When one thinks of cider what usually comes to mind is apple cider, the delicious rich juice obtained from orchards. The term “hard” indicates an alcoholic, and thus more potent, drink. Every time I hear of cider, I immediately think back to medieval times in England when it was consumed regularly. Today’s hard cider is quite different and, according to the LCBO, is making a comeback.
I’ll refer mainly to hard apple cider here, but many ciders are made from other fruits or flavoured with them. This spiked apple juice, as I like to call it, can range in alcoholic strength from as low as one per cent up to around 10 per cent depending on where it is made. It can be produced from any kind of apple, but certain ones are grown exclusively for its creation. Production is quite simple. Apples are ground into an apple sauce-type mixture, in a stone or mechanical mill. This mash is pressed to squeeze the juice out and transferred to vats or casks for fermentation. It is fermented at a relatively low temperature to maintain aroma, and transferred to new vats just before all sugar is consumed. Additional sugar may be added to increase the alcohol content or induce more carbonation. The final product is usually ready to consume after about 90 days, but is often aged for much longer in wood. Occasionally extra sugar is added just before bottling to beef up carbonation.
Styles of cider vary. They can be dry to sweet, still to sparkling, clear to cloudy with sediment, and range in colour from almost clear to light yellow, to golden yellow and amber. This all depends on its production method and length of aging.
It is popular, as one might expect from history, in the UK. Certain parts of France enjoy it. There’s certainly some interest in Germany, Poland, Argentina, Spain and even Australia. The province of Quebec has embraced this traditional beverage and creates an interesting imbibe called ‘ice cider’, similar to Ice wine. One would imagine that any country that grows apples could conceivably create cider.
Although not my cup of tea straight up, I quite like it blended with other things. In mixed drinks and cocktails, it shines. Check out a “Snakebite”, a shandy-type imbibe made with equal parts hard apple cider and lager. The cold weather is perfect for a “Prairie Fire”, cold hard cider with some Tabasco sauce in it or a “Bourbon Cider Cocktail”, six parts cider to one part bourbon with a pinch of cinnamon.
It’s versatile in cooking too. What’s better than pork and apples? Braised pork shoulder or chops in hard apple cider is delicious. Try marinating pulled pork in it. Chicken and roast lamb also work well with it. A fondue made with hard cider and stinky cheese is a real delight. Apple cider and cheese soup is wonderful as is spiced squash and cider broth. Spicy chorizo braised in hard cider is divine. For sauces, it’s wonderful. For some interesting results, you might use it wherever white wine is called for in cooking, and like wine, it makes a great tenderizer for inexpensive cuts of meat. It can even be used to make apple cider vinegar.
For a drink that doesn’t seem as popular or well known compared to other alcoholic beverages, it is very versatile. Your local LCBO has numerous on hand. There are selections from Canada, the US, Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Ireland and France.
So if you’re looking for something that’s really different, give hard cider a go. It may open up a whole new world of liquid enjoyment to you.
NOTE: My new award-winning, comedic wine mystery novel Pinot Envy is now available online and at selected bookstores.
Edward Finstein, a.k.a. The Wine Doctor — wine writer, educator, judge, consultant