Cider Musings

Alcopops and Cider

There has been a change in the language. Cider once meant an alcoholic  drink fermented  from apples. Before the process was commercialised by Henry Bulmer and others in the early 20th C, cider needed no more definition. It was understood that cider was made from 100% seasonal cider apples and nothing else. However with the use of concentrates this has taken an industrial twist. Now cider can be fermented warm, in 2 weeks with a turbo yeast, every week of the year.

I know I am hot under the collar about this. Why? It’s not that  all ‘industrial ciders’ are bad. And certainly not all seasonal traditional 100% cider apple cider is good, some are terrible, depending on the skills of the cider maker. Firstly it’s a matter of taste for the consumer and secondly I think fairness. Fairness in the financial sense. Its costs a fraction to make an industrial cider of the costs of a traditional cider. This is driving some small traditional producers to the wall. And also in the financial sense cheap alcohol is not good. It encourages bad behaviours and the societal cost of alcohol harm is alarmingly high. And fairness to the consumer. The  industrial ciders available today tend to be bland and  sweet. Not as cider has been for centuries in England. And this leads to perverse results. Young cider drinkers often don’t like traditional ciders after their palettes have been ‘trained’ to expect the bland sweet version! Heineken has stated this is the very reason they have just grubbed up a large orchard of cider trees in England - because modern tastes have changed. see here

The Chicken and Egg. Train the expectation of the market and once embraced ditch the old more expensive supplies!

Concentrates were first used mid 20th C. Bulmers first used AJC ( Apple Juice Concentrate) in 1939. They imported it from France made from cider apples after a poor harvest in England. Despite Bulmers planting many hectares of orchards given the biennials in cider apples they often were short of apples and as early as 1919 were importing whole apples from Normandy on the famous cider trains.  At that stage they were still seasonal producers but this step opened up the market. Now Bulmers  and the other larger companies could make cider year round with a consistent supply of apple juice augmenting their own grown apples. Initially from bittersweet apples in France primarily produced  from regional specific cider fruit. However to more  aggressive companies this could be taken further. AJC from non cider apples, AJC from the cheapest supplier in the world with globalisation. And although Poland and EU are large producers of AJC, China is a massive producer, and not of cider varieties.

A major difference from a cider made from AJC as opposed to seasonal autumn pressed juice is its structure. As part of the concentration process, enzymes are added to the pulp after milling of the apples to break down pectins which would jam up machines, but alas it’s these pectins which offer the depth and body to traditional ciders. The AJC process typically involves heating the  juice 3 times  up to 190F and evaporating the water element away until there is about 15% of the original juice left.

So cider, for good reasons originally, has drifted away from its unstated origin of 100% seasonal cider apples. Legislators were slow, and together with the big cider players and their lobbyists, came up with some definitions, such as a minimum apple content of 35%. And as Britain is still the leading producer of cider, this definition has spread across Europe and the world. It’s the definition here in NZ. A pretty low bar! The French have a 50% apple content, Spain is the standout with these definitions - Natural cider: Addition of concentrated apple juice is forbidden in all categories, except for the tirage liquour and expedition liquour, in the case of sparkling natural cider;  and Extra cider & ice cider: The use of concentrated apple juice for extra cider and ice cider is prohibited. But AJC is allowed in the rest “cider” categories such as “Cider with flavourings”.

Why is this important? Because it’s the result of using AJC,  added sugar and  turbo yeasts that the true apple percentage can be very low. Imagine a wine made in a similar fashion year round from concentrate. Would the public accept it as wine? Would the regulators?

Which brings me to this Frankenstein cider I picked up at the supermarket recently in Wellington.  Common with other Nordic  ciders ( it calls itself a nordic cider) its first and therefore main ingredient is water. Rekorderlig a dominant Swedish brand also has water as the main ingredient and makes a virtue of this - “pure spring water from Vimmerby Sweden”. A curious concept, perhaps similar to the winers of the Hautes-Pyrénées claiming they share the pure and magic water of Lourdes! This cider is produced in Latvia a country known for some good natural springs ( although Cesu Alus does not specify it’s actually spring water)

The full list of ingredients are - water; apple wine; sugar syrup, fructose-glucose syrup; carbon dioxide; acidity regulator-citric acid; natural flavour; preservatives - potassium sorbet, potassium metabisulfite.

Aldara Laukums factory

All of those extra ingredients are necessary to replace everything that got stripped out during processing: water and sugar to rebalance the concentrate, natural flavour  to replace lost flavours and acids.  As an aside in traditional ciders malic acid is added by adding a sharp apple such as Bramley to the blend of mainly bitter sweet apples. This is part of the art of cider making rather than laboratory technique reaching for the industrial malic acid.

An interesting ingredient is apple wine (yes there is an ingredient in the cider called apple wine). The is no legal definition I can find, but its a term some industrial producers use to hide behind using AJC, sugars and a turbo yeast to produce a high % alcoholic cider ( which can be as high at 18%) and then cut it down with all that pure Scandinavian water! It’s a cheap method.

A further point to remember in this particular case its called a "pear taste" cider. Odd as pear is not mentioned in the ingredients at all! Perhaps it’s under natural flavours. On a more technical point citric acid has been added Citric acid is very low in apple juice but is about half that of magic acid in pear juice, perhaps adjusting the chemicals aids the ‘pear’ flavour?

As I hope you can see  these modern mass produced ciders are far from natural or traditional. And in my opinion should not be called cider but alcopops the older term for sweet fruit driven concoctions. But perhaps the term ‘cider’ has run its marketing range as now alcoholic spritzers and sodas are being marketed. Marketing drives the fashion.

At TeePee Cider we will continue to make seasonal ciders and berries from 100% organic fruit we grow so can control the process for quality.

I am not alone in voicing this. During research for  this article I came across this gem by Pete Brown beer and cider writer. see here