What is Cider?

There is a misconception in Germany that English Cider is always fruity and fizzy. Or that French Cidre is weak and sweet. Or that German Apfelwein is still, sour and sulphuric. Cider, Cidre, Apfelwein and the Spanish Sidra are all aspects of the same thing: a refreshing drink with a long heritage, made from fermented apple juice.

While it is true that most of the large English cider producers make a product that is fruity and fizzy, and that French cider from bigger commercial producers sold in German supermarkets tends to be lower in alcohol and very sweet, like with any artisanal product (and beer would be a good example), there are many variations of the tradition in each country. There are ciders from both of these countries that are dry as a bone, and completely without carbonation. Sometimes they are extremely tannic, or exhibit a rich, often challenging earthiness, due to the action of wild microbes and long maturation times. Sometimes the tannins have reacted to the fermentation process and have produced heavy phenols that reminds you of drinking a peaty Scotch whisky. Sometimes they are highly acidic, like Eastern English style or Sidra, stripping the enamel off your teeth. But all good quality ciders share one thing: they are made from 100% pure juice, and they need time. Lots of time. The variety of flavours is huge, and that variance is one of the great joys of exploring the world of cider.

The main differences between the cider traditions of all of these countries are the types of apples traditionally grown there. In England and France, a cider apple is usually (but not always) rich in tannins and sugars, whereas in Germany a good “Mostapfel” will have very high acid content, and high sugars. Tannic apples are practically unknown here, whereas a “Mostbirne” everyone will know as being so rich in tannins, you can barely get past the way they dry out your mouth and leave you with a furry feeling on your tongue.

Coming from Ireland, and having lived in Germany since 2008, I like to think I have a little perspective on both worlds, and we try to make our ciders cross these divides. Without the right resources this can be difficult, but we are starting a programme to plant traditional, and rare, English and French cider apple types, to blend with our existing typical German varieties and try and bring these aspects together.

A selection of fine English cider.