What is Hard Cider?

What is Hard Cider?

Cider, apple cider, soft cider, and hard cider are terms that can often be confusing because their use varies by region or context.  Additionally, there are lots of closely related beverages which are sometimes hard to differentiate from hard cider.  So what is hard cider anyway, and how does it impact our goal of making hard cider?

United States vs. Rest of the World

The understanding and definition of hard cider varies through the world.

In the United States:

  • Apple juice:  Non-alcoholic drink made from apples, typically filtered and sometimes sweetened.
  • Cider, apple cider, or soft cider: Non-alcoholic beverage made from apples, typically unfiltered and unsweetened.  For more information, check out the article on the difference between apple juice and apple cider.
  • Hard cider: An alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice of apples.

And in most of the rest of the World:

  • Apple juice: Non-alcoholic drink made by crushing fruit, typically apples.  Comes in clear, cloudy, still and sparkling.
  • Cider: An alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice of apples.

For the remainder of the article, and throughout my site, I will use the term hard cider.  If you are from outside the United States and believe it is simply called cider, I apologize.

Beverages Related to Hard Cider

Ok, so now that you know a bit about ‘what is hard cider’, let’s look at some other beverages that are like hard cider, but are different enough to have their own name and category.  

As you will see, there is a lot of gray area as there is overlap in some terms and concepts.  Some of what comes next is my opinion, but I believe it to be generally accepted by most of the homebrewing community.

wine glasses

Apple Wine

Apple wine is very closely related to hard cider; so much so that it’s hard to clearly differentiate between them.  Generally, the biggest difference between hard cider and apple wine is the alcohol content. 

Hard Cider is typically in the range of 4-6% ABV whereas apple wine is in a higher range of 8-14%.  Is there some magic number where a hard cider becomes an apple wine?  No.  Do I believe someone who tells me they made a ‘hard cider’ with 12% alcohol?  No, they made an apple wine.

Generally, I consider 8% to be a reasonable cutoff point.  Anything higher than that, and I have a tough time calling it a cider.

Cyser (Apple Mead)

Before understanding what cyser is, you need to know what mead is.  Mead is a variation of wine that uses honey as the source of sugar.  It’s typically made by combining honey, water, and some other flavorings (typically fruits or spices), then fermenting it by adding yeast.  Cyser is that same thing, but using apple cider (or juice) instead of water.

So, cyser is mead that uses apple juice instead of water.

Again, the lines aren’t always crystal clear between hard cider and cyser.  If you add 3 pounds of honey to a gallon of apple juice and ferment, that is clearly cyser.  If you don’t use any honey at all, that is clearly hard cider.  But what about adding ¼ cup of honey during primary fermentation or perhaps using honey as the source of bottling sugar for carbonation.  Typically, I would still call that a hard cider, but you can see how it becomes less clear the more honey you use. 

If you insist on a clear line, I would say that using less than a cup of honey per gallon and staying under the 8% ABV remains in the hard cider category, anything above is a mead or cyser.

Perry (Pear Cider)

Perry (or pear cider as some people call it) is very closely related to hard cider, and complicates our journey for determining ‘what is hard cider’.  Essentially, perry is hard cider that uses pears instead of apples.  So, swapping pears for apples in the definition at the top of the page would mean perry is “An alcoholic beverage made by fermenting the juice of pears”.

It is a common practice to use a combination of pear and apple juices (often due to the cost or availability of pear juice).  Many of the commercially available ‘pear ciders’ use apple juice in them (read the label and it will say).  Most in the homebrewing community (myself included) would say that perry should be all (or nearly all) pear juice.  Apple juice in a perry would be considered a ‘filler’ that detracts from the product. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with fermenting a beverage with half apple juice and half pear juice, it’s just that I would call that beverage a pear-flavored hard cider and not perry (or pear cider).

Flavored Hard Cider vs. Wine

If you ferment apple juice, it is called hard cider.  If you ferment pear juice, it is called perry.  If you ferment grape juice, it is called wine.  But what is it called if you ferment another type of juice, such as raspberry, pineapple, peach, watermelon, etc?  Is that called pineapple cider, or pineapple wine?

2 camps:

  • Cider ‘purists’: An extremist in this group would say that if it has a single drop of any fruit other than apples, it can not be called hard cider.  I haven’t come across too many people that are this extreme, but those that are will let everyone know about it. 🙂
  • The others: If apple plays a significant role (50%+), then it still falls in the cider camp.

I don’t know that anyone would call a beverage made from 100% fermented pineapple juice a cider.  Just understand that the less apple you use (in favor of a different type of juice), the more you are venturing into the wine territory and away from the cider territory.

brandy

Apple Jack (Apple Brandy)

Apple Jack is beverage that is made by making hard cider, then distilling it to increase the alcohol content into an apple brandy.  I don’t go into this on the site, because distilling at home without proper permits and licenses is illegal.  Generally, it is distilled through a process called ‘freeze distillation’, which involves freezing the hard cider, then removing the ice (since the water will freeze, leaving the concentrated alcohol behind).

Ice Cider

Ice cider is the apple equivalent to ice wine.  It is made in one of 2 ways:

  • Make ‘soft’ cider (non-alcoholic), then freeze it and remove the ice to concentrate the sugar in the remaining liquid.  Fermenting the concentrate will result in a higher alcohol content.
  • Leave the apples on the trees into winter, where the cold weather naturally concentrates the sugars.  Then harvest and use to make hard cider.  Again, there is a higher sugar content, which will result in a higher alcohol content.

Conclusion

Determining ‘what is hard cider’ may seem like a simple thing once you can get over the differences between the terminology used in the United States and the rest of the world.  However, it becomes clear that there is lots of overlap between hard cider and some other related fermented beverage. 

My thought: WHO CARES!!  If you want to combine apple, pineapple, and cranberry juice and ferment that, who cares what it’s called.  Want to ferment Pog?  Awesome!  People may debate what to call things, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. 

And if anyone has a suggestion for what to call fermented Pog, send me a message in the contact page!!  😊

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Fruity Cider: Enhance Cider with Fruit Additions

Fruity Cider:
Enhance Your Cider with Fruit

Using fruit other than apples in hard cider is common and adds great additional flavor.  Some of the more common fruit selections are pear, cherry, peach and pineapple.  Other options include mixed berries, blueberry, mango, blackberry.  However, there is nothing stopping you from using other options, or mixing them to find a great combination.

This page will give a general overview for how to use fruit in making hard cider.

Fruity Cider

Forms of Fruit to Use in Hard Cider

Depending on the fruit, it may be available in standard grocery stores year-round, or you may have to get more creative or be more patient to get what you want.  In general, the commonly used options are:

Fresh Fruit

Using fresh fruit is a popular option.  It could be store-bought or bought from a fruit stand or farmers market.  Of course, you could also use fruit you have grown yourself.  Many people are most interested in a specific fruit because they may have easy access to an abundance of it.

The downside to using fresh fruit is that it may not be available year-round and could be expensive if purchased in high quantities.  Using fresh fruit does require you to pasteurize it (see below).  Fresh fruit can be used whole, pureed, or juiced.

Frozen Fruit

There are a wide variety of frozen fruits available year-round.  Many grocery stores stock these and many consumers use them for smoothies or thaw and used in standard recipes.  This option allows you to store it for longer, buy it year-round, and doesn’t require pasteurization.  For best results, freeze and thaw the fruit several times before using to help release the juice from the pulp.

Syrups/Pie Mix

Syrups or canned pie mixes can also make a great option.  Typically, these are very high in sugar and have a very strong fruit taste making them perfect for flavoring a hard cider.  Although you may not be able to find all types of fruit in this format, if you do, it will likely be very affordable.

Canned Fruit

While not the best option, you can also use canned fruits to flavor hard cider.  They are sometimes the easiest option as they are cheaper and more readily available and many of the other options.  If used, you should consider whether to use the liquid the fruit is packed in.   If it’s packed in water or light syrup, it could dilute the sugars and you might want to leave it out.

Frozen Juice Concentrate

Frozen concentrate can be a great option, because you don’t have to add a lot of water to get the fruit flavoring and sugar.  However, be sure that you are using a product that would be 100% juice if reconstituted.  Otherwise, you will get the sugar content, but not much fruit flavor.

Concentrated Artificial Flavoring

Concentrated artificial flavorings are relatively common in all types of homebrewing and you can often find them in a variety of flavors at a homebrew store.  You’ll want to add these just before bottling.  They usually are not fermentable, so they won’t convert to alcohol.  

Brewer’s Best offers 51 flavors on Amazon!  Some of the more common ones are Apple, pear, peach, pineapple… but you could get more creative and go for a combination like watermelon/pomegranate!

Fruit Juice

Whether purchased or homemade, fruit juice is another popular choice when making hard cider.  Some types of juice are readily available in grocery stores, albeit some in small quantities and high prices.

When to Add Fruit to Hard Cider

Generally speaking, there are 3 different options for when to add fruit in the process of making hard cider.

Note: If you don’t know some of these terms or concepts, head over to the guide to making hard cider to learn or for a refresher.

Add to Primary Fermentation

The first option of when to add the fruit is during primary fermentation.  In general, doing this will not result in a strong fruit taste in the hard cider because primary fermentation will ferment most of the sugar from the fruit.  

If you do want to add fruit to primary fermentation, be sure to keep fermentation temperatures on the lower side of what the yeast allows (typically 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit).  Also, you should consider adding additional fruit to secondary fermentation.

Add to Secondary Fermentation

Secondary fermentation is much less vigorous and a period where flavors are mellowing.  This is a great time to add fruit in any form.  While the yeast will still ferment the added sugars, it does so slower and less aggressively, leaving more of the fruit flavor behind.  Adding fruit in secondary is a very common option for cider makers.

Add After Killing Yeast

The last option is to add the fruit after stabilizing the hard cider by killing the yeast (either with Campden + Sorbate or cold crashing).  Adding the fruit at this point needs to be in liquid form (juice or concentrate).  The added sugar will not ferment, so this option results in a much stronger fruit flavor, and that added sugar makes the hard cider sweeter as well.

Sanitizing the Fruit

Most people agree that fresh fruit needs to be sanitized prior to using (just as fresh pressed hard cider does).  There are two common approaches.  Both involve starting by boiling a small amount of water and submerging the fruit.  Then either:

  • Crush one campden tablet for every gallon of juice, mix in and wait 24 hours.
  • Heat the mixture to 140 degrees and hold for 20 minutes.  Some people don’t like this approach as it can ‘set the pectin’, resulting in a hazy cider.

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Best Beer Brewing Blogs

Best Beer Brewing Blogs

While there are a lot of resources available for learning how to brew beer at home, there are few that I find the most helpful.  Have a look at four of the best brewing blogs out there, each run by very knowledgeable and passionate homebrewers.

The only thing more impressive than Josh’s beer brewing credentials is his ability to write knowledgeable and engaging posts on many aspects of the beer brewing process.  Beer Simple is all about “simple tips for brewing, drinking and sharing beer, without the nonsense”.  The blog is separated into a section on brewing and a section on beer culture, with a great archive that shows all the posts since the blog started in 2015.

Josh is obviously very passionate, knowledgeable and skilled in making beer, and the homebrew community is lucky to have him share his experience via the blog.  Give his blog a read where simple doesn’t mean ‘basic’ or ‘compromised’, but a “return to the essential simplicity and joy of beer and brewing”

Mike and John are just a couple of Brew Dudes, who happen to author a detailed blog fueled by their passion for homebrew.  The site is filled with hundreds of posts, and among the most popular these posts on primary fermentation and secondary fermentation.  You could also take a peek at their great beer recipe page for tons of great beer recipes.  If you need a break from reading, check out their Youtube channel for a more visual take on their content.

These guys really know what they are talking about and it’s always great to read or watch what they are up to!

 

Brulosophy is a brewing blog run in partnership with the American Homebrew Association that believes “they who drink beer will think beer”.  With content written by a group of contributors, the blog covers a variety of brew related topics.  Many of the posts are very detailed and provide a lot of great information to their readers.  The site even has a brewing podcast.  For more information, head on over to the Brulosophy Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/brulosophy).

One of the differentiating factors for this blog (other than the larger number of contributors) is their long and detailed list of methods.  There are detailed pages with lots of pictures on many phases of the brewing process, including fermentation, kegging, and cleaning (to name a few).

The Mad Fermentationist (aka Michael Tonsmeire) has a very long and detailed set of posts and recipes that span more than a decade!  This precision and detail not only affirm his title of ‘mad fermentationist’ but also give his readers all they need to brew great beer.  Michael has a brewery called Sapwood Cellars and is the author of the book American Sour Beers.  If you are just starting out, starting with his blog post on the most common mistakes a new homebrewer makes is a great place to start.

In a space where a lot of people and sites come and go, Michael has been brewing beer and writing about it for a long time.  In addition to his book, he has published many articles in Brew Your Own Magazine and has over 600 blog posts on his website!  Have a look for yourself and see what makes this fermentationist so mad!

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Difference between Apple Juice and Apple Cider

Apple Cider vs Apple Juice

What is the difference between Apple Juice and Apple Cider? Is there a difference? Which should you use to make hard cider? If you saw these two cartons in the store, would you know which was juice and which was cider?

When it comes to exploring the difference between apple juice and apple cider, there is a big difference between perception and reality:

Perception:

  • Apple Cider: When many people think of apple cider, they reminisce of the good old days of using a cider press to juice fresh apples with family and friends.  Or, maybe it’s stopping at a roadside fruit stand to pick up a gallon of cider.  Whatever the circumstances, the result is a very cloudy, unpasteurized, typically very sweet, and nothing short of the nectar of the gods.
  • Apple Juice: By contrast, most people would describe apple juice as purchased from a store, very clear, pasteurized, with a taste that is much milder than fresh pressed apples.

Many sources, including published articles (here and here for example) say that these perceptions translate into how cider and juice are labelled and marketed.  

One of the very few formal definitions of juice and cider comes from the website of the State of Massachusetts.  Their descriptions match closely with the perceptions listed above, mostly focusing on the degree of filtration.  It is unclear whether these descriptions are rules that manufacturers and retailers need to follow in their labeling.

 

Reality:

The reality is, there are very few ‘rules’ in place regarding labeling apple juice vs apple cider.  This has led to a wide range of uses of the terms for very different looking products.  Many companies use the term cider or juice solely to influence the marketing and branding, having little or nothing to do with the actual contents.

Regarding pasteurization, in the United States, the FDA does not require that juice be pasteurized to be sold in stores.  However, almost all juice and cider in stores will be pasteurized.

Did you guess that the clear bottle is labelled cider, and the cloudy one is labelled juice?  Me neither!

So… Which Should You Buy to Make Hard Cider?

Since the labeling doesn’t mean much, you’ll need to rely on specific qualities of the product to make your selection.  

See my detailed explanation of how to pick store-bought apple juice to make hard cider for complete details of what characteristics to look for.

In general, you’ll want to pick the least filtered product you can find.  It will either be very cloudy (little bits of apple in suspension in the juice) or have lots of sediment (apple bits are not suspended).  

Additionally, products using multiple apple varieties tend to produce better overall flavors.  

These types of juices and ciders are often more expensive than the totally clear ones, so balance your available budget with how badly you want a high-quality end product.

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