be difficult to describe and understand.  They only defined it as “A substance present in apples that provides the structure, astringency, and bitterness in cider.”  Maybe there was some assumption of a wine background?  I think information such that they contribute to bitterness and astringency, can cause a mouth-puckering taste, and in excess can dry the mouth, would be helpful.
  • The book left me wanting more (which could also be a good thing)

Chapters:

Introduction (including Farnum Hill Ciders Story and Farnum Hill Ciders Philosophy)

What is Cider? (including History, Perry, Science, Styles, Methods, Tastes, Terms, Trends, and Farnum Hill Ciders Style)

Tasting Cider (including Preparing, Process, Resetting Sense of Smell, Training Your Nose, Vocabulary, Defining What You Like, and Other People’s Cider)

Starting with Apples (including In The Orchard, The Apple, A Sampling of Apples, Turning Apples into Juice, Sources for Juice, and An Apple Grower and His Apple Trees)

Your Cider Room (including Where to Make Cider, Equipment, Ingredients, Best Practices for Sanitation, and A Commercial Cider Room)

Your First Batch of Cider (including Adding Sulfur Dioxide, Testing, Pitching the Yeast, Waiting, Moving the Carboy, Adding the Bored Bung, Adding the Airlock, Feeding the Yeast, Waiting, Testing, Racking, Tasting, Maturing, Bottling, and Our First Ciders)

Your Second Batch of Cider (including Excess Hydrogen Sulfide, Unintended Malolactic Fermentation, Acetic Fermentation, Other Potential Flaws, I Don’t Love It, and Don’t Fear the Stink)

Your Third Batch of Cider and Beyond (including Blending, Carbonation, Returning Sugar, Methode Champenoise, Cidre (French), Ice Cider, and Respecting the Apple)

Conclusion, Glossary, Resources, The People Behind Farnum Hill Ciders, About April White, Photographer Credits, Acknowledgements, Index

Some Quotes of Interest:

  • When blended and fermented, the most celebrated cider apples — often called inedible — reveal flavors such as apricot, black tea, honey, and pine.
  • A cidermaker’s responsibility is to coax the best from the fruit without unnecessary additives or techniques that would obscure the apple.
  • Cider, like wine, is an agricultural product and each batch you make will be unique.
  • The sugar is the food for the yeast, which will convert it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  • A cidermaker’s choice of apples has the biggest impact on the cider produced.
  • A geographic style develops over decades, or perhaps centuries, as cidermakers in a specific region, working with similar types of apples grown in similar conditions learn from and influence each other.
  • You can learn the most from your cider tasting if you develop a procedure and a vocabulary for tasting that controls as many variables as possible and allows for consistent and objective evaluation of each batch of cider.
  • And don’t taste with food, which will change your perception of smell, taste, and sensation.
  • The ideal tasting temperature is about 60 deg F…the aromas, tastes, and sensations of a cider are stronger and any flaws are more noticeable,
  • The tongue can only perceive acid, bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and savory flavors.  Your sense of “taste” is truly your nose at work again, perceiving the changing aromas of a food in your mouth.
  • Tasting is really noting more than an effort to objectify characteristics that are essentially subjective.
  • During the fermentation process, the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast forms a protective layer over the developing cider, preventing the cider from coming into contact with oxygen.
  • Typically, over time, the tannins in the cider round out, becoming less astringent, and acids soften, becoming less harsh.
  • There’s one piece of advice every would be cidermaker needs:  It’s all about the apple.

In summary, it is a well-written book which is a great addition to anyone’s cider library.  I’d recommend it for folks interested in making their own cider at home as well as those who just want further information on cider, how it is made, cider apples, cider styles/regions/methods, Farnum Hill Ciders, etc.

About half of the book was specific to cidermaking, but I even found that interesting despite no current plans to get into cidermaking.  In case you are curious, I don’t want to put a lot of effort into something and be disappointed, I don’t like to start something without the time to truly devote myself to it (I tend to get a bit obsessive so everything else gets ignored), and there is so much awesome cider in my area that is ready to drink already!

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