Cider & Perry FAQs

Why does an apple taste sweet yet cider is naturally dry?

To make cider the apples are milled, i.e. reduced to small pieces, and then pressed to release the juice. Using the natural yeast, which covers the apple skin (or introduced yeast) and the sugars contained within the juice, fermentation takes place. Once fermentation is completed the sweet sugars have been converted into alcohol leaving a dry product. Cider can then be sweetened by using unfermented apple juice or artificial sweeteners.

Which apples are best for making cider?

The apples, which we eat as dessert fruit, are very different from the specialist fruit, which is usually used to make cider. There are over 600 types of apples grown in The British Isles and each one has a unique balance of sweetness, acidity & tannins. Of these it is estimated three quarters are cider apples. It is the three components of sweetness, acid & tannins, which give the cider its range & depth of flavour. In the majority of cider making areas specialist cider apples are used, in Kent dessert apples balanced with the acidity of cookers are used.

What's special about a cider apple?

Cider apples are usually more closely related to the wild crab apple than to eating or cooking apples as they are smaller, harder & lack the unblemished attractiveness of eaters or cookers. If you tried to eat a cider apple you would discover its main difference from eaters or cookers is its tannin level. Tannin is responsible for the fruits astringency, making the fruit taste bitter and drying the mouth & making it difficult to swallow.

How do you know which apples to use?

Cider apples are classified by their balance of acid & tannin according to four categories:-

  • Bittersweets, low acidity, high tannin
  • Sweets, low acidity, low tannin
  • Sharps, high acidity, low tannin
  • Bittersharps, high acidity, high tannin

Cider Makers use a closely guarded mix of apples at pressing to create their own blend of cider, which is why if you try one that is not totally to your taste another cider may suit you better. Today the consumer tends to prefer sweeter, smoother less acidic ciders so Cider Makers tend not to favour bittersharp apples with their intense astringency and high acid content. Planning how the cider will taste starts with the planting of orchards where a number of different varieties of tree are planted together. This means that all the apples can be harvested and processed at the same time to make an outstanding product.

What are single variety ciders or perrys?

Increasingly Makers are using single varieties of fruit to produce a single variety of cider, examples of this are:-

  • Kingston Black a medium bittersweet apple which produces a full bodied spicy cider
  • Dabinett a full bittersweet apple that produces a full-bodied cider with soft tannin
  • Yarlington Mill a mild bittersweet apple that produces a good bodied fruity cider with soft tannin

Where a cider or perry label has the name of a fruit this is a single variety. Recent winners of Camra's National Cider & Perry Championships, which have been single varieties include:-

  • Hecks Hendri Huffcap Perry Gold 2001
  • Minchew Blakely Red Perry Gold 2002
  • Gwatkin Yarlington Mill Cider Gold 2002
  • Hecks Hangdown Cider Bronze 2003

Is there anything or anywhere special needed to ferment cider or perry?

Once pressed the juice of apples or perry pears are placed in wooden vats or food grade containers and fitted with an airlock. These are then usually placed in a barn or cellar and allowed to ferment. Fermentation usually is completed by the spring of the following year. This means the cider & perry which we drink this year is last year's crop of fruit.

How is the fruit harvested?

With traditional orchards the fruit has ripened by September & long ash poles (which can be 40 foot long for perry trees!) are used to knock the apples & pears from the trees. As it falls it is stacked up in mounds or tumps, covered with straw waiting to be bagged up & sent for milling & pressing. This is a labour intensive process which many growers would welcome help with. A new type of bush tree has been planted; this is a faster growing dwarf variety of tree. Bush trees are laid out in tight rows with wide avenues between them. Harvesting is automated with tractor borne vibrators clamping around the tree trunk & shaking the fruit off. Blowers are used to line up the fruit between trees and then a machine like an apple combine harvester is used to lift the fruit & discard stones, twigs & leaves.

When is cider & perry made?

The majority of fruit ripens in September; therefore October is the ideal time to mill & press. The autumn evenings being warmer & dryer than the winter months allow the cider & perry to get off to a good start & fermentation can be very vigorous at this initial stage.

What is perry?

As cider is made from apples, perry is made from pears, not just any pear though. These are perry pears, which tend to be smaller & harder then dessert pears. Perry tends to be produced sweet or medium sweet although Camra's 2003 National Bronze Perry was Barkers Dry from Worcestershire. Perry also contains natural levels of non-fermentable sorbitol. Perry trees while bearing fruit in 3/5 years will continue to produce fruit for 200 or 300 years which is much longer than apple trees, this has lead to the phrase "plant perry for your heirs".

How can I tell where my nearest Cider/Perry Maker is?

Check out CAMRA's Good Cider Guide 2005 available from HQ priced at £10.99 (£8.99 to members). CAMRA has declared October Cider & Perry Month, why not try some & see what you think yourself?