Hard cider is a popular beverage and a refreshing alternative to the bitter, hop-heavy flavor profiles of many beers. Find out everything you need to know about hard cider, from its rich history and brewing process to proper storage and serving methods, so you can help educate your customers the next time they order this crisp beverage.
Although hard cider may seem like a recent phenomenon, it actually has deep roots in American history and was by far the most popular alcoholic beverage in Colonial times. Below, we'll go into a brief history of hard cider, so you can see how far it's evolved from its early days.
The earliest record of the fermentation of apples can be traced back to the Romans in 55BC when they reached Kent in Britain and noticed villagers drinking an alcoholic beverage made from apples. In fact, the fermented cider was actually safer to drink than water and provided the nourishment people needed.
In the seventeenth century, English colonists brought apple seeds and their harvesting techniques to North America, and cider soon became the beverage of choice. Not only was cider a favorite among the colonists, but it also played a key role in the economy. It was often used for trading and was supposedly used to compensate the construction crews that built some of America’s first roads.
During the American Revolution, hard cider continued to play an important role. A local man named Elias Brown started selling mugs of hard cider to both the British Redcoats and the American Revolutionaries during the Battles of Lexington and Concord. A few years later in 1789, George Washington rallied his supporters before election day, giving them 144 gallons of hard cider before being unanimously elected first president of the United States. Even John Adams drank a glass of cider every morning with his breakfast to settle his stomach.
While the Romans first saw villagers in Britain drinking hard cider back in 55 BC, a man named William Blackstone is often credited with planting the first apples trees in the New World after he arrived from Europe with a bag of seeds. A majority of the first apple trees and orchards were planted in the Massachusetts Bay colony.
Although hard cider if oftentimes called beer by many of its drinkers, the two beverages are not the same. The only quality the two drinks have in common is that they’re both fermented. Beer is defined as a fermented alcoholic beverage that's brewed from malt and flavored with hops. Cider, on the other hand, is defined as an alcoholic drink made from fermented fruit juice, particularly from apples. The fact that cider contains no malt or hops makes these two beverages unique. However, it's important to note that hopped ciders are becoming trendy. These ciders do contain hop flavors and aromas usually found in beer, but are still not brewed with malt, making them a great gluten-free substitute for beer.
Acquire fresh juice. Whether you purchase freshly-squeezed juice with no preservatives or you core and peel your own fruit is entirely up to you. If using fresh juice, you’ll need to test the liquid and treat it if it’s unpasteurized. If using fresh fruit, you’ll need clean the apples and properly crush and press them using a fruit presser.
Add yeast. Choose your preferred yeast and add it to the treated juice to start the fermentation process.
Allow the cider to ferment to its desired dryness. If your cider smells like rotten eggs or burning matches, you may need to add more yeast. On average, cider takes about two weeks to complete the fermentation process, and then it should sit for another week to allow the yeasts to completely settle.
Rack the cider into a sanitized vessel with no head space. Allow the cider to age in the vessel until it achieves the flavor you desire.
Add a wine fining agent (opt.). After aging is complete, you may need to add a wine fining agent to help clarify the liquid.
Bottle the cider. If you want a sparkling cider, add the proper amount of priming agent. If you prefer a still cider, add a small amount of sulfite to ensure the yeast doesn’t come back to life.
Most commonly, a white wine yeast or champagne yeast strand is added to hard cider, because it’s a vigorous agent and does a great job at preserving the apple flavors present in your cider. However, you can experiment with other types, like Nottingham ale yeast and mead yeast. You can purchase yeast online or from certain stores that carry brewing supplies.
Adding yeast to your juice is an important step, as it starts the fermentation process. As yeast is added, it consumes the sugars present in your liquid and transforms them into alcohol. So, the more sugar your brew has initially, the higher the alcohol content will be.
On average, most bottles of hard cider are 4.5% - 4.7% alcohol by volume (ABV), while some ciders have an ABV as high as 8.5%.
There are a few varieties of hard cider that appeal to individuals with various palettes. The different types of cider are defined by their level of sweetness, and most are available either still or carbonated.
Another way ciders differentiate from one another is by the fruit that’s used in their recipes. There is really no limit to what fruits you can use to make hard cider. While apples and pears are the most popular types of cider, you can use anything from plums and peaches to strawberries and pineapples.
While there are many delicious hard ciders, here are a handful of our favorites:
Luckily, hard cider is a pretty low-maintenance beverage and doesn’t have too many storage restrictions. However, there are some guidelines to follow to ensure you’re serving the freshest and most flavorful beverage possible.
Since hard cider is fermented, it doesn’t have to be refrigerated once it’s bottled or canned, but it will taste better for a longer period of time if it is stored cold at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to allow your cider to freeze, as this will kill the yeast and alter the flavor of your beverage. Also, most bottles and cans of cider can be stored upright or on their sides without affecting their flavor.
It’s common to serve bottles and cans of hard cider chilled to approximately 40 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to white wine. If it’s too cold, it’s hard for patrons to taste the diverse flavors. Alternatively, a cider that is served too warm can can be unappetizing for guests. It’s best for guests to consume their drink soon after it’s served, before it loses its carbonation.
If you’re putting hard cider on draft in your restaurant or bar, it’s very important to thoroughly clean out the tap line, because the delicate flavors can be altered if contaminated with another drink. Also, when making the decision to offer cider in your bar, it’s crucial to dedicate a specific tap line to this beverage only. Since it’s naturally gluten-free, it needs to have its own line separate from beer to prevent it from coming in contact with gluten, so customers with allergies can enjoy it.
Cider can be served in a variety of glass types, but the most proper glass for hard cider is actually a Bordeaux wine glass. Its bowl shape enables proper aeration, and the stem prevents the drinker's hand from warming up the drink. However, in less formal settings, like sport’s bars and pubs, it’s commonly offered in a cider glass or pint glass.
When pairing food and cider, ask yourself this one simple question: “What foods can I add apples to when cooking?” This will help you pair your fruity cider more easily. Foods like pork, chicken, butternut squash, and salads all pair very well with this beverage. Also, if serving an entree, pair it with a dryer cider, and if serving a dessert, pair it with a sweeter cider.
Now that you’ve learned all there is to know about hard cider, you can offer a side of your expertise with every order of this refreshing beverage in your bar or restaurant. Also, knowing these facts can help you choose a better cider for your bar’s demographic, which ultimately boosts your sales.