InCide & Out- An International Tour of Cider and Cider Making
Cider, aka hard cider, has taken an international hold over the past few centuries. With roots dating back to Ancient Europe, cider has gone on quite a journey to where it stands today. Today, we are taking you on a tour of cider and cider making from the US to Europe, to the UK and Asia. Cider has attained a wide reach, and has adapted with changing trends and tastes.
According to Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences “the first recorded references to cider date back to Roman times; in 55 BCE Julius Caesar found the Celtic Britons fermenting cider from native crabapples.” With such a vast and long-standing history, cider has had time to spread, adapt and develop in many ways.
Today, cider making has divided into two main styles: traditional/standard, and modern or specialty. According to Heather Vandenengel of Craft Beer & Brewing, “standard cider…includes all styles made with only apples…[and] speciality cider… incorporates other fruits and/or adjuncts.” To get a better sense of how these two categories take shape in cider making today, let’s take a closer look at some incredible cideries and cider makers from around the world!
For our first stop of the international tour, we are exploring Gwatkins Cidery and cider maker Denis Gwatkin from Herefordshire UK. Cider has a lengthy history in the UK dating back to around the 12th Century and possibly even earlier. In terms of Gwatkin Cidery’s history, Denis says “our orchards are first marked on our 1830 map, so cider making has a long tradition on our farm, which started out as a grange for the nearby abbey in 1147.”
Gwatkin Cidery is a uniquely family-owned and operated farm, business, and home. “We are one of the largest if not the largest traditional cider makers in Britain. By traditional we mean that we only allow natural fermentation to occur, we don’t use sulphites to kill off the natural yeast and substitute them with a wine yeast,” says Denis. They make and sell about 35 ciders and perrys (fermented pear) including seasonal rotations and a few local beer selections.
All of the cider produced at Gwatkin is packaged and sold in bottles as most traditional-style cideries do. While there is no inherent difference to taste of ciders sold in cans versus bottles, caning and caning lines are a rather modern technology. A few of the ciders Gwatkin Cidery makes include Kingstone Black, Golden Valley Scrumpy, award winning Yarlington Mill Cider, and Stoke Red Cider.
For Denis, his favorite thing about cider making is “tasting the end product after months of slow fermentation in our wooden barrels.” He emphasized that cider is “naturally fermented by wild yeasts, a taste of the past before Louis Pasteur started advising other cider makers in the late nineteenth century.” Pasteur’s influence on the world of fermentation and alcohol production is a whole topic in itself for another blog post!
Departing from the long-standing historical touch of Gwatkin Cidery, our next stop is at a much newer cidery in the UK: Napton Cidery of Warwickshire. What began as a hobby turned into a life and business in 2015 for cider maker Jolyon Olivier. Olivier’s mission was to collect “unwanted” apples from their local area and make something delicious from them.
While Napton Cidery is a much more recent venture than Gwatkin Cidery, they are in the same vein of traditional production methods. “We are traditional cider makers and our cider takes around 9+ months to produce. We are geared towards wine methods rather than the mainstream cider techniques,” said Olivier.
By using a wide variety of apple types, a very interesting and tasty range of ciders can be produced. When browsing through Napton’s cider selection, I discovered they label, or “name,” their ciders by the number batch in which they were produced. They also package and sell in both bottles and pouches, much like you see with wine.
we asked Olivier what he wished more people knew about cider and cider making he supplied a very intriguing answer. “We wish more people were aware of how diverse cider can be and the difference in juice content you get when you purchase a cider. We believe people should be able to drink whole juice ciders and know how much fruit is in them. The gap between wine and cider should be known and we believe most of the cider sold in the world is made more like beer and is not in keeping with the wine style methodologies that cider should have.” While cider making is most closely related to wine making, it truly is a separate and equally as established form of fermentation.
The next stop on our international tour is a French cidery looking to make the most of both tradition and innovation. Jérôme Forget is the head cider maker at Ferme de l’Yonnière in Normandy. If you didn’t know, France is the largest producer of cider in the world. And Normandy, specifically, is very cider-centric because of its cool, dry climate which favors apple trees. A French cider blog notes “that cider has been made in France since as early as the Celtic Gauls (1st century BC).”
Ferme de l’Yonnière is a centuries old family-run operation. Forget says “ I have trees on my orchard that have been there for hundreds of years. The perry we make is a perry that people 200 years ago worked to make happen. I want to keep this going so the future generations can also say the same thing.”
While maintaining tradition is important to Forget, he also expressed his drive to innovate and be creative with his cider making. “It also is important to me to try to move away from the traditional image of cider or perry [in France]; that somewhat cheesy image that we too often have of cider as to only be drank with crepes…I use endemic (aka local) varieties that I try to enhance by exploring its association with different varieties. This experiment is the innovative part of what I do.”
Like Gwatkins Cidery and Napton Cidery, Ferme de l’Yonnière sells their cider in bottles. All of the ciders and perrys are naturally fermented with no additives or chemicals. “We are able to make a natural product because we use an ancestral method of making cider and perry that our grandparents taught us,” said Forget.
It is very clear to us that Forget sees cider as something rooted in tradition but that has plenty of room to explore and try new things. “I am a farmer. When I arrived at the Ferme de L’Yonnière in 1993, there were already orchards with 200 hundred year old pear trees there. It was obvious to me to keep these orchards and to plant others…When we talk about farmers, we are people from the countryside, but we also have a creative side. An artistic side. It is something artistic in our own way.”
Now that we have explored some cideries that come from areas with extensive histories of cider production, let’s journey to a place a little closer to home. Actually, we’re going straight home to St. Vrain Cidery.
In the U.S., like most things, cider was an English import said to have been “carried on the Mayflower itself” in the early 1600’s. It was a viable beverage alternative to the less-than-ideal water that was available at the time. It became quite popular with the increase of orchards on the East coast. However, cider dwindled around the late 1800’s with the rise of industrialization and took a harsh blow with the Prohibition Era.
Cider has only recently made a comeback in the U.S. and has rivaled beer with its much smaller carbon footprint and its gluten free nature. With cider back in the mainstream, many U.S. producers have been creating modern takes and all kinds of flavors including our head cider maker and co-founder, Dan Daugherty.
Dan’s approach to cider is “inspired by the traditional cider making methods…Most of our ciders at St. Vrain Cidery are modern in approach, in that we add unique flavors in addition to apples and packaged in cans and in draft. Our ciders are eclectic and fun, often with several flavor components, but the foundation is always the apple.”
Taking a look at our core lineup of cider we have flavors like Dry Ginger, Blackberry Botanical, Dry Chokeberry, etc. Fruit adjuncts and spices are very commonly found in modern cider and are often used as marketing points for new flavor releases.
Additionally, modern cider makers play around with sugar content which has resulted in a scale from dry to sweet ciders with off/semi-dry and off/semi-sweet in the middle range. Ultimately, it’s up to the cider maker to decide what they want to shine through.
As Dan stated before, the apple is the foundation of all cider no matter what elements are eventually added in. Yet, not many American consumers know about the apples used in cider making. “I wish people knew more about the extreme diversity of the apple. There are many thousands of known apple varieties, but the vast majority of apples grown in the U.S. are of only a dozen or so dessert/table apple varieties. While some of these are great eating apples, they generally lack the characteristics–in terms of sugar content, acidity, tannins, and aromatics–to make ciders with depth of character.” This is a contributing factor to why many U.S. ciders are speciality ciders with added flavor elements.
While only a handful of American ciders and cider producers have become household names there are over 800 cideries now operating in the U.S.. In Colorado alone there are over 20 cideries. While some cideries package in bottles, it is very common to find cider sold in cans in the U.S. St.Vrain Cidery packages primarily in cans as they can be recycled easily, and we have two growler options which can be refilled again and again. Our core lineup of ciders can be purchased and shipped to most of the U.S. HERE
You can find many interesting ciders in the U.S. with all kinds of flavor combinations from hibiscus lavender sea salt, to mango jalapeno pear ciders; there is something for everyone. To finish off our tour of cider let’s jump to the other side of the globe where cider is a very new concept… Japan!
We got in touch with Lee Reeve, owner and operator of InCider Japan publication to learn more about what cider is like in Japan and also to be a translator for two cider makers. Reeve comments “there are basically two camps of cider making in Japan. Those with winemaking licenses produce modern ciders usually using Champagne method techniques. Those with beer brewing licenses are producing Graf-style (cider/beer hybrid) co-fermented ciders that are usually hopped.”
Tsuyoshi Takemura of VinVie in Nagano is in the camp of champagne technique production. “We make modern style ciders and have four ciders in our regular lineup…Someday, we would like to use wild yeast or use traditional methods of making cider.” Being such a new concept in Japan, having only made its debut in 2015 and finally taking off in 2018, cider has been a vehicle for creativity and invention in Japan.
Takemura says that “Cider is a very free drink. Cider has no rules on how to drink it. Cider is more casual than wine and more fashionable than beer.” This perspective seems to stem from the fact that cider is so new in Japan, especially when we think back to the English and European cider makers who have lengthy histories of cider production.
For Toshihiko Moriyama of Moriyama-en in Aomori, the great thing about cider is that “cider making covers the weaknesses of agriculture such as natural disasters, seasons and weather, etc. I like that apples are made once a year, but cider is made once a month, and the labor required is far less than that of farm work. Also, little waste and no expiration dates!” Moriyana-en uses more traditional cider making techniques by using a double fermentation process and not using any added sugars or adjuncts.
All parties from our Japanese overview have a positive outlook for the continued growth and popularity of cider in Japan. Takemura notes “I believe that cider culture will bloom in Japan.” Moriyama claims “People are now really enjoying the taste of cider, and we received high evaluations from many people.” And Reeve gives insight that “education about cider is still absolutely necessary if cider is to succeed and remain in Japan. Although the general public is coming around, it’s so far only had access to very limited styles of cider. In fact, inCiderJapan became an importer to fill this role, by bringing in quality ciders from around the world to Japan.”
Well folks, we’ve been around the world and learned a lot about all kinds of ciders! Did you discover something new? Do you have a desire to try ciders from lots of other countries? We hope this demonstrated to you just how many forms cider can take in different parts of the world. Cider is truly an incredible beverage that continues to evolve and garner the attention of all types of people. If you love cider, whether it be St Vrain Cidery’s cider or any other brand, we hope you share that love with the people in your life because there truly is a cider for everyone!
If you’re interested in reading the full interviews with each cider maker you can click HERE.
Huge thank you to all of the participating cider makers. Please check out each of these cideries and consider supporting them on social media!