What Are Ciders and How Are They Different From Beer?
Anish Patel @ 2022-09-08 19:52:05 -0700
There’s a new alcoholic beverage winning over the hearts of health-conscious drinkers: cider. If you love beer but can’t with the gluten, or if you love an easygoing, fizzy summertime sipper, cider is a must-try for you.
While cider isn’t as popular as beer, the two are comparable and there are some major differences. And while cider has always been a drink of choice in countries like the United Kingdom and France, here in the U.S., we’re starting to pay attention to this crowd pleaser as a health-conscious alternative to our normal go-to alcoholic drinks.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find a cider or two offered at local breweries or bars that specialize in beer and wine. But what exactly is cider? And how is it different from beer? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know. Let’s take a look.
Cider is fermented apple juice.
You read that right—this is adult apple juice for the win. While the experience of drinking a cider may feel a lot like drinking a beer, the way it’s made is more similar to that of wine. Wine is made from fermented grapes, and cider is made from fermented apples. But it gets a little more involved than that—apples are categorized based on their sweet, bitter, acid, and sour qualities. Then, they’re fermented using specific production methods to achieve a desired flavor profile and mouthfeel.
Some are barrel-aged, and some are fermented in stainless steel. Some are filtered while others are left cloudy and au natural.
Cider is gluten-free.
Yup, all cider is gluten-free, and this may be the biggest reason why it’s enjoying a renaissance. As consumers become more interested in health-conscious food and drinks, gluten is a conversation that has a place at the table. While some people have serious gluten allergies, others opt out of gluten for a variety of reasons. And for beer lovers, that presents a problem, as beer is fermented from malted barley, and always contains gluten.
But apples? No gluten. And that means that cider is a perfect alternative.
Here’s how cider is made.
Now that we understand that cider is made by fermenting apples, let’s get into the details.
Apples that are grown specifically for cider use are harvested when they’re ripe to give the cider juicy, fruity flavors. The apples are then chopped and smashed, and the pulp is pressed to extract the juice. Now, it’s time to introduce yeast to initiate fermentation.
The yeast eats the sugars contained in the pulp and converts them to alcohol. Sometimes the cider is matured in barrels or stainless steel. Like wine, the aging process imparts new aromas and develops the complexity of the cider. The aging process can take a few weeks or over a year.
Sometimes, ciders are blended to achieve a consistent flavor profile. The cider-maker might filter the cider, or choose not to disturb the delicate aromas. And while some cider is made as a still beverage, the process of fermentation does release carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Natural cider winemakers will trap this CO2 before it escapes, leaving a slightly fizzy drink. Others will introduce CO2 to carbonate the beverages.
Cider production laws vary from country to country.
While there is a standard framework for making cider, there are many choices that the cider maker has to make depending on how they want the end product to taste. Just like in wine, there are laws and regulations governing exactly how ciders are made in different regions around the world.
Cider varies in alcohol from about 3% to 8.5%. How much sugar is present and how long fermentation goes on determines the final ABV (alcohol by volume). Lower alcohol levels are more traditional in France, while English ciders tend to be more alcoholic.
Let’s take a look at some of the major differences between English, French, Spanish, and American ciders.
Cider is a pretty big deal in France, and the apples grown must be designated for cider production only. The ciders of France tend to be very light and dry, sometimes with a touch of sweetness. You’ll find brut style which is dry with an ABV of 4.5%. Or you’ll find doux which is a little sweet with a lower ABV, around 3%.
The U.K. takes the cake for most cider production. 57% of the apples grown here are destined for cider. Alcohol levels vary greatly, and perry pear is permitted in addition to apples. The varieties grown here contain tannins which impart astringency and a structure to the cider. In the West Country region, bittersweet and bittersharp apples are used to create a style that is bone-dry and uncarbonated, with alcohol levels around 6%.
In East Anglia and Kent, sweeter apples are used to achieve a juicier flavor profile. The typical ABV of these ciders ranges from 7%-8.5%.
But Spain loves their cider, too. Here, apples are divided into 8 categories based on their bitter/sweet and acidic qualities. Spanish cider is very different from other styles in that it is more than often unfiltered, cloudy, and funky on the palate. In addition to tart fruit, you’ll find earthy and spicy notes. These ciders are at least 5% ABV.
You’ll find an immense variety of cider styles in the United States. As of 2015, pears are also permitted in cider production. You’ll find sweet, dry, hoppy, barrel-aged, filtered, and unfiltered American-made cider. And you’ll find alcohol levels that run the whole spectrum as well.
How else is cider different from beer?
Drinking a cider feels a lot like drinking a beer, but the two or more different than you think. The biggest difference is what they’re derived in: apples versus malted barley. But another major difference is their sugar content. Cider is a fairly sugary beverage compared to beer, which has zero sugar. This is an important distinction to make, especially if you’re looking for low-sugar options. Cider has around 23 grams of sugar per serving, but this varies a little depending on how the fermentation process goes.
Another difference is that cider has anti-oxidants. You may have heard this about wine, and it’s true for cider too. Cider has plenty of Vitamin C, polyphenols, and flavonoids. Some research suggests that these kinds of antioxidants protect against cancer and heart disease.
Ciders have been around forever.
You may have only just heard of them, but ciders have been around since roman times, perhaps even earlier. Celtic Britons were fermenting cider from crabapples. All over the world, fermented beverages like beer, wine, and cider became cultural pillars early on in human history.
Only England can say that their love of cider never faded. For countries like France and the United States, cultural and political shifts weren’t in favor of orchard management, and interest was lost for a while, only to return today. With the rise of health-conscious consumers and interest in gluten-free products, cider has found new popularity.
But even in the U.S., we’ve been making cider since 1620. In colonial America, even the kids partook in cider. Rural communities paid taxes with cider…can we go back to that?
Unfortunately, the growing love for cider lost momentum during the Industrial Revolution, when workers were directed out of the rural communities and toward the cities. And Prohibition certainly didn’t help things.
But now our cultural appreciation for recreational drinking is back. And with it, an interest to imbibe in healthier ways. For anyone looking for low alcohol, gluten-free options, cider is an excellent beverage to become a fan of.
Be a part of the cider revolution.
Now you know that ciders are an ancient beverage fermented from apples that range in flavors, colors, and ABV depending on where it’s made. If you weren’t a fan before, you probably are now. Cider is easy drinking, light, and fruity. What’s not to love?
Whatever you do, be sure to spread that love.
Looking for something fizzy and gluten-free to sip on? Try Tinto de Verano, a lightly sparkling red wine cocktail with lemon.