New Page At Cider Says – Review Terminology

A new page is now up here at Cider Says, Review Terminology, which defines the various terms I use in reviews.  On a more general note, Cider Tasting Terminology 101 defines some common cider tasting vocabulary.

Also check out the other pages on this blog:

About is about this blog and myself.

Ciders I’ve Tried is an ongoing list of ciders I’ve tried, including links to those with reviews.  This list has proved helpful several times when I couldn’t remember if I had tried a cider.

Cider Wish List is an ongoing list of ciders I want to find and try.

Hard Cider Info is a page covering some general information about cider.

FlavorActiV Cider Sensory Kit Series One

This is a unique review…not of a cider, but of FlavorActiV’s Cider Sensory Kit Series One.  Kits like this are used in cider sensory analysis classes (such as at CiderCon – see this great post at Along Came a Cider, or for cider certification courses such as USACM CCP or NACM), at cideries for cidermaker education, for judge preparation at a cider competition, etc.  It enables the taster to identify the scent and flavor of specific individual compounds (typically faults) which may occur in cider.  I heard about it through CiderGuide, and was intrigued enough to contact the company.

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About: This kit was developed specifically for the cider industry in conjunction with one of their global beer/cider customers.  They are currently developing a Series Two kit, and are interested to get industry feedback on it.  They will also soon launch an open cider taster proficiency scheme (see here for more information) so that cider producers can regularly train and test themselves.  FlavorActiV offers over 125 flavor standards, including kits for beer, wine, and coffee.  Here is info on the individual cider flavor standards they sell in addition to this kit of 10 standards.

>>This is a review of a sample kit provided to Cider Says by FlavorActiV.  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.<<

Samples included: Sour, Musty, Earthy, Barnyard, Phenolic, Acetaldehyde (Acetal), Sulphitic, Indole, Metallic, Mercaptan

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Cost: 120 pounds ($170 USD), with free worldwide shipping.  Note that one kit makes approximately 1.2 liters (40.6 oz) of each sample, and a 100 ml (3.4 oz) sample is recommended for each taster, so one kit is recommended for 12 tasters (and can probably be used for even more with smaller sample sizes).

How to order: Through their website or by e-mailing  For more information, to provide feedback, or to purchase, their e-mail is  I received this within a few days even though it traveled from the UK to Seattle WA USA.

Packaging: Bubble mailer, with the samples in capsules individually packaged in a booklet, padded with cardboard so they couldn’t be crushed.

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In the box:

  • 10 capsules in a booklet, labeled by type, with descriptions
  • Instructions
  • Flavour Wheel of tastes and odors
  • Handout of the 20 year history of FlavorActiV Flavor Standards
  • Brochure on their technical taste panel training and management products

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  • Empty the powder in each capsule into 200 ml (6.8 oz) of cider, then swirl the container to release the flavor.
  • Top off the container with 1 liter (33.8 oz) of cider to reach the recommended tasting concentration.
  • Pour a 100ml (3.4 oz) sample for each taster.
  • (Therefore as-directed, you would need 12 liters of cider to mix the powder into, but it would be for 12 people.)

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Supplies I used:

  • three 12oz cans of cider
  • 1/4 cup (50ml) measuring cup (x2)
  • 11 tasting glasses which held at least 4oz (one for each sample plus a control)
  • butter knife to stir with
  • index cards
  • pencil

My experience:

  • I purchased 2 Towns OutCider, which I consider to be fairly neutral, and is cost effective as it comes in a multi pack (plus I like it).  Oddly enough I didn’t have any suitable cider in the house as the only ciders I had more than 1 bottle/can of were flavored.
  • To use less cider, I ratioed down the powder to make a smaller sample size, as it was just me.
  • I ended up emptying out each capsule onto an index card, taking a pinch of the powder and putting it into a glass (estimating 1/12), then adding 100ml of cider.
    • It worked out fairly well, and I could add cider or add powder to change the ratio if needed.  I ended up only adding more powder, not cider.
  • Of the 10 capsules, one was difficult to open so I cut it open and one had a bit of powder left in it (slight bit of moisture).  Overall they were fairly easy to use.
  • I used all the tasting glasses I had in the house.  I think small clear plastic disposable cups would be ideal, especially for a group, as ideally you want to prepare all the samples at once, instead of one by one.  The instructions call for a pitcher to mix it in, but the way I did it, I didn’t need one.  I found the powder easily dissolved, so I didn’t really need to add a bit of cider, stir, then add more, like they recommended.
  • The recommended 100ml was a good sample size when doing it individually as it was enough to stir.  For a group when mixing it in a pitcher, an even smaller sample size could probably be used.  I only had a couple sips of most of them as the only flavor I actually enjoyed was sour (this is a learning exercise, not a pleasant tasting experience).

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<I labeled each index card>

The samples:

  • Control (2 Towns OutCider): Semi-sweet to semi-dry.  Slightly cloudy as it is less filtered than most ciders.  Smells mild, of only apples.  Low to moderate tartness & acidity.  No bitterness, sourness, funk, or tannins.  I think this was a fairly good choice for a neutral cider (their Bright Cider would have probably been even better, but I like Out Cider much more).  As a bonus I have 3 cans of cider left.
  • Sour: Scent unchanged.  Flavor change was citric acid tartness, not a true “sourness” like sour beer.
  • Musty: Scent impacted.  Flavor was muted and the musty effect lingered on the palate.  Tasted like an antique shop.
  • Earthy: Scent greatly impacted, and it smelled exactly like fresh dirt.  Flavor wasn’t as impacted as smell.  This was a negative type of earthiness, not the pleasant type which I’ve found in some ciders with significant tannins.
  • Barnyard: Scent moderately impacted; it smelled of dirt plus “wild”.  Taste slightly impacted, mostly in the finish.
  • Phenolic: Scent slightly impacted.  I didn’t taste anything, so I added more powder.  Then I got some citrus scent and a slightly herbal & floral flavor.  Overall I found it very mild, even when I tripled the amount of powder.
  • Acetaldehyde (Acetal): Scent impacted, smelling of chemicals like paint.  Flavor impacted, and it overall just tasted “off”.  Really difficult to describe.
  • Sulphitic: Scent not impacted.  Slight sulfur flavor and flatness.  I added more powder and it became more of a chemical flavor.
  • Indole: Scent and flavor not impacted, so I added more powder.  I only smelled and tasted a bit of floral.  Overall very mild.
  • Metallic: Scent not impacted.  I didn’t taste anything either, so I added more powder.  Then I picked up a flatness and dulling of the flavor.  Overall very mild.
  • Mercaptan: Scent very strongly impacted, of sulphur.  Disgusting strong sulphur sewer type flavor.

My comments:

  • This is great for a large group/class, but the kit isn’t sized for one person.  I would have needed 12 liters of cider to make as directed.  However, it was definitely doable to scale it down without too much effort.  The powder to cider ratio doesn’t need to be exact, and it can be adjusted with more powder or cider if necessary.
    • In fact, I liked having extra powder left as there were a few samples I couldn’t detect, so I was able to keep adding powder until I tasted them.
    • I think the only easier way to do it would be to have the samples as drops, but I’m not sure if that is a stable way to store them.
  • Some other samples I would have liked to see, which I assume may be included in Series 2 (and some of which they currently offer individually):
    • Diacetyl, a buttery off-flavor formed by yeast; its something I’ve thought I’ve tasted a couple times, but wasn’t sure about
    • True sour, like sour beer, often from wild fermentation…very different from tart
    • Acetic, a vinegar-like flavor often found in Spanish cider
  • Sensory analysis such as this is really helpful to help you detect certain scents and flavors in cider, much more than just a description of that scent/flavor.  Everyone experiences these differently too (for example, with a few samples I barely detected anything)

In closing: I’m glad I got the opportunity to test out this kit.  I haven’t yet attended a cider sensory course, so this was a great introduction!  It was educational, easy to use, well-packaged, and a good value when using it for a group.  I look forward to seeing what else they come out with (such as the Series Two kit).

I should note that other companies make flavor standards which I haven’t tried/compared to FlavorActiV.  However, the only other company I found online which seemed to have samples geared specifically for cider was Aroxa.

Book Review #7, Cider Made Simple by Jeff Alworth

For the seventh book review here at Cider Says (see here for the first six):  “Cider Made Simple – All About Your New Favorite Drink”, by Jeff Alworth with illustrations by Lydia Nichols, published September 2015, with a suggested price of $19.95 ($13.28 on Amazon).  Jeff Alworth is best known for his writings on beer (online and in print), and lives in Portland Oregon.  For this book he traveled to France, England, Spain, Canada, and around the United States for interviews.

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I suggested that my local library add this book to their collection, and they bought it for me to borrow!  I think libraries are great to check out a book to see if you may want to purchase it.  And, this is one I think I do want my own copy of (same with World’s Best Ciders, which is an awesome coffee table book on cider).  In fact, Cider Made Simple is my favorite general cider book so far.  Unlike most books on cider, it doesn’t have a cider-making focus, so its great for a cider drinking enthusiast who doesn’t necessarily have an interest in making cider.  While a quick read, I also found it quite detailed, and learned a lot new information.


Cider Basics: Don’t Call It Hard (info on cider apples, tasting, properties, regions, and types)

A is for Apple (history, growing, and orchards)

Sweating, Grinding, and Fermenting (cider apple types, back-sweetening, flavor enhancers, and how its made)

Proper English Cider (traditions, industrialization, small farms, producers)

Cider Under Cork (French cider, terroir, producers, and Calvados & Pommeau)

Breaking the Cider (Spanish cider, characteristics, producers, throwing the cider, sourness, and regions)

The American Cider Renaissance (Farnum Hill, EZ Orchards, Reverend Nat’s, and traditionalists vs. modernists vs. experimentalists)

Winter Harvest in Quebec (ice cider)

The writing style was spot-on, the book was well-organized, and the language was easy to understand.  I think anyone from a cider newbie to someone with a bit more experience would get something from this book.  It filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge.  I liked that it didn’t go as much into the history of cider, but into other details that aren’t covered in many other books (or at least not in this way).  There wasn’t really a single portion of the book I didn’t enjoy or think wasn’t helpful.

I especially enjoyed the portions on cider tasting, and all his stories from his travels to visit different cideries and cider regions around the world (I’m jealous!).  I was a bit apprehensive learning the author mostly had beer experience, but it wasn’t apparent.  My only complaint is the cover shows a glass of beer, not cider…note all the foam and the hue (oops).  Highly recommended!

Book Review #6, Craft Cider – How to Turn Apples into Alcohol

For the sixth book review here at Cider Says (see here for the first five):  “Craft Cider – How to Turn Apples Into Alcohol”, by Jeff Smith, published September 2015, with a suggested price of $17.95.  Jeff Smith is the one who started Bushwhacker Cider in Portland OR, a cider bar and cidery.  I suggested that my local library add this book to their collection, and they bought it for me to borrow!  I think libraries are great to check out a book to see if you may want to purchase it.

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I always like reading about cider, and this was a nice quick weekend vacation read.

This book includes the following Chapters:

  • The World of Cider (the cider industry & some cider history)
  • Styles of Cider (English, Spanish, French, American, German, Irish, Scandinavian, Ice, & Pommeau)
  • Sourcing Fruit and Juice (Farmer’s Markets, Local Orchards, Grocery Stores, Juice, Neighbors, What Makes a Cider Apple Different?, and Apple Varieties)
  • A Cider Maker’s Necessary Equipment (Fermentation Vessel, Sourcing and Using Wood Barrels, Hydrometer, Wine Thief, Thermometer, pH Meter and pH Strips, Airlocks and Bungs, Cleaning Chemicals, Sanitizer, Siphons, Bottling Equipment, Kegging Equipment, More About Kegging)
  • Step by Step (process of making cider)
  • So You Want to Press Your Own Apples? (Presses, Basic Overview)
  • Recipes (Basic Dry, Bushwhacker Smoked, New England Style, Lingonberry, Local Cyser, Scrumpy, Cherry, Ginger, Pear Cider and Perry, Dry Oaked, Spanish-Style, Cranberry, High Gravity, Bushwhacker Italian Plum, Spiced, Sweet, Bushwhacker Alice, Forgotten Trail)
  • How to Taste Cider (Tasting at Home, Setting up a Tasting, Cellaring Ciders, Terms)
  • Cooking with Cider (Bushwhacker Cider Vinaigrette, Apple Coleslaw, Pulled Pork Butt, Cider House Fondue)
  • Cider Cocktails (Pommeau Manhattan, Bushwhacker G&T, Apply Brandy “Cide-Car”, Cherry 88, Cider Mule, Forgetful Rob, Basque-Tini, Cider Dark & Stormy, Cider Julep, Apple Cosmo, Big Apple Iced Tea)
  • Resources (Blogs, Organizations, Events, Country-Specific Cider Terms, Cider-Making Terms)

My favorite parts were those which were unique to this book, such as about using wood barrels, pros & cons of kegging, and cellaring cider.

Overall this book isn’t a bad choice for a newbie to cider, especially one who wants to get into making their own cider, but for others like me, they may not get much out of it.  I also didn’t like how often the book mentioned the author’s cider bar & cidery, Bushwhacker (it literally seemed like almost every page), and its language was almost too informal (didn’t seem like it had much editing).  I’m glad I got to get it from the library, but its not something I see the need to buy for my own collection.

Craft vs. Commercial Cider – What Are The Differences?

Do you know the difference between craft and commercial cider?  The subject is open to interpretation, but here is what I think.

Commercial Cider:

  • Made in large batches
  • May use apple juice concentrate (which needs to be watered down to be re-constituted), which is often imported
  • May add additional sweeteners to aid in fermentation
    • As it is assumed that any added sugars will be fully fermented, companies need only call the finished product “hard cider” on the ingredient list, without mention of what they use, which could even include HFCS
    • It has been confirmed that Angry Orchard uses HFCS, but it is unclear whether many other large cideries use it
      • Statement from Angry Orchard, 11/12/2015, correcting the info from 2012:  “There is no HFCS in Angry Orchard ciders. The main ingredients in our ciders are bittersweet and culinary apple juices, and we choose which apple varieties based on the specific flavor profile we’re looking for. Sometimes that means that we need to add a little sweetness back into the cider to achieve the balanced taste we’re looking for. We do that by adding things like non-fermented apple juice, cane sugar and honey.”
      • Additional information from Angry Orchard, 11/16/2015: “To answer your question, we started changing our recipes in 2014 to use cane sugar instead, as we’ve found it does a better job of achieving the flavor profile and balanced sweetness we’re looking for. All our cider recipes were transitioned earlier this year.”
  • May add artificial colors & flavors
  • Will have more consistency batch-to-batch
  • Often shipped long distances to consumers
  • Often made by big beer companies which have a large advertising budget

Craft Cider:

  • Made in smaller batches
  • Uses fresh-pressed apple juice
  • Minimizes the use of sugar as a fermentation aid, and if used, it is table sugar
  • Does not use any additives (besides yeast, sorbates, any spices/hops/juice, etc)
  • May be inconsistent batch-to-batch
  • Often only available locally/regionally
  • Typically does not have a significant advertising budget

Some cider folks believe that craft cider may have another sub-category, Artisan, which could be defined by cideries using apples they grow in their own orchards.  Many craft cider companies don’t have their own orchards, and either buy apples to press themselves or buy the juice.

On this note, I thought I would point out that there are some “ciders” on the market which aren’t actually cider at all…in that they aren’t even made from fermented apple juice!  They instead rely on water, juice, sugar, and flavoring, and should be considered “Alcopop”, not cider.  For example, Rekorderlig and Kopparberg.

Although I am quite pro-craft cider, I’m not particularly anti-commercial cider.  I think commercial cider is a gateway to craft cider, and is definitely more widely available for a lot of folks in areas without craft cider.  I will drink commercial cider; sometimes I just want something sweeter, easy drinking, and affordable (I haven’t found too many entry level craft ciders I like)  Woodchuck for example will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the first cider I tried, and I was one of the winners of their 2014 contest to attend Ciderbration, celebrating the opening of their new cidery.  That said, I try to support craft cider as I believe in its ideals.  I wish there were better commercial cider options out there that didn’t add all the artificial stuff.

I think the main point I’m trying to make with this writeup is that its important for consumers to know what goes into what they are drinking.  I hope better labeling is required sometime soon, as currently it is difficult to know what really went into what we are drinking.

Compass Cider – What Exactly is Craft Cider
Cider Journal – American Hard Cider and the Meaning of “CRAFT”
ATLAS – Hard Cider History
Ciderplex – Rekorderlig and Kopparberg Are NOT Cider
Pete Brown’s Blog – Alcopop: The Drink That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Where Did My Cider Come From? (Major Cider Regions in the United States)

Lately I’ve been curious to learn more about the major cider regions in the U.S.  The Pacific Northwest (WA & OR), NY, and MI (Great Lakes / Finger Lakes) come to mind.  I was also surprised to learn that CA is a major cider producer, and PA is a major apple producer.

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Apples are grown commercially in 32/50 states in the U.S.  It all started on the East Coast in colonial times.  The top ten apple producing states in the U.S. are WA, NY, MI, PA, CA, VA, NC, OR, OH, and ID.

Here is some information about the top five apple producing states:

Washington – Apples primarily grown in the Yakima valley, while the majority of the cideries are in the greater Seattle area.

New York – Apples grown primarily in the Hudson and Champlain valleys, while many of the cideries are in the Hudson valley.

Michigan – Apples grown primarily in the Northwest corner of the Northern Lower Peninsula and the lower half of the state, same as the cideries.

Pennsylvania – Apples grown throughout the state, but comparatively there are few cideries.

California – Apples primarily grown in the San Joaquin Valley, while many of the cideries in contrast are in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

When it comes to which state has the most cideries, the statistics get a bit murky.  However, its pretty clear the top five in some order are NY, WA, OR, MI, and CA.  The stats are further complicated as some wineries, breweries, and even meaderies make cider.

Here are examples of some well-known craft cideries in each of those states:

New York – Eve’s, Aaron Burr, Bad Seed, Bellwhether, Nine Pin, Slyboro

Washington – Finnriver, Snowdrift, Tieton, Alpenfire, Whitewood, Westcott Bay, Dragon’s Head

Oregon – E.Z. Orchards, 2 Towns, Reverend Nat’s, Blue Mountain, Wandering Aengus

Michigan – Virtue, J.K.’s Scrumpy, Uncle John’s, Tandem, Vander Mill

California – Sonoma Cider, Tilted Shed, Julian Hard Cider


Thats not to say cider isn’t available from cideries in other states.  Many have numerous cideries.  PA, CO, VT, NC, MA, NH, and VA come to mind.  Its also difficult to look at it by state as the populations & landmasses vary so much.  However, demand for cider is definitely skyrocketing, and new cideries are opening every week.  Cider grew 70% each of the last two years!

Cydermarket is a very cool website with a directory of cideries by state.

World’s Best Ciders book (Bill Bradshaw & Pete Brown)

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.

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<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).


  • 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.


  • 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)


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!

Book Review #4, World’s Best Ciders – Taste, Tradition, and Terroir

Part four of four of reviews of cider-related books I obtained from my local library.  Here are links to part 1part 2, and part 3.  This time the book is World’s Best Ciders – Taste, Tradition, and Terroir (Pete Brown & Bill Bradshaw, hardcover, published 2013).  Its is available on Amazon for $17.56 (a great deal compared to the $30 list price on the book).  The pair is also coming out with a film about cider (The Cider Hunters)!  Check out the trailer here and follow the page on Facebook here.

This book is much more cider enthusiast (vs. cidermaking) friendly than the previous three books.  I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy, which says a lot as I haven’t bought a book in years!  Its a great coffee table book about cider with lovely photos & graphics.  There are lots of cider recommendations and information indexed by region.  This is truly a world guide in cider!  It also has a very well-written introduction with some basic information about cider, its history, styles, flavors, tasting, etc.

I was even lucky enough to attend Capitol Cider’s meet & greet, book signing, and tasting with co-author Bill Bradshaw last night!  We’re lucky to have him in Seattle for Cider Summit as he resides in the UK.  (a post on that event is in work)

world's best ciders



Cider Basics
History of Cider
Apples, Orchards, and the Cider Year
How CIder is Made
Cider Flavors
Commercial Brands
Profile: Peter Mitchell
Tasting Cider
Tasting Symbols

Planet Cider
A World of Cider
(each of these subchapters has an introduction, profiles, styles, cider suggestions, etc)

United Kingdom
Rest of Europe

The Americas
United States
Argentina and Chile

Australia and New Zealand

Rest of World
South Africa

Cider and Food

Some Great Excerpts:

  • First sentence of the book:  Cider is the world’s most misunderstood drink.
  • Cider takes us back to an earlier, simpler time.  It reconnects us with the land and the cycle of the seasons.  And maybe, in an increasingly virtual, synthetic, and prepackaged age, that’s why cider’s popularity is blooming around the world.
  • We do not claim that the 244 ciders in this book are definitely the best 244 in the world, but that they are 244 of the best.  Every cider in this book is one that we’ve enjoyed and one we think worth trying.  Still, everyone’s palate is different.
  • It is one of the fastest growing drinks in the world, sweeter than beer, less potent than wine, simple and yet capable of complex greatness.  Welcome to the cider revolution.
  • Those who don’t know cider can have a snide attitude if the word terroir is used in conjunction with it.  Social conditioning tells us that this is a concept exclusive to the sophistication and subtlety of wine.  But if we accept that climate (or microclimate), temperature, and soil can have a profound effect on one particular fruit–which we do, because it is true–then logically it would be bizarre to suggest it has no such effect on other fruit.
  • When we began writing this book, a leading drinks writer said to us, “Interesting, but what can you write about cider?  It tastes like apples.  What else is there to say?”
  • Some of us have far higher concentrations of taste buds than others, which creates dramatically different perceptions of flavor.  There’s also an emerging body of research that seems to prove that taste cannot be separated from other stimuli and that context, environment, mood, and memory all make something “taste” different.
  • Drink straight from the bottle and you’re cutting your nose–and about 80 percent of the flavor compounds–out of the equation.

In closing, this book comes highly recommended!  Its a great addition to our living room and a conversation starter.  For me this isn’t so much a book that you read cover to cover, but one that you pick up from time to time and leaf through a section, such as when a particular cider region strikes your fancy.  Its also a great introduction to cider to share with our houseguests before/during/after we have a cider tasting (as always happens in our house as few folks are familiar with good craft cider).

Book Review #3, CIDER – Hard and Sweet – History, Traditions and Making Your Own

Part three of four of interesting notes from cider-related books I obtained from my local library.  Here are links to part 1 and part 2.  This time around is CIDER – Hard and Sweet – History, Traditions and Making Your Own (Ben Watson, 2nd edition, published in 2009).  The first edition was published in 1999.  There is now however a 3rd edition (published 2013), paperback available for $11.43 on Amazon.  Overall I enjoyed this book more than Cider – Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider.  However, my favorite of the four cider books is yet to come!  (but is quite different than these first three)

cider hard and sweet


The History of Cider
Roman history
Western Europe

Apple Varieties for Cider
Sex and the Single Apple
Basic Types of Apples
Keeping Things in Proportion
Finding Your Cider Apples

Sweet Cider: From Tree to Juice
In Defense of Real Cider
How Safe Is Real Cider?
A Glass a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Making Your Own Sweet Cider
Harvesting the Fruit
Support Your Local Cidermaker
Sweating the Apples
Milling the Fruit
Pressing the Juice
Apple Juice
Traditional Cidermaking Photo Series

Hard Cider: From Juice to Bottle
Cidermaking 101
Basic Equipment (fermentation vessels, other fermentation equipment, measuring tools, racking and bottling equipment, cleaning and sanitizing equipment, miscellaneous items)
The Juice Before Fermentation (Sugars, Specific Gravity, and Potential Alcohol; Acids; Tannins; Yeast Nutrients and Pectic Enzymes; Sulfur Dioxide; Common Cider Disorders)
Fermentation (Yeasts, Wild and Domesticated; Starting a Yeast Culture; Some Commercial Yeast Strains Used for Cidermaking; Primary Fermentation)
Maturation and Bottling

Cider Styles and Traditions
The Influence of Soils and Climate
Regional Ciders (Spain, France, United Kingdom)
Basic Cider Styles (Draft Cider, Farmhouse or Farm Cider, French Cider, Sparkling Cider, Cyser, Apple Wine, New England-Style Cider, Specialty Ciders)
Apple Wine

Tasting and Evaluating Cider
Organizing a Cider Tasting
Collecting Ciders for Your Tasting
Props and Procedures
Evaluating Cider
Sample Cider-Tasting Score Sheet
Sample Cider-Tasting Results
Common Cider-Tasting Terms

Perry, or Pear Cider
A Short History of Perry
Making Your Own Perry
English Perry Pears Grown in North America

Stronger Waters: Cider Vinegar and Spirits
Apple Brandy (Calvados)
Ice Cider
Cider Vinegar

Cooking with Cider
Cider in American Cooking (Boiled Cider, Cider Syrup, Cider Jelly)
Using Cider in Recipes
Recipes (Old-Fashioned Apple Butter, Hot Mulled Cider, Cider Wassail Bowl, Pork Chops Braised in Hard Cider, Chicken Breasts Vallée d’Auge, Crème Fraîche, Apple Cider Marinade, Fish Poached in Cider, Onion Cider Relish, Red Cabbage Braised in Cider, Harvest Stuffed Squash, Pears Poached in Cider, Caramel Apple Gelato, Lost Nation Cider Pie, Tarte aux Pommes – Apple Tart, Pâte Brisée, Boiled Cider Apple Crisp, Pears Preserved in Calvados)

Cidermaking: Beyond the Basics
Scaling Up
Measuring Instruments
Traditional Sparkling Cider
Fermentation Vessels and Supplies
Fermenting and Aging in Oak Barrels
Kegging, Filtration, and Bottling Equipment
Keeping Things Sweet (Keeving; Cold Shocking, Filtering, and Stabilizing Cider)
In-Bottle Pasteurization
A Final Thought

What I Found Interesting:


  • Only a few species of small wild apples are native to North America (crabapples).  The first apples as we know them were brought by colonists from England and Western Europe, as early as 1623.
  • The American folk hero Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) became a symbol of the apple’s spread as it followed Western settlement in the years after the Revolutionary War.  He operated an extensive frontier nursery In Pennsylvania, and traveled planting apple seeds and selling seedling trees to settlers.
  • By 1767 in Massachusetts more than 35 gallons of cider per person per year was consumed.  Cider was even a common unit of exchange.
  • By 1775 one out of every ten farms in New England owned and operated its own cider mill.  Most early settlers preferred not to drink the local water, which could be unpalatable or even polluted.
  • The first apple trees came to Washington state around 1848.  By 2000, Washington produced half of the U.S. apple crop (5% of the world crop).
  • Cider production had already dropped (due to decreased consumption) prior to Prohibition, from 55 million gallons in 1899 to 13 million gallons in 1919.
  • China is the world’s largest apple growing nation.  [which is probably why we hear of some cidermakers unfortunately using cheap Chinese imported apple juice concentrate in cider]

Cider Apple Varieties

  • Most apples benefit from being cross-pollinated by another tree of a separate variety.
  • A good fresh cider requires sweetness and body, sprightliness and aroma, and very few if any single apple varieties possess all of these qualities.
  • True cider apples are mainly bitter-tasting varieties that are used in making the classic hard ciders of Northwest Europe and England.  The bitterness and astringency of those apples come from the tannins that are present in both the skin and flesh of the fruit.
  • Apples vary wildly in sugar content from around 6% to nearly 25% (Wickson, a small high-sugar and high-acid variety from intentionally crossing the Newtown Pippin and Esopus Spitzenburg).
  • Apples of the same variety may vary considerably in sweetness during different growing seasons and regions.
  • Apples vary wildly in acid content, from 0.1% to 1.3%.


  • Sweet cider naturally contains approximately 15% sucrose, 74% fructose, and 11% glucose.
  • Tannins give a hard cider body and a dry finish, and help clarify (fine) the cider making it less hazy and more brilliant.
  • The complex bouquet of a hard cider is partly due to the aromatic varieties of apples used in the blend, but also partly due to the fragrant compounds produced as a result of yeast fermentation.

Cider Styles and Traditions

  • An important contributor to the character of any cider is something the French call terroir, a term referring to the place where the fruit is grown (soil composition, climate, microclimate, etc).
  • Two relatively unknown types of cider in the U.S. are German Apfelwein (8% of the world’s cider) and cider from South Africa (14% of the world’s cider, second only to the UK).
  • The greatest, oldest, and most highly regarded cidermaking areas of Europe are England’s West Country, Normandy and Brittany in France, and Asturias and the Basque region of Spain.
  • French cider is classified as Cidre Doux (up to 3% ABV), Demi-Sec (3-5% ABV), and Cidre Brut (over 5% ABV), and is 9% of the cider produced worldwide.
  • Draft cider is the most common variety in America, and most often sold in six-packs.  It is usually made of juice from surplus dessert apples, fermented to dryness, filtered, cut with carbonated water and/or apple juice to 5-6% ABV, and sulfited before bottling.  It is sweet to semi-sweet and should be drunk very cold.
  • Farmhouse or farm cider is traditional, “real” cider, or English dry cider.  It is usually still, dry, fully fermented to 5%+ ABV, and may have sweeteners added.
  • French cider of cidre doux relies on a process known as keeving, in which pectins and nitrogenous yeast nutrients are precipitated out of the cider, then clarified juice is siphoned into another container to begin a long slow period of fermentation  It has some residual sweetness and is only 2-4% ABV.
  • Sparkling cider is carbonated in some way, either by natural carbonation (secondary fermentation with a small amount of sugar), the French “closed cuvee” champagne method, or force/artificial carbonation.
  • The main difference between sparkling and effervescent ciders is the clarify and brilliance of the former, from removal of spent yeasts and other residues.
  • Apple wine is produced when sugar is added to raise the specific gravity high enough to obtain a 10-12% ABV product.  Otherwise there is little or no difference from hard cider.

Book Review #2, Cider – Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider

Part two of four of interesting notes from cider-related books I obtained from my local library (Part 1 is available here).  This time around is Cider – Making, Using, & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider (Annie Proulx & Lew Nichols, 3rd edition, published in 2003).  Similarly to The New Cider Maker’s Handbook, the majority of this book has a cidermaking focus.  Paperback priced at $10.75 on Amazon.  From my perusal, The New Cider Maker’s Handbook seems to be a better choice over this one, mostly as it is more thorough and has an easier to read layout.  Additionally, hard cider has really evolved in the U.S. since 2003!

making using enjoying cider


Cidermaking: What You Need and How to Do It
Cidermaking, Step by Step
Equipment and Materials: How to Use Them
Cider Disorders

Making Different Cider Varieties
Basic Still Blended Cider from North American Varieties
Naturally Sparkling and Champagne Ciders
Old-Fashioned New England Cider
French Cider
Cider in a Hurry!

Apples for Cider
The Apple – Body and Soul
Good Cider Apples
European Cider Apples
Canadian Apples
North American Astringents
North American Cultivars Used in Making Cider

The Home Cider Orchard
The Orchard – from Dream to Reality
Climate and Weather
Sizing up the Site
Staking Out Your Orchard’s Claim
Orchard Care
Diseases, Insects, and Wildlife
The Harvest
Developing Your Own Cider Apple Trees

Beyond Cider:  Vinegars, Brandy, Tasting, and Cooking
How to Make Vinegar
Aromatic and Herb Vinegars
Applejack and Apple Brandy
Apple Brandy
Cider for Tasting, Drinking, and Cooking
Cider to Drink and in the Kitchen

Cider and the Law
U.S. and Federal Law and Regulations

Appendix: Making Your Own Equipment

What I Found Interesting:

  • Twelve steps of cidermaking:  harvest, “sweating”, washing, grinding, pressing, blending, testing, fermentation, racking off, filtering or fining, bottling, and storage.
  • Popular proportions for juices are neutral base (30-60%), tart (10-20%), aromatic (10-20%), and astringent (5-20%).
  • Tannins are complex phenolics which add a slight bitter tang and astringency to cider, and give the finest ciders their flavor and personality.  They do not add acidity to the juice, as does malic, tartaric, or citric acids.  Dessert apples have about one-fifth the tannins of European cider apples.
  • The single most important step in cidermaking is acquiring fine-flavored, well-ripened apples with good levels of acid and tannin.
  • A standard apple tree will produce about ten bushels of apples and has a lifespan of around a hundred years.  (there are also semidwarf and dwarf trees)
    • One bushel of apples weighs about 45 pounds, and will yield 2-3 gallons of cider.
  • Tulip-shaped clear wine glasses are recommended to hold the cider bouquet at the lip of the glass.
  • The sweeter the cider the colder it should be served.  Drier cider may be served at room temperature.
  • Describing scents, flavors, and tastes is a difficult job, since they are perceived differently by people, linked to obscure personal memories, and to different culturally acquired food habits.
  • Cider color varies based on both the apple varieties and the way it was made.
  • For a cider tasting, go from dry to sweet, young to old, and lighter to heavier alcohol content.

Book Review #1, The New Cider Maker’s Handbook

I picked up The New Cider Maker’s Handbook, A Comprehensive Guide for Craft Producers (Claude Jolicoeur, 2013 edition) from my local library.  Hardcover priced at $26.19 on Amazon.  I also found a few other cider-related books, and placed a hold on all four books they had available on hard cider in the network.  So, this is part one of at least four on cider-related books.  I’m a huge fan of libraries, especially in this case to preview books to determine which I may want to purchase.

Fun fact – I worked at my library in college for all four years!  Note that libraries can typically obtain books from any library in their network.  It they don’t have what you want, if you ask, they may use the interlibrary loan system to obtain it through the mail, or purchase it for the library.

I only read what I found interesting, as I’m honestly not interested in cidermaking.  I care more about what pertains to my enjoyment of cider and advancement of my knowledge about it.  This is definitely a handbook (lots of text and few photos), and has a cidermaking focus, so there may not be much added value for the non-cidermaker.  I nonetheless enjoyed flipping through it and finding the bits which were of interest to me.

new cider maker's handbook


Part I, Basics of Cidermaking
Materials and Supplies
The Raw Material: Apple Juice
Cider Preparation

Part II, Growing Apples for Cider
The Cider Orchard
The Varietal Selection

Part III, Juice Extraction
Apple Mills
Apple Presses

Part IV, The Apple Juice or Must
(note that “must” is a winemaker’s term for unfermented, sweet juice, akin to “wort” in brewing)
The Sugars
The Acids
The Tannins or Phenolic Substances
The Nitrogenous Substances
The Pectic Substances

Part V, Fermentation and Beyond
The Fermentation Process
Cider Diversity
Cider Troubles and How to Avoid Them

Appendix 1, Units and Measures

Appendix 2, Companion Materials

What I Found Interesting:

I especially liked the chapter on Apple Varieties in Part II, and all of Part IV (which was almost 50 pages, mostly composed of the chapter on sugars, with focus on measuring & calculations).

Notes on Apple Varieties

  • True cider orchards are mostly found in Europe (France, England, and Spain).
  • North American orchards mainly contain dessert apples, which don’t have as much body and mouthfeel that is obtained with cider apples with more tannins.
  • The “perfect” cider apple would have high sugar, medium acidity, and medium tannins.  There are not many of these, but Kingston Black, a famous English variety, would be an example.
  • Cider apples should have at least one of these features:  high sugar to produce alcohol, moderate or low acidity to balance blend, and some tannin to give body & mouthfeel.

Notes on Sugars

  • High sugar level in juice translates into high alcohol content after fermentation.
  • The Brix scale for residual sugar content in a liquid (sweetness) is primarily used in North America.
  • Apples with most sugar often have the most flavor, and produce a richer cider.
    • Fructose (levulose or fruit sugar) is the most abundant, 7-11% by mass.  It is a simple & reducing sugar, thus easier to transform to alcohol.
      • Simple = does not hydrolyse (break down) to give other sugars
      • Reducing = capacity to interact chemically with other compounds
    • Glucose (dextrose or grape sugar), 1-3% by mass, is also simple & reducing.  Its concentration decreases as an apple ripens.
    • Sucrose (saccharose or cane sugar) 2-5% by mass, is a double sugar (di-saccharide) and nonreducing.  However, it may be inverted, particularly by yeasts.
      • Inversion = chemical reaction where sucrose combines with a bit of water to give equal amounts glucose & fructose
    • There are also very low concentrations of other fermentable sugars, such as sorbitol.
      • Apple juice also contains very small amount of sorbitol (0.2-1%).
      • Pear juice has more sorbitol (up to 2%).
      • Sorbitol has a sweetening effect but technically isn’t a sugar, but a polyol (sugar alcohol)
      • Sorbitol is why dry perry is never as dry as a bone-dry cider.

A Chart on Specific Gravity, Acidity, & Apple Varieties

cider maker's handbook chart

Do You Know Why So Many Hard Ciders are 6.9% ABV?

Do you know why so many hard ciders are 6.9% ABV?  I had heard some talk about 7% ABV being some sort of cut off as far as taxes, and was curious enough to do some research:

Under current federal laws, hard cider by definition is only allowed to be up to 7% alcohol by volume (ABV) before it gets taxed at the more expensive rate for wine.  Additionally, there are even limits on the level of carbonation before it gets taxed at the very expensive rate for champagne.  Therefore, many ciders weigh in at 6.9% ABV, just under the 7% cutoff.

This is a very current issue, as the Cider Investment and Development through Excise Tax Reduction (CIDER) Act aims to combat this and other cider classification & taxation discrepancies.  Cidermakers are currently lobbying legislators to enact the CIDER Act, which would update the tax code to treat hard cider differently than wine or champagne.

It can be difficult for cidermakers to predict & precisely control the ABV and carbonation levels of their ciders.  Scott Donovan, a member of the board of the U.S. Association of Cider Makers, says hard cider’s alcohol content can vary between 5.5% and 8% ABV, depending on the type of apples used and the time of the year the cider is made (source).  I’ve also seen products with higher and lower ABV levels.

This isn’t all about taxes.  There is also a significant economic potential, as apparently there are currently many apples that could be used for cider that aren’t.  However, taxes are a major reason.  This effects the consumer as a cider which costs more to produce & sell is typically priced higher.  Also, some cidermakers desire to carbonate their ciders higher, but currently avoid doing so due to the “champagne tax” (source).

Current federal tax levels (source):

  • $1.07 per gallon, still wines < 14% ABV
  • $1.57 per gallon, still wines < 21% ABV
  • $3.15 per gallon, still wines with 21-24% ABV
  • $3.40 per gallon, champagne & other sparkling wines (3.92 grams per liter carbonation; source)
  • $3.30 per gallon, artificially carbonated wines
  • $0.23 per gallon, hard cider which is a still wine derived primarily from apples or apple concentrate & water, containing no other fruit product, and containing 0.5% to 7% ABV
    • There is however a $0.056 credit for the first 100,000 gallons by a small cidery not producing not more than 150,000 gallons per year (source).

By comparison, beer is taxed at $0.58 per gallon, or $0.23 per gallon for the first 60,000 gallons produced by small scale breweries which produce less than 2 million gallons per year (source).

IN SUMMARY:  Currently ciders which are more than 7% ABV are taxed as wine.  Also, regardless of ABV, if they have a high level of carbonation, they are taxed as champagne.  Both wine & champagne tax rates are significantly higher than those for beer.  Also, consider that wine & champagne typically have a lower ABV than cider, so when considering a tax per gallon it isn’t very consistent.

The goals of the CIDER Act are:

  • Allow higher carbonation in cider without it being taxed like champagne
  • Include pears in the definition of “hard cider”
  • Align the alcohol-content standard for hard cider with the natural sugar content of apples (at least 8.5% ABV)

The CIDER Act can help level the playing field between beer, wine, & cider.  They tried to pass this in 2013, but no such luck (source).  In February 2015 this passed the Senate Finance Committee, and now awaits the Senate floor (source).  In August there were some additional meetings (source).  So, hopefully there will be progress soon.  Note that there are also taxes at the state level, which are separate from this act.

Please support the CIDER Act!  The U.S. Association of Cider Makers website says what we can do.  Take action.

Cider Tasting Terminology 101

As my cider journey has evolved and I’ve been reviewing ciders, I’ve been more interested in cider tasting (descriptor) terminology.  So, I thought I’d share some common cider tasting vocabulary:


Acidity:  The presence of significant malic acid, which causes a sharpness, briskness, sourness, or “zing” in a cider.

Aftertaste:  The lingering taste of the cider on the back of the throat, hopefully pleasant.

Apple juice concentrate:  Syrup from apple juice with water content reduced.  Often used in commercial cidermaking to cheaply make a sweeter cider.

Balanced:  A cider which has no single component (such as sweetness, bitterness, or acidity) as overpowering.

Barrel aged:  Further aging of a cider in a wood barrel, which influences the cider, imparting additional flavor.  This can add a good deal of complexity.  Note that cider can also be barrel fermented.

Bittersharp cider apple:  High acid and high tannin apples.

Bittersweet cider apple:  Low acid and high tannin apples.

Brix:  Residual sugar content in liquid (sweetness).  One degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution  Measured using a hydrometer (which also can tell you the Alcohol by Volume, ABV, and specific gravity, relative density of the liquid).  A formula can be used to determine Brix and in turn specific gravity if you know how many grams of sugar there are in a certain amount of cider.

Clarity:  A cider’s opacity.  Brilliant, clear, slightly hazy, hazy, or cloudy.

Cloying:  Sticky, tacky, syrupy, or sickly sweet in taste & mouthfeel.

Diacetyl:  Aroma and flavor described at butter, butterscotch, or toffee.

Ester:  Sweet chemically artificial, banana, or tropical fruit flavor or aroma.

Mouthfeel:  The feel / impression of the cider in the mouth.  Its body, weight, texture, etc.

Sharp cider apple:  High acid and low tannin apples.

Single varietal:  Cider made from only one type of apple (in contrast to most cider which are blends).

Sugars:  Yeast ferments sugars to alcohol.  Sugar may be added to aid the fermentation process.

Sweet cider apple:  Low acid and low tannin apples.

Sweetness:  Taste associated with sugars in cider, including vanilla, honey, or syrup notes.  The percentage of residual sweetness makes a cider sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, or dry.  There can often be a difference between measured and perceived sweetness though, and acidity plays a big roll.

Tannins:  Contribute to bitterness and astringency.  Can cause a mouth-puckering taste and in excess can dry the mouth.

Drinking Cider, Cider Glossary
Cider Monger, Cider Glossary
Candle Wine Project, Cider Tasting Vocabulary
United States of Cider, Terminology Category


I’m no expert, so I think often the experts can explain things better than I can,  Here are some great bonus links:

Previously posted links to a great video series from Schilling on Cider Tasting

Previously posted cider tasting guide

Article on cider apple varieties.

Cider style guidelines from Beer Judge Certification program

8 Reasons Why Cider on Tap May Taste Better

My experience of cider on tap (or keg or draft or draught or whatever you want to call it) is unfortunately limited.  However, almost every time I’ve thought it tasted better on tap than from its bottled/canned cousin.  I have noticed this with Spire Mountain Dark & Dry, Seattle Cider Semi Sweet, NV Cider Pear Essentials, and Reverend Nat’s Revival, which are all ciders I’ve had both bottled/canned and on tap.  Some I had bottled/canned first, and others I bought it after trying it on tap.

I thought I’d explore this query.  Most of the available research is from beer, but I believe much of it can be applicable to cider.  Here are a few hypotheses from my research as to why cider on tap may taste better:

UV Light Exposure
Aluminum blocks out light better than glass.  Sunlight exposure can effect the taste of the product.  Clear & green glass lets in more light than brown glass, which is why many bottled beers & ciders are in brown instead of clear glass.  Therefore canned or kegged cider is typically exposed to less light in its shelf life than bottled.  I’ve noticed a number of craft cideries in my area use cans either predominantly or exclusively, which surprises me as canned beers are often perceived as “cheap”.  I had assumed it was a cost issue (both for their assembly line & shipping), but it appears there may be much more to it.  I’m also surprised how many ciders I’ve seen in clear glass bottles, so I wonder if cider actually isn’t as prone to the detriments of UV exposure as beer.

Storage Temperature
Kegs are often treated better than cases of cider bottles/cans, with less temperature variation.  Cold storage is best as it slows down the oxidation process of the beverage, causing it to taste “fresher” for longer.  A cider sitting on the shelf at room temperature in a store for a long period of time may not taste as “fresh”.

Drinking Temperature
An alcoholic beverage tastes different based on serving temperature.  Certain ciders are better at different temperatures, and cold isn’t always best.  Cider on tap may be served colder or warmer than from your fridge at home.

Kegs rarely sit long term.  Especially with specialty and/or expensive ciders, inventory may sit awhile in the store (and again once we get it home).  Time can add oxidative flavors, which have the product taste less “fresh”.  Higher turnover equals fresher cider.

Carbonation levels may vary based on if the product is bottled of kegged.  Brewers often add less carbonation for draft beer.  Higher carbonation forces more flavor into your tongue, which some folks find overwhelming.  This is one of the reasons why a cider can taste different when drinking out of a bottle/can vs. pouring it into a glass, as pouring it releases some of the carbonation.  I find I like richer or barrel aged ciders better from a glass, but some of the sweet & fruity ciders taste just fine from the bottle.

Draft beer typically isn’t pasteurized, when bottled beer is.  Bottled beer has to undergo pasteurization, heating it to kill off any bacteria that may grow between bottling and consumption.  However, pasteurization can also compromise the taste, and some of the aromatic ingredients can be filtered out.  Keg beer does not require pasteurization and is typically kept cold up until it is poured, so more flavor may be retained.  I’m curious if the same is true for cider.  I’ve read that commercial hard cider is pasteurized to remove yeast & apple particulates and retain carbonation, but I wonder if that is done 100% of the time.  For craft & homebrew cider, it seems less likely.

Pouring into Glass Effect
Having the cider poured into a glass can open up the aroma quite a bit, and smell is of course tied into taste.  This is one of the reasons why drinking a bottled/canned cider out of the bottle/can can taste different than out of a glass.

Placebo/Social/Cost Effect
Drinking during a night on the town is more exciting than at home.  It also costs more (and when we pay more, we expect more).  Plus, its exciting to find one of your favorite ciders on tap (too often they don’t have cider, or only Angry Orchard).  All of this may add up to have us perceive that the product tastes better when it really doesn’t, as we expect it.

But its also possible the opposite could happen…
A product on tap could actually end up tasting worse than bottled/canned if the tap lines are not maintained properly (bacteria…ick!), if it is served or stored at an improper temperature, if the keg has been sitting around a long time and/or not stored cold, etc.  You are likely better off ordering cider on tap at a place which sells a lot of it.

The freshest place to get cider is straight from the cidery itself (a growler).  I imagine its likely that the preference for bottled/canned vs. tap may come down to personal taste as well.  So, what do you think?

Schilling Cider House Cider Education Video Series

Here is an awesome series of five short cider education videos by the Schilling Cider House, in Fremont (Seattle) WA.  As an added bonus, they discuss a number of local craft cider selections.

Schilling Cider Episode 1 – Intro to Cider Tasting 101
Discusses appearance, aroma, cider flavors, etc.

Schilling Cider Episode 2 – Brix & Acidity
Discusses how sweetness (Brix = sugar content in liquid…one degree Brix is 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of solution) and acidity affect the taste of a cider.

Schilling Cider Episode 3 – Testing Brix & Acidity
Discusses how Brix & acidity are measured, and their purpose of balancing taste in cider.

Schilling Cider Episode 4 – Tannins
Discusses what tannins are and their purpose of balancing taste in cider.

Schilling Cider Episode 5 – Cider Innovation
Discusses innovations in the craft cider world, such as Nitro taps, the Randall, and infusing flavors.

This is a great series of topics applicable to tasting cider, and explains some of the technical aspects of the taste of a cider.  As a side note, I would love to see more cideries put the Brix of their cider on the package as it would give the educated consumer a much better idea of whether the cider’s sweetness will be to their liking.  I’ve not found the wine descriptors of dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet, etc, to be all too accurate or consistent.

So, what did you think?