It’s common knowledge that American and UK English vocabulary doesn’t always match up: from ‘elevator’ versus ‘lift’ to ‘pants’ versus ‘trousers’, the two languages have always had a potayto-potahto relationship. One such difference is in their definition of apple cider.
In most countries, apple cider is an alcoholic drink made from fermented apples. But in the United States and Canada, apple cider is an unfiltered, non-alcoholic apple beverage. The alcoholic apple drink is known as ‘hard’ cider.
The good news is, both use apples. The even better news is, there’s no need to call anything off. In this article, we’ll look at how apple cider is made in both senses. So that includes how they produce hard cider and how apple cider is manufactured in a non-alcoholic sense.
One area where hard and soft cider share common ground is in the orchard. The manufacture of both begins with harvesting apples. This is when they are at their ripest, typically in late September or early October.
However, the types of apples used for hard and soft cider are different. Hard cider apples tend to be specifically grown for that purpose. In fact, they’re called cider apples and, in their natural form, they taste dry and bitter. The reason they’re used is that alcoholic cider requires apples to have high sugar levels and tannins, both of which help with the fermentation process.
Soft cider uses apples more familiar to fruit bowls, although they can be sweet or tart. And both types of cider can be made with a mix of apples.
Whatever the types of apples used, they are processed quickly so as to maximise freshness.
Washing and Sorting
The next step is to sort and quality check the apples, sifting out rotten ones. They are then washed to ensure they are free of any extraneous dirt or materials, not to mention pests.
This washing is done in several stages, the first of which is immersing the fruit in large vats of water. The apples naturally float to the top and are then pulled onto a conveyor which transports them into the cider mill.
Once inside, the apples are rolled along moving brushes as they are sprayed with more water.
The clean apples are fed whole into a commercial grinder, which pulverises entire batches at a time. It uses a steel arm to press them against a grater, shredding and pitting them until they become a chunky pulp or ‘pomace’. This is then funnelled into pipes to transport it to the press.
At the press, the apple pomace travels between two rollers which squeeze out the juice. The material of the rollers is porous and acts as a sieve, allowing the juice to drip through. Most, but not all, of the pulp, is squeezed out, and the pressed juice is moved to large catch pans.
With some pulp and other material still to be removed, the juice is pumped into an industrial strainer. Here, a perforated rotating drum filters out any remnants of pulp, pits and stems. The holes in the drum allow the cider through, but not the solid particles.
Until now, the manufacturing process has been the same for both types of cider. It’s at this point that the processes part ways.
After one more screening, only fine bits of apple and sediment are left and this gives the drink the right consistency and palate. The next step is pasteurisation.
Pasteurising involves warming the cider to a certain temperature for a particular amount of time to kill any damaging bacteria that might be present. Some believe that pasteurising cider can affect the flavour and quality of the final drink. Some cider makers therefore choose to not pasteurise their cider, opting for other methods of ensuring its safety, such as adding sulphites.
Generally though, cider mills use a flash pasteurisation process, which consists of heating the cider to about 77 degrees Celsius for a short length of time.
For this, the cider travels into channels between hot steel plates; the heat kills disease-causing bacteria and microbes that would turn the natural sugars to alcohol. This makes sure that the cider is both safe to drink and non-alcoholic. Once the cider has been pasteurised, it can be bottled.
Alcoholic or Hard Apple Cider
Fermentation is how they produce hard cider. It’s the process of using yeast to convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. For this, the apple cider is placed in vats to which yeast is added. There are various types of yeast, each of which can produce different flavours. The cider itself already contains yeast, but the results of relying on this are less predictable and slower than yeast engineered or chosen for the purpose. The yeast might take around a week to turn the apple cider into hard apple cider.
The cider produced is now alcoholic, but young. It needs time to develop more complex flavours. For this, it’s allowed time to sit and mature. This might take weeks or months.
Different ciders may be blended together to achieve just the right flavour.
For a clear cider, it must undergo another round of filtering to remove any residual sediment.
With the cider made, it’s time for packaging. Whether it’s in bottles, jugs or cans, this is usually an automated process. The bottles or other packaging travel under nozzles which pump in the apple cider. They’re filled to the brim so air can’t enter, as air causes the cider to spoil.
And that’s how apple cider is made. We’ve answered the question “how is apple cider produced” not once, but twice, looking at how apple cider is manufactured both as a type of juice and how they produce hard cider. So, whether you say ‘courgette’ or ‘zucchini’, we have you covered.