What is Cider?

Cider is a natural beverage produced from pressing and fermenting fruits such as apples, and it can be an alcoholic and non-alcoholic(apple cider) drink.
The resulting juice can be consumed as a beverage or used as the base material in vinegar making. It varies in color from pale yellow to dark amber, and the taste can be from tart to very sweet, depending on the type of fruit used.

One distinction needs to be made between using the word cider to describe the drink in North America and the rest of the world.
In North America, cider is usually associated with apple cider – unfiltered apple juice, and in other parts of the world, when ordering cider, you will be served an alcoholic beverage. The equivalent of an alcoholic cider in North America is hard cider.

Non-alcoholic cider is made by pasteurizing and stopping the fermentation process, thus not allowing any alcohol formation.
To make hard cider, the fermentation process is allowed to develop, which results in an alcoholic beverage.

The largest cider producer in the world by volume is England; some other places with significant cider production are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Canada, China, Finland, France (Normandy and Brittany), China, and the USA.

Cider alcohol content varies between 3% and 8.5%, but some ciders go up to 12% alcohol. It must contain at least 35% apple juice (fresh or from concentrate) in the UK. In the United States, there is a 50% minimum. In France, cider must be made solely from apples.

“An alcoholic beverage; fermented apple juice (in the UK may include no more than 25% pear juice). Dry cider has 2.6% sugars, 3.8% alcohol, and 110 kcal (460 kJ) per 300 mL.
Sweet cider has 4.3% sugars and supplies 125 kcal (525 kJ) per 300 mL.
Vintage cider has 7.3% sugars, 10.5% alcohol, and supplies 300 kcal (1260 kJ) per 300 mL (half pint).

A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition


Cider has been known to people for around 5000 years, as some archeological shreds of evidence shows.1

Cider was consumed not only in ancient Greece and the Roman empire; they were the masters in cider-making, but also in the Middle East. Some evidence suggests that since 3000 BC, the Celts in Britain were also using crab apples to make cider.

After the Roman invasion of Britain in 55AD-43AD, they introduced apple cultivars and orchard techniques to England.

1024px Drinking Horn with Silver gilt mounts
Drinking horn – The Hunt Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

By the sixth century, the people in Europe had become skillful brewers2 of apple cider making, and later somewhere around the X and XI centuries, we can see historical evidence of the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings drinking cider.

The Normans’ (North-man) invasion of France, Spain, and southern England brought advanced pressing techniques and introduced more acidic apples.
However, the real change was in the implementation of the pressing technologies, which allowed for a more efficient extraction of apple juice. 3

Originally the orchards were seedling orchards; the trees were grown from seeds, which resulted in a mix of new and new unknown apple varieties. All the apples in the orchard were collected and used to make cider, as some were too tart to eat.
To grow only the preferred apple of choice, they used the grafting technique, a method used by farmers since 50 BC, to graft popular apple cultivars onto the rootstock of another tree.

Apple producers started making clones of popular cultivars, which eventually gave different names to these apple varieties.
By the 1500s, there were sixty-five named different apples in Normandy, and some of the most used fruits in cider-making came from there. Normandy region became one of the largest cider-making areas in the world. Farmers experimented with different apples and manufacturing, which was great for developing new ciders but led to inconsistent tasting experiences.

There were two different styles of making cider: the English and the French method.
• English way. They were using open fermentation vats and bittersweet crab apples. The cider had a drier taste and higher alcoholic content.
• French way. They developed sweet, low alcoholic cider, taking advantage of the sweeter apples and the keeving process – making a naturally sweet sparkling cider style. 4

In America, cider was a popular drink from the 18th till the late 19th century. As the legend goes, one of the people credited for it was John Chapman – aka Johnny Appleseed, who was establishing nurseries from seeds and growing orchards in the mid-west.

Chapman moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois; he acquired land, planted orchards and nurseries, and sold them to incoming pioneers for a profit. Most of the apples produced were too tart to eat but were usually suitable for cider, which led to increased production.

Another reason for drinking cider was the quality of the drinking water, usually contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli. It was safer to drink alcoholic cider; even kids were drinking it. Especially for kids, they were making a special apple drink called Ciderkin, a weak alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace in water.
During Prohibition, cider production declined and didn’t recover much until the early 2000s, when some beer craft companies started producing and distributing cider on a larger scale.

Cider in Canada

Ile de Montreal
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The history of cider (hard cider) in Canada most likely began around the early 1600s; who exactly brought the cider making to the shores is unclear. Was it the British or the French?

We know from history that a few years after the French settlers founded Quebec -1608, around 1617, the first apple tree was planted by Louis Hebert, an apothecary from France. Most of the settlers were Normans who brought their cider-making traditions and set the beginning of orchard development in New France.
At around the same time, early 1600 – 1700s, French settlers in Nova Scotia were also planting apple trees, and settlers from Britain and Germany, known for their cider making, were also arriving, which helped establish the cider-making traditions.

In the mid to late 17th century, Canada’s earliest cidery was established on Mont-Royal in New France by Sulpician priests who planted an orchard and erected a cider mill. 5 In 1731, the orchards covered 90 arpents (76.0 acres) on the Island of Montreal, and some of the common cultivars at the time were the Calville blanc, Calville rouge, Famous, Reinette, and Bourassa.

Until the late 1800s, cider was of the most popular drinks, but with the advancement of beer making, it was slowly replaced as a go-to drink, and the cider industry as a whole came to a halt.
The Temperance movement and the Prohibition father put more pressure on cider-making but contributed to creating and producing non-alcoholic apple cider.
It took close to 100 years to recover the cider, mainly craft cider production. Here is the cider outlook projection by Euromonitor for selected markets.

Cider trend1
Historically and forecast, cider total retail volume sales in 000 liters in selected markets in 2013-2022
*CAGR: Compound annual growth rate

According to the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations, the definition of cider in Canada is “alcoholic cider is an alcoholic fermentation of apple juice that does not contain more than 13% absolute alcohol by volume (ABV) or less than 2.5% ABV.”

How Cider is Made

With time, the cider-making techniques were refined and standardized, the technology of cider production had improved, and people now understand the steps needed to take before it is ready to be shipped to retailers.

Raw Material

The most used material for making cider is apples; pears and cherries are also used, but not to the same extent. Choosing what types of apples are used determines to a great extent, the predominant flavor of the final product.

Ciders can be classified in different ways, but generally, they range from dry to sweet.
The preferred apple cultivars for dry cider making are the more acidic tart varieties, McIntosh, Pink Lady, and crab apples, and the sweeter ones are used in varieties like Fuji and Gala.
The most suitable ones are called cider apples, and the manufacturers predominately use them to make cider. Here are some examples of them.

Common nameOriginFirst developed
BaldwinWilmington, Massachusetts, USc. 1740
Brown SnoutHerefordshire, Englandc. 1850
DabinettSomerset, Englandlate 19th century
Dymock RedGloucestershire, England
Ellis BitterNewton St. Cyres, Devon, Englandc. 1850
Cider Apple Varieties

Classification of Apples for Cider Making

  1. Sweet: Low tannin, low acidity (Golden Delicious, Binet Rouge, Wickson)
  2. Sharp: Low tannin, higher acidity (Granny Smith, Brown’s, Golden Harvey)
  3. Bitter sharp: Higher tannin, higher (Kingston Black, Stoke Red, Foxwhelp)
  4. Bittersweet: Higher tannin, lower acidity (Royal Jersey, Dabinett, Muscadet de Dieppe)
  • In France, the cider varieties are classified into five groups:
  1. sweet (Clos-Renaux)
  2. Bittersweet (Bisquet)
  3. bitter (Cidor),
  4. acid (Judeline)
  5. Sour (Juliana)

Steps involved in cider-making

The main steps of the cider-making process – (CC by) license – 4.0

Harvest, “sweating,” washing, grinding, pressing, blending, testing, fermentation, racking off, filtering or fining, bottling, and storage.


apple harvest

The harvesting process usually occurs in the Fall season, but that depends on the location. Only good quality ripe apples are used, occasionally green for added acidity, and certainly not the rotten ones to be mixed with the good ones.
After harvesting, the product is brought to manufacturing facilities, undergoing sweating.

Sweating process

Apples are stored on a concrete or wooden platform for about a week to ten days until they soften up and are ready for grinding.
The reason for the sweating process is to:

-Increase sugar in the juice
-Makes the fruit easy to grind
-Allow full flavor to develop
Note: Some varieties, Rome Beauty and Newtown, don’t undergo this process; they can be pressed freshly picked.


Apples have to be washed really well. The purpose of washing is to remove dirt, harmful bacteria, and any chemicals being sprayed on. They go through the scrubber from the bins, onto a conveyor, and into a hopper filled with water for washing. After that, they are going back on a conveyor, sprayed again with water, and inspected. Any rotten apples that are not up to the producer’s standards, apples are removed.


Based on the type of cider being made, the apples are sorted and blended before undergoing the grinding and pressing process.
The blending stages can be done at any of the following steps:

1) Before grinding
2) Before fermentation – after pressing
3) After fermentation – blending at this step gives the greatest control over the quality of the finished cider.

A typical blend of apples might include approximately 50% sweet apples, 35% acidic apples, and 5% astringent apples. National Honey Board 2003).
The fruit should be ground to a fine pulp to extract the maximum juice. Apples may be ground whole, including cores and skin, to a fine pulp with the consistency of applesauce. This is done to ensure that the maximum amount of juice can be extracted from the apples. The finer the pulp, the greater the yield of juice.
Also, the grinding has the added benefit of reducing damage caused by oxidation.
The pulp is separated from the juice, and some of it is frozen for later use, if needed, to produce more cider.


Syracuse 1879 cider press
American agriculturist, 1879, Volume 38, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The pulp(pomace) is pressed in wooden forms lined with nylon to remove the juice. Based on the type of press used, the pulp may be dumped onto press cloths, which are folded over and built up in many layers within a series of racks. The applied hydrophilic force can deliver as much as 30,000 lbs of pressure.
As pressure is applied, the juice flows out. The time of pressing it varies; for instance, it can take overnight in-home settings.
The juice’s contact with the air triggers the oxidation process, which gives the cider a darker color.
The juice should not be exposed to air or insects but funneled into fermentation containers as soon as the pressing is over.

After this step in commercial production usually is recommended to add sulfur dioxide SO2 and 10% water. One of the reasons SO2 is added is to prevent the growth of contaminating microorganisms. It is also important to measure the pH level, which has to be lower than 3.8; if it is higher malic acid is added to reduce it.


Before cooling, the juice is run through a fine mesh to remove any small pulp particles. After that, the juice is moved through plastic pipes into cooling tanks, chilled to temperatures close to 0°C. The purpose of that is to remove any remaining harmful bacteria.


Sugar and acid levels are very important in cider. The amount of sugar in the juice will tell us the alcoholic strength of the final product. The acid level should drop as well.


The conversion of simple sugars characterizes the process of alcoholic fermentation into ethanol by yeasts.
Sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation; the higher the sugar levels in the juice, the higher the alcohol content. The acid level should drop during that process, but if the juice is contaminated with acetobacter, acetic acid (vinegar) is produced.

The amount of sugar and acidity level is also an essential part of how much it will be the alcohol content and acidity will be in the final product.
One major difference in cider fermentation occurs at a lower than usual temperature (4°-16°C), and the reason is to preserve the extraction of more delicate flavors, but at the same time, that leads to an increase in the length of the fermentation.

Depending on the manufacturer, the cider may be allowed to ferment in a large, sealed bulk tank or individual bottles.

Natural fermentation of cider takes can occur using wild yeast present in the must, or some producers choose to use cultures created by them.
It works because the yeast flora is “fed” by natural sugars, resulting in two by-products, alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO 2 ).
Fermentation slows and stops when sugar is no longer available for yeast.

“Since 1980s, use of active dried wine yeast has been widespread. The temperature is likely to be within the range 15–25°C, where temperature control is affected”(Bamforth, 2014).

Malolactic fermentation – MLF

Malolactic fermentation is a process through which malic acid is converted to lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria (LAB). The main impact of MLF on cider is likely to be seen in deacidification, as malic acid is a stronger acid than lactic acid, and the conversion will increase pH and change the perception of acidity.

The process can create other compounds and change the flavor or aroma of the cider; notably, MLF can produce diacetyl well above the taste threshold and other compounds that may not be above the taste or aroma threshold but together may increase perceived complexity.6

Apple-based juice may also be combined with fruit to make a fine cider; real fruit purees or flavorings can be added, like grape or cherry.
The cider is ready to drink after a three-month fermentation period, although the maturation process can last up to three years.
The second fermentation MLF (Malolactic fermentation), which converts malic acid to lactic acid, making it less acidic, can occur concurrently with yeast fermentation, but it is often delayed until a few months later.

Spontaneous Fermentation

Some areas of the world are seeing it make a comeback. Spontaneous fermentation of apple juice to cider is very easy. It can be done without any more effort than buying fresh-pressed, unpasteurized, and untreated (raw) apple juice and then forgetting about it for a few weeks or even months.

There are two options for this type of fermentation:

  1. This will typically take longer in the fridge, resulting in a sweeter end product with a more pronounced apple flavor.
  2. At room temperature – this would proceed much like any normal fermentation, and due to the unknown nature of the microbes contained within, it is likely to really dry out.

Wild Yeast Isolation

Check here for more information.

Keeving Fermentation

The traditional process is used in France for naturally carbonating a sweet cider.

See this video on how it is done.

The timing of removing the yeast from the fermentation process will determine the type of final product one is after.
Most UK manufacturers produce dry, high alcohol content ciders – 10-12%; in that case, all the yeast has been used.
Suppose the yeast has been removed halfway through the fermentation. In that case, it will result in lower alcohol content and more fermentable sugars than the hard cider made in the US, where the usual alcohol content is 5.5%.
Fermentation is dependent on the temperatures as well. The higher it is, the faster the fermentation will be.

Double fermented cider

Cider is initially fermented to a lower than typical alcohol content (e.g., 5%ABV) by restricting the total amount of sugar present. The liquor is racked off as soon as the cider is fermented to dry and either sterile-filtered or pasteurized before transferring to a second sterile fermentation vat.
Sugar and apple juice are added at that point of fermentation, and secondary fermentation is induced following inoculation with an alcohol-tolerant strain of saccharomyces spp. Such a process permits the development of very complex flavors in the cider.
B. Jarvis, in the Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), 2003

Chemical Reactions

The Chemistry of Cider 1

Alcoholic fermentation can be described as a three-step process:

Phosphorylation breaks glucose and fructose (six-carbon molecules) into phosphoglyceraldehyde (three-carbon molecule).

Phosphoglyceraldehyde (a three-carbon molecule) is transformed into carbon acetaldehyde and carbon dioxide (a source of CO 2 for fermentation) by decarboxylation.

Acetaldehyde is reduced to ethyl alcohol as an end product.

Racking off

After fermentation, racking is used to leave behind as much yeast as possible. Shortly before the fermentation consumes all the sugar, the liquor is “racked” (siphoned) into new vats, leaving dead yeast cells and other undesirable material at the bottom of the old vat. At this point, it becomes crucial to exclude airborne acetic bacteria.

Racking consists of removing the newly fermented cider from its lees. Using a clean plastic tube, the cider is drained off into the second fermenting tank or directly into bottles.


This step makes a cider crystal clear. It can be done by implementing these two methods:

  1. Using a closed filter system to avoid exposing the cider to air (risk of acetic bacteria contamination)
  2. Mix gelatin, bentonite, and a pectic enzyme into the cider.


First and foremost, the bottles need to be sterilized. For an “in-bottle fermentation,” a small amount of sugar may be added to each bottle. During Pasteurization, a small amount of sulfur is added to prevent the killing of the yeast after introducing the sugar.
The best ciders are made from 100% freshly pressed apple juice, fermented slowly for months, and then aged, often in oak barrels, for months, but that is not the case most of the time. In the UK, for example, the minimum amount of apple juice is 35% and in the US is 50%, the rest is water. Which one tastes better? I guess it is up to the consumers.


The bottles should be kept in a cool, dark storage place; they can also be held in the fridge but not in the freezer.

“Cider should best be served chilled — not warm, and not ice-cold.” If it’s too cold the flavor is masked. … You want it to be refreshing on a hot day, but if you do want to get the full flavor, a temperature of around 46–50°F is perfect.”

 Bradshaw and Brown: World’s Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir


Cider comes in various styles: still, naturally sparkling, bottle-fermented, method champenoise, carbonated, dry, medium, sweet, ice cider, cider brandy, acidic, tannic, and wild yeast fermentation.

Vintage and Single Cultivar Ciders

Vintage ciders are made only from fresh juice from a named year. Some vintage and other ciders are made from a single apple cultivar’s juice.

Modern Cider7

Modern ciders are generally made primarily from culinary or table apples. Compared to other Standard styles, these ciders are usually lower in tannin and higher in acidity.

  • Dry ciders will be more wine-like with some esters.
  • The flavor of the Sweet or Low-alcohol ciders may have an apple aroma and flavor.
  • Sugar and acidity should combine to give a refreshing character.
  • Acidity is medium to high, refreshing, but must not be harsh.
  • Color is brilliant, pale to gold in color.

Heritage Cider

Heritage Ciders are made primarily from multi-use or cider-specific bittersweet/bitter, sharp apples, with wild or crab apples sometimes used for acidity/tannin balance.

These ciders will generally be higher in tannin than Modern Ciders. These ciders will generally lack the malolactic fermentation (MLF) flavor notes often found in Traditional Ciders from England or France.

  • Aroma/Flavor: Sweet or low-alcohol ciders may have an apple aroma and flavor.
  • Dry ciders will be more wine-like with some esters.
  • Sugar and acidity should combine to give a refreshing character.
  • Acidity is medium to high, refreshing, but must not be harsh.
  • Appearance: Clear to brilliant, yellow to gold in color.

Traditional Cider – England and France

Most ciders made in England are dry, using malolactic fermentation (MLF), which produces desirable spicy/smoky and farmer characters.
The one made in France is sweet with typically sweet and balanced tannin levels, made from the traditional apple varieties.
Medium to sweet, full-bodied, and rich. Carbonation is moderate to champagne-like.

Sour Cider

Sour ciders include those produced in Northern Spain (notably Asturias and the Basque Country).
Aroma: Ciders from Asturias typically have fresh citric and floral aromas.
They have a unique traditional serving method.

The bottle is held in one hand, with the arm reaching as high as possible. The glass is held, at an angle, in the other hand, with the arm stretched down as low as possible. The cider is carefully poured so that a thin stream of liquid drops from a height into the tip of the glass. Only a small amount of cider is poured, just enough to consume in a mouthful or two. The aim is to release carbon dioxide in the cider and to volatilize part of the acetic acid.

Fruit Cider

Fruit cider is a cider with other fruits or fruit juices added – including berry, quince, rhubarb, and pumpkin.

Hopped Cider

Hopped Ciders are ciders with added hops.

Spiced Cider

Spiced cider is a cider with any combination of added spices, such as “apple pie” (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice).

Wood-Aged Cider

Wood fermented or wood-aged ciders in which the wood/barrel character, or the liquid previously stored in the barrel, is a notable part of the overall flavor profile. Tubes, chips, spirals, staves, and other alternatives may be used in place of barrels.

Ice Cider

Ice Cider is a style that originated in Quebec in the 1990s. Juice is concentrated before fermentation, either by freezing the fruit before pressing it or freezing the liquid and then removing water as it thaws. The fermentation stops or is arrested before the cider reaches dryness. No additives are permitted in this style; in particular, sweeteners may not be used to increase gravity.

It differs from an apple wine cider in that the ice cider process increases the sugar (hence alcohol), acidity, and all fruit flavor components proportionately.

Sparkling Ciders

Sparkling cider is generally carbonated to a 3.5–4 bar pressure level. Such products are filled into ‘champagne-style bottles with wired closures.
The product is usually sterile-filtered before bottling. Traditionally, sparkling cider received a secondary ‘in-bottle’ yeast fermentation (méthode champanoise), but such processing is rarely seen nowadays.
A process used sometimes is that of cuvée close. Secondary yeast fermentation is done within a sealed tank, developing natural carbonation in the cider before bottling.
Under EU legislation, it is illegal to refer to sparkling ciders as ‘champagne cider.’

White Cider

White cider is prepared by fermenting decolorized apple juice. The fermented cider is decolorized by treatment with activated charcoal or other suitable decolorizing agents (e.g., PVPP) before final blending. The term ‘white’ merely indicates that the product has little or no color.

De-alcoholized and Low-Alcohol Ciders8

De-alcoholized ciders – are prepared by removing the alcohol from the strong cider, using thermal evaporation, reverse osmosis, or other suitable technology to give a product with alcohol content not above 0.5% abv. De-alcoholized cider lacks body and flavor and is not sold commercially.

Low-alcohol cider (< 1.2% abv)

Low-alcohol cider is prepared either using a stopped fermentation or by fortifying de-alcoholized cider with apple juice or other ingredients to provide a product with a flavor and aroma close to regular alcoholic cider.

Organic cider

In Europe, some cider makers offer cider made only from fruit grown following EU Regulations governing organic horticultural practices.
The fruit is pressed separately from non-organic fruit, and it can be treated only with gaseous sulfur dioxide. Other ingredients included in the product must also conform with current legislation on organic products.

Modern Perry

Modern Perry is made from culinary/table pears. It tends toward that of a young white wine.

Traditional Perry

Traditional Perry is made from pears grown specifically for that purpose rather than for eating or cooking.

Apple cider – Non-Alcoholic

Cider and apple juice
image by Rmhermen 
CC BY-SA 3.0
apple cider (left) and apple juice
unfiltered and filtered-pasteurized

Apple cider is a name used in the United States for an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic beverage made from apples.
In Canada, apple cider refers to the non-alcoholic version, and cider for the alcoholic one.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, there is no apparent difference between apple juice and apple cider.

“apple juice and apple cider are both fruit beverages made from apples, but there is a difference between the two. Fresh cider is raw apple juice that has not undergone a filtration process to remove coarse particles from pulp or sediment. Apple juice is the juice that has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized so that it will stay fresh longer. Vacuum sealing and a
additional filtering extends the shelf life of the juice.”

Canada recognizes unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice as cider, fresh or not.


Homemade recipe – Cider (French Traditional Recipe FOR 1 L)

6 kg ripped apples
0.2 L water
200 g + 1.1 kg sugar
1 kg yeast nutrient
Chop the apples and boil them in water with 200 g sugar and the yeast nutrient added. After cooling, press, and in the obtained juice, add gradually (during 2–3 days) 1.1 kg of sugar in three doses and allow for fermentation. After starting to clarify, under sulfating, rack the wine and bottle.

French countryside recipe from Science Direct – 4.5.1 Apple Wine (Cider)

Cider Cup

Cup is a part of the drink families; it originated around the mid-1800s. It is usually made with spirits, wine, cordial or vermouth, fruits, and sugar. There are many recipes for Cider Cup; some are for individual drinks, others for larger parties.
This particular recipe is from John Applegreen’s book “Barkeeper’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks” – revised edition, p30, 1904

Use a large glass pitcher into which to put
1 lemon, sliced
1 orange
2 pieces cucumber rind
1 pony brandy
I pony a white Curacao
1 1/2 quart champagne cider or sweet cider as preferred
The juice of one lemon
1 large piece of ice.
Stir well and decorate with a small bunch of green mint. Serve in medium sized tumblers.


  1. DAVID A. BENDER “cider .” Dictionary of Food and Nutrition
  2. %20shows%20that%20ancient,factors%20that%20impact%20cider%20flavor Cider.
  4. Origins
  5. Thecanadianencyclopedia.
  6. CiderMalolactic_Fermentation
  7. Winecompetitions
  8.,cider%20goes%20to%2012%25%20alcohol ScienceDirect.

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